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Crypto: Bitcoin is seen as inflation hedge for newcomers outside the US

Is Bitcoin a good hedge against inflation? It depends on who you ask — and more importantly — where they live, according to a new survey.

Those living in countries with local currencies that have declined 50% or more in value against the U.S. dollar over the past decade — such as South Africa, Mexico, India and Brazil — were five times more likely to say they planned to purchase cryptocurrency in the coming year, according to a survey released Monday from the cryptocurrency exchange Gemini.

In regions plagued with long term hyperinflation such as Latin America and Africa, almost 60% of respondents said “crypto is the future of money,” while 46% in those same regions said “certain cryptocurrencies are a great way to protect against inflation.”

By contrast, only 15% of respondents in the U.S. (15%) and 16% in the European Union (16%), said cryptocurrencies guard against inflation.

“Our conclusions were, if a country has a stable currency, crypto can be seen almost as a nice to have,” Noah Perleman, Gemini’s chief operating officer, told Yahoo Finance, “versus where you've got an unstable currency, it's almost a need to have.”

The study, conducted between late November to February, surveyed 29,293 adults in 20 different countries across the world who earn an annual household income of at least $14,000.

Representations of virtual currency Bitcoin are placed on U.S. Dollar banknotes in this illustration taken May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Representations of virtual currency Bitcoin are placed on U.S. Dollar banknotes in this illustration taken May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Bitcoin is often touted by supporters as a hedge against inflation, dubbed “digital gold.”

As the thinking goes, government issued currencies decrease in value over time due to money creation by central banks, but bitcoin resists this devaluation because of its fixed supply of 21 million units. Its original white paper laid out a future in which the cryptocurrency would be “completely inflation free.”

But since January, cryptocurrencies have closely mirrored the performance of other risk-on assets with bitcoin (-4%) correlating more tightly to the S&P 500 index (-4.4%) than gold outside while ether (-8%) has moved more in step with the NASDAQ (-8%).

According to Coinmetrics, BTC’s 60-day correlation with the S&P 500 has been rising since January, with its 30-day correlation showing a higher mirroring of about 70 basis points, though it briefly dropped the first week in March following sanctions placed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University and a known critic of cryptocurrency, downplays crypto's use as an inflation hedge, but said the survey results still made sense.

“When inflation is elevated, currency substitution is rampant. Everyone always wants to get out of their junk currencies and into a currency that retains its purchasing power. In that regard, the U.S. dollar is king,” Hanke told Yahoo Finance, adding that “cryptos are little more than an interesting footnote” due to their higher volatility and speculative use.

But Noelle Acheson, head of market insights with Genesis Trading, pointed out that while bitcoin’s use as a true inflation hedge can't yet be proven because a lack of historical evidence, its risk-on behavior is also “inherently a short-term observation.”

She also pointed to the survey’s results which showed respondents in Africa were least likely to worry about bitcoin’s volatility or its lack of government backing, while Latin American respondents were the least likely to worry about a lack of “trust.”

Alex Thorn, head of research with Galaxy Digital told Yahoo Finance that while bitcoin carries gold-like properties — it's scarce, globally accepted, and not backed by governments — he considers is “an option on a future where bitcoin is treated like a digital gold-like commodity.”

“I don’t know when that shift happens, if it ever does start to trade like gold," he said. "But the way it trades is a function of how investors are trading it. A lot of investors see upside potential in bitcoin and therefore, they’re treating it like a risk asset.”

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David Hollerith covers cryptocurrency for Yahoo Finance. Follow him @dshollers.

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