Bitcoin jumps 8% as First Republic woes reignite concern over health of U.S. banking

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A visual representation of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin on November 20, 2018 in London, England.

Jordan Mansfield | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Cryptocurrencies jumped on Wednesday as investor concerns about the U.S. banking sector began to swell again, with First Republic Bank fighting for survival.

Bitcoin jumped 8% to $29,828.25, according to Coin Metrics. That helped lift ether, which advanced 6% to $1,957.02. Both crypto assets are still below the key levels of $30,000 and $2,000, respectively, that they traded at two weeks ago for the first time since last year.

Bitcoin had been trading sideways for several days, with volatility back to its lows of early March, before the banking crisis began and became one of the cryptocurrency’s biggest upward catalysts this year. Now, troubles at First Republic could be helping drive the cryptocurrency’s price action again, according to Matt Hougan, chief investment officer at Bitwise Asset Management.

“Crypto rallies during banking crises, and it looks like the banking crisis may not be over,” Hougan said.

First Republic shares fell almost 50% to a record low on Tuesday after reporting a massive drop in deposits in the first quarter as customers pulled their money out following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. CNBC’s David Faber reported that the next few days are crucial for the company, as other banks and federal officials seek to pull together a rescue plan.

Bitcoin rallied 22% in March as the crisis among U.S. regional banks opened investors’ eyes to its potential uses as a hedge against uncertainty and as an alternative banking system.

“Bitcoin continues to straddle between being the ultimate lifeboat from the current banking system and the leading risk-on asset,” said managing partner James Lavish at Bitcoin Opportunity Fund. “As First Republic is now on the verge of collapse, bitcoin represents a safe haven versus uncertain bank deposits.”

As crypto rallied, the U.S. dollar index moved lower and was on pace for worst day since April 12, when bitcoin traded at its highs of this year. The two tend to have an inverse relationship.

Meanwhile, bitcoin’s 30-day rolling correlation with gold has been climbing since March and now stands at 57%, its highest level in almost two years, according to crypto data provider Kaiko.

Fed concerns on the horizon

While the pullback over the past week didn’t negate the year-to-date uptrend, uncertainty still looms over crypto.

Traders are watching the Federal Reserve for its latest decision on whether it will stop raising interest rates to fight high inflation and some direction and when it will begin cutting rates. The central bank’s next policy meeting will take place next week, and the latest reading on its preferred inflation gauge, personal consumption expenditures, is due out at the end of this week.

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Bitcoin (BTC) this year

“The crypto market learned last month that banking crisis works favorably for bitcoin’s price but we need to approach it from multiple angles,” said Yuya Hasegawa, crypto market analyst at Japanese crypto exchange Bitbank. “The Fed Funds futures market is pricing in the beginning of rate cuts later this year, and it could be a source of disappointment if the Fed continues to refrain from commenting on or even denies the possibility of rate cuts this year.”

Crypto remains in its year-to-date uptrend. However, even if Tuesday’s rally continues in the short term, it’s too early to call last week’s pullback a bottom.

—CNBC’s Gina Francolla contributed reporting

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