Hand holding bitcoin in front of graph with down arrow
Photo illustration: Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The problem with bitcoin and inflation

Source Code

Good morning! This Wednesday, bitcoin is supposed to be a place to put your money when traditional money is losing value. But bitcoin’s rocky start in 2022 reminds us that these assets remain as risky as ever. I’m Ben Pimentel, and I spent the weekend watching my rocket-obsessed son fly a rocket carrying two eggs — and have it land without breaking them!

Is bitcoin really a hedge against inflation?

Bitcoin is off to a rough start this year. From record highs of more than $65,000 for each token in November, it slumped to around $42,000 yesterday; bitcoin actually briefly dipped below $40,000 early this week. And the slide is happening amid another troubling trend: Prices are climbing. The forecasted rise in the consumer price index recently hit 7%.

That has turned the spotlight on a key question about crypto: Isn’t bitcoin supposed to be a hedge against inflation, a place to put your money when prices are soaring and traditional money is losing value?

It’s important to remember that these assets are risky. That’s what the recent sell-off is telling us about bitcoin and crypto. “Crypto is a risk asset … This is a reminder that that’s true,” Matt Hougan, chief investment officer of Bitwise, said yesterday.

  • Risk assets take a hit when the economy appears headed toward rougher waters. Chris Kline, co-founder of Bitcoin IRA, pointed to “a sentiment of uncertainty across all markets as inflation proves itself not to be transitory and the Fed moves forward with possibly four rate hikes.”
  • In fact, the Fed “shifting to a more hawkish stance” probably “sparked the recent sell off” in crypto, Hougan said.
  • And besides, after a year of astounding growth, bitcoin and crypto were poised for a correction. These are “momentum plays” after all, said Lawrence Newhook, chief investment officer of Alpha Innovations, as he pointed to a “general malaise" plaguing crypto right now. “We've just had no momentum and no excitement” in crypto, he told me.

Given where it’s at, bitcoin can’t exactly be a hedge against inflation. At least not yet. “The idea that bitcoin is an inflation hedge is purely speculative,” CoinDesk columnist David Morris said last month.

  • Now, “it may become true in the future,” when bitcoin gains wider acceptance, when “enough companies, economies and individuals transfer a lot of their wealth into bitcoin” which would make its price more stable, Morris added. But that’s not yet the case, despite bitcoin’s recent growth.
  • It also depends on the type of inflation we’re dealing with. Bitcoin as an inflation hedge, Newhook of Alpha Innovations said, will likely be true in "hyperinflationary markets,” where the purchasing power of fiat currencies is getting decimated. He cited Turkey, which is reeling from a 36% inflation rate.
  • But in countries like the U.S., it’s not likely that the current rate of inflation will be a factor in driving demand for cryptocurrencies. “I'm less and less optimistic about that,” he said.
  • Mark Cuban weighed in with a different spin. He dismissed outright the view that bitcoin is an inflation hedge. “It’s not and never will be,” he tweeted, as he argued for his preferred crypto, dogecoin, which started as a joke. It’s now the 12th most valuable token. He called doge “good for spending and better than a lottery ticket,” a head-scratcher of a comment that sparked a heated Twitter debate.

It’s a long game. Despite the climbing prices, bitcoin actually did well, Kline pointed out. “Remember that the digital asset’s opening price for 2021 was around $28,000,” he said, “and finished well above that by the end of the year.”

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

On the schedule

Calls for tech regulation — from lawmakers, regulators, small businesses, even consumers — have become deafening. Join Protocol's Ben Brody at 10:30 a.m. PT Jan. 26 as he and a panel of experts look at what lawmakers really hope to achieve, how tech companies are already responding to the threat and what a realistic version of tech regulation might actually look like a few years from now. RSVP here.

A MESSAGE FROM HONEYWELL

Honeywell's Chief Commercial Officer Jeff Kimbell sits with Futurum's Daniel Newman to talk through the world's emerging trends in innovation, sustainability, tech and markets. Don't miss the insights into Honeywell's latest strategy for 2022!

Learn more

People are talking

Ex-Microsoft exec Ben Slivka thinks the company is better off without Office and Windows:

  • “The right thing probably is to bet the future on the cloud.”

Securities regulators like Joseph Rotunda said crypto investments are a big threat:

  • “Be mindful that cryptocurrencies and related financial products may be nothing more than public facing fronts for Ponzi schemes and other frauds.”

Reese Witherspoon wants to know if you’re ready to have a parallel digital identity” in the future:

  • “Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?”

Making moves

DoorDash CEO and founder Tony Xu is joining Meta’s board.

Will Wilkinson is TBD’s new head of policy. He founded Model Citizen Media.

Elizabeth Holmes' sentencing could happen in September. The government is also dismissing the three counts on which the jury was deadlocked.

Alan Davidson will lead the NTIA. He’ll play a big role in expanding internet access in the U.S.

Dara Redler is joining H&R Block as legal chief. The company is currently in a legal battle with Block over its name.

Julia White is joining BSA’s board. White is SAP’s chief marketing and solutions officer.

Shane Evans is MX’s interim CEO. Ryan Caldwell will step back from the financial data platform into an adviser role.

Svenja Gudell is Indeed Hiring Lab’s new chief economist. Gudell was most recently chief economist at Zillow.

IBM bought Envizi, which offers software for managing emissions and carbon accounting, for an undisclosed amount.

In other news

Amazon workers are getting another union vote. The NLRB set a Feb. 4 date for warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to decide whether to form a union.

GM is launching a car-buying platform of its own, to compete with Carvana and Vroom. From the cars themselves to the platforms you use to buy them, the auto industry is trying desperately to fight back against tech.

A small nonprofit is helping employees bring their workplace problems to light. It’s called Lioness, and it’s run by two women who offer pro bono legal advice and other help for workers who reach out about their issues at work.

The FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Meta is going ahead. A federal judge rejected the company’s motion to toss the complaint.

Everyone loves working at Nvidia and HubSpot, according to Glassdoor’s best places to work in 2022. Dozens of other tech companies made the ranking as well. Meta was a big loser this year, dropping from #11 to #47.

Truth Social probably won’t launch anytime soon. Donald Trump’s social network is supposed to launch by the end of February, but sources told The Washington Post that it’s still quite far from being operational.

Apple will allow third-party payments in South Korea. South Korea passed a bill over the summer to regulate Apple and Google rules on outside payment methods.

Facebook rejected dozens of ads about women’s sexual health, according to a report from The Center for Intimacy Justice. The platform turned down ads from businesses focused on topics like pregnancy and menstrual health.

Tech lobbying groups think lawmakers are acting too fast on an antitrust bill. The groups are arguing that the Senate is rushing legislation that would prevent big platforms from prioritizing their own products.

The Wordle Thieves

Wordle started as an innocent word game created by software engineer Josh Wardle for his partner. Now, its name and idea are being taken and reused for a profit.

Replicating ideas is pretty common in mobile gaming, and relatively anonymous developers usually make copies and profit in some way, Protocol’s Nick Statt wrote. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery — but while Wardle may not mind the copycat, it’s still not cool.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

A tale of two FTXs

Elon Musk, the un-CEO