Just keep HODLing guys!!1!, we definitely didn't just lose all our money in a giant bubbleBitcoin is in the longest slump of its 10-year history. That is forcing even its most ardent supporters to shelve dreams of global disruption and focus on simply tightening their belts long enough to outlast the downturn.
Signs of the crypto winter are everywhere, marking a sharp reversal since the manic highs of 2017. The price of bitcoin Tuesday was just above $4,000, down about 80% from a trading peak of about $19,800 in December 2017. The total market value of all cryptocurrencies outstanding is down 85% from its peak in January 2018. And volumes on the largest U.S. exchanges have been falling steadily for the past 15 months, according to research firm TradeBlock.
Bitcoin is still driven largely by momentum, and right now it doesn’t have it. Cryptocurrencies have struggled to attract mainstream institutional investors. Regulation is still unclear, which has scared off some potential users. Companies that have sprung up around the crypto world are under pressure until the next upswing, and crypto fans aren’t sure where that will come from or when.
To be fair, crypto markets have long been defined by choppiness. During part of 2011, the price of bitcoin dropped about 95%. The price also dropped 85% from December 2013 to January 2015, sparked by the shutdown of the Silk Road website, an online drug bazaar that used bitcoin, and problems at the teetering Mt. Gox trading exchange.
But the sector is much bigger than it was during some of those earlier swings, and it is closer than ever to becoming mainstream. Its influence today is widespread: Western governments have given it tacit or explicit acceptance and venture capitalists support it. Developers are finding ways to apply its underlying technology, blockchain, to fields as varied as supply-chain management and capital-markets trading.
“There’s still coffee,” said Eric Larchevêque, CEO of Paris-based Ledger SAS, which makes crypto-storage products that resemble thumb drives, “but you don’t have the extra nuts.” The company has cut back on some costs, like for travel and advertising, he said, though it has avoided layoffs.
Ledger raised $75 million in January 2018, and that plus product sales are enough to sustain the company, he said, but it is contingent on more austere management. “We’re trying to deal with it on a day-by-day basis,” Mr. Larchevêque said. “We want to make sure the company will still be here in 18 months.”
Revenue for bitcoin miners is also down over the past 15 months. The market for so-called initial coin offerings, which brought in $12 billion in 2018, has raised $100 million so far this year, according to research firm Diar.
“People are looking for ways to support themselves through winter,” said Galen Moore. The Boston resident recently started an open-source data-analytics project called Canary Data that he hopes to turn into a new startup, but he has also taken consulting work to pay the bills.
Dan Held, director of business development at a startup called InterChange, said that as vicious as this bear market has been, it’s not the worst.
After the Silk Road and Mt. Gox debacles, “we weren’t sure if demand would ever come back,” Mr. Held said.
One thing Mr. Held noticed during those other bleak periods: Firms that survived were the ones closest to employing trading fees, like exchanges do. InterChange focuses on back-office accounting software for trading desks, exchanges and hedge funds. “No matter what the market is doing, you still have to do your accounting,” he said.
Boaz Bechar started a data-research site called Blocktrail in 2014 and sold it to the big mining company Bitmain in 2016. Bitmain recently laid him off as part of a broader downsizing. Mr. Bechar believes that only the biggest crypto companies will be able to weather the ups and downs of a volatile industry. “The big players are going to get bigger doing what they do, and it will be a race to the top,” he said.