Five predictions for digital currencies in 2018 — including stomach-churning drops, bitcoin-related IPO

“Our institutional investor base is very interested in learning more and getting exposure,” said Michael Graham, a Canaccord Genuity analyst who has published several reports on digital currencies. “One of our major themes is that as we roll out through 2018, it’s the year of institutions getting exposure to the space.”

The number of institutional-level investment products related to bitcoin is increasing.

In addition to the CME and Cboe bitcoin futures that launched in December, Cantor Fitzgerald and Nasdaq are planning their own derivatives products. Analysts also expect regulators will approve a bitcoin exchange-traded fund in the second half of this year, or in early 2019.

“With the regulated futures markets going live in 2017, the stage is set for ETFs to gain approval in 2018,” Nolan Bauerle, director of research at CoinDesk, said in an email. “In fact, the Cboe filed for 6 cryptocurrency ETFs at the end of 2017 which could go live in 2018. This would dramatically increase how institutional investors can get exposure.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment.

However, in the meantime, regulators will likely try to limit speculation in cryptocurrencies.

In the last several months, the SEC has become increasingly vocal in warning investors about the risks of cryptocurrencies. The commission also has suspended trading in some companies due to concerns about their claims regarding their token-related announcements.

“One of the things we’ll see [is] enforcement here from the regulators,” Canaccord’s Graham said. He expects that greater regulation will cause a “major price dislocation event for the whole sector.”

Bitcoin has soared more than 1,500 percent to near $16,200 over the last 12 months. But it is still down about 18 percent from its all-time high above $19,800 hit in mid-December. Meanwhile, smaller cryptocurrencies have surged hundreds of percent in the last several weeks, bringing the total market value of all digital coins to above $770 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.

Action by regulators could halt those gains. Bitcoin fell more than $2,000 in September when China cracked down on digital currencies.

Spencer Bogart, managing director and head of research at venture capital firm Blockchain Capital, expects that many cryptofunds will not be prepared to handle a monthly decline of 25 percent.

“I think we could easily purge 60-75% of crypto hedge funds in this type of market,” Bogart said in an email. “In this environment, funds that can call capital and deploy it counter-cyclically stand to benefit significantly.”

More than 120 such funds opened in 2017 for a total of 175 funds, according to financial research firm Autonomous Next.

In contrast to Bogart, Autonomous’ global director of fintech strategy, Lex Sokolin, predicts the total number of cryptofunds will nearly triple to 500 this year. But he said the focus will be less on the number of funds and more on assets under management, which he expects to reach $20 billion.

The contrasting views on the future of cryptofunds come as some analysts expect bitcoin to ride an even wilder wave this year.

Ari Paul, chief investment officer of cryptocurrency investment firm BlockTower Capital, predicts that bitcoin will trade at both $4,000 and $30,000 at some point in 2018.

One reason some analysts say bitcoin will ultimately rise further is that investors will bet on a payout from more splits in the digital currency. When some bitcoin developers decide to implement their own upgrade of the bitcoin network, bitcoin investors at the time of the split receive equal amounts of the split-off coin.

Aug. 1’s split of bitcoin into bitcoin and bitcoin cash was “a change in the trend,” said Ramon Quesada, a vocal member of Spain’s cryptocurrency community. Developers “are using the brand bitcoin and they are splitting the main chain. They are making a fork. You create a new chain and you give a new name to this chain.”

Bitcoin trades near $16,200, while bitcoin cash trades around $2,600.

“We think we’re going to have more forks in 2018 than 2017,” Canaccord’s Graham said. “Ultimately we think those forks are going to be a short-term tail wind to bitcoin’s value and a long-term headwind” […]

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