Market Commentary
Market Commentary: Cold Feet
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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

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While equities reversed a seven-week losing streak, bitcoin and ether underperformed as investors ask, “what have you done for me lately?”.

Key Takeaways:

  • Last week, equities broke the seven-week losing streak, while digital assets failed to rally - investors ask the emerging asset class, “what have you done for me lately?”
  • While not to extrapolate too much from one week, potential culprits for the underperformance (BTC -2.5%, ETH -10.5%, S&P 500 +6.6%) likely stem from cold feet headed into the Ethereum merge as some finer technical details need to be hashed out (no pun intended)
  • We provide an update to Ether’s merge in this week’s commentary

THE BIRD'S EYE VIEW

As we enter a holiday-abridged week with the US Memorial Day, we first honor and thank all US Armed Forces, veterans, and particularly those that have sacrificed their lives while serving in the US military.

This week for many officially kicks off “Summer” – when sunshine, watersports, and gathering with friends and family often takes foremost focus. With wandering minds, markets experience light trading volumes, summer Fridays, and “a mind in the sky” for many across Wall Street, Main Street, and everywhere in between.

As we know, the old adage “sell in May and go away” crosses the minds of many - although in actuality, this often fails to prove successful. This year, we have not heard many of those calls, as markets have experienced an extraordinary (and not in the good sense) start to the year.
In this final week of May, US equities as referenced by the S&P 500 broke their seven-week losing streak with a gain of 6.6%. While bitcoin and ether’s correlations to equities remains high, the two failed to rally this week, as participants ask the emerging asset class, “what have you done for me lately?”

While not to extrapolate too much from weekly performance, the likely culprit is uncertainty surrounding the Ether merge. Last week, questions about mining difficulty leading up to the merge came about, as the smart-contract platform prepares for a significant milestone shift to proof-of-stake. We discuss the merge throughout the rest of this weekly.

Otherwise, in macro news - sentiment appears to have already slightly shifted on the margin as the decline in equity prices stalled. Earlier in the week, Fedspeak offered participants the potential for a “pause” late in the year in a reminder that the Fed is data-dependent. Fed minutes again ruled out 75bp increments, and to finish the week, the PCE deflator (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) came in at expectations.

Headline PCE was reported at 6.3% y/y, with core at 4.9% y/y, indicating the very real possibility that inflation has peaked.

While never truly out of the water, market pessimism is certainly extreme, which continues to set up for the “not all that bad” rally should concerns prove to be overdone. We briefly discussed some easing of macro-stress last week (US breakevens, DXY, VIX) moving lower, which helps the cause.

While digital asset fundamentals remain strong, this macro-specific pullback offers long-term investors with attractive opportunities to buy on weakness, while others are fearful. We note that cold feet around Ether’s upcoming merge has led to near-term weakness, which is worth monitoring.

A REVIEW OF “THE MERGE”

Since creation, ether has held a “proof-of-work” consensus mechanism, like Bitcoin, which uses miners to validate and confirm transactions for block rewards. While proof-of-work is a perfect mechanism for Bitcoin, a global payment system and digital gold, Ethereum (a platform for the new internet labelled Web3) may find more scalability through proof-of-stake. In short, “stakers” post collateral, vote to approve transactions, and receive rewards for doing so. Key benefits of Ethereum’s merge:

  • ~99% less energy use than proof-of-work, making Ethereum ESG-friendly
  • Improved scalability as transactions are approved without complex equations
  • Reductions in new issuance, as illustrated on pg. 2, and the potential deflationary supply with EIP-1559’s buyback
  • Staked ether (in hot validators) receive staking rewards as a form of cash-flow and income

While the merge introduces some execution risk, the resulting benefit will be a significant improvement to Ethereum.

STAKED ETHER

With proof-of-stake, investors can stake their ether in hot wallets (either in the form of 32ETH or as part of a bigger validator pool) to receive their portion of rewards for voting and validating transactions.

This update to Ethereum is called the “Merge” as it merges with their Beacon Chain, the proof-of-stake Ethereum blockchain.

In preparation of the merge, many investors have already staked their ether. This illustrates both a vote of confidence in the merge as well as an interest in receiving cash flows from doing so.

Staked ether for now is “locked,” but will “unlock” when the merge successfully occurs. While this does introduce the potential for increased selling pressure at that time, it’s likely those staking will continue, in order to receive further rewards.

Currently, there are 12.6 million ether staked in preparation of the merge, or ~$23 billion. This is about 11% of the current Ether supply.

We also illustrate the expected annual issuance rate after the shift to proof-of-stake. This is calculated before EIP-1559’s buyback occurs, which, in a bull market can likely lead to Ether as a deflationary supplied asset. The current annual inflation rate is ~4%.

UNDERSTANDING ETHER DEMAND

Ethereum is a platform for decentralized applications, in which digital assets in sectors such as NFTs, stablecoins, DeFi, metaverse, and services run on the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is the base layer for the new internet labelled “Web3.”

In bull markets, there is high demand for these underlying applications, which in turn, increases the demand for ether (which is needed to pay for transactions on the Ethereum blockchain – called “gas”, denoted in “gwei”).

In this bear market, transactions have slowed, as the demand for ether through gas (particularly, DeFi and NFTs that require more than plain vanilla transactions) has recently declined. This removes underlying demand for the ether token itself.

This is why Ether is more levered to the cyclical economy than bitcoin - consumers need to spend on NFTs, be willing to interact with DeFi, utilize stablecoins, and be interested in gaming applications for true underlying demand of ether. While this does not change the long-term thesis for the base layer of the new internet, it is important to monitor and understand. The reduction in issuance following the merge should help stabilize ether when underlying demand takes a pause.

Click here for the full PDF. As always, please reach out with any questions or comments.

Stay tuned,

Joseph Orsini, CFA
Director of Research

DISCLOSURES
Investment advisory and management services are provided by Eaglebrook Advisors, Inc., a registered investment advisor. Information presented is for educational purposes only. Past performance is no indication of future results. Please see our Form ADV Disclosures and Privacy Policy in our website.
Price Volatility of Digital Assets – A principal risk in trading Digital Assets is the rapid fluctuation of market price. High price volatility undermines Digital Assets’ role as a medium of exchange as consumers or retailers are much less likely to accept them as a form of payment. The value of client portfolios relates in part to the value of the Digital Assets held in the client portfolio and fluctuations in the price of Digital Assets could adversely affect the value of a client’s portfolio. There is no guarantee that a client will be able to achieve a better than average market price for Digital Assets or will purchase Digital Assets at the most favorable price available. The price of Digital Assets achieved by a client may be affected generally by a wide variety of complex and difficult to predict factors such as Digital Asset supply and demand; rewards and transaction fees for the recording of transactions on the blockchain; availability and access to Digital Asset service providers (such as payment processors), exchanges, miners or other Digital Asset users and market participants; perceived or actual Digital Asset network or Digital Asset security vulnerability; inflation levels; fiscal policy; interest rates; and political, natural and economic events.
Digital Asset Service Providers – Several companies and financial institutions provide services related to the buying, selling, payment processing and storing of virtual currency (i.e., banks, accountants, exchanges, digital wallet providers, and payment processors). However, there is no assurance that the virtual currency market, or the service providers necessary to accommodate it, will continue to support Digital Assets, continue in existence or grow. Further, there is no assurance that the availability of and access to virtual currency service providers will not be negatively affected by government regulation or supply and demand of Digital Assets. Accordingly, companies or financial institutions that currently support virtual currency may not do so in the future.
Custody of Digital Assets – Under the Advisers Act, SEC registered investment advisers are required to hold securities with “qualified custodians,” among other requirements. Certain Digital Assets may be deemed to be securities. Currently, many of the companies providing Digital Assets custodial services fall outside of the SEC’s definition of “qualified custodian”, and many long-standing, prominent qualified custodians do not provide custodial services for Digital Assets or otherwise provide such services only with respect to a limited number of actively traded Digital Assets. Accordingly, clients may use non- qualified custodians to hold all or a portion of their Digital Assets.
Government Oversight of Digital Assets – The regulatory schemes—both foreign and domestic—possibly affecting Digital Assets or a Digital Asset network may not be fully developed and subject to change. It is possible that any jurisdiction may, in the near or distant future, adopt laws, regulations, policies or rules directly or indirectly affecting a Digital Asset network, generally, or restricting the right to acquire, own, hold, sell, convert, trade, or use Digital Assets, or to exchange Digital Assets for either fiat currency or other virtual currency. It is also possible that government authorities may take direct or indirect investigative or prosecutorial action related to, among other things, the use, ownership or transfer of Digital Assets, resulting in a change to its value or to the development of a Digital Asset.

About Eaglebrook Advisors
Eaglebrook is a tech-driven investment manager specializing in bitcoin and digital assets. The firm offers various Bitcoin and Digital Asset SMAs serving financial advisors, registered investment advisors (RIAs), family offices, and institutions. Eaglebrook is backed by wealth management executives and institutions.
For more information, please contact us at +1 (202) 798-1880 or send an email to contact@eaglebrookadvisors.com.