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At the end of July, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time since the 2008 financial crash. American markets reacted accordingly – all three major indexes fell, while investors fled from stocks to 10-year U.S. Treasury Bonds. But curiously, another asset had a good day: Bitcoin (BTC-USD), which rose from its monthly low of $9,479 and has continued to climb as more bad news has poured in.
Just days after the Fed’s announcement, China devalued the yuan for the first time in over a decade, bringing the focus back to a mounting trade war between the world’s two largest economies. At the same time, an anti-Eurozone government may be close to forming in Italy, calling into question the viability of the European Union.
Throughout August, global markets have roiled with instability, driving investors towards safer bets. But chaos in the world’s three largest economic cones leaves few places to go. Normally, there are two options. After the Fed’s announcement, bond prices rose and yields fell – too low, in fact, since government 10-year notes are at historic lows, with many actually offering negative yields.
At the time of writing, the 10-year Treasury Note was at a 1.6% yield, close to its historic low, despite being one of the most attractive government notes in the world. Other Treasury Bonds (IEF) in the 7-10-year time frame are in a similar predicament. And that’s the good news. Outside the considerable guarantees of the U.S. Treasury, a quarter of the bonds trading worldwide are trading at negative yields, meaning that investors are essentially paying for the right to give governments their money.
So bonds are off the table. The other traditional option is gold (GLD), which has seen a surge in price as Chinese investors seek safe havens alongside Americans for their considerable sums of capital. Normally, if gold were one of several escape routes, this could mean a very lucrative run for early entrants into the metals market; without bonds to draw off institutional buyers, a gold rush will ultimately cause the commodity’s price to inflate and crash before or even during more disastrous economic turmoil.
This level of global uncertainty has scrambled the traditional model for hedging. For a start, no recession has ever been presaged by negative yields. Contrary to normal patterns, both bonds and gold have become unattractive to own, leaving it an open question how investors can protect their portfolios, and Bitcoin may emerge into this void as an answer to the inverted yield curve. As an established, global, decentralized currency, it offers a way for investors to move their money out of currencies more vulnerable to national conflict. The Bitcoin ledger is independent of any government and uncorrelated to any other market – as its response to the Fed’s announcement might show, the only thing Bitcoin might directly respond to is global instability itself.
Like gold, Bitcoin can function as a hedge against total crisis. Certainly, it’s not as storied or as shiny as metal, but anyone can download a wallet, and in the event of hyperinflation or total market collapse, it might end up more fungible than the local fiat currency. The growing uncertainty around U.S. Treasury Bonds has opened up the role of a long-term market hedge. Cryptocurrency has long carried a reputation for unreliability, but an unreliable world might be precisely the time when the digital market comes into its own. This is not a normal market, bear or otherwise. This time around, the question of hedging might warrant an unusual answer.