Recently there has been a narrative the past few months that cryptocurrencies or the current digital assets traded on the open market are non-correlated assets to the traditional markets. While this rhetoric has been reiterated, there has not been any substantial evidence backing these claims. General retail investors would stereotypically agree that the crypto market behaves in a chaotic manner. Untethered from any external influences and simply driven by its gradual adoption as a means of transacting business without third parties or as a haven. But given historical macro movements, it appears that there has been a correlation to equity markets.
Intermarket relationships typically become exaggerated during the months of large macro movements in the markets. Allowing relationships between assets to be easily observable. While the crypto market is relatively “young”, there are several instances within the past few years that have met these conditions. The infamous bull run of Q4 2017 and the September movements of 2018 were two distinct periods where the intermarket relationship between the cryptocurrency market and equities appear. For the sake of discussion, my observations will be primarily focused on XRP. Both BTC and ETH will be sparingly mentioned as most digital assets moved in tandem during these periods.
During the period in which both BTC and ETH rallied into Q4 2017, alt-coins were experiencing both drastic and exponential bursts of appreciation and corrections. These price movements were often random and unsupported by any announcements or developments in their blockchain networks. And while retail investors in the crypto market were perplexed by these movements, managers and investors outside of the space realized a bubble was forming.
XRP’s sudden ascent into single digit dollars late December spurred rumors of elaborate projects going “live” on the XRP ledger or that massive funds had begun to invest into the digital asset. Yet understanding the financial and economic environment during this period provides valuable context to XRP’s movement. At the time, the US domestic economy (along with other major economies in world) began to enter the late-cycle economic phase.
Throughout 2017, global markets were experiencing a bull market that was reflected in equities. Bull markets tend to create feedbacks in which investors continue to reinvest or utilize more capital as assets rise in value and new market participants enter. As lenders and speculators gain money fast, speculators equity grows giving them more collateral to secure new loans to reinvest which reinforces the bubble. As speculators continued to make more money, they began to reinvest in even riskier assets.
The crypto market at the current time was a completely new and unregulated market to retail investors, making it extremely speculative. As investors from the traditional markets continued to earn capital, they began to seek other avenues to make more money. Eventually more and more investors found themselves entering into the crypto market after either hearing or seeing how participants were doubling or tripling their money effortlessly and quickly.
During a bull market, investor psychology begins to change due to the influx of money being made. This eventually causes a shift in investor mindset where the appreciating assets they own are sacred to them and that anyone without them are missing an opportunity. Which exactly matched the general sentiment around the crypto market in Q4 of 2017.
Essentially the performance of global equities created a spillover of capital that reached digital assets. Looking at the historical charts during this period and overlapping them, one can visually see this movement. Equities and the total market capitalization of the cryptocurrency market reached all-time highs within a month of each other. Along with reaching all-time highs in unison, markets began to roughly correct simultaneously with crypto being the first to do so. This was easily explained as cryptocurrencies are extremely speculative in comparison to the equity markets and thus carry the most risk. As markets began to reach their tops, riskier assets began to sell off first which was then followed by other, more traditional financial assets.
In order to find how strong of a correlation between US equities and XRP during this period was, one would have to calculate and compare their respective performance. There are several methods of calculating relationships between assets, but my methodology will be focused on calculating the Pearson and Spearman coefficient. Both calculating the Pearson and Spearman coefficient will measure the extent of how linear the relationship between both assets are. Both coefficients are always valued between -1 and 1. A positive coefficient implies a positive correlation while a negative coefficient suggests the relationship being inversely related. Along with that, a coefficient around 0 indicates the relationship between both assets is extremely weak. Spearman's correlation determines the strength and direction of the monotonic relationship between the assets rather than the strength and direction of the linear relationship. “A monotonic relationship is a relationship that does one of the following: as the value of one variable increases, so does the value of the other variable. Or as the value of one variable increases, the other variable value decreases.” (1)
The following calculated coefficients used both the SPX and XRP daily closing price (excluding the weekends) from January 03, 2017 to May 10, 2018. Ending at May due to visually seeing a divergence begin between both assets. A total of 341 observed daily closing prices for both SPX and XRP were observed. The Pearson coefficient between the assets was calculated to be 0.783669 while the Spearman coefficient is 0.861674. Both coefficients calculated suggest a moderate to strong correlation between the S&P and XRP during this period. Confirming the assumed correlation derived from visually interpreting the overlapped historical charts.
• Due to the crypto market being illiquid and having shallow order books compared to equity markets, cryptocurrencies experienced exaggerated movements compared equities.
• The May divergence can be attributed to many factors such as governments clamping down on exchanges/cryptocurrencies while warning retail investors that crypto was an unregulated space and penalties could be handed for illicit activity. Another possibility could be that capital began to flee in the wake of a bear market beginning in cryptos and along in global markets.
Although a divergence followed the market corrections of early 2018 between equities and cryptocurrencies, the correlation would reemerge later in the year. While digital assets further depreciated from a correction into a bear market, equities rallied the following months from May. Global equities rose to month-long highs in October with US equities reaching their previous record highs at the same time. Crypto at the time was finally stabilizing itself from the previous correction in January and began to consolidate. But without any developments or announcements, XRP saw its value rise significantly in September 2018. In respect to the other digital assets, XRP was the only major digital asset to experience such drastic change within a couple of days. The extreme movement once again spawned several rumors of entities utilizing the XRP ledger for operations. But US and global equities during these months provides an insightful context to the digital asset’s movement.
For example, US equities once again topped in October and began to enter a period of correction with XRP reacting and following the market. To further support the argument of the equities’ influence on crypto, XRP mirrored the stock movement of SBI Holdings. SBI is a major share holder of Ripple and promoter of Ripple’s technology in the Japan. Forming the Japanese banking consortium intended to use xCurrent for domestic rails and SBI Ripple Asia, a subsidiary meant to drive adoption of xCurrent and xRapid in the Asian Pacific region. Explaining the inexplicable tandem in movement between XRP and SBI’s stock.
Calculating the Pearson and Spearman’s coefficient describing XRP’s relationship between the SPX and SBHGF(SBI stock symbol) provides support. Observed daily closing prices of SBHGF, SPX, and XRP from September 17 to December 14 was used in the calculations. The intermarket relationship of XRP and the S&P displayed a Pearson coefficient of 0.509245 along with a Spearman coefficient of 0.600470. Suggesting a moderate positive correlation between assets. In respect to XRP’s relationship with SBHGF, the Pearson coefficient during this period was 0.712559 with a Spearman coefficient of 0.706631. A strong, positively correlated relationship between the assets.
In comparison to the correlation’s strength in 2017, the S&P and XRP’s relationship weakened but XRP’s tracking of SBI’s stock reinforced the notion that crypto was still being affected by equities. But regardless of the amount of market participants, capital, or volumes traded, money from the traditional markets entered and withdrew themselves for the second time.
• An explanation on why the calculated Pearson coefficient weakened the second time around could be that the sample size of the data taken is much smaller in comparison to the original calculation. The crypto market was also a lot more regulated than what it used to be. Possibly dissuading previous participants from the traditional markets on entering again.
• There appears to be a pattern in which whenever equities reach a localized high, the crypto market potentially receives an influx of capital from the traditional markets that causes a rise in valuations.
Understanding and observing ONE of the main historical influences on cryptocurrencies can help us interpret the movement’s of today. The economic and financial environment also provides valuable context in interpreting current movements. Back in 2017, cryptocurrencies were the new fad where money was to be made. Currently there is a similar movement going on in the traditional markets that involve IPOs. Displaying a similar bullish or even FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) sentiment crypto witnessed by the general market. These past few months have also seen very familiar movements in the markets. In the month of July, there was a broad rally across on all different types of assets. Whether it was the more commonly traded stocks or the defensive assets such as bonds, much of the market rose synchronized. Even speculative assets such as crypto, which are last to receive capital due to their risk, witnessed a rise in prices. Both BTC and ETH broke out of their downward month-long trends to post new relative highs. With XRP seeing movement as well but not to the degree of the other digital assets. And as equities began to top out again, corrections throughout the markets began to ensue. Currently it appears that what traders witnessed last October and even further back, January 2017, in the markets has occurred again. The third time in which cryptocurrencies and equities have topped and corrected in tandem. Yet past performance is not indicative of future performance or movements. And while I personally believe that this relationship will change in the future, observing and considering historical trends helps us put the cryptocurrency market’s recent movements into perspective. Time will tell.