Bitcoin (BTC) has once again proven the unpredictability of the cryptocurrency market, falling in value by more than £1,000 in a month - now trading at £14,090.
As volatile as BTC prices are, they’re driven by four main factors: supply, demand, competition and sentiment. Here, we’ve taken a look at how each might play out in the foreseeable future – plus some additional pressures and expert opinions - to predict what might be next for bitcoin prices.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned repeatedly that anyone investing in crypto should be prepared to lose everything.
The more scarce an asset becomes, the more valuable it tends to get. The total amount of bitcoin that will ever be available is capped at 21,000,000, which means supply is limited.
New bitcoins are minted when a new block of verified transactions is added to the blockchain by a bitcoin miner (read more here). As a reward, they’re gifted an amount of newly-minted bitcoin.
More than 19,000,000 BTC have already been minted over the last 12 years, leaving around 2,000,000 more to be mined. However, while the unmined supply of BTC represents over 10% of the total supply of BTC, it doesn’t mean the 21,000,000 limit will be reached in 14 months’ (10% of 12 years) time.
This is because the minting of new bitcoins is set at a fixed rate which slows over time. When bitcoin began, the reward given to miners for adding a block of transactions to the blockchain was 50BTC. Four years later, it was halved to 25 and the reward continues to halve every four years.
It’s expected the reward will be 1.56BTC by the end of 2024, which means it’ll be decades before all 21,000,000 bitcoins are minted. So, in the medium term, bitcoin will not be in short supply.
However, the halving mechanism effectively puts a constraint on supply that could push up prices if demand increases in future.
Verdict on supply: With no particular pressure on supply, prices will remain relatively flat or fall.
Growing demand for a finite resource should increase its value. As we know, bitcoin is a finite resource that is going to become scarcer over time.
The greater the demand for bitcoin – that is, the number of people buying it – the more transactions there will be. Daily bitcoin transactions peaked in May 2021 at around 440,000.
Yesterday, on 30 November 2022, there were more than 271,416 transactions - up from around 222,138 last month. Numbers reflect much lower demand than in the spring of 2021 but significantly more than in the summer when daily transactions were around 200,000.
Google trends data appears to show that fewer people are searching for bitcoin today than they were a few years ago, with searches peaking in December 2017. Searches have returned to normal, low levels following a spike early in November.
Another worthwhile indication of demand is the number of active bitcoin addresses, since you need an active address to buy bitcoin.
At the time of writing, there were around 857,000 active addresses, according to BitinfoCharts data. That number is broadly flat for the year so far, but up by around 50,000 on last month and down from its 1.25m peak in April last year.
Finally, the next bitcoin halving is due to take place in the spring of 2024, and demand could increase before that time in anticipation of the supply squeeze it theoretically brings.
Verdict on demand: Demand appears broadly flat, if a little higher. Prices could therefore remain flat or rise.
The emergence of cheaper altcoins with faster transaction speeds has not cost bitcoin its crown as the king of cryptocurrencies. It’s still the biggest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation and has even been adopted as a state currency in El Salvador - something that no altcoin can boast.
Detractors have argued that some altcoins have more potential than bitcoin because, while the latter is a system for payments alone, Ethereum, Cardano and Ripple feature programmable blockchains that can host smart contracts and decentralised apps (dApps).
Supporters might argue that bitcoin cannot be directly compared to such altcoins.
It’s interesting to note that the crypto crash that began in May 2022 and took more than 50% off bitcoin’s value also affected its competition. Ethereum (ETH) and Cardano (ADA) both fell by similar amounts, meaning bitcoin’s losses weren’t its competitors’ gains.
Even stablecoins that were created as a less volatile alternative to traditional crypto assets have been negatively affected by global economic factors.
The other big change in recent months is the Ethereum merge, which saw Ethereum switch from a Proof of Work consensus mechanism to a Proof of Stake consensus mechanism. While better for the environment, the change doesn’t appear to have boosted bitcoin’s main rival significantly in terms of value.
Verdict on competition: With no particular pressure on competition, prices may remain flat.
Bitcoin prices can be affected by people’s attitudes towards it.
A fear and greed index is a tool used by investors to gauge sentiment in a market. Fear reflects a market in which investors sell their assets because they’re concerned prices will fall. Greed reflects a market where investors are buying because they expect prices will rise.
According to the widely cited Crypto Fear & Greed Index at alternative.me, which tracks crypto trends, the market is currently in a state of Fear - meaning crypto holders in general are selling their assets for fear of future losses. This status is unchanged from last month.
However, critics of fear and greed indices say they can be useful as a barometer of sentiment, but they don’t work well for predicting price movements.
Another good indicator of sentiment is the levels of bitcoin outflow from crypto exchanges: in other words, the more bitcoin is being transferred out of crypto exchanges and into wallets, the more investors are holding their bitcoin in anticipation it’ll go up in value.
Messari.io data shows withdrawals are higher than they were this time last month by roughly 23%.
Verdict on sentiment: Fear that prices could fall plus an apparent spike in withdrawals could mean sentiment is down, meaning prices could fall.