A bruising sell-off has pushed the majority of bitcoin's short-term holders into the red, data shows. With nearly 90% of the supply held by short-term holders now at a loss, the market looks vulnerable to further declines if these investors rush for the exits.
Short-Term Holders Feel the Pain
Bitcoin prices have tumbled over 10% in the past week, plunging below $27,000 at one point for the first time since December 2020. This sharp decline has been painful for short-term holders, or those who have acquired their coins in the last 155 days.
According to Glassnode data, a staggering 88.3% of the bitcoin supply held by short-term holders is now underwater. This equals around 2.26 million BTC out of 2.56 million BTC held by short-term holders that was acquired at higher prices than current levels.
Essentially, the majority of trading activity over the past six months occurred at prices above $27,000. With bitcoin trading below this range now, most short-term holders are sitting on unrealized losses.
Short-Term Holders Rushing for the Exits
These underwater short-term holders have become increasingly eager to sell into any bounce. Glassnode observed a spike in the proportion of loss-making coins held by short-term holders flowing into exchanges this past week.
Investors typically move cryptocurrency from personal wallets to exchanges when they intend to liquidate holdings. This trend suggests short-term holders are aggressively selling into any strength to cut losses.
According to Glassnode, the past week registered the highest such loss dominance reading since March, when bitcoin crashed to below $20,000. With short-term holders so focused on selling out of losing positions, significant upside could be limited.
Macro Backdrop Adds Further Headwinds
On top of unrealized losses, the narrative has also shifted against bitcoin in recent months. Earlier in 2022, investors were optimistic around a spot bitcoin ETF in the U.S. being approved this year. However, with central banks aggressively tightening policy, those odds now look far lower.
Surging bond yields and deteriorating liquidity conditions have dashed hopes for a seamless approval of a spot bitcoin ETF product. This has robbed bitcoin of a major potential catalyst.
The confluence of heavy technical selling pressure and negative macro backdrop leaves bitcoin in a precarious position. Prices look vulnerable to re-testing sub-$20,000 levels last seen in late 2020 without a major improvement in risk appetite.
What Could Turn the Tide for Underwater Bitcoin Holders?
To ease significant selling pressure from short-term holders, bitcoin likely needs a sustained break back above the $30,000 threshold. This would put a substantial portion of underwater holders back into the green on their positions.
However, it won't be easy to mount such a recovery. Macro conditions pointing to further Fed tightening are not supportive for risky assets like bitcoin. Only if inflation pressures show serious signs of abating might the Fed be able to pause rate hikes, which could ignite a rally.
Barring a fundamental change in the policy outlook, bitcoin may need to demonstrate resilience through the Federal Reserve's ongoing quantitative tightening cycle. Once liquidity conditions begin improving later in 2023, bitcoin could start to regain its bullish momentum and lift prices off recent lows.
How Low Can Bitcoin Go if Short-Term Holders Capitulate?
If forced liquidations pick up pace, bitcoin could be vulnerable to a washout decline down to the $16,000-$14,000 zone. This area lines up with the peak of the last bull market in 2017, which often acts as long-term support.
Bitcoin has seen similar capitulation events before in bear markets. The 2018-2020 bear saw bitcoin plunge over 80%, while the 2013-2015 bear registered a peak-to-trough decline of over 85%.
However, bitcoin's increasing adoption among institutions means the current bear market is unlikely to be as brutal. Still, with nearly 90% of short-term holders underwater, the risk of a plunge below $20,000 is significant if panic sets in.
There would likely be major buy interest around $18,000, marking the 2017 high. But if this fails, bitcoin could quickly cascade lower, especially if leverage traders are forced to liquidate long positions. The next major support zone sits between $14,000-$16,000.
What Lies Ahead for Bitcoin in This Bear Market?
With no imminent catalyst and most short-term holders sitting on losses, bitcoin faces substantial technical headwinds. The path of least resistance appears lower absent a shift in sentiment. Bitcoin is unlikely to reclaim its 2021 bull market highs of around $65,000 for an extended period.
However, there are some silver linings. Active bitcoin addresses have shown resilience, indicating users are not abandoning the network. Exchange balances have declined steadily, suggesting more accumulation by long-term holders.
While challenging, this consolidation phase is needed to set the stage for bitcoin's next sustained bull run. The key question is whether short-term holder capitulation occurs quickly in a washout down to the $14,000-$18,000 range, or is more drawn out via prolonged choppy trading. Either way, this bear market looks set to persist through 2023 until macro conditions improve. But patient holders could be rewarded when the next bull phase eventually commences.