Bitcoin should be having a good year. Its decline is a warning signal, researcher says

Key Points
  • Bitcoin has often been compared to digital gold and pitched as a store of value in times when other currencies struggle from global uncertainty.
  • But as the U.S. and China went toe-to-toe this year and Brexit uncertainty hurt European currencies, bitcoin lost 50 percent of its value and failed to step up as a viable alternative, Juniper researchers point out.
  • "Given our concerns around both the innate valuation of Bitcoin, and of the operating practises of many exchanges, we feel that the industry is on the brink of an implosion," Juniper researcher Windsor Holden says in a new study released Tuesday.
Bitcoin fell sharply after a sell-off of major U.S. stock indices. Bitcoin has been correlated closely to the price movement of the Nasdaq index.
Luke MacGregor  | Bloomberg | Getty Images

It should have been an ideal year for digital currencies to prove their value as alternatives to traditional money: Government-backed currencies were dragged down by ongoing Brexit concerns, and there were growing trade tensions between the U.S., China and European Union.

Yet, bitcoin and others have failed to stage a comeback, which one researcher cites as an indicator there may be more bad news ahead for cryptocurrencies.

"If Bitcoin cannot make gains in such favourable circumstances, then it is unlikely to prosper as and when these issues are resolved," U.K.-based Juniper researcher Windsor Holden said in a new study published Tuesday. "We feel that the industry is on the brink of an implosion."

The world's largest cryptocurrency is down 52 percent since the beginning of this year and more than 65 percent since nearing the $20,000 mark in December, according to data from CoinDesk. Regulatory crackdowns and news of hacks on global exchanges contributed to the decline.

Is a bitcoin breakout eminent?
Is a bitcoin breakout eminent?

Wall Street has been overwhelmingly hesitant to embrace cryptocurrency. CEOs from Warren Buffett to Jamie Dimon have issued warnings about trading bitcoin, while Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, called it "the mother of all bubbles" favored by "charlatans and swindlers."

Holden said in a white paper accompanying Juniper's research that the firm "is aligned far more closely with the cryptocurrency skeptics than the evangelists; we do not believe a recovery to the levels witnessed in 2017 is likely .... Indeed, we would argue that further falls are highly probable."

Other cryptocurrencies have struggled alongside bitcoin. The total market capitalization for cryptocurrencies is down more than 60 percent this year, according to data from

Holden pointed to other issues: There is a decline in the base of individuals who are willing to pay inflated prices for cryptocurrencies, credit card companies have banned customers from paying for bitcoin on a card, and social media sites have banned initial coin offering advertising.

"Taken together, this means that there is likely to be less demand, with less funds available to invest in Bitcoin," Holden said.

The researcher also highlighted bitcoin's potential as a means for money laundering and buying illegal substances and its persistent volatility as a roadblock to gaining mainstream acceptance.

Still, others are more bullish on its underlying technology, blockchain. Equity investing in blockchain and crypto companies has captured the attention of top venture capitalists such as Andreessen Horowitz and the backing of Yale's influential endowment investor David Swensen.