Here’s the outlook for bitcoin as geopolitical tensions heat up and interest rates rise

The bitcoin narrative could be tested this week as investors monitor tense developments between Ukraine and Russia and weigh the possibility of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates by 50 basis points, or 0.5 percentage points, in March.

The largest cryptocurrency by market capital currency has long been regarded by early investors and enthusiasts as a safe haven asset — one that ideally could offset risk in investors’ portfolios and limit exposure to negative shocks.

However, in recent months bitcoin has has been trading like equities, specifically like riskier growth-oriented stocks. It’s still recovering from a big drop from earlier in the year, when rising rates led investors to shed positions in tech and other risky assets.

“Bitcoin is labeled by some as a stateless currency, and it has indeed performed well in the past when there were geopolitical tensions, so we could expect some demand as a safe haven asset,” said Yuya Hasegawa, crypto market analyst at Japanese bitcoin exchange Bitbank.

However, “the change in the landscape made bitcoin fragile to the U.S. stock market volatility, so bitcoin investors may not be able to feel at ease until the situation at the Russia-Ukraine border starts to settle down,” he added.

Crypto winter for a few months

Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The price of bitcoin is about 10% down for the year, according to Coin Metrics, and about 38% from its November all-time high.

With a rising rate environment, tech and growth stocks could remain in a chokehold for a while. That means if this is crypto winter, a term that refers to an extended bearish period, it could last for several months more.

“If we are in a bear market we’ll see another eight or nine months of sideways to down [movement], which is an opportunity for the tourists to leave the market and the real players to continue building this technology,” said Chris King, CEO and founder of Eaglebrook Advisors.

Katie Stockton, founder of Fairlead Strategies, said a resistance level at $46,730 should remain intact this week. Support is near $37,360, but bitcoin doesn’t look in store for a near-term test, she added.

Seasoned crypto investors have been here before and are rarely spooked by extended low periods. Bitcoin has experienced only one crypto winter before: In 2018, its price crashed by about 80% from its then all-time high. The market has evolved significantly since then.

Setting the stage for the next bull market

Low periods are a time for the industry to clean up and build the infrastructure and applications that will make it easier for the next wave of newcomers in the next bull market. Between decentralized finance, nonfungible tokens, the metaverse and more, there’s plenty of interest in new sectors of crypto that go beyond bitcoin.

“Use cases in adoption are burgeoning,” said Rodrigo Vicuna, chief financial officer at Prime Trust. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of where a lot of blockchains are going.”

For example, interest — and money — in NFTs boomed in 2021. Most people still only see them as digital art, a concept that’s hard to grasp for many. People also overlook other potential uses for NFTs. For instance, an NFT of a house deed could provide a history of property ownership, while NFT medical records may offer patients a safe way to share information with doctors, Vicuna said.

King noted that despite new interest in decentralized finance, or DeFi, its still too early and underdeveloped for it to take off. DeFi allows users to participate in lending and other financial activities using blockchain and do so without any middlemen.

“We’re very long DeFi in some of our strategies,” King said as an example. “DeFi is still speculative. The infrastructure is still being built, it’s still clunky and hard to use. “Bitcoin in 2013 through 2016 was hard to buy, but companies like Coinbase and Gemini made it easier. DeFi needs that onramp to improve it and make it less speculative. It just takes time.”

Read more about cryptocurrencies from CNBC Pro

With the bitcoin cycle lengthening and returns diminishing, these other assets play a big role in ushering new entrants into crypto broadly and increasing adoption. Bitcoin itself hasn’t found its killer app yet — that is, the feature that makes it indispensable — King said, but increasing adoption will get it there.

“The most important thing that we follow and look at both from a short- and long-term perspective is adoption, it’s really all that matters,” King said. Like Facebook, Instagram and Uber, he said, “hype around these assets and the price going up led to more users joining the network, which is ultimately what we care about.”