There was no contest this week. Cryptocurrencies took center stage as the stock market churned, chopped and gave investors a little indigestion. Welcome to the market’s brave new world.
It appeared that Bitcoin was the answer to whatever ails you. Higher interest rates, the threat of higher inflation, weaker (or stronger) dollar ... no problem, just buy Bitcoin. By the end of this week, the crypto coin had chalked up a 15 percent gain and was trading above $52,000. Ethereum, Bitcoin’s younger cousin, was up 10 percent.
None of the financial market’s usual suspects — stocks, bonds or commodities — could come close to those kinds of gains. Detractors warn that the entire cryptocurrency run-up is just a fad and will end badly. Maybe so, but that didn’t stop some of the largest institutions on Wall Street to at least consider investments in cryptocurrencies. And while Bitcoin soared, gold has plummeted.
Normally, in times of a weaker dollar and expectations of higher inflation ahead, gold would be soaring. As a result of price declines, traditional commodity analysts have been forced to adjust their bullish precious metals forecasts downward. The most common explanation given for this downdraft is that Bitcoin has become the modern-age digital alternative to gold.
After all, there is no need to pay storage costs, which you do for gold bullion; nor do investors need to worry about what central banks will do with their gold supplies. As for purchasing power, Bitcoin is accepted at some of the largest credit card companies in the world, as well as PayPal. You can even buy a Tesla with it, if you so desire.
Bitcoin is one reason, but not the only reason, why I wrote last month that although I expected most commodities to do well in 2021, gold was my least favorite among the group. Silver, platinum and copper, for example, are used in industry and are considered part of the reopening trade. Rare-earth metals, such as lithium, which are used in the manufacturing of electric batteries, should also see their prices continue to rise.
Oil has already performed well this year. The shutdown of almost 40 percent of the country’s oil production this week, thanks to the deep freeze in Texas and the Midwest, has resulted in what, I suspect, could be a short-term, “blow-off” top in oil and gas prices. But, longer term, I expect energy prices to continue higher.
But, what of equities? As we get closer to 4,000 on the S&P 500 Index (if we actually get to that target), I expect to see more volatility in the markets. Right now, it is all about the stimulus package, which is expected to pass in early March. Will passage be a sell-on-the-news event?
You may have noticed by now that large-cap tech continues to advance, but the real action is in small-cap stocks. This is also part of my 2021 thesis. What has worked for investors over the last decade (think FANG stocks) may not perform as well this year.
My advice for now is to hold tight, continue to take some profits when you can, and set that cash aside for the future. The next 100 points higher on the S&P 500 are not a sure thing, so, be ready for some possible downside as we work our way toward the end of the month.