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Business Maverick

Bitcoin Retreats After Swings Highlighted the Risk of Volatility

A bitcoin sculpture made from scrap metal on the ground outside the BitCluster cryptocurrency mining farm in Norilsk, Russia, on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Norilsk may soon be famous for a different type of mining — it now hosts the Arctic's first crypto farm for producing new Bitcoins. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Bitcoin retreated Tuesday after a bout of volatility highlighted lingering doubts about the durability the token’s mesmerizing rally.

The cryptocurrency fell about 6.8% to $51,210 as of 11:52 a.m. in Tokyo on Tuesday, following a drop of as much as 17% a day earlier to below $50,000. The token is still up more than 400% in the past year, a rise that dwarfs other assets.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates were the latest to weigh into a debate over the digital coin. Gates cautioned about how investors can be swept up in manias, while Yellen said Bitcoin is an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions.”

In the background are jitters that a global economic recovery from the pandemic will eventually prompt central banks to dial back easy-money policies that helped propel Bitcoin higher. At a technical level, the digital currency also looks overbought, according to Miller Tabak + Co.

A monthly Bitcoin relative strength index signals it is overbought

A monthly relative-strength index for Bitcoin is “extremely overbought,” the company’s chief market strategist Matt Maley wrote in a weekend note.

Gates and Yellen muscled in on a Bitcoin discussion that of late had been dominated by Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. In recent tweets, Musk said Bitcoin prices “seem high,” having earlier called it a “less dumb” version of cash.

Tesla this month disclosed a $1.5 billion investment in Bitcoin, while MicroStrategy Inc. boosted a sale of convertible bonds to $900 million to buy even more of the token.

Bitcoin faithful argue the token is emerging as a hedge for risks such as faster inflation and set to win more attention from corporate treasurers and institutional investors. Others see speculators playing a bigger role and some echoes of the digital coin’s 2017 boom and bust.

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