Crypto crash: Economy killer or just another roller-coaster moment?

The cryptocurrency market that was riding high late last year and worth over $3 trillion has tumbled dramatically, losing nearly $2 trillion in value and putting around half of all digital currency investors underwater.

The cryptocurrency market that was riding high late last year and worth over $3 trillion has tumbled dramatically, losing nearly $2 trillion in value and putting around half of all digital currency investors underwater. (Charles Krupa, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. economy remains under siege as record high inflation, rising interest rates and international turmoil continue to drive up the costs of basic necessities like groceries, gas and housing.

Amid the broader turmoil, a cryptocurrency market that was riding high late last year and worth over $3 trillion has tumbled dramatically, losing nearly $2 trillion in value and putting about half of all digital currency investors underwater.

Will crypto's current tanking push an already battered domestic economy into even more dire straits?

Is crypto slump an economic coup de grâce? While there's plenty of reason for pessimism around the crypto market and some of the more mainstream stock and bond markets, experts told NBC News they aren't yet seeing signs of contagion from the crypto dip that could infect the larger economy.

Joshua Gans, an economist at the University of Toronto, told NBC he believes most banks and other financial institutions have a limited exposure to crypto price fluctuations, having only recently begun to dabble in it with new crypto-focused offices and in limited cases accepting digital tokens as collateral for loans.

"Cryptocurrency is not quite there as a collateralized thing," Gans said. "Could one of these banks have done something extremely stupid? Sure, but it doesn't look likely."

"They all have their crypto divisions, but betting the bank on it? I really don't think they have," he said. Even if a bank has taken on too much crypto risk, he added, "One idiotic bank we can handle."

What it means for the average American: The crypto market capitalization has plunged to just under $1.3 trillion as of Friday, from an all-time high of more than $3 trillion in November, according to CoinGecko.

MarketWatch reports U.S. households own about one-third of the global crypto market, or about $423 billion as of Thursday, according to the rough estimate by analysts at Goldman Sachs, based on various surveys. The recent decline in the crypto market is "very small" relative to U.S. households' net worth, which stood at $150 trillion in 2021, the bank's analysts wrote in a Thursday note.

Crypto holdings account for only 0.3% of U.S. households' net worth, while the recent price drop of digital assets have reduced U.S. household wealth by about $300 billion, according to Goldman Sachs analysts, per MarketWatch. In contrast, corporate equities account for about 33% of households' net worth at the end of 2021, while their recent losses have likely erased $8 trillion of that wealth.

"These patterns imply that equity price fluctuations are the main driver of changes in household net worth, while cryptocurrencies are only a marginal contributor," the analysts wrote.

Time to bail or buy? According to research from blockchain analytics firm Glassnode, only 60% of bitcoin investments remained profitable when the cryptocurrency was priced at $33,600 per unit, according to Fortune. The remaining 40% of investments sank below water. As bitcoin's price has tanked even lower, hovering around $29,000 per token on Friday, an even larger share of investments are in the red.

Blockchain.com CEO Peter Smith told CNBC this week that more pain is coming, and more risk will be exposed, but ultimately, it's a good thing for the decentralized economy.

For the crypto investor, Smith said the lesson of the past few weeks should be back to the crypto equivalent of the traditional market investing concept of dollar-cost averaging — slowly building a position in an asset over time so all your money isn't exposed to any single bout of volatility.

"Average into it slowly," Smith told CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange."

Bitcoin hit its lowest level since December 2020 earlier this week, under $26,000, and shares of publicly traded crypto brokerage company Coinbase were down by as much as 74% year-to-date this week,

"And you need to be prepared to hold it for quite some time," Smith added. "Because we're still in really the nascent period of building this whole finance system out."

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