Few traders would argue against the fact that Bitcoin (BTC) is in a bull market, but there is less consensus on whether the market is in the midst of an "altcoin season." A quick view of Crypto Twitter shows the schism between traders who are certain we are halfway through alt season and those who believe it has yet to begin.
Typically, traders rely on a wide swath of indicators and metrics, like Bitcoin’s total market capitalization versus the total altcoin market cap, Bitcoin’s dominance rate, and whether low-cap altcoins have rallied by a certain percentage.
As is the nature of investing, too much signal can at times produce mixed results, so Cointelegraph decided to have a chat with Ben Lilly, co-founder and analyst at Jarvis Labs, to see where he and his firm think the market currently stands and to determine the most appropriate metrics to use in figuring out whether or not an altcoin season is truly at hand.
Cointelegraph: A number of analysts claim we’re in an altcoin season, or at least right at the verge of one. Some are looking at support/resistance flips and fractals on altcoin market cap charts (isolated from BTC's market cap) to make convincing arguments. Why do you think that we are nowhere near an altcoin season?
Ben Lilly: I believe everybody’s interpretation of what defines an altcoin season varies. For many, altcoin season might exist when both BTC and altcoins move higher. This is opposed to Bitcoin rising while altcoins remain flat or drop.
I think this is a fair view of altcoin season, but it’s not necessarily one I subscribe to. Simply because if this is a definition for altcoin season, it’s not a compelling reason for me to move away from Bitcoin and into altcoins from a risk-adjusted perspective.
Because in that definition of altcoin season, Bitcoin is still the preferable asset to own.
We think of altcoin season as market movements that take people by surprise or at least make traders rethink what is normal.
CT: So, altcoin seasons are not reflecting a macro-level trend shift in the market direction of Bitcoin’s momentum?
BL: Well, getting back to what I said earlier, support and resistances are helpful ways to explain. We can view these as areas that, when broken, create fast price action. It’s the type of action you want exposure to, assuming you’re on the correct side of it. While anything in between these supports and resistances can almost be assumed as "expected" or normal — in a loose sense.
To figure out where this area might be, we can look at a Bitcoin dominance chart. This lets us know the percentage of the market Bitcoin represents. Right now, it’s trading in a range, which is to say an “expected” range. And because it’s trending down, this is good for altcoins as Bitcoin concedes some dominance to other coins.
While many might point to this and say it’s an "altcoin season," I’ll point out that this type of activity tends to happen in a bull cycle because new money is moving in.
In fact, we’ve been trading in this range of expectation from the middle part of 2019, which coincides with when Bitcoin found its low and began to turn bullish.
Oddly enough, we recently jumped out of this range in late 2020, and when we did, Bitcoin went on an absolute tear. During this run, altcoins lost value. And similar to how Brent Johnson describes his dollar milkshake theory, Bitcoin sucked up the market’s liquidity as it ran higher.
We have since returned to this range of expectation, also known as the normal area of the market.
Now, if the opposite happens and we break this expected range to the downside, in our point of view, this will signify that altcoins are the asset to be sitting in, as they will generate outsized returns relative to Bitcoin. That’s when things will get wild.
CT: For years, traders have pinpointed the shifts in dominance rate between BTC and altcoins as a relevant indicator of when altcoin season begins. As the theory holds, when Bitcoin's price consolidates or is in a downtrend and its dominance rate drops below a certain percentage, altcoins capitalize on Bitcoin’s range-bound action by rallying higher. What thoughts do you have on this?
BL: Similar to what I explained previously, it’s all about expectations. As soon as the market creates a change in view of what’s normal, then "altcoin season" will appear.
Another chart I’m frequently leaning on is the ETH/BTC pair. When Ether gains in relation to BTC, this is generally a good sign for altcoins. And recently, there’s been some bullish momentum on the chart within its current range of expectation.
The ETH/BTC pair is currently forming what we can describe as the Livermore Accumulation Cylinder. For more than a month, we have been discussing this in our free “Espresso” newsletter from the Jarvis Labs Substack, and what is clear is that the chart is taking form and is at the later stages of its trend.
If ETH/BTC breaks up and out of this cylinder, it’ll be another moment where expectations of what is normal will be adjusted. This is when we will see fast price action, and likely an altcoin season.
CT: While a rising tide does lift all boats, altcoins have been the top performers in the market when compared with Bitcoin. A quick look over CoinMarketCap shows that at least 50 have made moves that are well above 100%, and the altcoin market cap has risen from $250 billion in January to nearly $900 billion today. In your opinion, what is the primary signal that the market is in a proper altcoin run?
BL: Now, this is a bit different than an altcoin season, in my opinion. That’s because a proper bull run for altcoins is when investors are more likely to walk further out on the risk curve of crypto versus simply buying Bitcoin, not necessarily outsized gains compared with Bitcoin.
Based on this definition, we can make the case that whenever Bitcoin dominance is falling while crypto as a whole is in a bull market (like today), then this is a bull market for altcoins.
While investors might not have outsized gains relative to Bitcoin in a proper altcoin bull run like they would in an altcoin season, it is wise to begin building exposure to these higher-risk assets in this environment.
CT: Does on-chain data have any value in determining when alt seasons begin?
BL: Absolutely. On-chain is very valuable if you know how to filter out all the noise that comes with it. With crypto, there’s so much transparency in seeing transactions on-chain. This creates a trove of data that can be looked at in hundreds of different ways, many of which are somewhat meaningless.
At Jarvis Labs, we filter out all the data to find the data that matters. Then we run it through algorithms to create trade signals. It’s high-value data analytics and tends to be used in place of in-house analysts.
In saying that, on-chain is still an evolving space outside of Bitcoin and Ethereum. We’re on half a dozen blockchains watching these signals evolve and generating a variety of reliable signals will better pinpoint exactly when trend shifts take place and altcoin seasons begin and end.
One simple thing traders can follow in order to see the progression of an altcoin season is USDT flows.
When an altcoin season arrives, we’re likely to see USDT flow into other layer-two protocols such as Polkadot, Cosmos and Solana. That’s because many small-cap assets that are very far out on the risk curve, which tend to be bought in these types of environments, will exist on decentralized exchanges rather than centralized exchanges.
As investors start buying up these small-cap assets, liquidity will arrive, and USDT is the most ubiquitous form of liquidity in the market.
So, when USDT enters these ecosystems by the hundreds of millions, you can be sure it’s altcoin season, as investors will be chasing these assets only found on DEXs native to their protocol (i.e., Serum).
CT: Is it possible that the narrative may be changing and that some altcoins are breaking away from their reliance on the performance of Bitcoin, shifting what an altcoin season may look like?
BL: The changing landscape of risk is how I view this particular question.
And as other assets begin to grow in market cap and age, the network effects will grow. This, in turn, will insulate many crypto assets from Bitcoin since a lot of value will be attached to them.
In this way, over time altcoins will slightly deviate away from BTC’s performance.
Ethereum will be the first asset to do this, simply because of where it’s at in terms of its life cycle and development. But in terms of being immune to Bitcoin’s price, this won’t happen for many years. In fact, I think there will always be some correlation to an extent.
That’s due to macro reasons. Simply put, commodities as a whole tend to have a correlation to one another, equities as a whole have correlation, and even currencies tend to move in tandem with one another (i.e, USD, CHF, JPY). In saying this, crypto as a whole is likely to move in tandem with one another for at least most of this decade if not longer.
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