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Understanding Speculation and Crypto Volatility

Everyone who dabbles in the crypto industry learns almost immediately that the market is very volatile and oftentimes things can change very quickly. That volatility is the fundamental reason why some investors make absolutely stunning gains in so short a time and others lose a lot of money as well. Trading in crypto is one of the riskiest ventures any person can undertake and as they say, it’s not for the faint of heart. The risks can be mitigated of course and sometimes depends specifically on the coin or crypto asset being traded on, barring general market trends.

Nevertheless, to get to the bottom of the volatility concept, one must understand speculation in the market. To start off, the concept of speculation isn’t limited to cryptocurrencies, on the contrary, speculation has existed for as long as economics and trading has. But it is worth saying that speculation is often a feature of novel sectors, assets, commodities and the like. So, even though cryptocurrencies have been around for more than a decade, they’re still in their infancy as far as markets go. One could say that the market is still trying to find its feet.

One of the fundamental reasons why cryptocurrencies are so volatile is that they are fundamentally backed by nothing of value outside the attention that they get. Unlike many fiat currencies which are either pegged to another currency’s value or whose value is unilaterally determined by a central authority, cryptocurrencies only derive value as a function of how many people are willing to use is to transact, i.e. trust in the asset because other people trust it. As a rule of thumb, the larger the number of people who accept the asset, the more valuable it becomes.

This is one of the hallmarks of speculative trading. In the crypto world or in any market that’s novel and untested, many people are in it to win it which means their strategies in trade has the objective of making as much profits as possible in the short term. Therefore, the market enters a subtly dangerous cycle of rapidly changing prices of assets. Basically, investors typically buy assets when prices are low and wait. As more investors are attracted to the commodity for its low prices, it sets off a cascade where more people buy in, causing the price to steadily rise. 

However, all good things must come to an end and it almost always gets to a breaking point whereupon the price gets high enough for investors to begin to sell. This reverses the earlier cascade and as more and more investors pull out, the prices can fall dramatically causing even more to sell off in fear of losing whatever investments they have left. The prices having fallen resets the game and primes investors to begin buying again.

Volatility has been one of the talking points of many critics of cryptocurrencies often comparing it to a Ponzi scheme. And in certain cases, persons of interest with large pulls and audiences can substantially affect the rate at which prices rise and fall. Other factors include government regulations. Volatility at its core reflects the often chaotic nature of trade and market interactions and human hopes and fears.

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