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Crypto Market Outlook 2024

The Digital Investor

Executive Summary

  • Bitcoin experienced a remarkable surge of more than 150% in 2023, while Solana gained unprecedented attention with a notable resurgence.
  • Anticipations for 2024 indicate potential growth and returns in various sectors such as rates, credit, equities, and commodities, suggesting a possible shift away from cash holdings.
  • Our outlook on Bitcoin remains positive in the medium and short term, given the developments related to Bitcoin spot ETFs and the upcoming halving this year.
  • The onchain gaming sector appears promising for the future, with technological and collaborative advancements witnessed in the previous year.
  • The increasing demand for authenticity verification systems may lead to greater integration of artificial intelligence into blockchain technology, facilitated by zero knowledge technology.
  • 2024 may see a revitalization of NFT markets, introducing new scaling solutions focused on enhancing the user experience for NFT traders.
  • The narrative of real-world asset tokenization is expected to persist throughout 2024, building upon foundations established in the previous year and incorporating new ones.
  • Led by Eigen Layer, restaking could emerge as a key theme in 2024, although accompanied by significant risks.
  • Navigating opportunities in 2024 requires a balance of optimism and prudence, demanding adaptability and astuteness in investment strategies.

Crypto Market Outlook 2024

Introduction

As we delve into 2024, the crypto, financial, and economic landscapes converge with a tapestry of possibilities. This edition of the Digital Investor presents a multifaceted outlook across diverse sectors—rates, credit, equities, commodities, tokenization, NFTs, gaming, and global economics —painting a nuanced picture of potential returns against the backdrop of cash holdings.

The crypto space, filled with evolving layer-2 solutions, gaming innovations, AI-authentication systems and multiple narratives like tokenization and restaking, stands as a testament to technological advancement and market dynamism. More importantly, it also outlines the anticipation surrounding the launch of the Bitcoin spot ETFs, detailing the landscape among applicants and the broader implications for Bitcoin’s value. Additionally, it highlights the upcoming Bitcoin halving event, historically associated with price increases, and why we are constructive in the medium and long term.

In the traditional financial sphere, the prognosis for growth across rates, credit, and commodities finds grounding in labor market resilience, income growth, and the strategic stances of central banks, indicating potential surges in bond yields. These nuances in the economic fabric underpin our optimistic forecast, tinged with the echoes of past economic events and the ever-evolving dynamics of global economics.

2023 Review

Before delving into the projections for 2024, let’s reflect on 2023, a year that ultimately marked an exit from the tumultuous landscape of 2022 and the crypto winter. The price of Bitcoin increased by 150% to USD 42,000 at the end of year. In spite of this impressive performance, Bitcoin price is still about 40% below its all-time high. One of the questions for this year is whether it will reach again this level goes even higher?

Bitcoin’s price soared in 2023, contributing over USD 530 billion in market capitalization. Miners experienced a positive upswing towards the year’s end, courtesy of a steady rise in median miner fees after a largely stagnant period. Concurrently, the hash rate exhibited steady growth throughout the year. However, activity on both Bitcoin and Ethereum fluctuated considerably throughout the year, lacking a discernible trend. User engagement on these chains often mirrored narratives on crypto-Twitter. For instance, Bitcoin activity surged in late April 2023 due to the rise of inscriptions before receding, followed by another surge in Q4. Similarly, Ethereum witnessed heightened activity during the Shanghai upgrade in late Q1 and early Q2, coinciding with the peak of the liquid staking narrative.

BTC Median Fee and BTC Hash Rate

The standout performer of the year was layer-1 network Solana, staging an unprecedented resurgence akin to a phoenix rising from the ashes. Solana price multiplied by 10x last year to about USD 100.

Despite being significantly impacted by the FTX-Alameda contagion (after FTT), Solana persevered as a leading L1 blockchain with a robust community. Openbook, a fork of the Serum Decentralised Exchange (DEX) on the network, marked the starting point of its resurgence, leading to an overwhelmingly positive trajectory, barring a solitary dip in February 2023. Solana closed 2023 with a TVL more than 450% higher than its starting point, with active addresses experiencing exponential growth in Q4.

Solana TVL and Daily Active Addresses

CME data highlighted a consistent rise in open interest (OI) throughout the year, despite on-chain activity and prices remaining rangebound for a substantial part of 2023. Bitcoin and Ether futures open interest (OI) continued to see a rise while options saw a sharper surge in both volume and OI.

In our 2023 outlook, we got it right on a few topics. Celestia emerged as a dominant data availability provider within the modular ecosystem, underlining the growing importance of modular blockchains. The successful mainnet launch and distribution of native $TIA tokens via an airdrop to early Cosmos ecosystem users validated our earlier spotlight on Celestia in our blog. Additionally, Lens protocol maintained its leading position in the decentralized social media sector, as anticipated in our prior article. Our outlook on the layer one market’s saturation and the impending wave of rollups remained steadfast, aligning with prevailing market trends. Ethereum, Binance Smart Chain, Solana, and Avalanche continue to dominate the DeFi sector in terms of volume and user activity. Furthermore, institutional involvement surged significantly as predicted. 2023 witnessed a transformation in the institutionalised nature of cryptocurrency market participation. CME observed consistent growth in bitcoin and ether futures and in options trading, positioning itself as the top BTC futures exchange by open interest in Q4. Noteworthy alliances between institutions and crypto-native solutions, such as SWIFT’s collaboration with Chainlink for its CCIP solution and JP Morgan’s Onyx partnering with Avalanche, captured attention in the industry.

2024 Outlook

The transformative events and market dynamics of the past year serve as a backdrop against which we can project evolving trends, innovations, and challenges that are likely to shape the crypto sphere in the coming months. As we pivot towards the future, let’s delve into the key areas and emerging themes that could define and redefine the landscape of digital assets in 2024.

Spot ETFs and the Bitcoin Halving

Fifteen years post the mining of Bitcoin’s genesis block in 2009, the industry anticipates a significant milestone: the launch of a spot ETF for Bitcoin. In 2023, key asset managers and financial institutions like BlackRock, Fidelity, and VanEck filed for multiple spot BTC ETFs, sparking industry-wide anticipation. Stakeholders eagerly track updates while issuers strategically vie for a substantial share of AUM (Assets Under Management). Currently, 11 applicants await approval for launching spot Bitcoin ETFs, prompting a competitive landscape and subsequent fee reduction.

At the time of writing, the US SEC has yet to announce their decision for these applications. If approved, these ETFs would offer investors a convenient avenue for Bitcoin exposure through regular brokerage accounts, eliminating the necessity for separate crypto trading accounts. It’s worth noting that despite the existence of Bitcoin-based ETFs, the current ones are futures ETFs, not directly holding Bitcoin. Instead, they hold positions in the Bitcoin futures market. Conversely, a Bitcoin spot ETF is backed by the actual BTC holdings of the issuing fund on exchanges. Also, with many applicants involving Coinbase as their custodian, this would benefit the US-based exchange upon approval.

As of now, the US SEC has not finalized its decision. Investors might need to moderate their expectations due to a potential ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ effect, where initial excitement upon ETF approval could diminish as some investors seek profits. In a recent incident, fake news regarding ETF approval caused market volatility, briefly boosting prices to almost USD 48K before dropping to USD 45.1K, erasing over USD 50 million in leveraged derivatives trading positions within an hour. Failure to approve the ETFs could lead to a sharper price decline.

Although a market correction is plausible, crypto market participants also await the upcoming Bitcoin halving. Bitcoin block 840K, expected in April, will reduce the reward for newly mined blocks from 6.25 BTC to 3.125, marking the 4th halving in Bitcoin’s history. This milestone signifies a key step in the protocol’s issuance process towards Bitcoin’s finite supply of 21M. Historically, such halvings have caused Bitcoin price surges. In the short-term, BTC might experience a price dip post-ETF hype. We however remain constructive on Bitcoin in the medium and long term. We view the halving through a flow-based lens, indicating a substantial reduction in BTC sales from miners, potentially elevating prices. It also reinforces Bitcoin’s monetary attributes, establishing BTC as a dependable store of value, attracting fresh interest with each halving’s attention.

Expansion of the onchain gaming sector

Witnessing the evolution of onchain gaming over the past few years, there is growing demand for games that not only entertain but also empower players to harvest the value they generate. This transformation from ‘play to earn’ to ‘play and earn’ draws a clear line between leisure activities and traditional workplaces. However, it is worth noting that the economic foundations prevalent in most on-chain games today are weak. This has led us into a gaming market that is cornered by a few participants. As evident from the pie-chart below, the onchain gaming sector is highly centralised, with AstarFarm having captured the majority share, followed by Aavegotchi.

TVL Share of Top Gaming Protocols

The current gaming industry market capitalization, standing at USD 4.35 million, represents a substantial decline of over 50% from its 2022 peak. Despite this, market analysts project a significant upswing, anticipating a robust CAGR of 68% for on-chain gaming until 2030. These optimistic forecasts hinge on technological advancements, exemplified by the impactful sectoral developments witnessed throughout 2023.

In the latter part of Q3 2023, Offchain Labs (developers of the Arbitrum network) unveiled the testnet for Arbitrum Stylus, introducing a novel programming environment enabling developers to script smart contracts using C, C++, and Rust. This expansion of supported web assembly programming languages within the Arbitrum ecosystem broadens the developer base, potentially benefiting the gaming sphere. Unlike the constraints posed by high-level programming languages like Solidity and Vyper, web assembly transcends performance limitations. Its ability to execute computationally intensive tasks efficiently within web browsers forecasts a significant propulsion for blockchain gaming.

Simultaneously, Avalanche has strategically positioned itself as a pivotal blockchain for gaming ventures. With a core emphasis on providing reliable sub-second finality and adaptable economic models through its subnets, Avalanche caters precisely to the needs of on-chain games. Furthermore, its support for gasless transactions on subnets, coupled with optional compliance enforcement layers, accommodates the high transaction volumes inherent in gaming. Notably, recent launches like Tiltyard and Mirai Labs, functioning as subnets on Avalanche, showcase a convergence of SocialFi and esports economics integrated into blockchain gaming—an area warranting keen observation.

As this cycle unfolds, a competitive landscape emerges among rollups and scaling solutions vying to offer rapid transactions at minimal fees—precisely what on-chain games demand. Despite the vast potential, only a fraction of on-chain games boasts an active player base, leaving ample space for newcomers to ascend the throne.

AI gets integrated into Crypto:

With each successive market cycle, the landscape of crypto application categories witnesses new entrants. Notably, the emergence of AI-integrated decentralized applications (dApps) stands as a prominent addition in this cycle.

Advancements in artificial intelligence systems over the past decade, coupled with the proliferation of open-source platforms, have accelerated the pace of innovation in this domain. Machine learning algorithms, from static image rendering to generating animated videos, now produce high-quality outputs indistinguishable from human work. This technological leap has significantly boosted global workforce productivity, prompting companies to adopt leaner operational structures. However, the rise of deepfakes exemplifies the dark side of this advancement, raising concerns about authenticity and trustworthiness. Cryptography emerges as a proposed solution to mitigate these risks.

An article by Fortune delves into the critical importance of content verification, particularly in distinguishing AI-generated content. It explores the potential role of zero-knowledge (zk) proofs in achieving this verification.

In this evolving landscape, Modulus Labs has emerged as a protocol actively developing in this sphere. They have crafted an AI-verification system, seamlessly integrable into dapps by developers. Collaborating with entities like Worldcoin for private identity authentication and the gaming platform AI Arena for ensuring trustworthy in-game economics, Modulus Labs aims to supplant blind trust in AI operators with verifiable computation through zk technology. Their impact, quantified at over USD 1.58 million in on-chain value via their dashboard, is poised to grow substantially. This growth will likely stem from expanding integrations and ongoing advancements in zk technology, enabling a broader array of verification use cases.

The NFT market resurrects

Throughout 2023, the NFT market experienced a consistent decline in activity, marking a continuous downtrend from its highs in 2022. However, the year also saw a speculative surge in Ordinals on Bitcoin and a fleeting inscriptions rally, these events underscored a clear message: NFTs remain a resilient presence in the market.

Inscriptions as a Percentage of Total Bitcoin Transactions

The outlook for 2024 suggests a potential resurgence for the NFT market, primarily driven by an increase in on-chain monetary inflows. Recognizable names like Starbucks, Nike, and Reddit have already ventured into deploying loyalty programs and tokenizing digital collectibles through NFTs.

The lending sector within the NFT space continues to be dominated by Blur and BendDAO, both boasting Total Value Locked (TVL) hovering around the USD 52 million mark each. Despite this, the combined TVL of NFT lending and marketplaces currently falls below USD 300 million, possibly hinting at a market gap in NFT protocols that address any tangible real-world issues. The anticipated shift may occur as more companies invest in the sector, seeking to augment their brand value and potentially stumble upon innovative NFT use cases that pivot the market’s direction.

The spotlight now focuses on OpenSea’s potential comeback following a challenging 2023 marked by internal turmoil, controversies over royalties, and significant downsizing post its fallout with Yuga Labs, creators of the Bored Ape Yacht Club. The platform’s resurgence aims to rival newer marketplaces like Blur and Magic Eden.

Additionally, an intriguing narrative unfolds in the realm of NFT Layer-2 solutions, notably exemplified by Frame’s emergence. Frame, a customized EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine), aims to cater to NFT traders by providing user-friendly features within its rollup. Offering customizable options like embedded royalties within NFT collections, Frame strives to become an all-in-one hub for NFT trading. Further developments include plans to integrate a treasury and an NFT-minting hot wallet within the Layer-2 structure, indicating a trend toward customizable scaling solutions tailored to specific market niches.

Increasing trend of RWA tokenisation

Tokenization stands as a pivotal use case for traditional financial institutions, poised to play a significant role in the upcoming crypto market cycle. The current landscape of high-yield environments amplifies the relevance of capital efficiency provided by tokenization—a relevance far more pronounced compared to its state two years ago.

Active Loans by Sector

As evidenced by rwa.xyz, the total assets held in US Treasury-like exposure on-chain have surged, surpassing USD 773 million. Remarkably, the average Yield to Maturity (YTM) hovers around 5.24%. This surge reflects the growing interest of digitally native users seeking yield sources detached from traditional crypto origins. Anticipating the evolution of tokenization, we foresee an increasing integration of its aspects across various business and financial sectors, albeit amid regulatory uncertainties.

Top RWA Protocols by Loan Value

An integral theme to monitor in the realm of tokenization revolves around regulatory advancements in jurisdictions like Singapore, the EU, and the UK. Notably, the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s sponsorship of Project Guardian has yielded numerous proof-of-concept tokenized projects on both public and private blockchains.

An illustrative outcome of this initiative involves JP Morgan’s Onyx collaboration with Avalanche and SWIFT’s partnership with Chainlink for its Cross-Chain Interoperability Protocol (CCIP). These collaborations aim to facilitate cross-chain asset transfers, exemplifying progressive strides in the regulatory landscape’s intersection with tokenization.

2024: A year of airdrops

Airdrops stand out as one of the most prevalent methods used to bootstrap projects into the crypto sphere. Prominent protocols like Eigen Layer, Layer Zero, and ZkSync have garnered significant attention for not having conducted airdrops (yet), making them coveted targets for airdrop enthusiasts.

Biggest Airdrops in Crypto

However, while airdrops offer a seemingly effortless way to acquire value, they have become a prime target for sybil hackers. Wallet owners engaging in sybil behavior—operating multiple addresses solely for airdrop farming—should exercise caution. Protocols fortified with efficient sybil resistance mechanisms pose substantial risks to such accounts.

Identification as a sybil account results from algorithms detecting multiple wallet addresses dedicated to airdrop farming, a practice deemed detrimental as it fails to contribute genuine value to the chain. Such accounts risk losing substantial airdrop rewards, as exemplified by the Optimism token airdrop that rejected around 17K users, causing an estimated collective loss of USD 18.62 million in OP tokens, according to a Defiant article.

Moreover, sybil-identified addresses face exclusion from future airdrops by other protocols, as witnessed during the Hop Protocol airdrop, where those identified were subsequently barred from the Arbitrum airdrop, worth over USD 10K for the most active addresses.

As sybil resistance mechanisms advance, genuine crypto users are advised against engaging in sybil behavior, particularly with anticipated airdrops looming on the horizon. A prudent approach for authentic users involves exploring diverse chains without interacting with wallets demonstrating sybil behavior, all managed through a single wallet.

Restaking becomes a bigger double-edged sword

In 2023, alongside Ethereum’s liquid staking narrative, restaking protocol Eigen Layer emerged as one of the most discussed projects, catalyzing the restaking narrative that is anticipated to sustain momentum in the forthcoming market cycle.

Since its successful mainnet launch, Eigen Layer has witnessed a remarkable surge in total value locked (TVL), surpassing USD 1 billion during its latest restaking epoch. For further details on Eigen Layer, additional information can be accessed here.

The allure of restaking lies in its potential to yield ETH returns, contributing to a gradual upswing in ETH prices. However, these projects, despite offering elevated yields, also pose heightened risks. Should a collapse akin to the LUNA-style debacle affecting deeply integrated restaking projects transpire, the reverberations are anticipated to affect widely. An unsettling precedent unfolded in Q3 of the previous year when the Astrid restaking pool suffered a hacking incident. Fortunately, the hacker chose to return all funds (except for the bounty). Given such occurrences, users are strongly advised to exercise prudence and caution before committing funds to these projects.

Conclusion

Looking forward to 2024, the potential in finance and technology seems vast and varied. The year holds promise of growth and returns across multiple sectors like rates, credit, equities, and commodities, marking a potential shift away from cash holdings. Forecasts reflect optimism, rooted in expectations of income growth, strong labor markets, and strategic moves by central banks, possibly signaling higher bond yields.

Beyond traditional financial avenues, the crypto landscape paints a dynamic picture, showcasing potential in NFTs, gaming innovations, and evolving tokenization narratives. While our outlook is cautiously optimistic, grounded in these multifaceted projections, it is crucial to acknowledge the ever-evolving nature of global economics and the unpredictability of financial markets. Thus, navigating through these opportunities in 2024 demands both optimism and prudence, requiring adaptability and astuteness in investment strategies amid the dynamic and transformative landscape of finance and technology.

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Authors

Yves Longchamp

Head of Research AMINA Bank AG

Sonali Gupta

Senior Research Analyst AMINA India

Anirudh Shreevatsa

Research Analyst AMINA India

Rishabh Nagar

Research Analyst AMINA India

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