Bitcoin bugs? Gold losing face to cryptocurrency

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In the last year, the price of bitcoin has surged fivefold.

Over the same period, the price of gold, the other favorite anti-currency, slipped nearly 10 percent.

In the last month alone, bitcoin’s price is up more than 40 percent; gold is down more than 2 percent.

While bitcoin’s moves have certainly been more pronounced, the divergence between the two is unmistakable.

They’re both considered currency alternatives, safe stores of value to protect from wild swings in fiat currencies and money printing from central banks and irresponsible fiscal policy from governments.

So why are they moving in opposite directions?

Are people ditching gold for bitcoin?

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According to some strategists, bitcoin’s increasingly appealing status as a means of payment and store of value make it an attractive new alternative to gold.

“Many hard-currency loyalists who sought refuge to the safety of gold out of protest against central banks’ erosion of currency value are now fleeing to bitcoin,” Ashraf Laidi wrote in a recent client note.

“Bitcoin’s base of support comes from tech-savvy younger people who trust technology over old school constructs like central banks or physical representations of value such as gold,” said Nick Colas, chief market strategist at Convergex and the first strategist on Wall Street to write about bitcoin.

Although bitcoin enthusiasts may share their libertarian ideals with gold bugs and gold buyers, Colas said, demand for the two assets are coming from different places.

“The central problem is that the two assets tend to appeal to different constituencies…For gold, the marginal buyer is either someone in emerging markets like India or China that has a long-standing respect for the longevity of gold as a store of value,” Colas said.

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“There is also the custody aspect to consider. Gold is easy enough to buy and store. Bitcoin needs some technological sophistication to store safely.”

Still, both are perceived as a store of value—and bitcoin increasingly so, which may explain why some money is coming out of gold and into bitcoin.

Dish Network became the latest and largest company to accept bitcoin for payment, further cementing the digital currency’s role as a medium of exchange.

“There are over 17,000 merchants using bitcoin today, which lends credence to the notion that bitcoin will eventually secure the function of ‘store of value,'”Laidi said.

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A chart of gold, bitcoin and the dollar tells an interesting story.

The U.S. dollar and bitcoin move in the same direction, while gold moves in the opposite direction.

“It suggests that investors bid up bitcoin when the (dollar) is strengthening against other G-10 currencies,” said Steven Englander, chief currency strategist at Citi. “I do not think of bitcoin as a store of value so I find it surprising that such a clear correlation is in place.”

So while most pros aren’t ready to draw any deeper conclusions about bitcoin replacing gold as a safe haven, anti-currency, they’re paying attention to an increasingly strong negative correlation.

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It happened earlier in the year, during a brief period of gold strength—running up to three-month highs in mid-February. What was happening with bitcoin at that time?

It was tanking as one of the largest bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox, reported 850,000 bitcoins ($470 million) had vanished, closed down its site and filed for bankruptcy protection.

Since then, it’s steadily clawed its way back to $643 in Wednesday trading, as gold lost the momentum.

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