Ethereum classic (ETC), the not-really-like-ether (ETH) sibling of the Ethereum blockchain’s native cryptocurrency, is on track for the best weekly performance in its four-year history, with prices nearly tripling since Sunday.
Analysts in the digital-asset market say the price move likely reflects a speculative fever among retail traders rather than deeply informed bets on the Ethereum Classic blockchain’s future technological potential.
The dynamic might show that the just-for-fun yucks of trading the joke token dogecoin (DOGE) (which bears the hallmark of this year’s frenzy in GameStop shares on Wall Street) might be spilling over to almost-left-for-dead cryptocurrency projects from the last big bull market in 2017.
But to retail traders looking to bet on price-go-up, the ETC tokens might be looking pretty good, and cheap.
“I think a lot of the interest has to do with the fact that dogecoin has moved so much and U.S. retail is looking for the next big asset,” Joshua Frank, co-founder and CEO of crypto data firm The TIE, which tracks social media interest in digital-asset markets.
At press time, ethereum classic is changing hands at $133.72, up 7.96% in the past 24 hours.
Ethereum Classic was born out of a contentious split from Ethereum in 2017, known in blockchain lingo as a “hard fork.” However, it quickly lost the support of the larger Ethereum software-developer community and has never attained a similar level of respect among industry executives and investors. The project’s market capitalization is less than one-twentieth of Ethereum’s $409 billion and it has been the victim of several 51% attacks.
Yet, that hasn’t stopped ETC’s price from shooting up for eight straight days in the current bull market. For instance, the ETC price rose 47% on May 5, according to data from Coinbase and TradingView.
The ETC growth is also supported by trading activity: Trading volume for ethereum classic on Thursday surged above $10 billion on Upbit, a Korean cryptocurrency exchange, according to data from CoinMarketCap.
“It’s a crazy, irrational market now,” Ki Young Ju, the chief executive of South Korea-based blockchain data firm CryptoQuant, said. “People will learn.”
Bitcoin’s rally since the beginning of last year could be mainly attributed to institutional investors in North America. Some of them have argued that bitcoin (BTC), the largest cryptocurrency (with a market capitalization of about $1.1 trillion) might work well as a hedge against inflation in the wake of trillions of dollars of coronavirus-prompted monetary stimulus from central banks around the world.
Ethereum classic’s gains, by contrast, appear to be largely driven by retail investors in both the West and East, according to analysts. That’s similar to the driving force behind the meme-centered dogecoin.
The TIE’s Frank says he noticed ethereum classic was trading at more than a 50% premium on U.S.-based, retail-focused crypto trading platforms including Robinhood and Coinbase, compared with prices at roughly the same time on other native cryptocurrency exchanges such as Binance.
The observation suggests rising demand for the ETC token from retail investors in the U.S.
“If institutions were behind the move, I don’t think you would have seen such a large spread in price between major exchanges with the retail-focused platforms having such a significant price premium,” Frank said.
The number of tweets about ethereum classic and bitcoin cash (BCH), a token created from a hard fork of the Bitcoin blockchain, has soared in the past week, another indication “a mass market” could be behind the outperformance, said Frank.
Robinhood currently supports seven cryptocurrencies on its platform: bitcoin, bitcoin cash, bitcoin sv (BSV), dogecoin, ether, ethereum classic and litecoin (LTC), according to its website. Among those, only ETC and dogecoin have outperformed both bitcoin and ether on a year-to-date basis.
In South Korea, where ETC’s trading volume is surging on the Upbit exchange, investors behind the rally are only looking at profits in the short term, Ju said.
“There are no institutional investors in Korea,” Ju said. “Koreans are seeking cheap coins that look likely to be pumped.”
Analysts expressed concern investors would get hurt eventually by the recent speculative fervor in these lesser cryptocurrencies. After the pump comes the dump, the thinking goes.
“Investors will get burned at some point, but this could go on for a while,” Frank said.
Thursday on Twitter, @SecretOfCrypto, who has more than 176,000 followers, tweeted that cryptocurrency markets are in a phase where ether has outperformed bitcoin and new money has started flowing into other large-cap tokens seen as having more room to spike in price.
“Memes are everywhere,” according to the tweet. “Everyone is super excited and you feel the mania in the air.”