Bitcoin Miami Conference Recap & Fireside Chat with Valhalla Advisor Ari Paul of BlockTower Capital
Valhalla Ventures Managing Partner Matthew King recently traveled to Miami to take part in the Bitcoin Miami conference, the first large professional networking event in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. BTC Miami drew over 50,000 participants including many of the leading executives and investors in the digital assets space including Chairman and CEO of MicroStrategy Michael Saylor, co-founder & CEO of Twitter and Square Jack Dorsey, and Sam Bankman Fried, founder and CEO of FTX.com (fresh off of a new funding round valuing the exchange at $18B).
In the midst of a typically chaotic conference atmosphere, Valhalla Ventures hosted a series of dinners and events including an “unconference” which drew a number of key executives in the space including founder and CIO of BlockTower Capital Ari Paul, founder and CEO of fiat-to-crypto gateway MoonPay and Valhalla LP Ivan Soto-Wright, founder and CEO of MobileCoin Josh Goldbard, and even a cameo appearance by Adrian Grenier of DuContra Ventures (former lead in HBO’s hit series Entourage).
Given the meteoric rise in the value of Bitcoin and other digital assets since the beginning of the pandemic as well as the unprecedented negative price action caused by Elon Musk’s infamous tweets combined with a new clampdown on BTC mining operations in China, we wanted to share some market insights from our dinner with leading crypto fund manager and recent addition to Valhalla’s advisor team Ari Paul of BlockTower Capital.
Ari began his career as a derivatives trader at Susquehanna International Group before transitioning to the University of Chicago’s $7B endowment where he was a Portfolio Manager of a strategic hedge portfolio. After falling down the crypto rabbit-hole Ari left the world of endowment management to found BlockTower Capital, a digital asset-focused hedge fund. BlockTower was seeded by partners from Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, with BlockTower’s current assets under management totaling over $600M with strong year-over-year returns.
Matt: Ari, it’s been an interesting past year to say the least with Bitcoin swinging from a recent low of roughly $4,000 at the peak of the pandemic fear cycle to all-time highs in the mid-$60,000 range following announcements from Tesla, Square, MicroStrategy, and others that they were acquiring Bitcoin using treasury reserves as a hedge against inflation.
Today the price of Bitcoin and the broader market for digital assets seems to hinge on a mix of executives’ tweets, policy updates and statements from regulators, and issues du jour ranging from inflation to sustainability.
Where do you think the market is going from here, are we in bull or bear territory?
Ari: It’s important to caveat any discussion of current valuations with a disclaimer that at this particular moment BlockTower has less conviction in a market direction than at any other point in our firm’s history.
Personally, I believe we are very much still in a bull market which will likely top sometime in the next 6–18 months (toward the middle of 2022 most likely). We are experiencing a short-term correction that has been driven, to your point, by a mix of FUD from executive influencers, new government crackdowns, and the ensuing collapse in highly-levered retail long positions.
Nevertheless, the fundamental conditions lending support to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency valuations including low interest rates, loose fiscal policy, and increasing inflation are still in effect and will likely move prices higher. There’s a chance we could see a dip in BTC over the next few months down to $20k but going into early to middle of next year I think there’s a good chance we see $100k or more.
Matt: What in your mind is going to be the driving force pushing BTC to those new highs, institutional or retail buying?
Ari: Q4 of 2020 was institutional buying, corporate buying, and US HNWI buying, that’s who was sending BTC higher and that gave me a lot of confidence we had a long way to go in the bull market because bull markets always end with retail.
Then, going into Q1 of 2021 the marginal buyer of bitcoin was retail. Clearly institutions aren’t done, there are a lot of pensions and endowments that are continuing to allocate although they are now allocating in slow motion. A key question is how consistent that institutional flow will be. In Q2 there was very little institutional buying.
In Q4 of 2020 we were talking to a lot of billionaires and watching them buy. Michael Saylor was basically preaching to billionaires and we were seeing him convert them one by one. We were seeing these largely US-based billionaires saying, “OK Saylor, you convinced me, I’m going to put 1% of my net worth into Bitcoin.”
Then in Q1 we saw a clear shift to retail. We saw explosive growth in valuations of highly speculative and many downright dubious projects in the space with seemingly no merit apart from the sense that altcoins were bound to go up given how high Bitcoin had risen.
Then, after the run up to the $50,000 to $60,000 range we had three months of sideways BTC price action. Coming into the middle of Q2 we saw a weakening in inflows, particularly from institutional investors, into BTC demonstrated by a weakening in Coinbase and MicroStrategy equity as well as the evaporation of Grayscale Bitcoin Trust premium over Bitcoin. This is when BTC started diving off the proverbial cliff.
Zooming out, the current period appears to be a consolidation ahead of the next parabolic advance. While the downward price action from April highs was steep, we’ve seen a number of 50% or greater retracements mid-year only to end the year markedly higher than the previous highs.
The next run will likely begin when institutions come back into the field pushing up the price of BTC and then the retail traders will come back into the market with highly leveraged long positions driving the entire market to fresh highs going into the end of 2021 through the middle of 2022.
Matt: Ari, thank you so much for your invaluable insights. This conversation has certainly informed our views on the market and we look forward to collaborating more deeply with you and BlockTower Capital.
For those in the extended Valhalla community that would like access to deeper insights from Ari and the BlockTower team, please reach out to Valhalla Managing Partner Matthew King directly at email@example.com so he can direct your inquiry accordingly.