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Inflation, Cryptocurrency, and How They Interact

By Laurel Tincher · September 30, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Inflation, Cryptocurrency, and How They Interact

When it comes to crypto and inflation, certain cryptocurrencies have been touted as assets that can protect against inflation. But lately, with rising interest rates and declining crypto prices, crypto isn’t proving to be the inflation-fighter many had hoped.

For example, gold has been a popular hedge against inflation, as it holds value well and doesn’t tend to be volatile. For several years, many people put Bitcoin in a similar category — as a fairly stable store of value.

But crypto values aren’t holding steady in the face of growing inflation — not even Bitcoin. It remains to be seen whether different types of crypto can indeed be an inflation hedge or not.

Understanding Inflation and Cryptocurrency

Inflation

Inflation occurs when a fiat currency such as the U.S. dollar decreases in value over time, which in turn causes the price of goods and services to rise.

Inflation can occur when there is an extra supply of currency, when money is printed faster than it’s needed in the market. It also happens as the price of goods increases, which can be because of various factors — meaning it takes more and more units of a currency to purchase the same products.

The Federal Reserve Bank aims to keep inflation at 2%, and uses monetary policies to keep it at that rate and not go higher.

The question is: Is crypto a good hedge against inflation, given current conditions?

Cryptocurrency

Understanding how cryptocurrency works will help to shed some light on why these digital currencies have been considered an inflation hedge, even though crypto is a relatively new asset class.

Cryptocurrencies are digital and decentralized, meaning they are maintained by peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, and created using distributed ledger technology (blockchain) and through P2P review. This is accomplished through different consensus methods, which vary depending on the coin.

So, during inflationary times for the U.S. dollar — when purchasing power is declining and the cost of goods is rising — the role of the Federal Reserve, the central bank that governs the dollar, is key. But cryptocurrencies aren’t beholden to a governing body like that, and thus cannot be controlled or manipulated in the same way that fiat currencies can. This is why many believed or hoped that cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, would be impervious to inflationary conditions.

Do Cryptocurrencies Experience Inflation?

The terms “inflationary” and “deflationary” refer to whether the supply of a cryptocurrency is growing (inflationary) or shrinking (deflationary). These terms are somewhat separate from the traditional concept of inflation, which focuses on the cost of goods and services.

Bitcoin is largely considered an inflationary crypto because its supply is still increasing, similar to Dogecoin. That said, some consider Bitcoin to be deflationary, because the supply can only increase to a hard cap of 21 million coins, and the rate that they get released to the market through mining decreases over time (a process called “halving”, because the number of Bitcoin mined per block is cut in half every four years). For now the supply of Bitcoin is still increasing, until it has all been mined around the year 2140.

Once all 21 million Bitcoins have been mined, Bitcoin will not be inflationary or deflationary. It will be disinflationary, meaning it has a stable supply and constant monetary base.

Other coins are not as clear cut. Ethereum is considered an inflationary currency, because its supply is increasing — even with the so-called Ethereum Merge — but under a certain protocol, some ETH are burned.

Cryptocurrencies can have very volatile values over short periods of time, making them a risky asset class. Even if they do maintain value when a national currency decreases in value, consumer purchasing power is still affected if the price of goods and services increases — and consumers can’t necessarily rely on crypto as a steady store of value to combat that.

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Crypto vs Fiat Currencies in Periods of High Inflation

During periods of high inflation, fiat currency decreases in value and consumers’ purchasing power goes down. Cryptocurrencies that have a fixed supply could theoretically protect against inflation, and this has been one of the benefits of using crypto for some investors, but the reality is a bit more complicated.

Crypto During Inflation

Although crypto has been talked about as a hedge against inflation, in reality that hasn’t exactly held up, as evidenced by events in 2021 and 2022.

Inflation has been fairly low over the past several years, so the crypto hedge theory hasn’t really been tested thoroughly, but 2022 has seen a sharp increase in inflation along with a crash in both the stock market and cryptocurrencies, suggesting that crypto may not be as safe a hedge as was previously thought.

Also, since so much institutional money has gone into crypto in recent years, some think that helps to explain why crypto tends to follow the broader market and is getting more closely correlated with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. It’s difficult to say, as there is no historical precedent that provides a clear comparison for the current situation.

For an asset to be a good hedge against inflation, it needs to be stable and trustworthy. Having a fixed supply is in Bitcoin’s favor, but Bitcoin’s short-term volatility makes it a somewhat unreliable hedge against inflation, although it may be inflation resistant. It might go up in value when the U.S. dollar goes down, but if it then sees a dramatic downswing it may not keep up with the pace of inflation.

For this reason, many investors have returned to gold since the recent drops in the crypto market. On the other hand, the long-term prospects of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have much more potential for growth than another ‘safe’ asset such as gold.

An alternative to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is stablecoins. Stablecoins are pegged to an external asset’s value, such as a national currency, making them more stable than other cryptocurrencies. There are stablecoins backed by many different fiat currencies, making it pretty easy to trade between those pegged to the U.S. dollar and other currencies as inflation rates change.

However, holding a stablecoin backed by the U.S. Dollar won’t protect against inflation.

Fiat Currencies During Inflation

Fiat currencies are the opposite of cryptocurrencies in that central banks can create more of them at any time. When more money gets printed, this creates inflation risk. The value of the fiat currency decreases, so the same amount of money will no longer buy the same amount of goods.

Fiat Currencies

Cryptocurrencies

Regulated by central authorities Decentralized
Supply can be increased by central banks; fiat is considered inflationary Crypto can be inflationary or deflationary because supply can be increased or decreased
Lose value when inflation rises May lose or gain value when inflation rises

Tips on Hedging Against Inflation

There are several ways one can possibly protect their money from inflation. These include:

•   Gold and precious metals

•   Commodities

•   Bonds

•   Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

•   The S&P 500

•   Real Estate

•   International diversification

•   Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS)

💡 Here are more tips and details on hedging against inflation

The Takeaway

During periods of inflation — when purchasing power is declining and the cost of goods is rising — the Federal Reserve can intervene by adjusting monetary policy. Because cryptocurrencies aren’t beholden to a governing body like that, they cannot be manipulated in the same way that fiat currencies can. This is why many believed or hoped that holding cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, would act as an effective hedge against rising prices.

Crypto is still a relatively new asset class, so in the future it may prove to be a solid hedge against inflation, but it is still a developing and immature sector. Overall, it’s too early to say whether crypto is an effective hedge, but investors are looking to alternatives to the traditional choices of gold and bonds since those are no longer proving reliable.

That said, some believe that Bitcoin is tied more to monetary policy and asset inflation/deflation, not to core inflation. There are some signs indicating that that is the case and it may hold to be true in the future. Between 2020-2022 there have been so many dramatic world events as well, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what crypto is tied to.

Regardless of the current market climate, there may be other reasons to invest in crypto — particularly its long-term prospects. If you’re interested in trading cryptocurrencies, you can set up an Active Invest account with SoFi Invest® and open a crypto trading account from there. SoFi’s secure and convenient app lets you research, track, buy and sell crypto, stocks, ETFs, and other assets right from your phone or laptop, 24/7. And you can get started with just a few dollars.

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FAQ

Is the crypto market causing inflation?

No. The decline in value of many cryptocurrencies in 2022 coincided with a period of inflation in the broader U.S. economy, but that was not caused by the crypto markets.

Does crypto help with inflation? Does it hurt?

Crypto isn’t inherently good or bad for inflation. It is a way to diversify funds away from cash or stocks, which may help protect against inflation — although crypto does not have a long enough track record to know for sure.

Can cryptocurrencies suffer from inflation?

Not exactly. Cryptocurrencies don’t behave like traditional fiat currencies. They aren’t regulated and they don’t offer a consistent store of value, thus they generally aren’t used to make basic consumer purchases. So a drop in crypto values may impact investors’ portfolios, but not the cost of living.

Can you use cryptocurrencies to hedge against inflation?

Cryptocurrencies may be a way to protect against inflation, but they are very volatile and are becoming increasingly correlated with the broader market, so there is no guarantee they will hold value as other currencies decrease.


Photo credit: iStock/akinbostanci

Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments. Limitations apply to trading certain crypto assets and may not be available to residents of all states.
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The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Also, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals, and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
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2Terms and conditions apply. Earn a bonus (as described below) when you open a new SoFi Digital Assets LLC account and buy at least $50 worth of any cryptocurrency within 7 days. The offer only applies to new crypto accounts, is limited to one per person, and expires on December 31, 2022. Once conditions are met and the account is opened, you will receive your bonus within 7 days. SoFi reserves the right to change or terminate the offer at any time without notice.

First Trade Amount Bonus Payout
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$100 $499.99 $15
$500 $4,999.99 $50
$5,000+ $100

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