(Bloomberg) — The cryptocurrency market is flashing some signs of caution with just two days to go before a critical software upgrade of the Ethereum network, the sector’s most commercially important blockchain.
The wariness is evident in the way Ether, the network’s native token, is lagging Bitcoin of late: the second-largest digital asset is down about 13% in the past month, compared with an 9% drop in Bitcoin. The gap between a gauge of expected volatility in Ether and a similar index for Bitcoin is also elevated.
At issue is whether the blockchain’s revamp, which is designed to dramatically shrink its energy use, goes smoothly or not. There is also a risk that an Ether jump since mid-June driven partly by hype around the update — known as the Merge — will continue to fizzle once the upgrade is done and dusted.
While it seems unlikely, “we can’t rule out a buy-the-rumor sell-the-fact playing out” around the Merge, Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone Group Ltd., wrote in a note Tuesday.
Bitcoin held at about $22,270 as of 9 a.m. in London, Ether wavered at $1,716 and the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 100 Index was steady.
Ether-based investment products saw outflows of about $62 million last week, accounting for the bulk of the cash pulled from digital-asset vehicles, according to data from CoinShares.
This was “despite the improved certainty of the Merge and perhaps highlights a concern amongst investors that the event might not go as planned,” James Butterfill, head of research at CoinShares, wrote in a note.
In the derivatives market, more crypto traders are shorting Ether ahead of Ethereum’s biggest technical upgrade.
Before the shift from a so-called proof-of-work to proof-of-stake blockchain, expected Sept. 15, crypto and global markets have to get through the US inflation report Tuesday. The data will shape views on the likely severity of US monetary-policy tightening, which threatens to sap liquidity.
Weston from Pepperstone argued that “from a short-term trading perspective it feels like the weight of evidence is that traders are far better off watching variables such as liquidity and sentiment over the switch to ‘proof of stake.’”