Markets around the globe are not looking great, and that includes the crypto industry. Everything has been bleeding heavily for months without a sign of stopping, as central banks keep hiking rates, global supply chains struggle, and spending and investment dry up. Stagflation is a very real possibility, and there is no telling how long it will take for us to cool down the overheated markets that have been going only up since the last recession more than ten years ago.
The aforementioned notwithstanding, active development in the blockchain space continues to march forward. Although investments might drop significantly, many builders keep on building no matter the state of the markets. As Ethereum is steadily approaching the long-awaited transition from proof-of-work (PoW) to proof-of-stake (PoS), dubbed The Merge, it might be interesting to think about potential impacts of The Merge on the crypto market prices, especially in the context of a potential extended bear market.
Proof of Stake (PoS) explained
Ethereum ($ETH) Merge: What is it and everything you need to know
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About Ethereum 2.0
In short, The Merge will result in Eth2.0’s Beacon chain (the coordination mechanism of the new network) merging with the current Ethereum mainnet, signifying the move to a fully PoS chain. To secure the network, enormous amounts of ETH will be staked in addition to the ETH already staked in the Beacon chain, making all of this locked ETH illiquid. Combined with the EIP-1559 upgrade, which now burns 70-80% of the fees, The Merge is expected to cause the equivalent of 3 bitcoin halvenings, dropping Ethereum’s inflation rate to 0.43% and locking up a lot of ETH, potentially reducing sell pressure by up to 90%. In addition, the PoS mechanism will reduce Ethereum’s energy consumption by up to 99.95%.
So all is looking great for Ethereum and projects building on top of it, right? Possibly. However, there is still a decent chance that, given the current market conditions, ETH’s price pump might be short-lived, and would continue to drop, bringing down a lot of other projects with it.
The Potential Impacts of The Merge
There are two possible scenarios to look at when discussing the downside impact of The Merge on crypto prices:
- The external effect would be caused by Ethereum sucking out liquidity from other PoS alt-L1s and the projects built on top of them (especially if they’re EVM-compatible), as one of the more critical selling points compared to Ethereum is environmental sustainability.
- Beacon chain staked ETH unlocks, extended bear market, and poor treasury management of Ethereum-backed projects could see more capitulation events as HODLers and projects sell off their ETH to stay afloat as new investments dry up and stagflation looms.
1. Ethereum Sucks Liquidity From Other PoS alt-L1’s
By offering lower gas fees, fast transactions, and relatively high throughput at the expense of decentralization and economic sustainability, many PoS chains have attracted developers, investors, and NFT ecosystems to their networks away from Ethereum. Ethereum’s high demand (=high fees), poor L1 scalability, and the concerning PoW mechanism have severely limited its growth. Understandably, regular people simply do not want to pay exorbitant fees when minting and trading NFTs, and developing inaccessible dApps on a network that is supposedly destroying trees and warming up the planet.
The environmental argument will be completely invalid after the merge. Coupled with the enormous innovations in Ethereum’s L2 ecosystem, which have already reduced transaction fees to sub-$1 with no signs of stopping, Ethereum is set to once again become the most sought-after smart contract development platform. As post-Merge buy pressure of ETH increases and scalability improves, alt-L1’s could struggle to offer any significant unique selling points, making new projects opt to build on top of the most secure, established and decentralized smart contract chain out there.
As more and more people flock to Ethereum, established projects might also decide to migrate to the platform with the most demand and upside potential, effectively sucking out liquidity from other chains, and leaving them dry with evaporated treasuries, limited runway, and reduced demand. The strategy of subsidizing transaction fees during a bull market when funds are plentiful will likely not work when no new investments are coming in during a bear market, and an exodus of users is reducing demand and network revenues.
Of course, there is plenty of room for growth in this space, and projects existing on other chains might not find it too beneficial to move to Ethereum even though short-term liquidity issues might prove challenging.
2. Beacon Chain ETH Unlocks in Extended Bear Market Cause Mass Capitulation
The Merge will unlock a lot of ETH, resulting in a potential aggressive selling spree that might have trickle-down effects on a lot of other coins, especially those that have tight correlation with their ETH pair, are ERC-20 tokens, or have been sitting on ETH treasuries to fund their development. A lot more downside risk due to a selloff is also a very real possibility for ETH and other coins simply due to bad timing (i.e. bear market – with recession slowly creeping into our daily lives due to central banks raising interest rates, supply chain issues, energy crises etc.), the unlocked ETH might serve as a critical lifeline for those who had confidently staked their ETH during the bull market.
During the bear market, investments will be scarce, and projects that during the bull market had made the decision to not convert their treasury ETH to stablecoins are now seeing their wallets drop in value significantly, forcing them to capitulate by selling at low prices to cover their expenses.
However, it is important to note that the ETH unlocked from the ETH staked on the Beacon chain will not be immediately available right after The Merge. Rather, this feature – EIP-4895: “Beacon chain push withdrawals as operations”, will be enabled during the Shanghai upgrade. It will probably be deployed much later after The Merge, with estimates ranging from a month to 6 months. This means that any amount of potential sell-off of unlocked ETH would come with a significant delay post-Merge, at which point it’s impossible to predict where the market might be in 6-12 months and how it will behave, with contradicting bullish and bearish narratives clashing against one another in an attempt to drive price in either direction.
This option does seem a bit far-fetched, however, and no one knows how much more pain we will have to suffer before the momentum shifts towards the upside, so it’s best to be prepared for both the upside and downside, and not fall prey to only bullish narratives.
As outlined in the two main points, post-Merge many alt-L1 coins could face a risk of crashing even further due to risks associated with reduced liquidity in a bear market (for non-Ethereum coins), liquidity that might flow towards the Ethereum ecosystem due to its established security, track record, and newly acquired environmental sustainability.
On the other hand, ETH and other ERC-20 tokens living on Ethereum also run a risk of crashing, if the post-Merge ETH unlock from the Beacon chain results in a mass sell-off of ETH, which could crash other coins and project treasuries.
As this will be the first time the crypto industry experiences a recession or a stagflation, there is a lot of uncertainty about how low the market could go and, most importantly, how long it could stay so low. This is uncharted territory, so making comparisons with past cycles might not be particularly useful. Nations and companies will keep tightening their belts, and spending will significantly decrease across the board, leaving risk-on markets such as crypto vulnerable to a continued mass exodus to safer investments.