Guide to Crypto Market Cycles

Guide to Crypto Market Cycles

A crypto market cycle is a recurrent pattern of price movements that cryptocurrency markets undergo, reflecting changes in market sentiment and dynamics over time. Recognizing these phases is crucial for deploying the appropriate trading strategies and making informed decisions. Typically, market cycles encompass four main phases: Accumulation, Uptrend (Markup), Distribution, and Downtrend (Markdown).


Phases of Crypto Market Cycles

Accumulation Phase

The accumulation phase initiates a market cycle, typically emerging after an extended downtrend. This phase is characterized by stabilization at lower price levels and predominantly bearish sentiment. 


  1. Accumulation by Whales

Institutional investors and large holders (whales) start acquiring assets discreetly. Whales, due to their financial power, have the ability to influence market movements. They typically accumulate large amounts of a cryptocurrency at lower prices, anticipating long-term gains. To do so, they often utilizing over-the-counter (OTC) trades to avoid market disruptions. This may not immediately impact market prices but can be identified by increased trading volumes and upticks in large transactions. This quiet accumulation phase is critical for setting the foundation for the next market uptrend.


  1. Bearish Sentiment

During this phase, sentiment is generally pessimistic, with skepticism about price recovery. Bearish sentiment is often driven by recent price declines and negative news. The bearish outlook creates opportunities for accumulation by traders. By analyzing market fundamentals and identifying undervalued assets, traders can position themselves advantageously for the next phase.


  1. Reduced Retail Activity

Retail traders typically remain inactive, either recovering from prior losses or awaiting clearer market signals, leading to reduced activity during periods of uncertainty. This creates a less competitive environment for institutional investors to accumulate assets without price pressures, while still taking precautions.


  1. Emerging Positive News

Despite the predominant negative sentiment, sporadic positive news can shift perspectives and hint at the transition towards an uptrend. Positive news, such as technological advancements, regulatory clarity, or reputable partnerships, can begin to change market perception. For instance, news about a major company adopting blockchain technology or a country implementing favorable crypto regulations can instill confidence and attract new traders, setting the stage for the uptrend phase. Increased attention to positive developments might signal the end of accumulation and the onset of the uptrend phase.


Uptrend (Markup) Phase

Following the accumulation phase, the Uptrend (Markup) phase sees a positive shift in market sentiment and increased participation as prices rise.


  1. Sustained Price Increases

A defining feature of the Uptrend phase is a sustained increase in asset prices, driven by high trading volumes and liquidity. During this phase, the market experiences upward momentum. Technical indicators such as moving averages, relative strength index (RSI), and volume analysis can help traders identify optimal entry points and ride the trend. This indicates growing market confidence and participation, allowing traders to identify entry points and capitalize on the trend while monitoring for signs of overbought conditions. It is essential to remain vigilant for signs of overextension, as these can indicate impending corrections.


  1. Optimistic Market Sentiment

As prices rise, sentiment shifts from skepticism to optimism, bolstered by media coverage. Positive reports and bullish forecasts have the potential to attract new traders, further driving demand. Social media platforms and news outlets often amplify this optimism due to their mass reach, contributing to the overall upward trend. This growing confidence attracts more participants, creating a reinforcing cycle of rising prices and increased demand.


  1. Increased Retail Participation

The Uptrend phase attracts retail traders driven by the fear of missing out (FOMO). This influx of new participants further fuels price increases. Traders should remain cautious of FOMO and adhere to their trading plans to avoid impulsive decisions. Retail traders, seeing the price surge, might be incentivised to enter trades driven by the potential for gains. While this can drive prices higher, it also introduces volatility.


Distribution Phase

The Distribution phase follows the Uptrend and is marked by asset prices hitting a peak, as traders who managed to get in early begin to realize profits, leading to a plateau or gradual decline.


  1. Price Stagnation

Prices reach their peak and start to stagnate or fluctuate, indicating sellers outnumber buyers. The market may show signs of exhaustion as buying pressure wanes. Indicators such as decreased volume during price increases and divergence in RSI can signal the onset of this phase. The potential market shift prompts traders to consider profit-taking, and it is crucial to monitor these signals closely to lock in profits.


  1. Heightened Volatility

Heightened selling activity leads to increased volatility, with more pronounced price swings as market direction becomes uncertain. Volatility increases as uncertainty grows. Traders often face rapid price movements, making it crucial to employ risk management strategies such as tighter stop-loss orders and trailing stops to protect gains, as well as to watch for breakdowns below key support levels.


  1. Mixed Market Sentiment

Optimism wanes, giving way to mixed sentiment. Market sentiment becomes polarized, with conflicting views on future price direction. While some traders hope for further gains, many begin to liquidate positions, fearing an impending downturn. This environment can be challenging, requiring traders to rely on technical and fundamental analysis to make informed decisions.


  1. Asset Redistribution

Seasoned traders and institutions recognize the signs of a market top and begin offloading assets to new retail traders enticed by high prices. This distribution phase often precedes a market decline, and can lead to big price corrections as the market transitions to the markdown phase.


Downtrend (Markdown) Phase

The Downtrend (Markdown) phase ensues after the Distribution phase, characterized by widespread selling and declining prices as optimism turns to pessimism.


  1. Sharp Price Declines

A sharp decline in prices driven by realization of overvaluation. As prices fall, panic selling accelerates the decline, impacting market capitalization. Key support levels are often breached, leading to further losses. Traders should consider reducing exposure and protecting capital during this phase.


  1. Elevated Fear Levels

The Fear and Greed Index, often used to gauge market sentiment, typically shows elevated levels of fear dominating the market during this phase. This heightened fear can lead to panic selling as traders reacting swiftly to negative news, and a reduction in investments, compounding the downturn. Sentiment indicators and contrarian strategies can help identify potential market bottoms, but caution is paramount.


  1. Reactionary Trading Behavior

Increased sensitivity to negative news amplifies selling pressure and volatility, with swift reactions to adverse market signals that can trigger sharp price movements. To navigate this volatile environment, avoid making impulsive decisions and focus on fundamental analysis.


  1. Liquidity Challenges

Liquidity dries up as participants avoid new positions or exit existing ones, widening bid-ask spreads and increasing slippage, making trading more challenging. Traders should be mindful of these conditions and adjust their strategies accordingly, potentially using limit orders to manage execution risks.


  1. Breaking Support Levels

Strong, longer-term support levels, once breached, can lead to extended downturns, as it signifies further declines and a potential long-term bearish trend, discouraging new trades  and investments. Technical analysis tools like Fibonacci retracement and moving averages can help identify potential reversal points and manage risks.


Understanding Market Cycle Psychology

Optimism and euphoria dominate during the early and middle stages of an uptrend. As prices begin to rise, traders feel increasingly optimistic. This positive sentiment is often reinforced by media coverage and social proof, where the actions of other traders and influencers further bolster confidence. As the market peaks and enters the distribution phase, prices start to fluctuate and eventually decline. Initially, traders might be in denial, holding onto their assets in the hope that prices will rebound.

The bottom of the market cycle, often seen during the markdown phase, is where despair and depression dominate. This phase is marked by much lower prices, and traders may experience regret and hopelessness, believing that the assets will never recover. Finally, as the cycle loops back into the accumulation phase, prices stabilize and begin to rise slowly, bringing hope and a sense of relief to the market. This marks the beginning of recovery, as traders and investors start accumulating undervalued assets, anticipating the next uptrend.


  1. Optimism

In the early stages of an uptrend, traders and investors start to see positive returns on their investments. This generates a feeling of optimism and hope for further gains. Market participants believe that the asset is undervalued and that the price will continue to increase.

During this phase, positive news and developments in the crypto space, such as technological advancements, new partnerships, or regulatory approvals, can amplify optimistic sentiment. Social media and news outlets play a crucial role in spreading this optimism, creating a feedback loop that attracts more investors.


2. Euphoria

As prices continue to rise, optimism can turn into euphoria. Traders experience strong emotional highs and a sense of invincibility. This is often referred to as the “greed” phase, where rational decision-making is overshadowed by the fear of missing out (FOMO). 

Euphoria can lead to overleveraging and reckless trades, as traders believe the upward trend will continue indefinitely. Historical examples include the 2017 Bitcoin bull run, where euphoria drove prices to unprecedented heights.


3. Denial

When prices start to decline after a peak, many traders refuse to acknowledge the shift. They hold onto their assets, expecting a quick rebound. This denial is fueled by the recent memory of rapid gains and the hope that the market will return to its previous highs.

Denial can cause traders to ignore warning signs and negative news, leading to poor decision-making. Cognitive biases such as anchoring, where traders fixate on the peak prices, exacerbate this behavior.


4. Fear

As the downtrend becomes more apparent and prices continue to fall, fear sets in. Traders begin to panic, worrying about potential losses. This fear can prompt a wave of selling, as traders rush to liquidate their holdings to minimize losses.

Fear-driven selling can lead to sharp declines in prices, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The 2018 Bitcoin bear market is a prime example, where fear and panic selling led to a prolonged downturn.


5. Despair

As prices hit new lows, traders who held through the downturn experience intense regret and despair. They feel trapped, having missed the opportunity to sell at higher prices. This emotional low point is often accompanied by significant financial losses.

Despair can lead to capitulation, where traders sell their assets at a loss, convinced that the market will never recover. This behavior is common during the final stages of a bear market, as seen during the 2018 crypto winter.


6. Depression

Prolonged low prices can lead to a sense of hopelessness and depression among traders. They may lose interest in the market altogether, withdrawing from trading and investing activities. This phase can see reduced trading volumes and low market activity.

Depression in the market can last for extended periods, often until new positive developments or trends emerge to renew investor interest, and is evident in the lengthy bear markets in traditional finance and crypto markets alike.


7. Hope

As prices stabilize and early signs of recovery appear, traders begin to feel hopeful. This renewed optimism is often cautious, as market participants are wary of false recoveries.

Hope is typically driven by positive news, such as technological advancements, improved market infrastructure, or regulatory clarity. The gradual increase in prices encourages traders to re-enter the market, leading to the early stages of an uptrend.


8. Relief

As prices start to rise steadily, traders who weathered the downturn experience a sense of relief. This phase sees increased buying activity, as market participants believe the worst is over and a new bull market is beginning.

The relief phase can be a good opportunity for accumulation, as prices are still relatively low compared to previous highs. Traders who recognize the early signs of recovery can position themselves advantageously for the next market cycle.


This material is for information purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. Flipster makes no recommendations or guarantees in respect of any digital asset, product, or service.

Trading digital assets and digital asset derivatives comes with significant risk of loss due to its high price volatility, and is not suitable for all investors.