After months of "crypto winter," bitcoin surged passed NZ$19,000 in the early hours this morning, reaching a high of NZ$20,681, and experts think Facebook could be fueling the rise.
Although dropping back slightly during the day, the cryptocurrency is still trading around NZ$19,362.
On Monday, bitcoin reached US$11,000 (NZ$16,500) for the first time since March 2018. The world's largest cryptocurrency is now up 170 per cent for the year, suggesting investors have shed some of the scepticism that took hold after the bitcoin bubble burst in 2018 - its worst year on record. The digital coin had peaked at US$19,000 in December 2017 before tumbling, and was hovering around US$3,400 in January.
"The strong resurgence in the Bitcoin price is mainly due to the renewed mainstream interest in cryptocurrencies and the technology that underlines it," Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at ThinkMarkets, wrote in a Forbes column. "Projects like Facebook's Libra have provided a much-needed tail wind for this space."
Last week, newly formed Facebook subsidiary Calibra announced plans for a digital currency, Libra, which it's framing as an alternative to traditional financial services for the billions of people worldwide who lack access to banking. The digital currency will be accessible via a digital wallet in Messenger and WhatsApp and could launch as early as next year. It's backed by 28 companies and nonprofits, including finance and tech giants such as Mastercard and Uber.
Though Libra is built on the same blockchain technology that underlies bitcoin, Calibra head David Marcus is adamant Libra isn't meant to be a direct competitor - he wants the two to complement each other.
"Many want to pit Libra vs. Bitcoin. In my mind, these two are not in the same category," Marcus tweeted last week. "BTC is a decorrelated (investment) asset. Libra is designed to be a stable medium-of-exchange. I have been, and remain a fan of BTC, but for very different purposes."
Even if it doesn't take off, Facebook's bid to get its 2.4 billion users to use Libra could help legitimize a sector that struggles to garner broader public interest and confidence. The appeal of cryptocurrency has long been undermined by its reputation as a fringe alternative to traditional financial systems, as well as by volatility, security issues and lack of regulation.
"With a potential for many pairs on exchanges against both fiats, cryptos, and other marketplace assets, the Libra token itself could be uniquely positioned to gain mass digital adoption," researchers at cryptocurrency exchange Binance wrote in a report on how Libra could reshape the cryptocurrency world. "In doing so, it paves the way for more end users by driving broader familiarity with blockchain technology, flattening the learning curve for everyday participants in the crypto ecosystem."
Cryptocurrency's mainstream appeal could grow as traditional financial institutions bring it into the fold. In February, JPMorgan Chase announced plans for JPMCoin, the first U.S. bank-backed cryptocurrency. And in March, financial services giant Fidelity went live with its cryptocurrency clearing and custody company.
The Libra announcement has also lifted crypto-related stocks and lesser-known cryptocurrencies. Ethereum has more than doubled since the beginning of the year, and is currently trading around US$309, having just hit a 10-month high, according to data from CoinMarketCap.
Aside from Libra's added spotlight, some of bitcoin's gains could be explained by the glut of economic and political tensions from President Trump's trade war with China and an escalating conflict with Iran, as well as impending rate cuts from the Federal Reserve that could be pushing investors to pull their assets out of U.S. Treasurys. Gold - a haven for investors amid economic and political instability - hit a six-year high last week, with prices surpassing US$1,400 an ounce.
Bitcoin has experienced a parabolic upswing since January, having nearly tripled its lowest-ever trading price in the past several months and prompting analyst speculation that it could soon surpass the record high of US$19,891 set during the bubble of 2017.
"I think bitcoin is easily going to take out its all-time highs," Tom Lee, research chief at Fundstrat Global Advisors, said last week on CNBC, saying the digital currency could potentially run as high as US$40,000 if conditions stay favorable. "We're deep into a bull market."
- Washington Post