Wall Street is betting on further bitcoin gains

NEW YORK — Digital currency bitcoin just broke the $400 mark for the first time this year and Wall Street is already betting it will go higher.

Brokerage firm Webush Securities said it sees the cyber coin rising to $600 per bitcoin in the next 12 month, citing growing interest by large financial institutions in bitcoin’s underlying technology, known as blockchain.

Bitcoin, which has been used to buy everything from cars to computers to illicit drugs, traded at $404.50 per bitcoin Thursday afternoon, according to bitcoin data tracker Coindesk. On Tuesday, the cyber coin broke the $400 mark for the first time since last year, up from $177 per bitcoin in January.

It’s been a rocky road for bitcoin enthusiasts, who watched the cyber coin rise to close to $1,000 per bitcoin in late 2013 before the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, collapsed in 2014.

Mt. Gox’s collapse pummeled the price of bitcoin, and it was blasted the worst investment of 2014 after closing down a whopping 58% from the start of the year. This year, bitcoin prices declined even further, dropping to as low of $177 per bitcoin in January, according to data from Coindesk.

But bitcoin is now seeing a resurgence amid growing interest in the future of its underlying blockchain technology.

Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs and the New York Stock Exchange, are increasingly investing in blockchain technology as a way to help them conduct financial transactions safely and cheaply.

Earlier this week, Magister Advisors, which advises on tech mergers, said the world’s top 100 financial institutions are projected to spend an estimated $1 billion on blockchain-related projects over the next 24 months. The U.K.-based firm also said it sees bitcoin becoming the 6th largest global reserve currency within 15 years.

While blockchain can be invested in and used separately from bitcoin, Webush sees interest in blockchain helping bitcoin.

“We believe there may be some applications that narrowly use a distributed ledger without a valuable native token, but those will end up being a small part of the solutions,” Website said in a research report issued Wednesday.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kaja Whitehouse on Twitter: @kajawhitehouse