Digital currency bitcoin jumped to a record high above $1,200 on Friday, as investors speculated the first bitcoin exchange-traded fund to be issued in the US is set to receive regulatory approval.
Traditional financial players have largely shunned the web-based “cryptocurrency,” viewing it as too volatile, complicated and risky, and doubting its inherent value, Reuters reported.
But bitcoin, invented in 2008, performed better than any other currency in every year since 2010 apart from 2014, when it was the worst-performing currency, and has added almost a quarter to its value so far this year.
It soared to as high as $1,200 per bitcoin in early Asian trading on Europe’s Bitstamp exchange, before easing to about $1,190.
That put the total value of all bitcoins in circulation—or the digital currency’s “market cap,” as it is known—at close to $20 billion, around the same size as Iceland’s economy.
Some analysts say regulatory approval of a bitcoin ETF would make the currency relatively attractive to the often more cautious institutional investor market.
But despite potentially high returns, low correlations with other currencies and assets, falling volatility and increasing liquidity, there is scant evidence so far that most major players are considering investing in the digital currency.
Three ETFs that track the value of bitcoin have been filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for approval. The SEC will decide by March 11 whether to approve one filed almost four years ago by investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. If approved, it would be the first bitcoin ETF issued and regulated by a US entity.
Bitcoin has also been boosted by controls on capital flight from China. The Chinese government has been keen to keep money within the country, with residents allegedly using the currency to move their cash across the border.
The Chinese government last month said it was monitoring bitcoin exchanges, in what was seen as an attempt to stem the outflow of capital.
Bitcoin by its nature and design is almost untrackable, which has caused it to gain notoriety on the internet’s black market “dark web” sites.
Governments around the world are increasingly taking note of its use in criminal activities as well as the potential for tax evasion.
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