The original cryptocurrency hits 15-month high as traders bet move will legitimise sector
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The price of bitcoin has surged above $11,000 (£8,600), its highest level in 15 months, amid renewed hype over cryptocurrencies after Facebook said it was planning to launch a digital currency next year.
Bitcoin has risen in value by almost $2,000 in the week since the US technology firm revealed plans to create a cryptocurrency called Libra, in a move that could radically reshape the financial landscape with far-reaching implications for governments and central banks around the world.
The original cryptocurrency had languished below $6,000 for much of this year and was falling out of the headlines as investors around the world gradually lost interest in the fad for digital assets.
Some investors had been severely burned by bitcoin when its meteoric rise to almost $20,000 in late 2017 – which drew comparisons to the tulip mania of the 17th century – was followed by a spectacular collapse last year.
Stoking fresh fears of the reinflation of the bubble, bitcoin hit $11,116.65 over the weekend, up from $8,539.81 at the start of June, before dropping back slightly to trade at about $10,800 on Monday afternoon.
Analysts said the news of Facebook’s work on Libra was the prime driver behind the surge, as traders bet the adoption of cryptocurrency technology by a major global corporation would help legitimise the industry.
Craig Erlam, a senior market analyst at the financial trading firm Oanda, said: “Bitcoin has slowly – by its own standards – been rising in recent months but the launch of Facebook’s Libra has clearly been a catalyst for the recent surge.
“The publicity that the launch has once again brought to the space, combined with the legitimacy it offers, has understandably excited the community.”
Rising tensions in the Middle East and mounting fears about the world economy have also stoked renewed interest among investors in bitcoin, which is sometimes viewed as a safe-haven asset similar to gold. The digital currency does not typically mirror the movements in wider financial markets during periods of turmoil.
Gold prices have risen in recent weeks to the highest levels since 2013, as the US Federal Reserve could be forced into interest rate cuts to stave off a slowdown in the US economy. The European Central Bank has also said it could cut interest rates as growth falters in the eurozone.
Unlike its run in 2017, which came largely from media hype stoking retail investors’ interest in cryptocurrencies, bitcoin’s tripling in value this year could have been the result of increased demand from professional investors such as fund managers and hedge funds.
The Chicago Mercantile Exchange last week recorded an all-time high volume of trading in bitcoin derivatives contracts – sophisticated investments tracking the price of the digital currency only available to City banks and fund managers – with more than 5,000 contracts worth $250m.
However regulators around the world have warned that Facebook’s entry into the world of cryptocurrencies could lead to greater controls and tougher regulations to protect consumers.
Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, gave a cautious welcome to Libra last week. He said the central bank would support new entrants into the UK financial system, but warned that Facebook would need to meet the highest regulatory standards.
“The Bank of England approaches Libra with an open mind but not an open door,” he said.
At the weekend the Bank for International Settlements warned that big tech firms using digital currencies could undermine the stability of a banking system that had only just recovered from the crash of 2008.
Analysts at the Swiss bank UBS said: “We continue to view speculation in specific cryptocurrencies as a gamble and not an investment. Investors interested in next-generation payment systems should consider [other] emerging opportunities.”