Bitcoin, Ethereium, Litecoin, and other blockchain-based digital tokens have rallied sharply in the last month.
In just the last 48 hours, Bitcoin and Ethereum raced well into record territory. On many exchanges, the US-dollar denominated price of Bitcoin crossed the $1600 mark, and the price of Ethereum topped $100 for the first time in its comparatively short history. And Litecoin, which has languished below $5 for over a year, saw a major uptick in interest from traders, pushing its price to over $25 in the past 24 hours.
Cryptocurrency is a supremely volatile asset class, and traders in these digital tokens are a notoriously mercurial bunch, so the current optimism may point to some bigger trend here.
Up And To The Right
To show the remarkable rise in respective price over the last month, we created a chart that tracks the historical value of each up to the time of writing. The starting point for each is their value on April 4th:
(Note: We chose to exclude Ripple, which has a total market capitalization that ranks higher than Litecoin’s. But because mining of Ripple is centralized, it’s price is not subject to the same market forces as cryptocurrencies with open, decentralized mining written into the protocol.)
Over the past month, Bitcoin’s average price has risen steadily, closing out the 30-day period ending May 5th some 33.5 percent higher. That’s a pace of return that investors in more conventional asset classes would be incredibly happy with.
But relative to other cryptocurrncies, that pace of return could be considered lackluster. Litecoin, one of the oldest alternatives to Bitcoin, is trading 80 percent higher over the same time frame. And Ethereum, a relative newcomer with more technical features than Bitcoin, is up nearly 120 percent relative to the same time last month.
What’s driving the rapid appreciation in the price of Bitcoin and its cryptocurrency counterparts? Of course, arriving at definitive answers is difficult, but there are recent and notable trends that affect traders’ behavior.
In the case of Bitcoin, there has been a significant spike in demand by traders and users alike from Japan. That country’s legislature put new rules into effect in April that made Bitcoin a legally-recognized method of payment. According to CNBC coverage of Coindesk research, Japanese Yen-denominated orders for Bitcoin accounted for over 50% of the volume on May 1.
Litecoin has seen a renewed spike in interest as miners voted to activate the “Segregated Witness” patch, which allows more information to fit in the cryptographic blocks that record transactions on the blockchain. However, Litecoin’s price and trading volume really took off after Coinbase, the venture-backed Bitcoin exchange and wallet service added support for Litecoin on Wednesday. This major development is seen as a victory for the Litecoin community as many have been waiting for Coinbase’s support for years.
With Ethereum, the increased value the market places on its tokens is likely the result of increased adoption of the technology and ongoing interest in blockchain development by major corporations, startups, and researchers. Ethereum is different from Bitcoin and Litecoin in that it offers a scripting language on top of its blockchain, which can facilitate new business structures like auto-executing contracts and decentralized autonomous corporations. This scripting capability, plus lower fees compared to Bitcoin, positions Ethereum as a viable and serious competitor to the original blockchain-based cryptocurrency.
It’s almost certain that the rally in cryptocurrencies will subside as investors opt to realize their gains. However, it’s unclear what a correction would look like. Unlike the speculative bubble in late 2013 and early 2014, there really are more companies and individuals actively exploring uses for these technologies, so prices are unlikely to return to the lows of 2015.
Where everything settles after the correction remains to be seen, but in the meantime, professional traders, speculators, and enthusiasts seem content to ride the rally (and its volatility), at least for now.