This article is part of the FT’s Runaway Markets series.
A flurry of central bank stimulus and growing interest from retail and institutional investors have continued the rally in cryptocurrencies, according to analysts, even as skeptics warn that the market is in the middle of a bubble.
Bitcoin started at just over $ 36,000 in February, about $ 5,000 off last month’s high.
The digital currency fluctuated shortly after hitting highs in early January, but has so far avoided a repeat of the brutal 2017 crash. Some investors blamed this on a flurry of central bank stimulus that raised the price of assets around the world and sparked a frantic hunt for return.
“The amount of liquidity that has been injected into the system has found its way into a wide variety of assets including alternatives like Bitcoin,” said Francesca Fornasari, fund manager at Insight Investment.
At the same time, professional and amateur investors are starting to play a more active role in the crypto market.
“In 2012, it was mostly geeks, anarchists and libertarians in crypto,” said Marc Bernegger, a Zurich-based board member of the Crypto Finance Group, a broker and asset manager. “The profile of the people who play Bitcoin has definitely changed.”
However, many remain skeptical and fear that the sharp price hikes reflect increasingly foamy market conditions. For them, Bitcoin’s earnings reflect recent volatility in the share prices of companies like GameStop and AMC Entertainment, as well as a sudden surge in the price of silver this week.
The moves in all three markets saw an influx of retailers armed with increasingly sophisticated tools and often staying at home due to coronavirus lockdowns. Some brokers like Robinhood allow traders to bet on the price of stocks as well as cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin’s value has increased nine times since a sharp decline during the general market devastation last March. The boom has taken notice of sections of the traditional financial community and some banks have started to cover the market as part of their research offerings.
Coinbase, based in San Francisco, is preparing for a direct listing, which will give investors the first chance to buy stocks in a major U.S.-listed cryptocurrency exchange.
The planned debut comes as investors are already looking for other proxies to invest in digital tokens without having to hold them directly. Last year, investors invested $ 5.7 billion in cryptocurrency trusts managed by Grayscale, the preferred investment channel for many traditional traders who dip their toes in Bitcoin. The number was more than four times the total net inflows between 2013 and 2019. Most of Grayscale’s inflows come from institutional investors.
Data from Chainalysis, a company specializing in cryptocurrency analysis, also shows an increase in institutional Bitcoin purchases and an increase in average transaction sizes since November.
In a series of articles, the Financial Times examines the brisk start to 2021 in global financial markets
Joshua Younger, strategist at JPMorgan, said the size of the bitcoin market has grown to about a fifth of the gold held for investment and trading, with a cryptocurrency market cap of $ 750 billion at its peak earlier this year removed from a niche asset class “.
The lure of the high risk room is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. “You’re not buying Bitcoin to earn 20 percent, but to generate exponential returns,” said Brett Messing, partner and chief operating officer of the cryptocurrency specialist hedge fund SkyBridge Capital.
Analysts for Canadian insurance company Manulife said in late January that expanding central banks’ balance sheets and rising national debt would push investors further into alternative asset classes, making cryptocurrencies a “solution to investor fears that continued extraordinary political support will lead.” could lead to misallocation of resources ”.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that investing in cryptocurrencies is appropriate, but it does suggest that cryptoassets like Bitcoin are increasingly becoming a standard reference point for investors and policy makers,” said Manulife.
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However, scams and hacks are still rife. A recent report from data company Xangle shows that investors have lost more than $ 16 billion to fraud since 2012. Regulators are also increasingly concerned about the size of the market and the daily unaudited activity.
Agustín Carstens, the head of the Bank for International Settlements, said last week, “It’s clear that Bitcoin is more of a speculative asset than money.”
Michael Bolliger, chief investment officer at UBS Wealth Management, added that the history of the bubbles has shown that they can stay inflated longer than expected, sometimes without bursting.
“Changes in the way assets are perceived can also mean that bubbles may never be completely deflated. This could also apply to cryptocurrencies,” Bolliger said.