Monday, June 24

Is Crypto Back? What to Know About Bitcoin’s Surge.

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts celebrated on Tuesday, as the price of Bitcoin reached a record high of more than $69,000. For believers, it was a moment of vindication after a 2022 industry downturn that sent several major companies into bankruptcy and tainted crypto’s reputation.

But is crypto really back from the dead? While the numbers suggest the industry is starting to thrive again, there are major differences between this bull run and the euphoria that drove crypto prices to previous highs.

Here’s what to know about the new crypto surge.

The last time Bitcoin hit a record was November 2021, as cryptocurrencies became a cultural phenomenon. Crypto executives hung out with celebrities, and their companies conducted giant marketing campaigns featuring Super Bowl commercials.

Prices crashed in the spring of 2022, as some of the most prominent crypto firms were exposed as frauds. People who had poured their savings into crypto lost everything. The decline culminated in November 2022, when the FTX crypto exchange, founded by Sam Bankman-Fried, collapsed after the equivalent of a bank run, costing customers $8 billion.

Since then, Bitcoin has been on a tear. After hitting a low of roughly $16,000 after FTX’s implosion, the virtual currency’s price has soared to $69,000.

A major turning point for the crypto industry arrived in August, when a court ruling paved the way for financial firms to offer new investment products tied to the price of Bitcoin. The products, called exchange-traded funds, or E.T.F.s, gave investors a way to dabble in cryptocurrencies without owning them directly.

In essence, an E.T.F. is a basket of assets, divided into shares. Investors buy the shares, rather than the assets themselves. The introduction of Bitcoin E.T.F.s meant that cautious investors could dip their toes into the crypto markets without having to worry about setting up a digital wallet or entrusting savings to a dubious-sounding start-up.

The impact was immediate. Since the E.T.F.s hit the market in January, more than $7.5 billion in investment has flowed into them, pushing the price of Bitcoin upward.

When crypto boomed in 2021, its rise was fueled at least partly by ordinary investors, cooped up during the pandemic, who turned to online investing as a new hobby. They bought up so-called memecoins, which are cryptocurrencies based on online jokes, and stored their digital savings in newfangled crypto banks with sketchy business models. Nonfungible tokens, the crypto-based collectibles known as NFTs, also surged in price.

This time, Bitcoin is leading the way. Other tokens have also risen in value, but without hitting their previous heights (though there has been some renewed interest in memecoins). And the Bitcoin run-up has been driven by support from major financial institutions like BlackRock and Fidelity, which both offer Bitcoin E.T.F.s.

“It definitely is very different” from 2021, said Michael Anderson, a founder of the crypto investment firm Framework Ventures. “It’s possible this is going to be an institutionally led cycle.”

Crypto boosters insist that Bitcoin’s surge is just the beginning. They envision months of significant gains that could send the cryptocurrency’s price north of $100,000.

Even if they’re right, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the broader industry will flourish. Federal regulators have more or less made peace with the fact that people trade Bitcoin in the United States. But they have been hostile toward other digital currencies and the platforms that offer them.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed lawsuits against Coinbase, the largest U.S. exchange, and several other big firms. The outcomes of those cases, still pending in the courts, could determine whether crypto can continue to grow in the United States.

“This industry moves in cycles,” said John Todaro, a crypto analyst at Needham. “I don’t know if it’s going to come back to the levels we saw in 2021, because there are checks and balances in play now.”