Cryptocurrencies gradually faded out of the news over the course of 2018. If 2017 was the year that the digital pretenders to the fiat monetary system broke into mainstream consciousness and gold rush hype as Bitcoin raced towards an exchange value of $20,000 then 2018 was supposed to be the year a spectacular bubble burst. Except it didn’t really burst. Last year represented more of a slow puncture to the cryptocurrency market.
Financial bubbles are supposed to ‘burst’ spectacularly with valuations plummeting to the floor. That hasn’t quite happened in the case of Bitcoin and the wider cryptocurrency market. By January Bitcoin’s value had dropped to around $15,000 and by February below $8000. But then it picked back up to above $11,000. Then back below $7000 and back up above $9000 in May. The slide down towards $3500 since has been a drawn-out, gradual affair.
But cryptocurrencies are holding on. They may not make the news very often anymore, other than when the founder of Quadriga CX, Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, met an untimely end and took the only password to an estimated of £145 million in crypto-assets with him. But they are still there in the background. Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), owner of the NYSE and a portfolio of other major international financial exchanges, is setting up a regulated Bitcoin exchange called Bakkt. Microsoft and Starbucks have been reported as backing the venture and an investment round of close to $200 million was announced in January. The funds will be used to build out Bakkt’s cryptocurrency futures trading platform.
ICE are not enthusiastic college graduates with some family backing, good presentation skills able to convince other investors and little to lose. This is an established, regulated and high profile financial services brand. And it still, apparently, believes cryptocurrencies have a future. Governments and financial regulators are still commissioning white papers and reviews of the cryptocurrency sector. None of that is really in keeping with a burst bubble and the end of the road for cryptocurrencies.
But at the same time, the wider public seems to have lost interest, valuations have dropped massively, though are still several hundred percent up on where they started 2017, and it’s difficult to see any scenario where we can start buying stuff on Amazon in Bitcoin. Add in that a plane going down with one guy with a password means £145 million is forever irretrievable and cryptocurrencies don’t sound like a system that will cure the ills of the modern financial world.
So are cryptocurrencies done and just managing to hold on long enough for their demise to be a drawn out, lingering one? Are enough people and institutions just too embarrassed or afraid to admit they were pulled into a collective delusion for cryptocurrencies to go away as quickly as they probably really should? Or does the last year and bit simply represent a regrouping? Hot air has been taken out of the market and work is being done in the background to put the right infrastructure in place for cryptos to go mainstream? There is also a theory, which could be described as conspiratorial, that financial institutions needed crypto valuations to come down before getting in on the action.
Personally, I have no idea at this stage. There appears to be strong evidence to support both scenarios and equally strong counter-arguments against. I’d like to take a position on what the future looks like for cryptocurrencies – namely, do they have one or not? But I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does but that at least makes it interesting for a while longer!
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