Bitcoin Price Soars, Fueled by Speculation and Global Currency Turmoil
SAN FRANCISCO — The virtual currency Bitcoin has been swept up in yet another speculative frenzy, pushing its price toward the peak it last reached in late 2013.
The price of Bitcoin has been buoyed by increased interest from places like Venezuela, where the local currency has lost much of its value, and India, where the government recently removed the largest cash notes from circulation.
More broadly, a tilt toward isolationism that has emerged in American and European politics — highlighted by Donald J. Trump’s election victory — has given a new sheen to a currency that can move between countries with little oversight.
从更广泛的角度看，美国和欧洲政治中出现的孤立主义倾向——唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)的当选突显了这种倾向——给比特币带来了新的优势，因为它可以几乎不受监管地在国家之间流动。
“The more there is an expectation for new barriers to be erected, the more there is an expectation that Bitcoin will be valuable for moving money across borders,” said Gil Luria, the director of research at Wedbush Securities.
“人们越是预期会出现新的障碍，就越会预期比特币会对货币在国家之间的流通具有价值，”韦德布什证券(Wedbush Securities)的研究主任吉尔·卢里亚(Gil Luria)说。
Still, most of the people actually buying and selling Bitcoin these days are coming from a single country: China.
But the heavy trading on Chinese Bitcoin exchanges, much of it by automated software, suggests that most of the price movement is a result of bets by speculators.
In recent days, the price of a Bitcoin has been about 3 percent higher on these exchanges than on dollar denominated exchanges, suggesting more demand in China than outside.
The importance of speculators suggests that the value of Bitcoin is still driven by the hope of how it might be used someday, rather than real world use today, which has generally been hard to quantify.
In dollar terms, a Bitcoin was going for about $1,025 on Tuesday, or about 140 percent more than what it cost at the beginning of 2016.
The volatile price has led many analysts to conclude that is less similar to a currency than to a commodity, like gold, which has a value resulting from its scarcity. In Bitcoin’s case, the rules of the network dictate that only 21 million Bitcoin will ever be created.
The recent rise has brought the price of one Bitcoin to within striking distance of the price of an ounce of gold, which was about $1,150 on Monday.
The price has increased in the last year despite the lack of interest in Bitcoin from banks and a majority of more sophisticated investors.
After showing early interest in the currency, most big banks have moved on to make investments in the blockchain, the new type of ledger technology introduced by Bitcoin, while eschewing Bitcoin itself.
Some central banks have talked about issuing their own national currencies on some sort of blockchain inspired by but unrelated to the blockchain that Bitcoin uses.
Bitcoin and the blockchain were introduced in late 2008 by a mysterious coder who used the name Satoshi Nakamoto. Anyone with a computer and internet access can open a Bitcoin wallet and help maintain the blockchain ledger where all Bitcoin transactions are recorded.
Because it is run by a decentralized network of computers around the world, Bitcoin does not require a central authority like a central bank or financial institution. That has made it attractive to people who hope to do financial transactions anonymously, such as the drug dealers who have sold illicit goods for Bitcoin on the Silk Road website and its successors.
New Bitcoins are released at regular intervals to computers helping to support the Bitcoin network, and previously released Bitcoins can be bought and sold on exchanges around the world.
Since 2009, the price of Bitcoin has generally been defined by long periods of stability marked by short periods of speculative excitement.
Many Bitcoin businesses have wanted to edit the basic Bitcoin software to change the number of transactions that can move through the network every day. But the proposed changes have run into opposition from the team of coders responsible for maintaining the basic Bitcoin software. Many Chinese Bitcoin companies have sided with the coders.
That disagreement has led to slowdowns on the Bitcoin network, with some transactions taking days to be processed. The slowdowns have made it harder to use Bitcoin for everyday payments.
But through the controversy the security of the basic Bitcoin wallets and transaction software has held up, making it a potential alternative for people in countries with less secure currencies and financial institutions.
In November, interest in Bitcoin spiked in India after the government announced moves to quickly ban the largest Indian bank notes, in an effort to crack down on corruption.
The continued fall in the value of the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, has led to reports about Venezuelans desperate to exchange their money for Bitcoin.
But despite the new demand, the total value of all outstanding Bitcoin, about $16 billion, is still only that of a medium-size American company, and is not large enough to sustain the demand of even a moderate number of Indians or Venezuelans looking to store their wealth in the virtual currency.
That points back to the importance of speculators, who are betting that someday soon people worldwide will turn to Bitcoin for their daily financial needs, and push the price much higher.
“I ascribe only 10 percent of the value of Bitcoin to current day usage, and more like 90 percent of it to the expectation of future usage,” Mr. Luria of Webush Securities said.