Digital Currencies Went Crazy in the Wake of the SEC’s Bitcoin Ruling

Mar 14, 2017

Something strange is happening in the world of digital currency. When the Securities and Exchange Commission passed a harsh judgment last week on bitcoin, many expected the entire asset class to crumble.

Instead, the opposite has happened.

The SEC ruling, if you missed it, came down on Friday afternoon. The long-awaited decision, citing the possibility of fraud and market manipulation, rejected a proposal to create an exchange traded fund (ETF) for bitcoin, and threw cold water on hopes institutional investors would use the ETF to stock up on the currency. The market quickly punished bitcoin, driving its price down to around $1,050—a more than 15% drop from its highs earlier that day.

But when it came to other digital currencies, investors didn't bail on them. They started gobbling them up. These other currencies such as Ethereum and Ripple (there are dozens) aren't as famous as bitcoin but have been around for a while, and some people treat them as a proxy asset for bitcoin. Since the SEC decision, they've all shot up, some of them dramatically.

Here is a chart that shows how the prices have changed. The data is compiled from each currency's lowest price on March 10 (the day of the ruling) through Tuesday morning:

As you can see, Ethereum has made spectacular gains. The currency, which is tied to a popular new form of blockchain technology, is up around 60%. Dash, a less well-known bitcoin rival, is up about 59%.

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The other surprise in chart is how nicely bitcoin has recovered from the SEC's punch last Friday. Here's a closer look, courtesy of Coindesk, of how its price has moved since Friday:

As you can see, bitcoin is nudging back towards its near all-time high of $1,300, which came amid a frenzy of speculation that a positive SEC ruling would send the price soaring.

For now, there is no clear explanation of why bitcoin recovered so quickly, or why the so-called "alt-currencies" like Dash initially rose when bitcoin fell. Some commentators have suggested the recent boom comes from new digital currency converts who learned about the assets as a result of the publicity surrounding the ETF decision. Others say the recent prices simply reflect the fact that digital currencies are a far more sturdy asset than they were two years ago, and their values can no longer be derailed by a bit of negative news.

It's also worth noting the SEC jolt from last week has brought about a change in the makeup of the overall market cap for digital currency. Note below how bitcoin's share of the pie has dropped about 10% since the news:

The upshot of this is that while bitcoin still clearly dominates the digital currency world, other assets—particularly Ethereum—may now be emerging as more than also-rans.

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