A year ago, one Bitcoin could be had for about $450. On Thursday, the cryptocurrency peaked at just over $1,340, as measured by the Coindesk price index, before retrenching slightly to $1318 by this morning. That’s still a return of nearly 200%.
Bitcoin has seen a remarkably steady rise since early 2016, fueled by global regulatory normalization, broad interest in the technology from enterprises and banks, and rising transaction volumes. Cryptocurrency analysts, according to Coindesk, think the trend will continue, citing among other factors that most Bitcoin investors are long-term bulls who will take profits conservatively.
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But the very transaction volume that is Bitcoin’s key fundamental also presents a serious medium-term threat, as the system has struggled to keep up. Transaction speeds have become impractical for merchant payments, and fees have risen, making the system less competitive with conventional payment systems such as credit cards. Struggles over how to fix the problem have raised the spectre of a network split —though that could, at least theoretically, give holders additional value in a manner akin to a stock split.
Bitcoin had a notable previous peak of around $979 way back in November of 2013 (Coindesk’s number seems conservative here—Coinmarketcap records a 2013 peak of $1149). That push was fueled by a wave of mainstream media attention, but prices slumped through 2015 on the realization that the tech’s promise would take some time to fulfill, dipping as low as $204 that August.