The virtual cryptocurrency bitcoin is racing to a record high on Monday of $10,000 and is now worth more than seven times an ounce of gold.
Up roughly 5 percent since Friday, the shadowy cryptocurrency’s overall market capitalization is worth more than IBM, McDonald’s or Disney, according to analysts, who are increasingly warning that the world is watching a massive speculation bubble in real time.
On Monday, the midday price of one bitcoin on several exchanges hovered at roughly $9,600, with analysts noting the overall valuation of the 16.7 million bitcoins currently circulating worth more than $160 billion.
Since January — when one bitcoin unit cost roughly $1,000 — the price has soared for a variety of reasons that market watchers are hotly debating.
Some point to a decision in October by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to launch bitcoin futures next month. Investors appear to have taken that as a sign of the currency’s growing legitimacy and have pushed its value up 50 percent since the announcement.
Major market movers, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, have recently urged investors to reconsider bitcoin heralding it as an investment opportunity.
But other top Wall Street players remain deeply skeptical, fearing Bitcoin’s popularity is because it is seen as a vehicle used primarily for illicit and criminal activity.
Earlier this year JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon dismissed the currency as a “fraud,” and earlier this month Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressed concern bitcoin was fueling activity in illegal online marketplaces.
Mr. Mnuchin said that U.S. is in discussions with other a host of other countries to assure the currency is not used for “illicit transfers of funds.”
Difficult to trace and not formally regulated, bitcoin is the currency of choice for hackers behind ransomware attacks and has drawn the ire of many in law enforcement and cybersecurity experts. Recently the SEC and IRS have said their experts are closely watching bitcoin price volatility with growing concern.
Untied to any bank or government, bitcoin allows users to spend money anonymously, with the coins created by users who “mine” them by lending computing power to verifying other users’ transactions. They receive bitcoins in exchange.