Bitcoin surges above $15,000, almost hits $16,000
Bitcoin rocketed above $15,000 for the first time ever today, up more than 10% on the day, after adding more than $2,000 to its price in fewer than 12 hours.
Bitcoin, the world's biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, has seen a more than fifteen-fold surge in its value since the start of the year.
It climbed to as high as $15,590 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange just after 6pm, having almost hit $16,000 earlier in the day.
Many market-watchers said the launch this weekend of bitcoin futures by CBOE, one of the biggest global derivatives exchanges, was helping drive up the price on expectations it would draw more investors to the market.
Bitcoin fans are salivating over the potential of long-awaited legitimacy for the cyptocurrency when futures trading launches this weekend, but experts worry the risks associated with bitcoin's Wild West-like nature could overshadow the debut.
The first bitcoin future trades kick off Sunday evening on Cboe Global Markets Futures Exchange, followed a week later by CME Group.
Nasdaq Inc plans to get into the mix next year, Reuters has also reported.
While Cboe, CME and Nasdaq offer strictly policed trading environments, the underlying bitcoin market is riddled with crypto-exchanges lacking even basic oversight.
That has stoked fears of market manipulation, inaccurate pricing, and systemic risk to clearing houses.
Bitcoin's more than 10-fold upsurge this year has led to warnings of a bubble by the likes of JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon, who called it "a fraud" that will eventually blow up.
Others, like Wall Street adviser Tom Lee, expect bitcoin to top $100,000.
Since August 2011, bitcoin has averaged a daily price change of nearly 3%, up or down, compared with a daily average change in the US dollar-euro cross rate of less than 0.5% since the euro's debut in 1999.
As a virtual currency, bitcoin can be used to move money around the world without the need for a central authority, such as a bank or government, which is a double-edged sword.
Analysts said that ii suddenly tomorrow everyone decided bitcoin was worthless, it would be worthless.
Traditional banks remain skeptical of dealing with bitcoin exchanges.
Earlier this year, Wells Fargo & Co stopped processing wire transfers for an exchange called Bitfinex, leaving customers unable to transfer US dollars out of their accounts, except through special arrangement with the exchange's lawyer.
Still, new entrants, from retail investors to high-frequency traders, have piled into bitcoin. US-based crypto-exchange Coinbase said it added 100,000 accounts in the three days around the US Thanksgiving holiday, for 13.1 million overall.
As volumes increase, there are also questions about the robustness of the technology at bitcoin exchanges.
Last month, the Gemini bitcoin exchange, which will set the price for Cboe's futures contract, and GDAX and Kraken, two of the four exchanges in CME's bitcoin index, had systems issues.
The volatile nature of bitcoin could also present a risk to clearing houses.
Clearing houses act as a middlemen between the parties to futures transactions.
If there were a wild price swing in bitcoin and a smaller brokerage failed to meet its margin call, the clearing house would have to take over the position, further moving the price of bitcoin, which could cause other brokers to fail.
Questions like these have kept some futures market operators on the sidelines, for now.
Intercontinental Exchange, owner of the New York Stock Exchange and ICE Futures US, opted not to join CME and Cboe in the race to be first with a bitcoin future.
"We didn't think it was obvious to rush out a product and be first and settle against an index on a lot of exchanges that are not particularly transparent," ICE CEO Jeffrey Sprecher said this week at a Goldman Sachs conference.