Two Thousand Seventeen will go down in the history books as a year cryptocurrency made tangible inroads in mainstream finance and commerce, driven by the 1400% rise in bitcoin’s price over the year. Regulatory measures, worrisome network forks and warnings from naysayers could not stop the crypto momentum as consumers and businesses by the millions became first-time cryptocurrency users.
As bitcoin’s price rose steadily throughout the year, the upward pace gained momentum in the fourth quarter, with the price nearly reaching $20,000 in mid-December.
During the month of November, which saw triple-digit gains in a matter of a few days at a time, bitcoin skeptics with impressive financial credentials joined the “bitcoin’s a bubble” chorus.
As bitcoin use rises, the media pays more attention to it, making more people aware of its use as both an investment and a currency. The convenience of making transactions across borders with minimal transaction fees provides significant benefits to both businesses and individuals.
In 2017, more retailers, both physical and online, accepted bitcoin as a form of payment, including Virgin Galactic, Overstock, TigerDirect, Dish Network, Expedia, Newegg, Microsoft, eGifter, Gyft, Zynga, Starbucks, Subway and Autopartsway.
2017 Began Strong
Bitcoin began the year on a positive note with the U.S. election of Donald Trump last November, who many viewed as pro-bitcoin.
The fall of the Chinese yuan in January drove many investors to seek better opportunities, including cryptocurrencies.
Concern about the bitcoin hard fork – a protocol designed to address slow transaction times as currency use increases – carried over from 2016 into 2017, a concern that gave many observers uncertainty about bitcoin’s future. These concerns were largely put to rest as a series of forks took effect throughout the year.
Bitcoin continued to surge in August after the execution of the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) hard fork. Bitcoin Cash blocks can hold up to 8 MB worth of transactions, whereas the original bitcoin is capped at 1 MB.
Investors quickly realized that the hard fork had little to no impact on the bitcoin network and that the activation of the Bitcoin Core development team’s transaction malleability fix and scaling solution Segregated Witness (SegWit) meant that for the first time in the history of bitcoin, the activation of a major scaling solution was locked in and insight.
The bitcoin market used the hard fork as a trigger to establish momentum and continue to increase in value.
As a result, some of the largest bitcoin exchange markets, including the U.S., South Korea, China and Japan, experienced drastic increases in bitcoin demand, as the digital currency hit an all-time global high at the time of $3,470.
The Japanese bitcoin industry, in particular, demonstrated an exponential growth rate in terms of merchant adoption and daily trading volumes of local exchanges. Apart from the Philippines and China, Japan is one of the few markets that has been considering bitcoin as a digital currency rather than as digital gold and a long-term investment.
Bitcoin Cash, for its part, made its mark, eventually challenging Ethereum for the number two cryptocurrency.
The Bitcoin Gold fork launched in October with the goal of making bitcoin more decentralized by blocking the use of ASIC miners. Bitcoin Gold, an altcoin that — like Bitcoin Cash — has a shared blockchain history with bitcoin, delivered a minor temporary setback to bitcoin’s price, which dropped below $5,700 on Oct. 24, as traders rebalanced their portfolios to stake larger positions in altcoins following the Bitcoin Gold hard fork. Ethereum jumped 8%, while two of the top 10 cryptocurrencies — Dash and NEO — posted double-digit increases.
Altogether, the cryptocurrency market cap added about $700 million on Oct. 24, even as bitcoin temporarily dropped more than 3%.
Bitcoin Gold, for its part, fell to $136 in two days — even amid buying pressure from margin traders who wanted to purchase it to pay back lenders. The price has stabilized since that time, standing at $218.41 on Dec. 30., according to ccn.com.
The impact of the SegWit2x (B2X) hard fork on Dec. 29 was uncertain at this time, but forks, to date, have not delivered negative lasting impact on bitcoin demand. (The SegWit2X should not be confused with a fork led by Jeff Garzik that failed to launch in November. The B2X increases the block size to 4 MB, twice the amount as the earlier SegWit2x proposal.)
What also remains unknown at the present time is whether SegWit2x delivered the solution to slow transaction times.
Most observers voiced no problem with hard forks as a tool for competition and experimentation, even though some see forks as compromising the perception of bitcoin’s limited supply, which they view as critical to its underlying value.
Altcoins Also Fork
Several altcoins also forked in 2017.
Ethereum’s Byzantium hard fork took effect Oct. 16, considered to be the first half of Metropolis, a protocol upgrade that has been planned since 2015. It introduced nine protocols to enhance the network’s privacy, scalability and security. The second phase — Constantinople — does not yet have an official release date but is tentatively scheduled for 2018.
This marked the fifth time the Ethereum network has undergone a hard fork. The ETH price has appreciated more than 3,000% since its last hard fork in November 2016.
ZenCash, which provides a privacy networking platform, partnered in June with IOHK, a blockchain research and development company, to upgrade to a transaction replay resistant system via a soft fork. The ZenCash platform’s design allows users to conduct shielded transactions that hide information about sender and receiver, as well as the transaction amount. Users can also perform transparent transactions. Communications are encrypted among nodes, delivering certificate-based encryption connections for ZenCash wallet applications.
Monero successfully hardforked in January to add higher levels of privacy and anonymity.
Political And Economic Factors
Political and economic news tended to enhance cryptocurrency’s standing among investors in 2017.
The war of words between the U.S. and North Korea in August raised the demand for cryptocurrencies at the expense of traditional “safe” havens such as U.S. Treasuries and gold.
In inflation-ravaged Venezuela, bitcoin overtook the bolivar as the main currency, despite attempts by the government to crack down on bitcoin mining.
Other governments continued to seek to regulate cryptocurrencies out of concerns about money laundering and other fraudulent activities.
European regulators are considering joint bitcoin regulation due to concerns about money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorist financing. The governments of India, Singapore and the Philippines have issued warnings about bitcoin. China, meanwhile, banned ICOs and cryptocurrency trading.
Investor Acceptance Grows
Bitcoin also made progress in gaining acceptance among mainstream investors in 2017, as two Chicago trading firms – Cboe and CME – issued bitcoin futures.
In July, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission granted LedgerX LLC registration as a derivatives clearing organization under the Commodities Exchange Act. The company was granted temporary approval to operate as such in 2015.
New York’s department of financial services in January approved Coinbase’s application for a virtual currency and money transmitters license, making it one of the largest bitcoin companies to gain the department’s approval and one of five virtual currency firms granted approval to operate in New York State.
One of the biggest challenges still to be met on the investment front is gaining the government's approval for a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF), which many observers believe will unleash a floodgate of investment capital. In March, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rejected the first bitcoin ETF, causing the price to fall from a high of $1,350 at the time to below. $1,000.
Market Correction Strikes
Bitcoin’s fourth-quarter surge corrected itself on Dec. 10, as its price shed 25% of its valuation, taking most altcoins down with it, including Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, Cardano, IOTA, NEM, and Monero. The price stabilized around $14,000 in the final days of the year.
The end-of-the-year price correction is not viewed as a sign of a bubble as much as imposition of new regulations on domestic bitcoin exchanges in South Korea, a bitcoin trading hub. Analysts have also attributed the correction to the sudden increase in the value of cryptocurrencies over the past few months. The 25% correction cannot be viewed with alarm against the full year's gains.
The South Korean regulations, for their part, are seen by some as a sign of official recognition that will benefit the markets over the long-term and help bitcoin mature into a mainstream asset, even as market traders exhibit uncertainty about how these regulations will affect the markets in the short-term.
Leading altcoins, with the exception of Bitcoin Cash, recovered faster than bitcoin from the recent correction. Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple, Cardano, IOTA, Dash, NEM and EOS all recorded gains of over 10 percent in the days following the Dec. 10 fallout.
Ripple's price surged by 38 percent on Dec. 29, enabling XRP to unseat Ethereum as the second-most valuable cryptocurrency. Ripple managed to tread water during the market downturns, and it has surged during the calm periods in between. In the last week of December, its price leaped by more than 80 percent, bringing it to a present value of $1.63 on cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex.
Some analysts claimed that the entrance of institutional money and hedge funds in the cryptocurrency market initially by bitcoin futures has led investors to explore other cryptocurrencies.
Others have attributed the success of altcoins to the scalability issues of bitcoin and the lack of SegWit integration to date.
Nevertheless, the cryptocurrency market as a whole, buoyed by Ripple’s recent rally, grew to $584.8 billion Friday, Dec. 29, a single-day increase of approximately 5% from Thursday, when it was valued at $554.5 billion.
The fourth quarter price surge attracted media attention to bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, causing some reputable financial experts to join the naysayers. Such experts include Ken Griffin, the billionaire founder and CEO of the Citadel hedge fund management firm; Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager, best-selling author, and host of Mad Money; Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business; Katsunori Sago, the chief investment officer at Japan Post Bank; Societe Generale Deputy CEO Severin Cabannes; and Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam.
Meanwhile, bitcoin continues to gain acceptance by businesses and consumers.
Featured image from Shutterstock.