Bitcoin hits US$1 trillion market cap, surges to fresh all-time peak

Speculators, corporate treasurers and institutional investors are thought to have stoked bitcoin's ascent. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK/LONDON (REUTERS) - Bitcoin touched a market capitalisation of US$1 trillion (S$1.3 trillion) as it hit yet another record high on Friday (Feb 19), countering analyst warnings that it is an "economic side show" and a poor hedge against a fall in stock prices.

The world's most popular cryptocurrency jumped to an all-time high just below US$55,772, posting a weekly jump of 13 per cent.

It has surged roughly 66 per cent so far this month and was last up 6.8 per cent at US$55,079.

Bitcoin's gains have been fuelled by signs it is gaining acceptance among mainstream investors and companies, from Tesla and Mastercard to BNY Mellon.

All digital coins combined have a market cap of around US$1.7 trillion.

"If you really believe there's a store of value in bitcoin, then there's still a lot of upside," said John Wu, president of AVA Labs, an open-source platform for creating financial applications using blockchain technology.

"If you look at gold, it has a market cap US$9 or US$10 trillion. Even if bitcoin gets to half of gold's market cap, that's still growth of 4X, or US$200,000. So I don't know when it stops rising," he added.

The next milestone will be overtaking Alphabet, currently valued at US$1.431 trillion, said Jacob Skaaning, portfolio manager at crypto hedge fund ARK36.

"There will likely be some big fluctuations along the way, but I'm still very bullish and I believe the uptrend will continue for the time being," he added.

Still, many analysts and investors remain sceptical of the patchily regulated, highly volatile digital asset, which is little used for commerce.

Analysts at JP Morgan said bitcoin's current prices were well above estimates of fair value. Mainstream adoption increases bitcoin's correlation with cyclical assets, which rise and fall with economic changes, in turn reducing benefits of diversifying into crypto, the investment bank said in a memo.

"Crypto assets continue to rank as the poorest hedge for major drawdowns in equities, with questionable diversification benefits at prices so far above production costs, while correlations with cyclical assets are rising as crypto ownership is mainstreamed," JP Morgan said.

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Bitcoin is an "economic side show," it added, calling innovation in financial technology and the growth of digital platforms into credit and payments "the real financial transformational story of the Covid-19 era."

Other investors this week said bitcoin's volatility presents a hurdle for it to become a widespread means of payment.

On Thursday, Tesla boss Elon Musk - whose tweets have fuelled bitcoin's rally - said owning the digital coin was only a little better than holding cash. He also defended Tesla's recent purchase of US$1.5 billion of bitcoin, which ignited mainstream interest in the digital currency.

Bitcoin proponents argue the cryptocurrency is "digital gold" that can hedge against the risk of inflation sparked by massive central bank and government stimulus packages designed to counter Covid-19.

Yet bitcoin would need to rise to US$146,000 in the long-term for its market cap to equal the total private-sector investment in gold via exchange-traded funds or bars and coins, according to JP Morgan.

Rival cryptocurrency ether also hit an all-time peak of US$1,974.99 on Friday, and was last up 1 per cent at US$1,958.76, after its futures were launched on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Bitcoin's surge extended to crypto-related stocks as well, such as Silvergate Capital, which was up 8.2 per cent, cryptocurrency miner Riot Blockchain, 13.5 per cent higher, and Marathon Patent Group, up 7.3 per cent.

Shares of, an online retailer and blockchain tech investor, gained 4.1 per cent; while MicroStrategy, a bitcoin buyer and business intelligence software firm, advanced 4.1 per cent.

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