It's no surprise that bitcoin and other leading cryptocurrencies have captured so much of the investing world's attention over the past several months. The industry has made incredible gains, growing its market cap by 810% since the beginning of 2017. And individual currencies have climbed by as much as 50 times their value at the beginning of the year.
Of course, along with the massive growth has come speculation that the whole cryptocurrency space is a giant bubble. (See more: More Evidence that Cryptocurrencies Are a Bubble?) Now, analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch suggest that bitcoin's rally this year is not an outlier, but in fact is representative of a new type of environment in which bubbles are even more intense than they were previously, according to Barron's.
Quantitative Easing a Contributing Factor
According to BofA's report, quantitative easing over the past 10 years or so may have contributed to bubbles becoming more intense. A report by Bloomberg relays the analysts' opinion that about $14 trillion of monetary stimulus may have spurred investors to make riskier bets, even as yields have fallen.
Analysts including Barnaby Martin wrote in a research note that "post the financial crisis, the largesse of central banks appears to be inducing quicker and steeper price gains in assets compared to the case historically. Speculative behavior in assets is cropping up more frequently and in more places than just credit markets."
Not Just Cryptocurrencies
Lest it seem that cryptocurrencies are unique in experiencing a more heightened rise over the past several months, the Bank of America report suggests that other markets have also gone through significant and potentially alarming rallies in recent times. They point to jumps in inverse volatility, claiming that this surge in particular has outpaced bubbles in the past.
All that being said, though, the report does not suggest that any current bubbles are more or less likely to pop. That is likely to change only when an "inflationary shock" comes along to shift markets' otherwise benign perception of rates.
Of course, this reassurance is not likely to completely eliminate investor fears, particularly in an industry that has proven to be as volatile as cryptocurrency. Just last weekend, news of China's recent ban on initial coin offerings prompted a sell-off across the cryptocurrency space which resulted in a loss of value of about 25% of total market cap overnight.
When these types of situations occur, skittish investors are more likely to assume that a crash is imminent, perhaps compounding the decline. In the days to follow, however, this has proven to be a market correction after bitcoin achieved a new record high of nearly $5,000 per coin, and the overall market cap has regrown significantly. (See also: Why it Might be Good for Cryptocurrencies to Crash.)