Cryptocurrency enthusiasts are quick to point out the massive gains in the space, particularly over the last year. Major digital currencies like bitcoin climbed by orders of magnitude of value in the span of months. Traditional investors, though, are perhaps more likely to exercise caution when it comes to digital currency investments. Some of the biggest names in investing have warned that digital currencies are nothing more than the latest bubble. (See more: Is Bitcoin In Bubble Territory?)

With 2017 behind us, we can now explore just how well stocks and cryptocurrencies performed relative to one another during that time.

Compare: 117.7% vs 28,963%

According to a report by Coin Telegraph, the cryptocurrency world left the stock world in the dust when it came to overall performance in 2017. For an example, compare the top-performing stock market for the year with the top-performing virtual currency at the same period.

In the case of stocks, this would be the Zimbabwe market, which advanced by 117.7% (this is not including the Venezuela market due to inflation). By comparison, the top-performing cryptocurrency, Ripple, managed to win 28,963% returns for the same period. Ripple began 2017 at $0.0065 per token and ended the year at roughly $2.25. In the process, Ripple, passed by ether to become the second-largest digital currency by market cap, following only bitcoin.

Ripple was not the only digital currency to experience outlandish gains, although it did have the largest percentage increase for the year. Ethereum's ether token rose by about 1,300%, while bitcoin climbed by just under 500% from the beginning of 2017 to the start of 2018. Many digital currencies saw major spikes in value toward the endof the year.

Among Stocks, Emerging Markets Soared

In the world of stocks, less developed and emerging markets were the ones that posted the largest gains in 2017. Argentina saw a 77.7% return, while Mongolia gained 68.9% and Kazakhstan rose by 59.3%. This may be trivial for some investors, as there are barriers to investments in many of these markets. Still, in spite of these generally impressive results, the returns were meager compared with those in the digital currency space.

The fact that there are international barriers to stock market investments may also play into the rise in popularity of digital currencies, too. Because virtual currencies are largely unregulated and decentralized, investors can participate in markets all over the world with ease. They can access their investments and transact at any time of day.

Investing in cryptocurrencies and other Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”) is highly risky and speculative, and this article is not a recommendation by Investopedia or the writer to invest in cryptocurrencies or other ICOs. Since each individual's situation is unique, a qualified professional should always be consulted before making any financial decisions. Investopedia makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the information contained herein. As of the date this article was written, the author owns cryptocurrency.

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