On days when it reaches new highs, bitcoin’s price makes news. On December 7, bitcoin’s price shot past $16,000 and almost touched $20,000 on some exchanges. But it was the cryptocurrency’s incredible price movement and outages that made headlines.
Within a span of just 20 minutes, bitcoin’s price rose by almost $2,000 to $19,000 on Coinbase’s GDAX exchange before crashing by $4,000 and subsequently rising again.
As if the ricocheting price movement was not enough, several prominent bitcoin exchanges reported outages or delays in trading. For example, GDAX had a “minor service outage” while Bitfinex, which claims to be the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, said it was investigating a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack. The UK’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, IG Group, suspended trading briefly after bitcoin’s price surge. (See also: Best Ways To Protect Bitcoins.)
“It’s beyond abnormal, it’s unprecedented. Every other commodity has natural sellers,” said Walter Zimmerman, a technical analyst, in an interview with the Financial Times.
What Caused the Jaw-Dropping Price Movements?
A mix of factors were responsible for bitcoin’s price trajectory Thursday. While the choreography of trading volumes and mining rewards will distort price movements for bitcoin temporarily, fundamental factors are expected to play an important role in sustaining its price levels in the coming weeks.
A dramatic increase in bitcoin trading volume occurred at around 11 am EST (or 16:00 UTC), a period which roughly coincides with bitcoin’s skewed price movements on December 7. According to data from bitcoinity.org, a site that tracks exchange data, this was the biggest spike in bitcoin’s trading volumes in over a month.
On an overall basis, bitcoin trading volume on December 7th was $12.6 billion, almost double from figures a day earlier. The last time volumes doubled from the previous day was on November 29, when the cryptocurrency’s price crossed the $11,000 mark.
The bitcoin trading frenzy has resulted in a profitable and virtuous relationship between the cryptocurrency’s price and its miners. This relationship played a critical role in keeping the markets supplied with fresh bitcoins Thursday to handle the increased volume.
The six-hour average profitability for bitcoin mining on December 7 was 1.25 times the regular profits minted by miners. As an example, the bitcoin mining reward was $21,6203.87 at 07:00 UTC. By 15:00 UTC, it had risen to $253,755. The average amount of fees per block reached a high of $59,390. But it is still represents only 22.46% of overall block reward, providing strong incentives to miners to produce additional bitcoins.
The last time bitcoin fees were high last month was on November 12, when they touched $53,742. But they constituted roughly 40% of the overall block reward. Bitcoin’s price that day was down roughly 28%, from a high of $7458 a couple of days earlier.
On a macro level, bitcoin’s price trajectory has also been influenced by increased online chatter, the enthusiasm of Asian investors for the cryptocurrency, and the coming start date for bitcoin futures. Institutional traders, who are the main clients for futures trading, are expected to increase liquidity and price stability for the cryptocurrency. (See also: How To Invest In Bitcoin Futures.)
The current run-up in bitcoin price is largely being construed as excitement over the start of trading at CBOE (which begins December 10) and CME (which begins December 18). Futures trading is also a prelude to wider mainstream acceptance of bitcoin as a store of value.
Several exchanges around the world are already considering starting their futures trading in the cryptocurrency. At the same time, South Korean and Japanese investors have begun piling funds into the cryptocurrency. According to reports, investors from South Korea are paying a premium of 23 percent over prevailing rates for bitcoin. Together, the Japanese yen and South Korean won were responsible for approximately 49% of all bitcoin trades yesterday.