Another week passes in the world of cryptocurrency, and yet again records have been unequivocally shattered. On Thursday, Bitcoin positively sprinted through the $5000-mark, hitting an all-time high of $5850 by Sunday which represents a staggering 30% gain from the previous Sunday. Indeed, it was a week in which the market’s biggest players including Ethereum and Litecoin also experiencing pronounced rallies. But while the industry stalwarts have much to smile about, overall market capitalisation still remains below early September’s peak of $179 billion, which underlines that not all coins enjoyed such stellar returns over the last seven days. That being said, Bitcoin has now entered new territory. A market cap of $97 billion puts the world’s leading cryptocurrency ahead of companies including Nike and Goldman Sachs. At current levels, Bitcoin would rank in the world’s top 80 companies, if it was a company itself.
And the reason for this surge? The most likely explanation is anticipation from investors regarding the two forks Bitcoin is expected to undergo before the end of the year. As we explained last week, the SegWit2x upgrade will be triggered in mid-November which will cause a hard fork in the blockchain; and then an additional fork – the “Bitcoin Gold” fork – will shift bitcoin mining away from servers using application-specific integrated circuits (or “ASICs” – customised hardware that is in widespread use to mine Bitcoin), and towards graphics processing unit chips. Surging interest in cryptocurrency trading from Japan is also being reported to be underpinning Bitcoin’s bullish sentiment, while it seems evident that the market has almost completely shrugged of its fear relating to China’s exchange bans.
Meanwhile, another major hard fork is now due to get underway. Ethereum, the world’s second most valuable cryptocurrency project, will imminently experience the first hard fork of its Metropolis upgrade taking place. Known as “Byzantium”, the fork is expected to improve the flexibility and robustness of the platform’s key building blocks, known as smart contracts. It will also make the Ethereum blockchain lighter and faster, which should allow more high quality decentralised applications (dapps) to be able to run on the platform. But unlike Ethereum’s previous hard fork last year which infamously created the separate cryptocurrency Ethereum Classic, there will thankfully be no currency or blockchain split this time.
Reports also surfaced on Sunday that Russia will issue its own official cryptocurrency, the CryptoRuble. The announcement end months of discussion pertaining to the country’s view of this technology, although the CryptoRuble is unlikely to be truly decentralized in the same fashion as Bitcoin and Ether. According to the Minister of Communications Nikolay Nikiforov, the state issued cryptocurrency won’t be mined; instead it will be issued, controlled and maintained by the authorities. Nikiforov said, ““I confidently declare that we run CryptoRuble for one simple reason: if we do not, then after 2 months our neighbors in the EurAsEC will.”
CryptoRubles will reportedly be able to be exchanged for regular Rubles at any time, although should the holder be unable to explain where such coins came from, a 13% tax will be imposed. This tax will also be levied on any earned difference between the price of the purchase of the token and the price of the sale. The currency is also likely to be powered by blockchain, suggesting that some degree of decentralisation will be involved, which in turn would be useful for combating online fraud.
And Russia is now the only country to make progress with regards to a national cryptocurrency. The Director of The People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC) Digital Currency Research Institute, Yao Qian, also revealed the likely issuance of a state-owned digital currency, largely as a way to “fundamentally guarantee the market position of… [China’s] currency”, as reported by local media outlets. The Digital Currency Research Institute’s goal is to conduct R&D into distributed ledger technologies, and Qian is convinced of the potential benefits that China could reap through issuing a state-backed virtual currency.
According to the director, “we hope that the legal digital currency should have a new quality, will go beyond the existing electronic payment tool, whether it is private digital currency or electronic money”. He also believes the currency could have the effect of stabilising the value of its national currency, “The effective negative interest rate policy in the legal digital currency environment will make it possible that the central bank may no longer need to set inflation rate buffering, theoretically the central bank’s target inflation rate can be reduced…. From this point of view, the legal digital currency will help to improve the value of the legal currency stability.”
At the same time, Qian remained quick to dismiss the value of other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which leaves China’s overall view on the space bittersweet at best. He believes that a public cryptocurrency like Bitcoin lacks inherent value, which thus makes it too unreliable, “The value of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin primarily comes from the speculation of the market. It will be a disaster if countries recognize Bitcoin as a real currency. The lack of a value anchoring inherently determines that Bitcoin can never be a real currency.”
In contrast, however, a more positive view of cryptocurrencies was posited last week by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the international monetary fund (IMF). Lagarde stated that central banks and financial services should be paying much closer attention to this space. “I think that we are about to see massive disruptions,” she warned, adding that cryptocurrencies may well end up playing an influential role in the IMF’s own internal reserve currency, the Special Drawing Right (SDR), “What we will be looking into is how this currency, the Special Drawing Right, can actually use the technology to be more efficient and less costly.” The IMF has been exploring the potential of the technology for some time, and in particular its use to boost cross-border payments and the possibility of a central bank-backed cryptocurrency. Lagarde herself has previously advocated for further cryptocurrency adoption, arguing that such currencies give the traditional fiat ones a “run for their money,”.