Bitcoin’s climb above US$50,000 for the first time on Tuesday marks a psychological milestone for investors—but it could trigger extra regulatory scrutiny.
The move higher means the cryptocurrency has more than doubled in value in just two months after several splashy news announcements. The gains come after a 303% increase in Bitcoin’s price last year.
In recent trading, Bitcoin was selling for $48.726. Bitcoin was up more than 4% earlier on Tuesday but has retreated back. Its price is up nearly 70% so far this year.
This month, Elon Musk’s Tesla (ticker: TSLA) said it bought $1.5 billion of Bitcoin and will start accepting it as payment for its electric vehicles at some point soon. BNY Mellon said it would hold, transfer, and issue Bitcoin for clients, and Mastercard (MA) said it would integrate Bitcoin into its payments network this year.
A possible catalyst for Tuesday’s move higher: MicroStrategy (MSTR), a business-intelligence company that has become a Bitcoin investing platform, said it would sell $600 million of convertible notes to buy the crypto. It sold $650 million of notes in December to do the same thing.
Shares of MicroStrategy fell 3.7% on Tuesday but are up 570% over the past year, compared with the S&P 500’s 16.7% one-year gain.
Bitcoin was once dismissed as a quirky sideshow in finance, with a shadowy history and cultlike following. Its increasingly mainstream appeal puts a spotlight on regulation as banks and professional traders take it seriously.
Earlier this month, newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told an industry innovation policy roundtable that she sees “the promise” of these new currencies. “But I also see the reality: Cryptocurrencies have been used to launder the profits of online drug traffickers; they’ve been a tool to finance terrorism.”
President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, is also well-versed in crypto, having spent the past few years teaching about digital currency and the blockchain technology that underlies it at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will come under the spotlight from watchdogs like never before and this can be expected to create volatility in the market,” said Nigel Green, the founder and CEO of U.K.-based deVere Group, a financial advisory firm.
DeVere sold half its Bitcoin holdings in December, when the price had surged to $25,000.
Green said in a December blog post about the sale that it was to take profit after last year’s run-up. “It was not due to a lack of belief in Bitcoin, or the concept of digital currencies,” the post said.
Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said Tesla’s embrace of Bitcoin could be a “game-changer” for the crypto. “We believe the trend of transactions, Bitcoin investments, and blockchain-driven initiatives could surge over the coming years,” he said. “This Bitcoin mania is not a fad, in our opinion, but rather the start of a new age on the digital currency front.”
More financial and payment companies are pushing Bitcoin into the mainstream. Robinhood, Square (SQ), and PayPal Holdings (PYPL) allow Bitcoin trading. Fidelity Investments has a business to store and trade crypto.
And more are considering jumping in. In January, asset management giant BlackRock (BLK) gave two of its funds the go-ahead to invest in crypto.
A unit of Morgan Stanley’s (MS) asset-management business is reportedly examining adding it as an option for investors. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) Co-President Dan Pinto said last week client demand isn’t there yet, but it will get there.
“If over time an asset class develops that is going to be used by different asset managers and investors, we will have to be involved,” Pinto said on CNBC.
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
The latest hike is unlikely to be the last as inflation remains stubbornly high
In a decision that will surprise few economists – or borrowers – the RBA announced a further 0.25 percent rise in interest rates when it met earlier this afternoon. This brings the current interest rate up to 3.35 percent, a 3.25 percent increase since May last year.
Prior to today’s announcement, when the interest rate was still 3.1 percent, research by Roy Morgan released at the end of last month revealed that 23.9 percent of Australian mortgage holders were ‘at risk’ of mortgage stress in the three months to December 2022. Mortgage stress is where one third or more of weekly household income is going towards mortgage repayments.
In a tight rental market, mortgage pressure has also lead more landlords to pass rate rises onto tenants.
Research director at CoreLogic, Tim Lawless, says the latest rate rise moves beyond the ‘serviceability assessments’ some borrowers passed when applying for their loans.
“Since October 2021, lenders have assessed new borrowers on their ability to service a mortgage under an interest rate scenario that is at least 300 basis points above their origination rate,” he said. “The latest lift in the cash rate will push these recent borrowers beyond their serviceability tests.
“Considering most lenders were showing mortgage arrears to be around record lows last year, it’s likely some evidence of rising mortgage stress will start to emerge in 2023 under such substantially higher interest rate settings, with the potential for a more noticeable lift as further fixed rate borrowers migrate over to variable mortgage rates.”
Today’s decision signals the RBA’s continued efforts to use the cash rate to manage inflation, which sits at 7.8 percent annually. Time will tell whether it has been successful in curbing spending or whether, as many predict, there are more rate rises on the way. Mr Lawless said overseas economies could offer some hope to borrowers.
“Global inflationary pressures are easing, and domestically, a relatively weak December retail spending result could be the first clear sign that consumers are reigning in their spending,” he said. “Additionally, the housing component of CPI, which has the largest weight of any sub-group, dropped sharply through the final quarter of 2022, albeit from the highest level since the mid-1990s (outside of the impact from the introduction of GST in 2000).
“Mainstream forecasts for the cash rate reflect the uncertainty around inflation outcomes, ranging from the RBA holding the cash rate at 3.35 percent, through to another 75 basis points of hikes. However, a recent survey from Bloomberg puts the median forecast at 3.6 percent, implying one more hike of 25 basis points in the wings.”
The market is forced to confront the impact of COVID lockdowns.