Shortly after Silicon Valley Bank failed this month, Bitcoin’s price surged above $25,000, hitting a threshold the digital currency hadn’t reached since June. This week, Bitcoin reached nearly $30,000, up 70 percent for the year.
Bitcoin proponents seized on the price hike to argue that the banking crisis prompted investors to convert traditional currencies into digital coins. A crypto executive greeted the bank failures as “the end of the USD and the beginning of hyperbitcoinization.” A company has started selling Bitcoin to investors to make references to the bank runs in its promotional materials.
But despite the fanfare, there is little evidence that the recent banking collapse has led to widespread support for Bitcoin as a financial alternative.
Instead, Bitcoin’s price surge was driven by a series of financial trends that have little to do with the technology’s philosophical underpinnings, analysts said. The reasons for the sharp increase include growing optimism that the Federal Reserve can halt rate hikes, as well as growing concerns about the safety of so-called stablecoins, a type of cryptocurrency meant to maintain a price of $1.
“Is there widespread interest in and growth in space? Is it a lot of new money?” asked Ed Moya, a crypto analyst at trading firm OANDA. “It doesn’t really look like that’s happening.”
Bitcoin’s recent surge is also the result of low liquidity, a measure of how easy it is to buy and sell a digital asset without affecting its price, according to an analysis by the crypto research firm Kaiko. Since the crypto market collapsed last yearFewer major financial firms have been buying and selling Bitcoin, making the currency more difficult to trade. The price of Bitcoin has always been volatile, but in today’s market it can rise or fall significantly after just a few transactions. Last week, Bitcoin liquidity hit a 10-month low, according to Kaiko.
“It doesn’t mean that just because there’s a big price movement that this is a whole new wave of institutional money or anything like that,” said Conor Ryder, a research analyst for Kaiko. “It’s more of a liquidity issue.”
Bitcoin was created after the 2008 financial crisis, which sowed widespread distrust in the banking system. Early proponents touted the new technology as a safer, long-term alternative to banks and traditional currencies.
That vision never materialized. Over the past 15 years, traders have largely treated Bitcoin as a speculative investment — and in some cases, a tool for money laundering and other crimes.
But the implosion of Silicon Valley Bank — and the broader crisis it unleashed — seemed to lend credence to the original Bitcoin thesis.
“Bitcoin is a Clear Winner of the US Banking Crisis,” a column for the crypto publication CoinDesk declared this month.
Bitcoin’s price is up about 40 percent since the fall of Silicon Valley Bank in early March, from $20,000 to $28,000. But that’s still a long way from Bitcoin’s peak price of nearly $70,000 in November 2021.
And the rise has been fueled in part by problems in other corners of the crypto industry. The banking crisis briefly jeopardized billions of dollars held by Circle, one of the largest stablecoin issuers, leaving investors panic. Some crypto traders who have held their digital savings as stablecoins are now looking for other options.
“You see some flows just going from stablecoins to Bitcoin,” said Mr. Moya, the crypto analyst.
The bank also sparked excitement among crypto investors who hoped the Federal Reserve would slow its rate hikes to calm the panic. Over the past year, the surges have crippled the crypto market by making it more expensive to invest money in speculative assets.
In a widely shared blog post last week, Molly White, a crypto critic, said noted that the price of Bitcoin started rising around the time the government announced it would backstop Silicon Valley Bank — an intervention that some analysts interpreted as a signal that the Fed could take further steps to calm the situation.
“If the spike had been caused by fear, I would have expected it to have started during the SVB bank run,” she wrote.
Last week, the Fed announced that it would forward with another fare increase. Bitcoin’s price has remained relatively flat since then, hovering around $28,000.
Still, Bitcoin proponents said they saw an opportunity to gain new supporters.
Swan Bitcoin, a financial services company that helps people invest in Bitcoin, has experienced a surge in new customers looking to buy the digital coin as an alternative to keeping money at the bank, said Cory Klippstenthe company’s chief executive.
“They believe this will be the global reserve currency,” Mr Klippsten said. “This is the best time for Bitcoin marketing and Bitcoin adoption in its history.”
Cody Candee, the CEO of the start-up Bounce, contacted Swan this month, hoping to convert some of his company’s money into Bitcoin.
“Having a few percent in Bitcoin feels like great insurance for the US dollar, for the banking system, for the Fed, for all of the infrastructure,” he said.
But Mr. Candee was hesitant to commit fully. Bounce, which operates a network of baggage storage and package pick-up locations, raised $12 million in a funding round last year. Mr. Candee said he planned to spend only $200,000 in Bitcoin.
“If that were to drop substantially,” he said, “it wouldn’t impact the business.”