Bitcoin advanced for a third session on Wednesday, edging closer to its record highs of 2017 that spurred a global mania among investors and resulted in a violent crash.
The controversial digital asset - originally promoted as an alternative to national currencies such as the dollar - broke above $18 000 and then fell more than 6%, before recovering to about $18 150 at 11:19 in London. It outperformed most of its 10 biggest rivals.
Having more than doubled this year, the biggest cryptocurrency is spurring memories of its 1 375% rally in 2017 that preceded a 70% plunge the following year. Still, advocates and even skeptics are saying this time it may continue to push higher.
"Markets are drawn to round numbers," said Antoni Trenchev, co-founder and managing partner of Nexo in London, which bills itself as the world's biggest crypto lender. "Since we passed $16 000, the next stop was $18 000. Now it's $20 000."
The gains follow a wider embrace from Wall Street linchpins, including Fidelity Investments, which launched a Bitcoin fund over the summer. Some prominent money managers also became crypto converts, with macro investor Paul Tudor Jones buying the coin as a hedge against potential inflation. And PayPal said in October it would allow customers to access cryptocurrencies, which spurred bets more people could start to use digital tokens.
Not all established investors are convinced. Bridgewater Associates LP founder Ray Dalio said Tuesday that he "might be missing" something.
Even some people in crypto are skeptical about the rapid run higher.
"We're overextended here and due for pullback," said Vijay Ayyar, head of business development with crypto exchange Luno. "Anywhere from between $18 000 to $19 000 is potentially a top. We should have many people selling at these levels, especially those that bought at the top in 2017-18. Major rallies in the past always had 30-40% corrections. No reason to believe this time is different."
But crypto fans have been watching Bitcoin tick higher all year, with many setting their sights on December 2017's record of almost $20 000, while others are targeting even higher levels.
"Bitcoin has consistently been one of the world's top-performing assets since its creation," said Mati Greenspan, founder of Quantum Economics. "This latest surge comes as larger players enter the market sapping up what little supply remains for sale."
While some die-hard crypto fans have stuck with it through its ups and downs, others have become newly enchanted by it amid the pandemic. Bitcoin this week got a star-power boost when Maisie Williams, the actress who portrayed Arya Stark in HBO's "Game of Thrones," asked her 2.7 million Twitter followers whether she should invest in the coin. The inquiry prompted answers from noted crypto investor Mike Novogratz as well as Tesla's Elon Musk.
Advocates argue the cryptocurrency can act as a safe haven during times of turbulence and can be a hedge against rampant central-bank money printing. Still others have been lured by its spectacular advance this year - the digital coin is up close to 150% in 2020 though it is still more than 5% off its all-time high.
But the institutional embrace has been slow to come about amid elevated crypto volatility and some high-profile instances of hacking and theft. The Justice Department said this month it is suing for the forfeiture of more than $1 billion in Bitcoins it says are linked to the criminal marketplace Silk Road it shut down seven years ago. And earlier in the summer, the Twitter accounts of some of the most prominent US political and business leaders were hacked in an apparent effort to promote a Bitcoin scam.
Bitcoin has seen an average daily move of 2.6% this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with swings of 0.9% for the price of gold, which is sometimes contrasted with digital assets.
Hugo Rogers, chief investment officer at Deltec Bank & Trust, bought Bitcoin when it traded around $9 300 in June and used any price weakness since then to add it to his portfolio. Bitcoin now makes up about 5% of his Global Absolute Return Fund, which is big on high-growth tech and biotech companies. He's probably not going to stop at the 5% threshold, he said.
"A small position in Bitcoin can go a long way," Rogers said by phone earlier this month. "There's a lack of an alternative in real assets that can show a comparable return. If you're going to diversify your portfolio anyway, this is a good place to go."