The predilection among criminals to use the peer-to-peer currency, as well as its place outside traditional banking systems and regulations, has stymied some of its advocates' best-laid plans. In March, the Securities and Exchange Commission rejected a proposal for the first exchange-traded fund that would track bitcoin's price, citing the currency's unregulated market.
But global demand has offset those concerns.
After Japanese regulators introduced rules this spring that recognize bitcoin as a legal method of payment, investors flocked to swap yen for bitcoin in a frenzy of trading activity. In China, analysts attribute a spike in bitcoin sales to a significant drop in the difference in bitcoin prices between U.S. and Chinese exchanges.
Companies and governments are embracing the currency for several reasons: It's easy to transfer overseas without high surcharges; it offers simple, anonymous transactions online; and it is supported by a secure digital infrastructure.
"It doesn't surprise me at all that the price of bitcoin has been bid up," says Perianne Boring, president of the Chamber of Digital Commerce. "(Crypto-currencies) Ethereum and Ripple are also surging strongly."
"The run-up in value isn't what's important — it's the fact that is has the potential to be a whole new kind of currency on the planet," says Mark Johnson, a long-time bitcoin investor who is CEO of Descartes Labs, which analyzes complex satellite images.
Much of the attention around bitcoin has centered on its use by criminal enterprises, the latest being the demand of ransom — via bitcoin payment — from WannaCry, the group behind the world-wide hack that reached 150 countries this month.
That may be changing as the price of bitcoin continues its ascent, validating Web browser pioneer and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen's prediction in 2014 that blockchain had the potential to become a multi-billion dollar technological breakthrough.
Boost VC was the first fund to back a bitcoin-related start-up, Coinbase, in 2012, says Adam Draper, managing director of Boost. Today it backs more than 60 blockchain- and bitcoin-related start-ups "because I trust bitcoin more than I trust my bank," Draper says.
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