Shortly after Silicon Valley Bank failed this month, the price of Bitcoin soared above $25,000, reaching a threshold the digital currency hadn’t touched since June. This week, Bitcoin reached nearly $30,000, up 70 percent for the year.
Bitcoin proponents seized on the price rise to argue that the banking crisis was prompting investors to convert traditional currencies into digital coins. One crypto executive hailed the bank failures as “the end of the USD and the dawn of hyperbitcoinization.” A company that markets Bitcoin to investors started putting references to the bank runs in its promotional materials.
But despite the fanfare, there is little evidence that the recent banking collapse has generated widespread support for Bitcoin as a financial alternative.
Instead, the surge in Bitcoin’s price was driven by a range of financial trends that have little to do with the technology’s philosophical underpinnings, analysts said. The reasons for the surge include growing optimism that the Federal Reserve may pause interest rate increases, as well as increasing concerns about the safety of so-called stablecoins, a type of cryptocurrency intended to maintain a price of $1.
“Is there widespread interest in and growth coming into the space? Is it a lot of new money?” asked Ed Moya, a crypto analyst at the trading firm OANDA. “It doesn’t really seem like that’s happening.”
Bitcoin’s recent rise is also a 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 cratered last year, fewer large financial firms have been buying and selling Bitcoin, making the currency harder to trade. Bitcoin’s price has always been volatile, but in the current market, it can increase or decrease significantly after only a few trades. Last week, Bitcoin’s liquidity reached a 10-month low, according to Kaiko.
“It doesn’t mean that because there’s a big price move one way 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 so a liquidity issue.”
Bitcoin was created after the 2008 financial crisis, which sowed widespread distrust in the banking system. Early proponents trumpeted the new technology as a safer long-term alternative to banks and traditional currencies.
That vision never came to fruition. Over the last 15 years, traders have largely treated Bitcoin as a speculative investment — and, in some cases, as a tool for money laundering and other crimes.
But the implosion of Silicon Valley Bank — and the broader crisis it unleashed — seemed to give credence to the original Bitcoin thesis.
“Bitcoin is a clear winner of the U.S. banking crisis,” a column for the crypto publication CoinDesk declared this month.
The price of Bitcoin has increased about 40 percent since the fall of Silicon Valley Bank in early March, rising to $28,000 from $20,000. But that’s still far from Bitcoin’s peak price of nearly $70,000 in November 2021.
And the surge has been fueled partly by problems in other corners of the crypto industry. The banking crisis briefly endangered billions of dollars held by Circle, one of the largest stablecoin issuers, causing investors to panic. Some crypto traders who have held their digital savings as stablecoins are now looking for other options.
“You’re seeing some flows just go out of stablecoins into Bitcoin,” said Mr. Moya, the crypto analyst.
The bank runs also stoked excitement among crypto investors who hoped that the Federal Reserve would slow its interest-rate increases to calm the panic. Over the last year, the increases 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, noted that Bitcoin’s price began 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 might take further steps to calm the situation.
“If the spike was fear-driven, I would have expected it to have started during the SVB bank run,” she wrote.
Last week, the Fed announced that it would move forward with another rate increase. Bitcoin’s price has stayed relatively flat since then, settling around $28,000.
Still, Bitcoin proponents said they sensed an opportunity to recruit new adherents.
Swan Bitcoin, a financial services firm that helps people invest in Bitcoin, has experienced a wave of new customers looking to buy the digital coin as an alternative to keeping money at the bank, said Cory Klippsten, the company’s chief executive.
“They’re believers that this will be the global reserve currency,” Mr. Klippsten said. “This is the best moment for Bitcoin marketing and Bitcoin adoption in its history.”
Cody Candee, the chief executive of the start-up Bounce, got in touch with Swan this month, hoping to convert a portion of his company’s funds into Bitcoin.
“Having a couple percent in Bitcoin feels like a really great insurance policy on the U.S. dollar, on the banking system, on the Fed, on the whole infrastructure,” he said.
But Mr. Candee hesitated to commit fully. Bounce, which runs a network of luggage storage and package pickup locations, raised $12 million in a funding round last year. Mr. Candee said he planned to spend only $200,000 on Bitcoin.
“If that went substantially down,” he said, “it wouldn’t be an impact on the business.”
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