Bitcoin is volatile
As mentioned above, the value of bitcoin fluctuates from one extreme to the other and is affected by many factors which include:
- Government regulation. Although bitcoin is a decentralized currency, it’s still affected by government regulation. For example, when the Chinese government barred financial entities from processing bitcoin transactions in late 2013, the price of bitcoin dropped hundreds of dollars within a few days.
- Media. The price of bitcoin tends to fluctuate in line with major world news and important bitcoin-related events, like security breaches. However, many people speculate that the media don’t necessarily affect the price one way or another; instead, the media simply put bitcoin in the spotlight and stimulate trading.
- Major buyers. Large organizations and speculators have a significant effect on the price of bitcoin, and some experts estimate that of bitcoin’s approximately US$160 billion market, a majority of coins might be owned by relatively few organizations and individuals.
Since bitcoin is a decentralized currency, the standards that dictate how to refer to it are still forming. XBT is the official designation while BTC is the more commonly used currency code. Bitcoin was coined BTC when it was created in 2009, but after some time was designated as “XBT” by the International Standards Organization (ISO).
Little known fact: If a currency is not associated with a specific country or government, its three-letter note starts with an “X.” Despite it’s renaming, the XBT code has yet to gain traction among the general public, and most people still use BTC to differentiate the currency.
A short history of bitcoin prices
The very first bitcoin transaction was logged on 12 January 2009, and was sent from the creator of bitcoin (Satoshi Nakamoto) to a developer named Hal Finney. Bitcoins take a mind-boggling amount of energy to produce, which is why they’re very difficult to replicate. In 2009, an online publication speculated that the bitcoin exchange rate was 1 USD = 1,309.03 BTC — a calculation based on the cost of electricity required to create one bitcoin. Keep reading for more bitcoin history, which we have compiled using figures from CoinDesk’s price index.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all prices in this article refer to BTC:USD exchange rates.
2011: A false start
Early in 2011, one bitcoin reached the value of one US dollar. A few months later, the price of bitcoin shot past the $10 mark. In June of 2011, a prominent bitcoin firm (Mt. Gox) was hacked, causing customers to lose more than 4,000 BTC. Bitcoin’s value hovered around $30 for several days and then began a slow descent to around $4 by the end of the year.
2012: Back in the saddle
Bitcoin experienced a recovery in 2012, climbing back up into the double digits and peaking at around half the value of the previous year. Coinbase was founded in June of 2012, and has become one the largest bitcoin trading platforms to date. In November, the publishing giant WordPress began accepting bitcoin as payment.
2013: A hop, skip and a jump
In February 2013, bitcoin surpassed its previous all-time high and then far exceeded it, moving beyond $30 to $200 and then to over $1,000. Chinese investment in bitcoin pushed the price of the cryptocurrency through the roof and bitcoin transactions were overwhelming trading platforms all over the world. In December, bitcoin took a hit after the theft of 96,000 BTC from Sheep Marketplace and China’s nationwide ban on processing bitcoin transactions.
2014: A cold winter
Bitcoin’s price euphoria came to an abrupt end after the events that transpired in late 2013, and the value of the much-sought-after cryptocurrency came tumbling back down to earth. While Mt. Gox shut its doors, other big players like Microsoft and PayPal-owned Braintree started accepting bitcoin as payment, signaling another shift in value.
2015: Steady as she goes
In late January, Coinbase launched its mega-bitcoin trading platform, while Mt. Gox’s CEO Mark Karpeles was arrested. Bitcoin hovered steady around the $400 mark toward the end of the year.
2016: Back in form
The marketplace software OpenBazaar was released over the summer, operating as a peer-to-peer platform for users to buy goods with bitcoin. Bitcoin’s price increased steadily throughout the year, reaching nearly $1,000 for the first time since it’s sharp decline in 2013.
2017: Blasting into the stratosphere
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At the beginning of 2017, bitcoin reached $1,100 and then promptly plummeted below $800 a week later. The currency would repeat this pattern throughout the year, hitting multiple all-time highs and then dipping down unexpectedly, much to the chagrin of traders. The currency broke US$5,000 a few months into the year, and then nearly doubled to over CAD$12,000 a few months after that. The cryptocurrency’s price largely continued its upward trajectory, topping out at $19,783.21 on Dec. 17.
2017: A wild year
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While it remains to be seen, which direction bitcoin will take as we move through 2018, it is likely that the price will continue to fluctuate and the currency will likely continue to be driven by supply and demand, leaving scores of big winners and big losers along the way.