Libra cited as catalyst for bitcoin’s resurgence

FILE-In this Feb. 12, 2014 file photo Bitcoin buttons are displayed on a table at the Inside Bitcoins conference in Berlin.Bitcoin tested 15-month highs yesterday after jumping more than 10 percent over the weekend. (AP Photo/Frank Jordans)
INTERNATIONAL – Bitcoin tested 15-month highs yesterday after jumping more than 10 percent over the weekend, with analysts ascribing the spike to growing optimism over the adoption of cryptocurrencies after Facebook unveiled its Libra digital coin.

The biggest cryptocurrency hit $11247.62 (R160798) on the Bitstamp exchange late on Sunday, its highest since March last year. It later pulled back, and was last up 0.7 percent at $10917.

Facebook said last week that it planned to launch a new cryptocurrency called Libra, though the announcement immediately led to questions from regulators and politicians across the world.

Mati Greenspan, an analyst at eToro, said bitcoin’s gains underscored growing optimism among retail investors that Facebook’s plans were part of a wider trend of major companies adopting cryptocurrencies.

“Traders are speculating on future involvement of large players like Facebook,” he said. “They believe that Libra will create mass awareness of cryptocurrencies and act as a gateway to adoption.”

Other traders cited geopolitical factors from tensions in the Gulf region to the US-China trade war as fuelling interest in bitcoin, which has more than doubled in price since March.

Some investors have looked to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a hedge against possible declines in domestic currencies, traders said.

Cryptocurrency markets are opaque, and it is difficult to pinpoint exact catalysts for price moves. Between midnight Friday and 5am Saturday alone, bitcoin rose more than 10 percent.

Thomas Puech of Enigma Securities, a London-based firm that specialises in larger size over-the-counter cryptocurrency deals, said growing tensions between the US and Iran were “gas” for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

In late March, bitcoin broke out of a spell of limited price moves. It has since risen more than 160 percent, an ascent peppered by double-digit price swings.