The price of the virtual currency bitcoin has broken the $8,000 barrier for the first time, prompting speculation that it could soar past $10,000 by the end of the year.
The rise means one unit of the world’s first major cryptocurrency is now valued at more than six times an ounce of gold, traditionally seen as a safe-haven investment in times of economic turmoil.
Bitcoin’s value is regularly volatile but despite several steep falls this year it has now surged tenfold from around $800 at the beginning of 2017 to more than $8,000 in the early hours of Friday morning.
Its latest increase, a month after it broke through $5,000, is linked to speculation about the likelihood of a “hard fork” to create a spin-off currency.
Expectations of a fork tend to boost bitcoin because when it happens, existing holders gain some of the new currency for free.
Bitcoin’s market price has been volatile lately after the cancellation of a technical upgrade known as SegWit2x, designed to increase transaction speeds.
According to the cryptocurrency exchange CoinBase, a large number of bitcoin “miners” – people who provide the computational power that underpins bitcoin in exchange for the chance of financial reward – could now go ahead with their own upgrade. There is speculation that this could trigger a fork.
Lukman Otunuga, a research analyst at the foreign exchange broker FXTM, said: “I find it remarkable and somewhat frightening how, no matter how much bitcoin is pummelled by sellers, it simply bounces back even stronger.
“Will bitcoin hit $10,000 before year end? This is the question every investor is asking.”
Nicholas Gregory, chief executive of the cryptocurrency business CommerceBlock, said there was more to bitcoin’s rise than speculation about a fork.
“The cryptocurrency’s momentum is being driven by a growing sense among speculators that the banking industry is firmly in its crosshairs,” he said. “Increasingly, traders and speculators are looking at banks as Blockbuster Video and bitcoin as Netflix.”
Bitcoin has proved particularly controversial, with financial pundits divided over its stability and long-term prospects. Jamie Dimon, the JP Morgan chief executive, has branded it a “fraud” fit only for drug dealers, murderers and people living in places such as North Korea
China banned bitcoin exchanges this year, sending the currency’s value tumbling more than 40% from $5,000 to below $3,000.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has called for regulation of cryptocurrencies, saying their use “bears serious risks” such as money laundering, tax evasion and funding for terrorism.
Bitcoin was launched in 2009 after being invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, believed to a pseudonym for multiple developers. Within three years it had achieved parity with the dollar, and it has surged, amid periods of intense volatility, ever since