Bitcoin, ethereum and other digital currencies, among the most volatile assets around, are gaining in part as traditional refuges such as gold and U.S. Treasuries lose some of their luster.
“We’re seeing investors transferring their funds into cryptocurrencies as they try to diversify their risk in case of a severe downturn in the market,” said Ron Chernesky, chief executive officer of trading platform InvestFeed Inc. which is switching from equity trading to cryptocurrencies. “The space has gone from niche to more widely adopted with one of the main draws being that crypto currencies are seen as less correlated with other assets.”
With South Korea caught in the middle of the war of words between the U.S. and North Korea, Koreans are seeking shelter in ethereum. Trading volume jumped to $2.6 billion Wednesday, 60 percent higher than bigger rival bitcoin’s volume that day. Volume has been higher only twice in all of ethereum’s history.
Much of that reflects South Koreans buying the digital asset. The Korean won makes up more than 40 percent of ethereum trading volume, the highest among currency pairs, according to CoinMarketcap. Ethereum rose 4 percent Thursday to $304, near the highest since June.
Bitcoin crossed the $3,000 mark this week for the first time and jumped to a record high of $3,486.73, while ethereum has gained more than 30 percent in four trading days. The biggest digital currencies had been gaining in the previous weeks, as relief that a split in the bitcoin blockchain, agreement on how to scale the technology and regulatory developments boosted prices.
Investors are going into cryptocurrencies even as bitcoin’s volatility is about 10 times that of gold, as proponents view their independence from any central authority as a safeguard against central bank meddling or government turmoil. It also serves a means to protect savings in countries that have high inflation, a weakening currency or capital controls.
Whether investors will at some point need a refuge from the new-found safe haven of cryptocurrencies still needs to be determined.