Bitcoin Doubles in 2019 -- Is Crypto-Mania Back?

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Bitcoin soared above $8,000 on Tuesday morning, and the leading cryptocurrency has now doubled for the year. Most other major cryptocurrencies are also sharply higher. Here's a rundown of the latest price action, what could be driving the market higher, and whether the crypto-mania we saw at the end of 2017 is back.

Today's cryptocurrency prices

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Before we dive into why bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are rising, here's a look at where the leading cryptocurrencies stand right now. Bitcoin is up about 11% on Tuesday alone and has risen 37% over the past week. This is the latest in a sustained uptrend, as the leading cryptocurrency has more than doubled over the past year.

It's important to note that there's a pretty strong rally going on among other leading cryptocurrencies as well. Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin are all up sharply over the past week.

Why are cryptocurrencies rallying?

There's no clear catalyst driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies higher, but one strong possibility is increased institutional interest.

For one thing, while there has been a lack of new ways to buy cryptocurrencies over the past year or so, there's a strong rumor that Fidelity is preparing to roll out cryptocurrency trading to institutional customers.

There are several other indicators of increased institutional interest, such as record inflows for Bitcoin Investment Trust (NASDAQOTH: GBTC), the main exchange-traded vehicle that allows investors to own bitcoin indirectly.

The potential for greater institutional interest has been thought of as one of the biggest possible catalysts for cryptocurrencies all along, but the continuous rejection of bitcoin ETFs by the SEC and the recent discontinuation of bitcoin futures by Cboe Global Markets put a damper on this enthusiasm. However, a renewed possibility of institutional dollars flowing into the market could certainly spark buying activity.

Is crypto-mania back?

This has certainly been a strong rally, but it's still important to put things into perspective. The vast majority of cryptocurrencies (including all six on this list) are still well under their late-2017 peaks. Bitcoin is still 37% below its price at the start of 2018, and Ethereum is worth less than one-third of what it was at that point. The entire cryptocurrency market is worth about $242 billion, still far away from its roughly $800 billion peak.

The point is that it's way too early to say that the cryptocurrency craze of late 2017 and early 2018 is back. This is a great rebound for the market, but until we get some concrete positive catalysts such as serious institutional interest or large-scale cryptocurrency adoption by merchants, it's unlikely that bitcoin and the others will soar to their previous highs anytime soon.

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Matthew Frankel, CFP has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Cboe Global Markets Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.