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Bitcoin surpasses $50,000, extending massive 2021 rally

The cryptocurrency has surged more than 70 percent this year as it gains favor with corporate and institutional investors

Bitcoin topped $50,000 for the first time Tuesday amid heightened institutional and corporate interest in the cryptocurrency. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Bitcoin on Tuesday surpassed $50,000 for the first time as institutional investors and businesses fuel a historic rally that has lifted the digital currency more than 70 percent this year.

The largest cryptocurrency by market value, bitcoin peaked at $50,584.85, before pulling back. That’s more than double its price from the trading frenzy in late 2017, when bitcoin burst onto the broader public scene and seized widespread attention. It dropped down to $48,656 by late afternoon.

The cryptocurrency’s record climb comes as many large-asset management companies have begun recommending the asset, pulling bitcoin further into the financial mainstream. Its total market value exceeds $906 billion.

Even as the coronavirus has battered the U.S. economy, financial markets continue to swell. The three major U.S. stock indexes set record highs last week and were trading near those levels Tuesday as investors monitored news of President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion aid package and the national vaccine rollout.

The S&P 500 retreated slightly from Friday’s record close, dipping 0.06 percent, or 2.24 points, to 3,932.59. It’s still up nearly 5 percent for the year. The Dow Jones industrial average inched up 64.35 points, or 0.2 percent, to a record 31,522.75. The tech-heavy Nasdaq sank 47.97 points, or more than 0.3 percent, to end at 14,047.50.

While the previous cryptocurrency rally was dismissed by many professional investors and financial institutions, bitcoin’s latest ascent arrives alongside increasing interest from Wall Street.

At the end of 2017, experts note, retail investors had scrambled to grab a piece of bitcoin, which peaked above $20,000, only to see prices plummet 80 percent the following year. The astounding rise and crash has drawn parallels to the recent GameStop trading chaos, in which many ordinary investors were left with significant losses after chasing a headline-grabbing asset.

But a key difference with the current run up, they say, is the interest from institutional investors.

“From PayPal and Square, to the likes of Nvidia, Tesla, IBM, Visa, Mastercard and many other companies across verticals, we believe the trend of transactions, bitcoin investments, and blockchain driven initiatives could surge over the coming years as this bitcoin mania is not a fad in our opinion, but rather the start of a new age on the digital currency front,” Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, wrote in a note Monday.

Several prominent businesses have recently announced significant bitcoin purchases or plans to incorporate it into their platforms. Mastercard has said it would support bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on its payment network later this year. Last week, Tesla, the electric carmaker founded by Elon Musk, announced it had purchased $1.5 billion in bitcoin and would be accepting it as payment “in the near future.”

In recent weeks Musk has fashioned himself as a bitcoin booster, briefly adding “#bitcoin” to his Twitter bio. Forty-seven million users follow his account.

Ives called Tesla’s bitcoin investment a potentially “game-changing move,” as other corporations consider following Tesla’s lead and weigh the risks of potentially missing out on the asset’s swelling value and potential applications. Other big names that accept the cryptocurrency worldwide include Microsoft, Wikipedia and PayPal.

Some bitcoin enthusiasts view the currency as a store of value that can shield owners from inflation and protect against the fluctuating value of the U.S. dollar and other fiat currencies. But on CNBC on Tuesday, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard criticized the concept of cryptocurrencies muscling out the dollar as the dominant system of exchange. “You don’t want to go to a nonuniform currency,” he said on “Squawk Box.”

“I just think for Fed policy, it’s going to be a dollar economy as far as the eye can see — a dollar global economy really as far as the eye can see — and whether the gold price goes up or down or the bitcoin price goes up or down doesn’t really affect that.”

The total value of the entire cryptocurrency market is roughly $1.5 trillion.

Energy prices are surging as parts of the country face a severe cold snap, with plunging temperatures shutting down population centers and creating dangerous conditions for residents in central and southern states. More than 4 million customers in Texas were without electricity as of Tuesday morning, according to, as households confronted blasts of snow and ice and frigid temperatures not seen in decades.

West Texas intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, added 1 percent to push past $60 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, added 0.9 percent to more than $63. Natural gas jumped 7.1 percent. “Weather is severe enough to curtail supply when demand is near all-time high levels,” RBC analysts said in a note on the extreme weather.

“The Texas electric system is facing an unprecedented power shortage situation due to the extreme winter weather impacting the entire state, including Houston & the region,” CenterPoint Energy, which provides power to more than 2 million customers in the Houston area, said in a statement Monday.

The outages highlighted both the soaring demand for energy as people tried to escape the Arctic temperatures and the challenges facing southern power systems that were built to withstand intense heat rather than extreme cold.

Walmart said it has closed more than 500 of its facilities across the country as the winter storms sweep the middle section of the nation. The stores have been closed “for the safety of our associates and customers,” the company said.