Bitcoin and cryptocurrency prices have charged higher this week, propelling the combined crypto market to its all-time high of around $2.5 trillion.
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The bitcoin price has added 50% since its September lows, climbing to over $60,000 per bitcoin for the first time since May as Wall Street giants increasingly begin offering bitcoin and crypto services to clients—including a highly-anticipated bitcoin futures exchange-traded fund (ETF).
Earlier this week, influential central banker Jon Cunliffe, currently serving as the Bank of England’s deputy governor for financial stability, warned “a massive collapse in crypto-asset prices [is a] plausible scenario” and the fast-growing bitcoin and crypto market could pose a threat to the financial system if not urgently regulated.
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“You don’t have to account for a large proportion of the financial sector to trigger financial stability problems,” Jon Cunliffe said in a speech, pointing to the cypto market growing by “roughly 200% in 2021, from just under $800 billion to $2.3 trillion today.”
“As the [2008 global] financial crisis showed us, you don’t have to account for a large proportion of the financial sector to trigger financial stability problems—sub-prime was valued at around $1.2 trillion in 2008.”
While the bitcoin price has risen considerably over recent years it remains highly volatile. In May, after the bitcoin price rose to almost $65,000 per bitcoin, the market went into freefall with the bitcoin price losing almost half its value in a matter of days.
Cunliffe named major banks’ expansion into crypto services, the growth of crypto hedge funds, and payment companies looking into allowing people to settle transactions in stablecoins—cryptocurrencies pegged to traditional currency—as indicative of the growing risk.
Cunliffe, who has played a central role in monitoring cryptocurrencies over recent years as an adviser to the G20’s financial stability board and the Geneva-based Bank of International Settlements, called on regulators to urgently rein in the red-hot market in with tough regulations.
“When something in the financial system is growing very fast, and growing in largely unregulated space, financial stability authorities have to sit up and take notice,” Cunliffe said, adding: “Regulators internationally and in many jurisdictions have begun the work. It needs to be pursued as a matter of urgency.”
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This week, San Fransisco-based bitcoin and crypto exchange Coinbase called for the creation of a single dedicated body to regulate the crypto market, arguing existing regulators are too fragmented and U.S. securities law outdated. Gary Gensler, the chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has been charged by lawmakers to address their crypto market concerns.
Coinbase and Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by volume that currently doens’t have a fixed headquarters, have both clashed with regulators around the world this year as watchdogs wrestle with how to police the new digital asset class that transcends many traditional systems.
Many bitcoin and crypto companies are calling for regualtory clarity that they think will help bring fresh funding and innovation to the burgeoning crypto space.
“We welcome further regulation in the space as it will attract more capital and interest, and this is already happening,” Martha Reyes, head of research at digital asset prime brokerage and exchange Bequant, said in emailed comments. “However, it is a stretch to say that the sector threatens financial stability.”
Cunliffe isn’t the first to warn the blisteringly hot bitcoin and crypto market could spark a future meltdown. Earlier this year, Viktor Shvets, a managing director at Macquarie, told the Odd Lots podcast the next financial crisis could originate in the mania for cryptocurrencies.