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Decoding Bitcoin: $BTC at all-time-high $70,000

Updated: Apr 4

Why did BTC grow 350% over the last 12 months and why should I care?

In the ever-evolving landscape of finance and technology, one phenomenon has captured the imagination of investors and enthusiasts alike: Bitcoin. Over the past decade, Bitcoin has transcended its status as a mere digital currency to become a symbol of decentralization, financial sovereignty, and technological innovation. But what exactly is Bitcoin, and why has it surged in value by roughly 800,000x since 2010, and 350% over the past year? In this article, we'll embark on a journey to decode Bitcoin, exploring its dual nature as both a network and an asset, unraveling the driving forces behind its price action, examining recent developments, and contemplating its significance in today's financial ecosystem.

 What is Bitcoin? A network? An asset? 

Bitcoin has emerged as a revolutionary concept in the realm of finance and technology, but its essence can be understood from two distinct perspectives: as a network and as an asset. Let's delve deeper into these aspects to gain a comprehensive understanding of what Bitcoin truly represents.

The Bitcoin network is a pioneering achievement in the realm of decentralized systems. At its core, Bitcoin functions as a distributed system of computers and nodes spread across the globe. These nodes work collectively to process transactions and maintain a decentralized ledger of those transactions, which is known as the blockchain. Through a process called mining, participants in the network validate and record each transaction, ensuring the integrity and security of the system. This decentralized architecture eliminates the need for intermediaries such as banks or governments, offering a transparent and censorship-resistant platform for peer-to-peer transactions.

On the other hand, Bitcoin is also a digital asset in its own right. The native token of the Bitcoin network, simply referred to as $BTC, serves as a medium of exchange, store of value, and unit of account within the ecosystem. In other words, $BTC is money. Bitcoins are generated through the mining process and are subsequently traded and transferred between users across the network. As a finite asset with a capped supply of 21 million coins, Bitcoin possesses unique properties that differentiate it from traditional fiat currencies. Its scarcity, fungibility, and decentralization contribute to its perceived value and utility, making it an attractive investment and hedge against inflation in today's uncertain economic landscape.

 What is driving Bitcoin's price action? 

(Source: Investopedia, Hugo Lin; logarithmic scale)

Despite its volatility, Bitcoin's meteoric rise in value over the past 15 years continues to captivate investors and financial analysts worldwide. At the core of its market price journey lies Econ 101: the fundamental economic principles of supply and demand.

One of Bitcoin's defining features is its finite supply, set at 21 million coins. This scarcity distinguishes it from traditional currencies, fostering a perception of intrinsic value among investors. Furthermore, as more individuals adopt Bitcoin and hold onto it as a store of value, the circulating supply diminishes, amplifying its scarcity and potential for appreciation.

Bitcoin production, primarily through mining, plays a pivotal role in its supply dynamics. “Halving,” a hard-coded feature of the Bitcoin network that occurs approximately every four years, refers to a 50% reduction in the rate at which new Bitcoins are generated. Historically, preceding and following halving events, $BTC price experienced significant surges, reflecting the market's sensitivity to changes in issuance rates.

Market expectations surrounding halving events introduce a compelling trading opportunity. Despite the efficient markets hypothesis, Bitcoin's market response to halving events often exhibits a lag. This delay presents an opportunity for savvy investors to capitalize on the predictable surge in demand that typically follows halving events.

Apart from supply side factors such as halving, demand also affects $BTC price. On January 10, 2024, SEC approved the launch of several Bitcoin Spot ETFs, including offerings from established firms like Blackrock, Fidelity, and Franklin Templeton. Eric Balchunas, an ETF analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, reports that US spot Bitcoin ETFs have achieved a trading volume surpassing $110 billion and have amassed assets totaling $55 billion within just two months of their introduction. This rapid growth indicates a trajectory that could see Bitcoin ETFs surpassing the size of gold ETFs in a matter of months, rather than years. For context, gold ETFs currently hold nearly $100 billion in value.

This influx of investment has undoubtedly contributed to the significant fluctuations in Bitcoin's price. As more investors flock to these ETFs, the demand for Bitcoin increases, driving its price higher. Additionally, the approval of these ETFs by regulatory bodies like the SEC lends credibility to Bitcoin as a legitimate investment asset, further bolstering investor confidence. At the time of writing, Bitcoin stands at around $67,000, approximately 50% up from around $45,000 since Bitcoin Spot ETFs’ approval. 

In essence, Bitcoin's price surge can be attributed to its finite supply, diminishing circulation, the dynamics of halving events, increasing adoption of its digital gold narrative, and shifting market sentiment. These factors intertwine to create a narrative of scarcity and value appreciation, driving investor interest and fueling its ascent in the financial markets.

As Bitcoin continues to gain mainstream acceptance and adoption, understanding its unique supply dynamics becomes increasingly important for investors. By grasping the fundamental forces at play, investors can navigate the volatile cryptocurrency market with greater insight and confidence, unlocking the potential for long-term gains in this groundbreaking digital asset.

What are the key recent developments in Bitcoin (as a network and an asset)? Looking forward, what can we expect (on price, technology, and adoption)? Bitcoin stands as the most recognized and well-capitalized digital asset in the cryptocurrency space. Renowned for its qualities as a store of value, Bitcoin's prominence has soared since 2009. However, while the Bitcoin blockchain was initially conceived as a secure and decentralized payment system, certain inherent limitations have hindered broader adoption thus far.

The newest technology underpinning Bitcoin infrastructure is referred to as Bitcoin Layer-2 (L2) solutions — a set of protocols designed to address the scalability challenges facing the Bitcoin network, especially in terms of smart contract capabilities. These L2 solutions operate atop Bitcoin's base layer, offering a range of functionalities aimed at enhancing its utility and performance.

At their core, Bitcoin L2 solutions work by processing transactions off of the main blockchain, commonly referred to as “Bitcoin Layer-1 (L1).” By doing so, they alleviate the congestion on Bitcoin L1, enabling faster and more cost-effective transactions. Furthermore, these protocols introduce innovative features and capabilities, expanding the scope of possibilities for Bitcoin users.

One of the primary goals of Bitcoin L2 solutions is to enhance scalability. As the demand for Bitcoin transactions continues to surge, the network’s capacity to efficiently process those transactions becomes a critical concern. L2 solutions achieve scalability by batching transactions, aggregating multiple transactions into a single batch, and settling them collectively on the L1. This approach significantly reduces the strain on the Bitcoin network and enhances overall network efficiency.

L2 solutions do not stop at scalability. These protocols enable advanced smart contract capabilities, facilitating complex transactions and interactions on the Bitcoin network. By leveraging off-chain computation and storage, L2 solutions empower developers to build decentralized applications (dApps) and innovative financial instruments on top of Bitcoin.

In essence, Bitcoin L2 solutions represent a pivotal development in the evolution of the Bitcoin ecosystem. By addressing scalability challenges and unlocking new functionalities, these protocols pave the way for broader adoption and increased utility of Bitcoin as a digital asset. As the cryptocurrency landscape continues to evolve, Bitcoin L2 solutions stand poised to play a crucial role in shaping the future of decentralized finance (DeFi) and digital commerce.

Why is Bitcoin important? What are some other crypto tokens? Why should you know about them?  Bitcoin, often referred to as digital gold, plays a vital role as a store of value and a hedge against inflationary pressure. Like gold, Bitcoin has a finite supply, making it immune to the devaluation caused by excessive money printing. This characteristic has led many investors to view Bitcoin as a safe haven asset in times of economic uncertainty. But other than Bitcoin, what are some other crypto tokens, and why should you know about them? 

(Source: CoinMarketCap, Mar 3124, 2024)

Beyond $BTC, other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum ($ETH) offer investors exposure to the rapidly expanding world of decentralized finance (“DeFi”) and decentralized applications (“dApps”). DeFi platforms enable users to access financial services without the need for traditional intermediaries, such as banks. These platforms facilitate lending, borrowing, trading, and yield farming, opening up new opportunities for investors and users alike.

The growing demand for cryptocurrencies, driven by their utility and potential for innovation, has led to speculation about their future price movements. While some believe that the increasing adoption of cryptocurrencies will lead to a surge in prices, others remain cautious, citing concerns about regulatory uncertainty and market volatility.

As we conclude our exploration into the enigmatic realm of Bitcoin, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the significance of this groundbreaking digital asset transcends mere financial speculation. Bitcoin embodies the principles of decentralization, scarcity, and innovation, offering a glimpse into a future where traditional financial systems are reimagined and reshaped. Whether viewed as a store of value, a hedge against inflation, or a technological marvel, Bitcoin has irrevocably altered the landscape of finance and ignited a global conversation about the nature of money, power, and freedom. As we look ahead, the journey of Bitcoin continues, fueled by a relentless pursuit of progress, adoption, and resilience. Whether you're a seasoned investor, a curious observer, or a passionate advocate, the story of Bitcoin beckons us all to ponder the possibilities of a world where trust is decentralized, value is sovereign, and innovation knows no bounds.

Want to learn more? 

Kent Lin (MBA ’25) is President of Harvard Blockchain Club. In crypto since 2017. 

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