Bitcoin is breaking records because bigger investors are buying it now, says PwC

SINGAPORE — Bitcoin's record-smashing rally seen in recent weeks was partly driven by the entry of more big, institutional investors into the market, according to PwC's global crypto leader Henri Arslanian.

The digital currency surged over $30,000 for the first time on Saturday and had advanced more than 300% in 2020, Reuters reported. On Monday afternoon in Asia, Bitcoin traded at around $32,668.93, according to CoinDesk.

The cryptocurrency has been around for a little over a decade, but it only began to rise in popularity among mainstream institutional investors last year. Crypto bulls have said that bitcoin is seen as a hedge against inflation, similar to gold.

"When you look at this bitcoin rally that we have been seeing in the last couple of weeks and months, really, there's two big elements driving it. One is the continuous entry of institutional players," Arslanian said Monday on CNBC's "Street Signs Asia."

Bitcoin's price resurgence last year was in part fueled by well-known Wall Street billionaires publicly backing the cryptocurrency. Analysts said their endorsement gave confidence to otherwise skeptical, mainstream investors. Investors such as Paul Tudor Jones and Stanley Druckenmiller have both put money in bitcoin and pointed out its potential as an inflation hedge.

Large financial companies like PayPal and Fidelity have also made moves in the cryptocurrency while the likes of Square and MicroStrategy have used their own balance sheets to buy bitcoin.

Arslanian said he expects that trend to continue over the coming months, pointing out that there are various instruments now that allow institutional players to get exposed to bitcoin. "But also there's a lot of regulated players as well. This was not the case a couple of years ago," he said.

A second development driving the current bitcoin rally is retail investors and their fear of missing out, according to Arslanian. He said a lot more people today have accounts on crypto exchanges than before as buying cryptocurrencies is easier now than before.

"With these two big elements driving it, there's a lot of momentum going on in the space. There's a lot of optimism in the crypto markets as well," he said.

Bitcoin's recent performance is reminiscent of its frenzied rally to nearly $20,000 in 2017, which was followed by a sharp pullback in 2018, wiping out billions of dollars in the market capitalization of major cryptocurrencies. But crypto fans say the current rally is different as it is driven by institutional buying rather than retail speculation.

For his part, Arslanian said one big difference between this rally and the one seen in 2017 is clarity in regulations, which was scarce back then. Today, he said, most regulators around the world have people working on crypto internally. Many of the large financial centers have "pretty good regulatory clarity on crypto markets and that is giving comfort, not only to institutional investors but also retail investors as well coming in the market," he said.

While Arslanian declined to put a price target on bitcoin for this year, he said the current momentum remains optimistic. "More than the price of bitcoin, I'm watching the number of new institutional players coming in, which I think have an outsized impact on the markets," he added.

CNBC's Ryan Browne contributed to this report.

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