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UPDATE 3-Bitcoin flirts with $16,000, alarm bells ring louder

UPDATE 3-Bitcoin flirts with $16,000, alarm bells ring louder
From Reuters - December 7, 2017

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bitcoin rocketed to a lifetime high just shy of $16,000 on Thursday after climbing some 60 percent over one week, intensifying the debate about whether the cryptocurrency is in a bubble about to burst.

The largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange struggled to keep up with record traffic as the price surged, with an upcoming launch of the first bitcoin futures contract further fueling investor interest.

Proponents say bitcoin is a good medium of exchange and a way to store value, much like a precious metal. They also argue it is preferable to traditional currencies because it is not subject to central bank manipulation.

The supply of bitcoin will eventually be capped at 21 million, and some 16.7 million have already been released.

But critics say that the price run-up is a bubble that has been driven mostly by speculation, leaving bitcoin vulnerable to a sharp reversal. JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) Chief Executive Jamie Dimon famously called bitcoin a fraud in September.

Bitcoin remains a major gamble as it is very much an assetthat remains in uncharted waters, weve simply not experienced this before, said Nigel Green, founder and chief executive of deVere Group.

Also, an asset that goes almost vertically up should typically raise alarm bells for investors, he added.

The worlds biggest cryptocurrency has surged fifteen-fold in value so far this year.

The latest move brought its so-called market cap, its price multiplied by the number of bitcoins in circulation, to nearly $280 billion, according to Coinmarketcap, a trade website. By comparison, the market value of Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) is around $288 billion.

Analysts said the launch slated for this weekend of bitcoin futures by Cboe Global Markets Incs (CBOE.O) Cboe Futures Exchange, one of the worlds biggest derivatives exchanges, was helping drive up the price on expectations it would draw more investors to the market.

The CME Group will launch bitcoin futures one week later, while Nasdaq Inc (NDAQ.O) plans to get into the mix next year.

It is not clear to what extent big U.S. banks will participate in the new bitcoin-related activity.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) will clear bitcoin futures for certain clients when they go live, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

The bank is evaluating the specifications and risk attributes for the bitcoin futures contracts as part of our standard due diligence process, spokeswoman Tiffany Galvin said.

Bitcoin climbed as high as $15,995 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange BTC=BTSP, up more than 14 percent on the day. It was last at $15,791.51.

Coinbase, the largest U.S. platform for buying and selling cryptocurrencies, said on Thursday on Twitter that it had experienced an outage due to record traffic. The venue was last up and running.

STOKING VOLATILITY

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