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The price of Bitcoin skyrocketed Wednesday morning, jumping from around $19,800 per digital token to as high as $20,696, according to data from CoinDesk. The surge, which unfolded in a matter of hours starting at 8 a.m. ET, marks new all-time high prices for the original cryptocurrency.

Because it has a fixed issuance rate and is substantially immune from governmental intervention, advocates have often touted Bitcoin as a hedge against social or economic instability. Specifically, Bitcoin has been a magnet for critics of the expansionary monetary policies central banks often deploy to combat economic stagnation. That argument has gained significant traction during the coronavirus pandemic, and demand for Bitcoin has surged among everyday citizens in particularly troubled nations such as Argentina.

2020 has also seen a string of increasingly traditional institutional and corporate investors making major moves into Bitcoin. In just the past few days, that has included insurer MassMutual taking a $100 million position and investment fund Ruffer putting down 2.5% of its $20.3 billion in assets.

That has helped lead the Bitcoin price back to realms last seen in 2017, when a significantly more hype-driven rally pushed it close to $20,000 before a bear market sent it as low as $3,200 by the end of 2018. Despite growing high-level acceptance, Bitcoin is still a speculative and volatile asset.

Bitcoin was first launched in 2009, in part as a response to the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. The ownership and transfer of Bitcoin tokens are tracked on a blockchain, which maintains copies of the system’s transactions on millions of computers worldwide. The software that coordinates those records is open-source and is maintained by a distributed group of developers, rather than by any company, bank, or government.

Other cryptocurrencies inspired by Bitcoin, including Ethereum and Litecoin, also saw major gains. The prices of such so-called altcoins often track with the Bitcoin price.

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