What Is Cryptocurrency? Here’s What You Should Know

Cryptocurrencies let you buy goods and services, or trade them for profit. Here’s more about what cryptocurrency is, how to buy it and how to protect yourself.

A cryptocurrency (or “crypto”) is a digital currency that can be used to buy goods and services, but uses an online ledger with strong cryptography to secure online transactions. Much of the interest in these unregulated currencies is to trade for profit, with speculators at times driving prices skyward.

The most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, has had volatile price moves this year, reaching nearly $65,000 in April before losing nearly half its value in May. (You can check the current price to buy Bitcoin here.)

Here are seven things to ask about cryptocurrency, and what to watch out for.

1. What is cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is a form of payment that can be exchanged online for goods and services. Many companies have issued their own currencies, often called tokens, and these can be traded specifically for the good or service that the company provides. Think of them as you would arcade tokens or casino chips. You’ll need to exchange real currency for the cryptocurrency to access the good or service.

Cryptocurrencies work using a technology called blockchain. Blockchain is a decentralized technology spread across many computers that manages and records transactions. Part of the appeal of this technology is its security.

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2. How many cryptocurrencies are there? What are they worth?
More than 10,000 different cryptocurrencies are traded publicly, according to CoinMarketCap.com, a market research website. And cryptocurrencies continue to proliferate, raising money through initial coin offerings, or ICOs. The total value of all cryptocurrencies on May 27, 2021, was more than $1.7 trillion — down from April high of $2.2 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. The total value of all bitcoins, the most popular digital currency, was pegged at about $735 billion — down from April high of $1.2 trillion.

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The Fed moves up its timeline for rate hikes as inflation rises

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday considerably raised its expectations for inflation this year and brought forward the time frame on when it will next raise interest rates.

However, the central bank gave no indication as to when it will begin cutting back on its aggressive bond-buying program, though Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged that officials discussed the issue at the meeting.

“You can think of this meeting that we had as the ‘talking about talking about’ meeting,” Powell said in a phrase that recalled a statement he made a year ago that the Fed wasn’t “thinking about thinking about raising rates.”

As expected, the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee unanimously left its benchmark short-term borrowing rate anchored near zero. But officials indicated that rate hikes could come as soon as 2023, after saying in March that it saw no increases until at least 2024. The so-called dot plot of individual member expectations pointed to two hikes in 2023.

Though the Fed raised its headline inflation expectation to 3.4%, a full percentage point higher than the March projection, the post-meeting statement continued to say that inflation pressures are “transitory.” The raised expectations come amid the biggest rise in consumer prices in about 13 years.

“This is not what the market expected,” said James McCann, deputy chief economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments. “The Fed is now signaling that rates will need to rise sooner and faster, with their forecast suggesting two hikes in 2023. This change in stance jars a little with the Fed’s recent claims that the recent spike in inflation is temporary.”

Markets reacted to the Fed news, with stocks falling and government bond yields higher as investors anticipated tighter Fed policy ahead, including the likelihood that the bond purchases will slow as soon as this year.

“If you’re going to get two rate hikes in 2023, you have to start tapering fairly soon to reach that goal,” said Kathy Jones, head of fixed income at Charles Schwab. “It takes maybe 10 months to a year to taper at a moderate pace. Then you’re looking at we need to start tapering maybe later this year, and if the economy continues to run a little bit hot, rate hikes sooner rather than later.”

Even with the raised forecast for this year, the committee still sees inflation trending to its 2% goal over the long run.

“Our expectation is these high inflation readings now will abate,” Powell said at his post-meeting news conference.

Powell also cautioned about reading too much into the dot-plot, saying it is “not a great forecaster of future rate moves. “Lift-off is well into the future,” he said.

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Bitcoin plunges 30% to $30,000 at one point in wild session, recovers somewhat to $38,000

plunged 30% to near $30,000 at one point on Wednesday, continuing a major sell-off in the cryptocurrency markets that began a week ago.

The digital currency hit as low as $30,001.51 as the selling intensified Wednesday before paring some of those losses. The cryptocurrency hasn’t traded at those levels since late January.

Bitcoin rebounded as the day went on, was down 12% to about $38,205.49 shortly after 3 p.m. ET. At its intraday low, the cryptocurrency’s loss for the past week was more than 40%.

The sharp drop means bitcoin had temporarily erased all its gains following Tesla’s announcement that it would purchase $1.5 billion worth of the cryptocurrency. It was also down more than 50% since hitting a record high of $64,829 in mid-April.

Other cryptocurrencies also plunged on Wednesday. Ether, the digital currency that powers the Ethereum blockchain, was down more than 22% at $2,620.97, according to Coin Metrics. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started as a joke and has been talked up by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, fell 25% to less than 36 cents. Both had substantially larger losses earlier in the session.

Additionally, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase was temporarily down for some users as the coins plunged on Monday morning.

Negative news over the past week has dampened sentiment for bitcoin.

On May 12, Musk said the electric carmaker had suspended vehicle purchases using bitcoin, citing environmental concerns over the so-called computational “mining” process. This is where high-powered computers are used to solve complex mathematical puzzles to enable transactions using bitcoin.

Musk’s comments caused over $300 billion to be wiped off the entire cryptocurrency market that day.

Musk did suggest on Wednesday that the automaker was not selling its existing bitcoin, saying with emojis on Twitter that Tesla has “diamond hands.” That tweet was published near bitcoin’s lows for the day.
The announcement to suspend bitcoin payments came just three months after Tesla revealed that it bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin, and would start accepting bitcoin in exchange for its products.

Early this week, the Tesla CEO suggested the company may have sold its bitcoin holdings but later clarified that it has “not sold any Bitcoin.”

Then on Tuesday, three Chinese banking and payment industry bodies issued a statement warning financial institutions not to conduct virtual currency related business, including trading or exchanging fiat currency for cryptocurrency.

China’s hard line on digital currencies is not new. In 2017, authorities shut down local cryptocurrency exchanges and banned so-called initial coin offerings (ICOs), a way for companies in the space to raise money through issuing new digital tokens.

Traders in China once accounted for a huge share of the bitcoin market but after the crackdown, their influence was reduced significantly. Chinese cryptocurrency operations have moved abroad.

“The crypto markets are currently processing a cascade of news that fuel the bear case for price development,” said Ulrik Lykke, executive director at crypto hedge fund ARK36.

More than $250 billion evaporated from the bitcoin market alone last week, Lykke said. Though that number seems “astronomical,” such moves aren’t uncommon in the volatile crypto market, he added.

“In terms of Bitcoin’s outlook, things may be looking grim right now, but historically this is just yet another hurdle for Bitcoin to overcome and a small one compared to what it has braved in the past,” said Lykke.

Bitcoin is still up over 30% year-to-date and around 300% in the last 12 months.

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