While a holiday lull has fallen upon Bitcoin, now stagnating in the $7,000s, the past year has been filled with a flurry of triumphs and disappointments for the cryptocurrency and blockchain space.
Not only has the crypto market seen its fair share of ups and downs, but so too has the underlying industry, which continues to gain traction despite a dramatic Q3 and Q4 downturn in the price of Bitcoin and its ilk.
The following is a list (in no specific order) of the top crypto- and blockchain-related stories that this budding industry saw in 2019.
After Branding Bitcoin a “Scam,” JP Morgan Launches Own Digital Asset
JP Morgan, one of the world’s largest financial institutions whose chief executive branded Bitcoin as a “scam” on its way out the door in 2017, launched its own digital asset in 2019.
The bank and investment firm unveiled “JPM Coin” at the start of the year, revealing that this digital form of money would be based on Quorum, a private version of Ethereum’s stack.
JPM Coin remains in a pilot state, being used to transfer value between JP Morgan branches; executives claim that the digital currency, tied to the U.S. dollar, is only being used for a small portion of its transactions.
While still in its earliest stages, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of the bank, has claimed that the digital currency could find its way into brick and mortar stores in the future, though he didn’t give any concrete details or a timeline on that.
Bye-Bye Dollars, Hello Libra
Following JPM Coin, Facebook unveiled Libra, slated as a “new global payment system,” along with the proposed Libra wallet known as Calibra, after months of internal development by over 100 employees as the social media and internet giant.
The project, now operated by a Switzerland-based group relatively independent of Facebook called the Libra Association, was launched with the support of Visa, Mastercard, Spotify, PayPal, Uber, amongst an array of venture capital companies, blockchain upstarts, and retail firms.
Though, due to regulatory pressure, some of Libra’s most prominent backers — namely Visa, Mastercard, and Paypal — felt it wise to abandon ship, claiming that they couldn’t withstand the pressure from governments though is still open to collaborating with Facebook on digital money and fintech in the future.
While Libra has suffered this blow, the project is still functional, with reports indicating that the blockchain has a testnet that has processed thousands of transactions. Though, the threat of regulatory resistance looms, meaning that Libra remains somewhat dead in the water, with there being little information as to how and when the blockchain and its fiat currency-backed cryptocurrency will launch.
China Embraces Blockchain, Shuns Bitcoin (Again)
In October, China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, claimed in a meeting with the Chinese Community Party’s Politburo that blockchain should be adopted in the nation as a “core technology” benefiting industries from healthcare and education to commerce and finance.
This immediately led to a blockchain frenzy in China, which has culminated in mass support of blockchain and technologies like it by state media, companies, and individuals.
While supporting blockchain, Chinese authorities have made it clear that they are not supporting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, with financial regulators in regions like Beijing and Shanghai doubling-down on their anti-crypto stances first established in late-2017.
Institutions Delve Into Bitcoin
Although some don’t care to admit it, 2019 was a watershed year for institutional involvement in the Bitcoin space.
Fidelity Investments — the Wall Street financial services giant with over $2 trillion under management. The firm, which unveiled the Fidelity Digital Assets division in 2018, began to roll out a Bitcoin custody and trade execution this year.
It began with a pilot rollout, with the company only offering Bitcoin-related services to a select set of clients. But just a month or two ago, around the time Fidelity Digital Assets secured a New York trade and custody license that allowed it to serve clients in that state, the service has been released to all eligible clients.
Also this year, Bakkt — the cryptocurrency exchange backed by Microsoft, Starbucks, and the Intercontinental Exchange — launched,
rolling out its Bitcoin futures contracts in September. The derivatives have since seen strong adoption from institutions, resulting in Bakkt launching other financial products such as cash-settled Bitcoin futures in Singapore and BTC options.
The company intends to launch a cryptocurrency payments application in 2020, though more information about this facet of Bakkt are hard to come across.
While the aforementioned news events were positive in themselves, analysts and investors are still waiting on the launch of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
Gone Mainstream… Again
Due to a confluence of the aforementioned stories, some of the world’s most important people found the word “Bitcoin” or “cryptocurrency” escape their lips, thrusting this industry back into the mainstream spotlight, at least temporarily.
In February, Elon Musk — co-founder of PayPal, chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla, founder of the Boring Company, among other titles — took to the “FYI” podcast of ARK Invest, a Wall Street research heavily interested in investments like Bitcoin and Tesla. After discussing Tesla’s most recent advancements, the hosts of the podcast took a brief aside: they asked Musk about his thoughts on Bitcoin.
To the surprise of many, he shared his excitement for the technology, claiming that the cryptocurrency has an underlying structure that is “quite brilliant,” adding that he thinks maybe Ethereum and “maybe some of the others” might have technological merit. The renowned technologist concluded by stating that he thinks “without a doubt” that crypto is a “far better way to transfer value than pieces of paper.”
Musk’s love for Bitcoin was echoed by other prominent technologists, namely Jack Dorsey, the head of both Twitter and fintech company Square. Dorsey said on the Joe Rogan Podcast that he thinks Bitcoin will soon become the native currency of the Internet, before adding in a Square earnings call that he “loves Bitcoin.” Dorsey was immediately championed by the cryptocurrency community as the individual who will bring this asset mainstream permanently.
Even politicians have begun to talk Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. President Donald Trump wrote in a tweet published in July that he is “not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air.” He backed his comment by looking to the fact (or the sentiment) that digital assets can be used to facilitate “unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity.” Trump’s tirade was followed with a number of anti-crypto actions from individuals at the Federal Reserve and Treasury.
Most recently, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, was quoted by Forbes as saying that branches of the intergovernmental organization should begin to adopt blockchain.