Bitcoin stormed back with a more than 160% advance this year that added some $530 billion to its market capitalization. In its wake, myriad smaller tokens ranging from Sam Bankman-Fried-backed Solana to dog- and frog-themed memecoins took off as investors embraced risk again. An investor who bought $100,000 of Solana at the start of 2023 would now be sitting on a more than $800,000 gain.
Underpinning much of the bonanza is optimism that US regulators will soon give their first blessing for an exchange-traded fund that invests directly in Bitcoin. Investors will find out by Jan. 10 if that bet, which crypto bulls consider a near-certain winner, pans out.
Read more: Countdown for Bitcoin ETF Decision Is Reaching a Critical Point
“The approval of the spot ETFs is going to be a major catalyst, it’s going to definitely drive a demand shock” as mainstream investors currently lack a “high bandwidth, compliant” investment channel for the token, Michael Saylor, co-founder of Bitcoin holder MicroStrategy Inc., said on Bloomberg Television.
Digital-asset markets still have plenty of detractors who argue cryptocurrencies are fundamentally worthless and a haven for criminals. Binance, the largest exchange, in November agreed to pay a $4.3 billion fine for a range of violations and Chief Executive Officer Changpeng Zhao was forced to step down. Bankman-Fried has been jailed for fraud at FTX, and liquidity has yet to fully recover from the collapse of his empire.
Here are a selection of charts showing how crypto fared in 2023.
Bitcoin’s rally this year topped stocks and gold. Supporters say a quadrennial event due in 2024 known as the halving — or halvening — will curb supply growth, providing a prop for the token alongside potential ETF demand. The dominant cryptocurrency is still trading well below its November 2021 record of almost $69,000.
Bitcoin miners Marathon Digital Holdings Inc. and Riot Platforms Inc., top US crypto exchange Coinbase Global Inc. and software-company-turned-Bitcoin-investor MicroStrategy all jumped as crypto markets recovered. Coinbase’s almost 400% gain weathered a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly running an unregistered platform, an accusation the company contests.
Bitcoin derivatives saw a burst of activity in 2023. Bitcoin options open interest on Deribit — the largest crypto options exchange — exceeded $16 billion for the first time in December, according to CCData. Bitcoin futures open interest also hit landmark levels at CME Group, which is now vying with Binance to be the top marketplace for such instruments.
The decentralized finance sector has yet to recover from the more than $40 billion collapse of the TerraUSD stablecoin project in 2022. One exception is liquid staking, where the total value of locked assets rose to a record this year, data from DefiLlama show. Liquid staking protocols offer easier access to the rewards earned when tokens are pledged to help operate blockchains. Staking grew in popularity on Ethereum after the network’s Shanghai update in April.
Weekly trading volumes for nonfungible tokens — digital collectibles — have climbed off lows of less than $50 million in October, reaching about $180 million this month, according to figures from Nansen. But they are a fraction of the $1.8 billion peak seen in 2022, suggesting crypto generally has much work to do to reignite the level of interest the sector attracted during the pandemic, when the world was awash with stimulus.
While Bitcoin’s price has jumped, the crypto market still shows scars from the collapse of Bankman-Fried’s FTX platform and his trading house Alameda Research in November 2022. The wipeout contributed to a drop in liquidity, making the token harder to trade.
Market depth, or the crypto market’s ability to shoulder relatively large orders without unduly impacting prices, illustrates the problem. The daily value of trades falling within 1% of the mid-price of Bitcoin on centralized exchanges has dropped 55% to about $680 million from as much as $1.5 billion in April last year, Kaiko data shows.
There have been big shifts in the market share of crypto exchanges this year. Binance remains the largest venue but its share of spot trading fell to about 44% by mid-December from over 65% at the start of 2023, according to Kaiko. Asia-focused platforms like Upbit, Bybit and OKX picked up much of the business Binance lost.