Ethereum breaks past $4,000 to set a new record high

A representation of virtual currency Ethereum are seen in front of a stock graph in this illustration taken on Feb 19, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

Cryptocurrency ether broke past US$3,000 (S$4,000) on Monday (May 3) to set a new record high in a dazzling rally that has outshone the bigger bitcoin, as investors bet that ether will be of ever greater use in a decentralised future financial system.

Ether, the token transacted on the ethereum blockchain, rose 3 per cent on the Bitstamp exchange to US$3,051.99 by lunchtime in Asia.

It is up more than 300 per cent for the year so far, easily outpacing a 95 per cent rise in the more popular bitcoin.

In part, the big rally is a catch-up to late 2020 gains in bitcoin, said James Quinn, managing director at Q9 Capital, a Hong Kong cryptocurrency private wealth manager.

It also reflects improvements to the ethereum blockchain, he said, and a growing shift towards "DeFi", or decentralised finance, which refers to transactions outside traditional banking for which the ethereum blockchain is a crucial platform.

"At first, the rally was really led by bitcoin because as a lot of the institutional investors came into the space, that would be their natural first port of call," Quinn said.

"But as the rally has matured over the last six months, you have DeFi and a lot of DeFi is built on ethereum."

The launch of ether exchange-traded funds in Canada and surging demand for ether wallets to transact non-fungible tokens such as digital art have also pushed up the price.

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The ether/bitcoin cross rate has soared more than 100 per cent this year and hit a 2.5-year high on Sunday, pointing to a degree of rotation into the second-biggest cryptocurrency as investors diversify their exposure.

"Surging DeFi volumes continue to push ethereum prices higher as investors gain confidence in crypto and see ethereum as a safe second-place asset," said Jehan Chu, managing partner at Hong Kong blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic Capital.

Illustrating the momentum for such new transactions, Bloomberg reported last week that the European Investment Bank plans on issuing a digital bond over the Ethereum blockchain, while JP Morgan plans a managed bitcoin fund. 

Bitcoin, the world's biggest crypto asset with more than US$1 trillion in market capitalisation, regained the US$50,000 mark last week and hovered around US$58,000 on Monday, up about 3 per cent but well below its record high at US$64,895.22.

The US dollar was broadly steady.