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After 156% gain in 2023, Bitcoin starts new year on front foot

Bitcoin stormed above $45,000 on Tuesday for the first time since April 2022 as the world’s biggest cryptocurrency started the New Year with a bang, buoyed by optimism around the possible approval of exchange-traded spot bitcoin funds.

Bitcoin touched a 21-month peak of $45,532, having gained 156 per cent last year in its strongest yearly performance since 2020. It was last up 3.5 per cent at $45,727 but remains far off the record high of $69,000 it hit in November 2021.

Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, was 2.6 per cent higher at $2,414 on Tuesday, having surged 91 per cent in 2023.

Crypto stocks, which closely track bitcoin prices, surged in U.S. premarket trading with Riot Platforms, Marathon Digital and CleanSpark gaining between 11.3 per cent and 14.8 per cent after sharp falls in the final trading days of 2022.

Investor focus has squarely been on whether the U.S. securities regulator will soon approve a spot bitcoin ETF, which would throw open the market to millions more investors and draw billions in investments.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has rejected multiple applications to launch spot bitcoin ETFs in recent years, arguing that the cryptocurrency market is vulnerable to manipulation.

In recent months, however, there have been increasing signs regulators are prepared to sign off on at least some of the 13 proposed spot bitcoin ETFs, with expectations the decision will likely come in early January. The reaction to a possible rejection would be clear cut and likely see an immediate tumble, said Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone.

“However, should we see the green light the obvious question is whether we get a buy-the-rumour, sell-on-fact scenario playout or whether it promotes another leg higher,” he added in a note.

Rising bets that major central banks will cut interest rates this year has also been a boon for cryptocurrencies, helping shake off the gloom that had settled over crypto markets following the collapse of FTX and other crypto-business failures in 2022.

Crypto markets could further their gains in 2024 as bitcoin tends to perform during U.S. election years, coinciding with Bitcoin halving cycles in 2012, 2016 and 2020, said Markus Thielen, founder of digital asset research firm 10x Research.

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