London (AFP)

Bitcoin, the first decentralized cryptocurrency, exceeded $ 20,000 for the first time on Wednesday, fueled by a market appetite for risk that has tripled its highly speculative value in one year.

Around 2:20 p.m. GMT (3:20 p.m. in Paris), bitcoin was costing $ 20,612.40 and saw its price almost tripling since the start of the year, moments after hitting an all-time high of $ 20,787.35, according to the data. compiled by the Bloomberg agency.

This recent surge began at the end of October with the launch of a cryptocurrency buying, selling and payment service by the online payments giant Paypal.

Even if Paypal is a service for individuals, this decision completed the establishment of a form of respectability for this asset with traditional investment funds which had hitherto shunned it because of its extreme volatility.

"The use of bitcoin by traditional investors is only just beginning," warn analysts at JPMorgan bank, who liken digital and decentralized currency to gold.

Other reputable Wall Street bank analysts like Citi have started to follow the cryptocurrency's price.

For many followers of bitcoin, the latter draws its appeal from its decentralization: created by a network itself invented by anonymous people in 2008, it does not depend on any institution.

Cryptocurrency therefore offers a more modern alternative than gold to the dollar, which is currently evolving at very low levels due to the monetary easing measures of central banks, taken to revive the economy in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

- Caution advised -

"The holiday season could be quite pleasant for bitcoin", because of the wave of optimism sweeping all the markets, believes Craig Erlam, analyst at Oanda, who notices that the rise comes just as the US Federal Reserve (Fed) meets.

This flexibility of central banks benefits other risky assets: Tuesday, the US Nasdaq index, predominantly technology, finished with a new record.

However, other market participants urged caution: "the last time the price of bitcoin jumped and hit record highs, it fell back very quickly," recalls Laith Khalaf, analyst at AJ Bell, who calls investors enticed by the performance of 2020 to "invest only small amounts, which we can afford to lose".

Backed by no assets or the economy of any country, the price of bitcoin has observed dizzying variations.

In 2017, bitcoin had started the year at less than $ 1,000, and had seen its price soar over the months before a real surge between mid-November and mid-December, when prices had quadrupled in less than a month.

After peaking at $ 19,511 on December 18, prices had melted throughout 2018, ending at just over $ 3,000.

This volatility, as well as the high cost of transactions, explains that for the moment, if bitcoin has managed to interest investors, its use as a means of payment remains limited.

© 2020 AFP