It’s sometimes easy to forget that Bitcoin (BTC) is just a teenager, launched in 2009 by the enigmatic Satoshi Nakamoto.
Since then, Bitcoin has seen a meteoric rise, increasing from fractions of a penny to an all-time high of nearly INR 56,96,689 in November 2021.
The big “B” was the best-performing asset class of the decade preceding that all-time high. Bitcoin returned more than 230% during the 10-year period ending in March 2021. For that reason alone, it’s now firmly entrenched in the mainstream.
But Bitcoin’s price journey has been far from smooth. The original digital currency has experienced many violent dips and pumps. Let’s take a closer look at the ups and downs of Bitcoin’s price history.
What Price Did Bitcoin Start At?
Bitcoin was originally worth next to nothing.
The transaction that first gave Bitcoin monetary value was in October 2009, when Finnish computer science student Martti Malmi, known online as Sirius, sold 5,050 coins for around INR 414.65, giving each Bitcoin a value of $0.0009 each.
The exchange took place on PayPal. That can be hard to believe, with so many crypto exchanges dedicated to buying and selling BTC nowadays.
Bitcoin’s Early Years: 2009 to 2012
The growth in BTC adoption in the early years started slow. If you look at Bitcoin’s pricing data on Google Finance, it only goes back to Nov. 20, 2015.
The early years were characterized by very little infrastructure, with only a few hobbyists buying and selling BTC.
“There was no action to speak of and no news cycle,” says Alex Preda, a professor of professions, markets, and technology at King’s Business School in London. “Bitcoin was a fringe phenomenon confined to a subculture of software engineering and not a financial phenomenon.”
The first “real world” transaction took place in May 2010 on a Bitcoin forum.
Posting to the bitcointalk.org forum, Florida native Laszlo Hanyecz enquired whether anyone would order him two pizzas for 10,000 Bitcoins.
After purchasing two pizzas from Papa John’s worth approximately INR 3,380, the price of each Bitcoin came to $0.0041. Those pizzas are the most expensive ever ordered, worth nearly INR 16 billion today, averaging around INR 1 billion per slice.
Hanyecz did the impractical transaction for the sake of it, telling The Sun, “I wanted to do the pizza thing because, to me, it was free pizza. I mean, I coded this thing and mined Bitcoin, and I felt like I was winning the internet that day.”
Bitcoin wasn’t even worth a dollar until February 2011.
That’s when the fireworks started. By June 2011, the price of Bitcoin had shot up 30 times, reaching a value of INR 2,471. In a hint of what was to come, the spike didn’t last long, with Bitcoin dropping to INR 411..
Liquidity in late 2011 was low, and Bitcoin’s first competitor, Litecoin (LTC), emerged on the crypto scene in October 2011.
The introduction of LTC spelled some doubt among the community, with a 90% drawdown testing resolve. Despite a slight rebound, 2012 was uneventful, and BTC closed the year around INR 1,070.
Bitcoin Attracts Investors: 2013 to 2017
Bitcoin’s price trajectory began to change in 2013.
Exchanges, most notably Mt. Gox handled 70% of all Bitcoin transactions by the end of 2014 and started onboarding more and more users. Crypto became more accessible as a result.
The price followed the increase in adoption. Opening in 2013 at INR 1,070, BTC skyrocketed to breach INR 82,389 by November 2013.
Success waned the following year after the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox experienced a security breach with hackers stealing INR 4,942 million from its coffers. Mt. Gox shut down due to insolvency causing Bitcoin to slump to around INR 24,710 by the end of the year.
“The Mt. Gox case generally demolished investor trust in BTC, and it affected the sentiment toward crypto on a much broader scale,” says Alex Faliushin, CEO of crypto lending platform CoinLoan.io.
Between 2015 and 2016, Bitcoin trudged slowly along, making the price action relatively muted. It closed 2016 at around INR 82,389.
The following year saw more investors pour into the asset as increasing media coverage began to draw in the average retail customer.
Price barriers were torn apart with ease. BTC broke through INR 82,389 in early January 2017 and INR 1,64,733 in May 2017. BTC then doubled to INR 3,29,464 in August 2017.
Now, Bitcoin was finally beginning to win doubters over. Futures contracts began trading on the CME and many in the market felt like Bitcoin was becoming a genuine financial asset class.
The “fear of missing out” took hold, and more and more people flooded in to buy this up-only asset. Bitcoin popped to INR 8,23,537 in November 2021 before nearly doubling to almost INR 15,64,720 the following month.
Little did investors know then, but it took nearly three years to regain these price levels again.
Bitcoin Recovers: 2018 to 2021
The year 2018 didn’t slow Bitcoin’s downtrend. BTC’s price collapsed, closing out the year below INR 3,29,464. Then digital currency closed out 2019 at around INR 5,76,472.
With two years of relative inactivity and a consistent downtrend, many wrote Bitcoin off as a fad, having failed to solidify its place in the mainstream market.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the stock markets dropped violently in mid-March 2020.
Bitcoin wasn’t spared, shedding 50% of its value in less than 48 hours to trade below INR 3,29,464. Some hypothesized that the Covid-inspired dip would be Bitcoin’s final nail in the coffin.
But those skeptics were very wrong. With the Federal Reserve responding to the Covid-19 pandemic by printing money for fiscal stimulus, asset prices across the board rose sharply.
Growth and tech stocks showed explosive gains, but Bitcoin got everybody talking. After halving to less than INR 3,29,464in March, BTC hit INR 8,23,537 in May 2020.
But it made its real move in the final quarter of 2020. It shattered its all-time high by breaching INR 12,35,197 in November 2020, moving above INR 16,47,196 in December 2020, and ending the year at around INR 23,88,435 with a market cap of more than INR 44,384 billion.
As retail investors poured into markets and the Federal Reserve kept printing money, assets continued to inflate. Bitcoin hit INR 32,93,890 a week into 2021, INR 41,17,363 in February 2021 and INR 49,41,104 in March 2021.
After a turbulent couple of weeks in May, it dropped to less than INR 27,99,959 before rising to another all-time high close to INR 56,81,883 in November 2021.
Crypto Winter: 2022
Since November 2021, Bitcoin has struggled with the rest of the market. The up-only narrative from the days of money printing was over, with economies struck by rampant inflation.
The Fed has been hiking interest rates since early 2022, with assets furthest out on the risk spectrum getting punished the most.
Higher interest rates mean a greater cost to borrow, less investment, and a general reduction in the level of demand in the economy.
Bitcoin has been in freefall since early this year amid the crypto winter.
The most damaging month this year was May, when the collapse of stablecoin TerraUSD sparked a round of contagion in the cryptocurrency markets, pulling Bitcoin down from INR 32,10,148 in early May to INR 16,46,230 by mid-June, where it hovers today.
Investors hope this downturn is just the latest dip to precede a sharp rise, as history has repeatedly shown for Bitcoin.
Historically, October is known as a “green” month, increasing 26% on average. If that’s the case, we may see prices head toward the INR 19,75,609 mark.