Since prices are based on supply and demand, the rate at which a cryptocurrency can be exchanged for another currency can fluctuate widely. However, plenty of research has been undertaken to identify the fundamental price drivers of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin has indeed experienced some rapid surges and collapses in value, reaching as high as $19,000 per bitcoin in December of 2017 before returning to around $7,000 in the following months. Cryptocurrencies are thus considered by some economists to be a short-lived fad or speculative bubble. There is concern especially that the currency units, such as bitcoins, are not rooted in any material goods. Some research has identified that the cost of producing a bitcoin, which takes an increasingly large amount of energy, is directly related to its market price.
Physical wallets can also take the form of metal token coins[102] with a private key accessible under a security hologram in a recess struck on the reverse side.[103]:38 The security hologram self-destructs when removed from the token, showing that the private key has been accessed.[104] Originally, these tokens were struck in brass and other base metals, but later used precious metals as bitcoin grew in value and popularity.[103]:80 Coins with stored face value as high as ₿1000 have been struck in gold.[103]:102–104 The British Museum's coin collection includes four specimens from the earliest series[103]:83 of funded bitcoin tokens; one is currently on display in the museum's money gallery.[105] In 2013, a Utahn manufacturer of these tokens was ordered by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to register as a money services business before producing any more funded bitcoin tokens.[102][103]:80
Bitcoin prices were negatively affected by several hacks or thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges, including thefts from Coincheck in January 2018, Coinrail and Bithumb in June, and Bancor in July. For the first six months of 2018, $761 million worth of cryptocurrencies was reported stolen from exchanges.[64] Bitcoin's price was affected even though other cryptocurrencies were stolen at Coinrail and Bancor as investors worried about the security of cryptocurrency exchanges.[65][66][67]

Homero Josh Garza, who founded the cryptocurrency startups GAW Miners and ZenMiner in 2014, acknowledged in a plea agreement that the companies were part of a pyramid scheme, and pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2015. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission separately brought a civil enforcement action against Garza, who was eventually ordered to pay a judgment of $9.1 million plus $700,000 in interest. The SEC's complaint stated that Garza, through his companies, had fraudulently sold "investment contracts representing shares in the profits they claimed would be generated" from mining.[71]

While millionaires constitute only a small percentage of the population, they hold substantial control over economic resources, with the most powerful and prominent individuals usually ranking among them. The total amount of money held by millionaires can equal the amount of money held by a far higher number of poor people. The Gini coefficient, and other measures in economics, estimated for each country, are useful for determining how many of the poorest people have the equivalent total wealth of the few richest in the country. Forbes and Fortune magazines maintain lists of people based on their net worth and are generally considered authorities on the subject. Forbes listed 1,645 dollar billionaires in 2014, with an aggregate net worth of $6.4 trillion, an increase from $5.4 trillion the previous year.[12] (see US-dollar billionaires in the world).

Transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin was invented by an unknown person or group of people using the name Satoshi Nakamoto[10] and was released as open-source software in 2009.[11] Bitcoins are created as a reward for a process known as mining. They can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services.[12] Research produced by University of Cambridge estimates that in 2017, there were 2.9 to 5.8 million unique users using a cryptocurrency wallet, most of them using bitcoin.[13]

The first cryptocurrency to capture the public imagination was Bitcoin, which was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. As of February 2019, there were over 17.53 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of around $63 billion (although the market price of bitcoin can fluctuate quite a bit). Bitcoin's success has spawned a number of competing cryptocurrencies, known as "altcoins" such as Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin, as well as Ethereum, EOS, and Cardano. Today, there are literally thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence, with an aggregate market value of over $120 billion (Bitcoin currently represents more than 50% of the total value).
As of February 2018, the Chinese Government halted trading of virtual currency, banned initial coin offerings and shut down mining. Some Chinese miners have since relocated to Canada.[32] One company is operating data centers for mining operations at Canadian oil and gas field sites, due to low gas prices.[33] In June 2018, Hydro Quebec proposed to the provincial government to allocate 500 MW to crypto companies for mining.[34] According to a February 2018 report from Fortune,[35] Iceland has become a haven for cryptocurrency miners in part because of its cheap electricity. Prices are contained because nearly all of the country's energy comes from renewable sources, prompting more mining companies to consider opening operations in Iceland.[citation needed]