Excitement hit a peak in April last year when Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public at an $85 billion valuation, a coming-out party for the industry. Bitcoin topped $60,000 for the first time.
Last summer, El Salvador announced that it would become the first country to classify Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. The country’s president updated his Twitter profile picture to include laser eyes, a calling card of Bitcoin believers. The value of El Salvador’s $105 million investment in Bitcoin has been slashed in half as the price has fallen.
Senators and mayors around the United States began touting cryptocurrency, as the industry spent heavily on lobbying. Mayor Eric Adams of New York, who was elected in November, said he would take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. Senators Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, proposed legislation that would create a regulatory framework for the industry, giving more authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an agency that crypto companies have openly courted.
Through the frenzy, celebrities fueled the fear of missing out, flogging their NFTs on talk shows and talking up blockchain projects on social media. This year, the Super Bowl featured four ads for crypto companies, including Matt Damon warning viewers that “fortune favors the brave.”
That swaggering optimism faltered this spring as the stock market plummeted, inflation soared and layoffs hit the tech sector. Investors began losing confidence in their crypto investments, moving money to less risky assets. Several high-profile projects crashed amid withdrawals. TerraForm Labs, which created TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, and Celsius, an experimental crypto bank, both collapsed, wiping out billions in value and sending the broader market into a tailspin.
“The circular flow of funds brings questions about whether this entire ecosystem always needs outsiders to come in and sustain it,” Mr. Farrokhnia said.