Bitcoin grabbed many of the headlines in 2017, but as of January 2018, it only represents approximately 36.4% of the coin market according to Coinmarketcap.
Many of the coins below Bitcoin outperformed the market leader. While Bitcoin is the most mainstream accessible and has attracted most interest, some investors have begun to explore other coins hoping to replicate Bitcoin’s meteoric rise.
Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Ripple have all made substantial gains.
Ripple usurped Ethereum as the second largest cryptocurrency as international banks announced they would trial payment systems with it. Ripple capped an annual rise of more than 36,000 percent, doubling in price in the last week of December 2017. Ripple markets itself as a cross-border payments solution for large financial institutions, rooted in blockchain technology.
Currently, an international payment may take a few days to complete, and at a high cost. A headache for banks is high-volume, but low-value, transactions.
These can often be expensive and unprofitable for banks because it takes a lot of effort to move the money and the percentage cut won’t be as high as for a larger transaction. Ripple is trying to solve this problem via its technology. Ripple has been conducting trials with a number of financial institutions, including American Express and Santander.
Ethereum, the third largest cryptocurrency, profited from Bitcoin’s success in 2017, as successful Bitcoin investors reinvested in other cryptocurrencies and the Ethereum platform saw many initial coin offerings (ICO) successfully launched.
Companies used Ethereum’s platform to create derivative tokens with relative value to Ether in an ICO. This functionality had borne little fruit until then. But as more companies experienced successful ICOs on Ethereum’s platform, momentum accelerated. Bitcoin helped to bring new money into the industry, and these younger companies benefited immensely from this cash injection.
The mania that helped bitcoin achieve a price tag of almost $20,000 naturally contributed to the other, cheaper coins available on the same exchanges. Ethereum is listed right alongside bitcoin, and once new investors entered the market to grasp the tail end of these gains, they spread their money between the year’s top earners.
A split in the Bitcoin network led to the creation of Bitcoin cash, which although initially grew rapidly has settled to become the fourth largest. The fork in software has a higher block limit, which is hoped will overtake BTC in transaction volume, making it the most popular incarnation of the technology. However, so far BCH peaked at $4,054.20 in December 2017, and has declined since.
Cryptocurrency remains a highly unpredictable market, and could see new entrants or smaller coins gain traction.
For instance, Monero has been growing in popularity due to its privacy software. Monero quadrupled in value to $349 in the final two months of 2017, according to coinmarketcap.com, placing it among a number of upstart coins that rose faster than bitcoin, which approximately doubled in the same period. Monero encrypts the recipient’s address on its blockchain and generates fake addresses to obscure the real sender.