What is bitcoin?

Bitcoin went from fringe idea to an accepted financial instrument very quickly. Bitcoin is a decentralised cryptocurrency that can be used to pay for goods and services like any other regular currency, but otherwise it is unique.

There is no central authority governing or regulating bitcoin and while it is not backed by any precious metal or government, there is a finite supply. Anyone with a computer can mine bitcoin, though nowadays this is typically reserved for dedicated server farms. Bitcoin is then stored in digital wallets and is completely anonymous, the only anyone can access a wallet is by knowing the password.

Bitcoin has taken on real world value, with many mainstream retailers, businesses and payment processors now accepting bitcoin such as Expedia.

The value of an anonymous currency is attractive to some but it also comes with its own controversies. In this article we will be providing an overview of what bitcoin is, how it works from generation to valuation and it has become a popular financial instrument for traders.

Bitcoin Quick Facts

  • Year bitcoin started: Introduced 31 October 2008, made widely available 3 January 2009
  • Price at start: Prices were generally negotiable in early days, though the first notable real world transaction involved trading 10,000 BTC to have 2 pizzas delivered.
  • Highest price to date and what day: On 2-3 March 2017 1 BTC was valued at $1,290 USD
  • Volume of bitcoins exchanged (daily): As the blockchain is a permanent record of all transactions accessible by all, this is very easy to track. A typical day sees between 250,000-350,000 transactions.
  • First broker to accept bitcoin for deposit/withdrawals: One of first brokers to accept Bitcoin for deposits/withdrawals was FX Primus.
  • First broker to include bitcoin as a trading instrument: Plus500 was one of the first regulated brokers to offer Bitcoin as a financial instruments. Plus500 also were one of the first to offer the LiteCoin cryptocurrency.

Generating bitcoin

Bitcoin is generated by being ‘mined’. Rather than having a government or resource backing the currency, bitcoin is defined by an algorithm that has been designed to have both a finite supply and a fixed rate at which it can be mined. This means we know roughly how much bitcoin there can ever be, and the defined mining rate lets us know how much bitcoin has been generated and therefore how much bitcoin is in circulation that can be traded.

Mining bitcoin involves discovering blocks. Blocks are permanently recorded data stores that form one piece of a block chain, which is a shared record of all transactions that cannot be amended or removed once a block is accepted. The blockchain can only have additional blocks added to it once they are discovered. Mining bitcoin means discovering new blocks, which were developed in such a way that each block requires solving a mathematical puzzle to discover. The puzzle is specifically crafted to take time to solve but, once a solution is found, it is quick to verify. Each time a miner solves a puzzle, they are rewarded with bitcoin and this is how new bitcoins enter circulation.

Storing bitcoin

Bitcoin are stored in digital bitcoin wallets and it is from your wallet that you can send or receive bitcoin. Unlike a bank account, wallets are completely anonymous and the only proof that someone owns a particular wallet is by knowing the password. If you lose the password, there is no way to recover any bitcoin stored in it. There has been several high profile cases of people losing millions after throwing out hard drives containing their bitcoin wallet passwords. This makes wallet security a high priority for bitcoin owners. Anyone is free to set up their own wallet and you can do this yourself or you can use third party websites and products that offer wallet services; however you entrust the security of your wallet to their services.

Fundamental influences of Bitcoin

Bitcoin is not a fiat currency, nor is it backed by any precious metal, so determining its value is somewhat different to most other currencies and the very nature of it means it is subject to volatility. Bitcoin can be influenced by factors outside the fundamental influences which impact the forex markets. The value of bitcoin is influenced heavily by speculators, government regulations and its adoption by mainstream corporations as a valid payment option.

By design bitcoin cannot be controlled, so attempts at government regulation often reduce the value of bitcoin whereas the continued growth in acceptance of bitcoin by real world companies helps increase its value.

Trading bitcoin with a regulated broker

It would be wise for a trader to find a regulated broker when trading bitcoin, as it has had a rocky history thanks to its early unregulated, wild west days. The compromise and collapse of Mt Gox and other high-profile bitcoin websites have led to the loss of over half a billion dollars worth of bitcoin. With the added tenuous nature of bitcoin ownership, trust and reliability of the broker is arguably more valuable when trading bitcoin than any other currency.

Bitcoin is a truly free form of currency, free from manipulation or control by anyone but also with decidedly less personal protections for traders. Thus it is fundamentally important that you pick a regulated broker you can trust when deciding to trade bitcoin. See a list of regulated brokers to trade bitcoin with here.