Amid a backdrop of massive government stimulus and rock-bottom interest rates, cryptocurrencies have been experiencing a boom.
The prices of the world’s five largest cryptocurrencies have skyrocketed since the start of 2021, with market capitalisations rising as much as 15,000% in some cases.
Bitcoin remains the largest of the group, with a market capitalisation of $938.4bn, more than most companies on the S&P 500.
Ether has racked up almost half of that, at $451.3bn, while the remaining three in the top five — binance coin, dogecoin and XRP — fall between $48bn and $91bn.
These last constituents can fluctuate multiple times a day, as market moves occasionally push other rivals like Cardano and Tether into frame.
Calculated as of 13 May, here’s how the top five cryptocurrencies have performed since the start of 2021.
Other top cryptos by market capitalisation include internet computer, polkadot and bitcoin cash.
Bitcoin suffered a major slide back below the $50,000 threshold on 13 May, after Tesla boss Elon Musk said the electric vehicle company would stop accepting the cryptocurrency as payment for its products.
Musk cited the significant environmental impact of mining bitcoin, which has an annual energy consumption similar to that of the Netherlands according to Digiconomist.
Bitcoin’s fall caused losses across the top cryptocurrencies, with ether, XRP and litecoin all falling more than 10% on 13 May.
“With two thirds of mining taking place in coal-heavy regions like China where energy costs are subsidised, the resultant carbon footprint is huge. Over the long term, it is difficult to see how this is consistent with a transition to a low carbon economy,” said BMO Global Asset Management’s responsible investment vice president David Sneyd.
While the cryptocurrency has some social benefits that can alleviate the carbon impact from an overall ESG perspective for investors, Sneyd added, such as democratising access to finance in poorer nations and security and privacy under oppressive regimes, they do not outweigh the downsides.
“All of this is to say that, overall, we consider bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, to be a net negative from an ESG standpoint. As it currently stands, the positive potential of bitcoin remains unproven, but the negatives are very real and present,” said Sneyd.
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