Crypto jumps post-US killing of Iranian general

by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by BLOOMBERG

DIGITAL currency prices are expected to heat up, joining the ranks of other traditional asset classes and commodities including gold and oil in the wake of the US airstrike on Iran.

Following the assassination of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ head General Qassem Soleimani last Friday, oil prices surged over 3%, while gold jumped 2%.

Gold is traditionally seen as a safe-haven asset during times of geopolitical or economic instability, while the killing has sparked fears of retribution and heightened political tensions, which could hamper global oil production.

Bitcoin — the leading cryptocurrency that shares similar attributes with gold as a speculative investment — rose by 5% to about US$7,413 (RM30,411) at 1am on Saturday from the week’s low of US$6,850, as per data from Coinmarketcap.com.

The decentralised digital currency averaged at US$7,321 on Saturday, holding a market capitalisation of US$133.34 billion with US$26.67 billion worth of trading volume within 24 hours.

The attack on Iran, criticised as a distraction from US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, also excited other alternative coins.

Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency, gained 3.8%, ripple added 1.74%, bitcoin cash soared 10.14% and litecoin jumped 4.16% as at 1pm on Saturday.

Accumulatively, the overall cryptocurrency market reached US$195.8 billion with an US$85.6 billion volume of intraday trading, up from the week’s low of US$186.2 billion and US$65.9 billion respectively last Friday.

In December 2017, the total cryptocurrency market capitalisation skyrocketed to US$711.78 billion, the same time bitcoin reached its one-off peak of about US$20,000.

Industry observers believe the prolonged uncertainty between the US and Iran could further support speculation in the digital currency markets, paving the way for more premium prices.

“This may also have been contributed by Iranian investors, who are fearful of any upcoming war with the US.

“Safekeeping assets during uncertain times are common for affected communities,” an observer said.

Iran has been using bitcoin following US sanctions on money transfers imposed in response to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities.

In a speech during the Kuala Lumpur Summit last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani proposed that Muslim countries establish their own cryptocurrency to exert domination over the US dollar and the American financial regime.

“Cryptocurrency stands on a decentralised system and is accessible worldwide.

“So, if there is a sudden take-up from Iranian investors, this will also encourage and influence investment from other regions,” the industry observer said.

Soleimani, a top Iranian army general, was killed in a US drone strike last Friday at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.

The US Defence Department claimed Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.

Trump, whom the Pentagon has said ordered the directive to kill, made a series of Twitter postings in the aftermath, stating that Soleimani “should have been taken out many years ago”.

“Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, will be hit very fast and very hard. The US wants no more threats!” he wrote on Twitter in response to Iran’s threats of retaliation.

In reaction to the killing, the hashtags #WorldWar3 and #WWIII have been trending on Twitter.

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for “a forceful revenge” and retaliation against Pentagon.