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(More on that later.) Why are prices so high for these cryptocurrencies? Demand for bitcoin and ethereum has soared over the past few months after a few changes contributed to their legitimacy. In April, Japan recognized bitcoin as a legal currency, boosting demand for the virtual coins. Some investors expect that other countries in Asia, including South Korea and Malaysia, may follow Japan’s regulatory framework and begin to accept bitcoin as a legitimate currency, says Dmitry Lazarichev, co-founder of Wirex, a platform where people can send and receive digital currencies. [ $100 of bitcoin in 2010 is worth $75 million today ] But some experts say the rising prices of these cryptocurrencies may be based on speculation. Investors are focusing on what they the digital currencies will be worth in the future — and not on how they are being used today. Because the market for cryptocurrencies is still small, the price of these digital currencies can swing wildly up — or down — after a big development like what happened with Japan, experts say. Cryptocurrencies are also decentralized, meaning there is no government or central bank regulating the currency or taking steps to make sure it doesn’t move too much in anyone direction, Hileman says. Prices for bitcoin and ethereum have also jumped this year in part because there’s been a flurry of initial coin offerings, or ICOs, which start-ups use to create new digital currencies. Similar to a company issuing stock for the first time through an initial public offering, investors can use ICOs to purchase tokens issued by the company. But instead of buying ownership in the company, investors are buying access to the company’s product or service, Hileman says. Tokens can become more valuable if a start-up — say a company trying to develop a new online storage system — is successful, he says. The tokens can also become worthless if the start-up fails. There are several websites that track the price of cryptocurrencies, including CoinDesk.com and CoinMarketCap.com.
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