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Ripple coins soar to record — quietly stalking bitcoin for crypto dominance

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 1/4/2018 Mark DeCambre

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The virtual currency known as Ripple coins soared to a record on Wednesday, solidifying a rally in the world’s No. 2 digital asset and closing in on bitcoin for dominance of the nascent industry.

Ripple has surged over 90% over the past week, with a single coin valued at $2.89 trading at intrasession record, according to research site CoinMarketcap.com. That puts San Francisco-based Ripple Labs’s total value at about $112 billion. However, factoring the total supply of Ripple coins, including some 55 million Ripple coins held in escrow by its executives, the total value of Ripple is around $290 billion. That technically exceeds bitcoin’s value, which is at $256 billion at a price of about $15,300, according to the site.

Ethereum stands squarely in third position with a total value of $85 billion, after Ripple rocketed past the formerly No. 2 currency just last week.

The move for Ripple would mean that the so-called flippening, to determine which of the alternative coins supplants bitcoin, may already be under way.

Ripple’s “XRP” coin, as its currency is referred, has surged more than 45,000% since the end of Dec. 2016. That means that $100 invested in the company from the end of 2016 to its current level would be worth about $45,000, representing a stunning return, even when compared with bitcoin’s roughly 1,440% surge over the same period. For further comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) soared 26% over the same time, while the S&P 500 index (SPX) has returned more than 20%.

What is Ripple

Ripple Labs launched its blockchain protocol in 2012 as an initiative to provide a payment processing system for financial entities. Among a barrage of digital-currency companies offering blockchain, or decentralized, distributed-ledger technologies, Ripple is considered the outfit with the most legitimate business model from a Wall Street perspective.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Provided by Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

XRP tokens are used to help facilitate its intra-bank transactions, and boasts a faster processing time than bitcoin — seconds versus minutes.

Read: 7 cryptocurrencies to watch in 2018 if you’re on the hunt for the next bitcoin

So-called blockchains, the record-keep technology behind bitcoin and other cyber units, have garnered wider acceptance in recent years, notably because it promises a decentralized means of doing business and exchanging money, with a community of so-called miners who verify transactions instead of one central entity or bank. That decentralization has been one of the main appeal of many of those with a more antiestablishment sensibility in the bitcoin universe.

However, Ripple run by CEO Brad Garlinghouse is controversial among digital-currency purists because it caters to the establishment and provides a blockchain that is centralized, meaning a third-party helps to mediate money transfers.

the New York Times once described Ripple as “a cross between Western Union and a currency exchange, without the hefty fees” because it’s not only a currency, but also a system on which any currency, including bitcoin, can be traded.

Why has ‘XRP’ been on a tear?

A number of Asian financial institutions have signed on to adopt Ripple’s blockchain technology, bringing the company’s roster of financial clients to over 100, including American Express, Standard Chartered UniCredit, UBS and others.

There are also unfounded rumors that Ripple coins will eventually be on popular currency exchange Coinbase, which has added to speculative buying.

Mark DeCambre is MarketWatch's markets editor. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @mdecambre.

Corrections and clarifications: Fixes reference to the amount of Ripple assets owned by Ripple executives. Ripple Labs holds about 55 million XRP coins, which would add an additional $150 billion to its market value.

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