Cryptocurrencies usually aren’t governed or backed by any central authority. Government backing can improve faith in the value of a currency among consumers, and it provides a big spender and collector of the currency. (Try paying your taxes in Bitcoin.) But since cryptocurrencies are generally decentralized, they derive their value from other sources, including:
- Supply and demand
- Cost of production
- Availability on exchanges
The value of anything is determined by supply and demand. If demand increases faster than supply, the price goes up. For example, if there’s a drought, the price of grain and produce increases if demand doesn’t change. The same supply and demand principle applies to cryptocurrencies.
The supply of a cryptocurrency is always known. Some, such as Bitcoin, have a fixed maximum supply. Others, like Ether CRYPTO:ETH, have no cap on supply. Some cryptocurrencies have mechanisms that “burn” existing tokens to prevent the circulating supply from growing too large and slowing inflation. Burning a token means sending them to an unrecoverable address on the blockchain
The monetary policy of each cryptocurrency is different. Bitcoin supply increases by a fixed amount with each new block mined on the blockchain. Ethereum offers a fixed reward per block mined, but it also pays out for including “uncle blocks” in the new block, which helps facilitate the efficiency of the blockchain. As a result, the supply increase isn’t as fixed. Some cryptocurrency supplies are dictated entirely by the team in charge of a project, which can opt to release more of a token to the public or burn tokens to manage the money supply.
Demand can increase as a project gains awareness or as utility increases. Broader adoption of a cryptocurrency as an investment also increases demand while effectively limiting the circulating supply. For example, when institutional investors started buying and holding Bitcoin in early 2021, the price increased significantly as demand outstripped the pace at which new coins were created, effectively decreasing the total available supply of Bitcoin.
Likewise, as more decentralized finance (DeFi) projects launch on the Ethereum blockchain, the demand for Ether increases. Ether is required to perform transactions on the blockchain regardless of what cryptocurrency you’re transacting with. Or, if a DeFi project takes off itself, its own token will become more useful, thereby increasing demand.