By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and OLGA COTAGA
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Bitcoin jumped to an 18-month high on Wednesday, as investors looked for safety in alternative investments amid geopolitical tension, and cheered prospects that Facebook Inc's Libra token could push cryptocurrencies into the mainstream.
The world's biggest cryptocurrency has surged in value since April and on Wednesday hit a peak of $13,666.02 on the Bitstamp exchange, the highest level since January 2018. So far this year, bitcoin has risen more than 260%, although it remains below its all-time high of nearly $20,000 hit in December 2017.
Bitcoin last traded up 14.7% at $13,475.
Investors have flocked back in to digital currencies after a bruising 2018. Bitcoin has risen for eight consecutive days. And now Facebook has said it would offer its own cryptocurrency, the Libra coin, by end of June 2020.
Analysts say Facebook's announcement this month has revived interest in digital currencies, while investors seeking safety have also pushed up bitcoin's price.
"Cryptocurrency traders were reinvigorated by Facebook's launch of their own digital coin and momentum appears to be stirring up fresh new investors," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst, at online FX broker OANDA in New York.
"Bitcoin skeptics are cautious in trying to stop this surge and may look for the next key resistance level which is $15,000," he added.
With major central banks keeping interest rates near all-time lows, investors have been looking for ways to diversify their portfolios, including through cryptocurrenies, analysts said.
Bitcoin CME futures volumes have also increased in the past few days, as investors look for ways to get their hands on the coin via the derivatives market.
Traders, who have access to both spot and futures markets have been buying the spot and selling the futures, arbitraging the two prices, said Michael Moro, chief executive officer at Genesis Global Trading, which provides over-the-counter digital currency trading for institutional investors.
The cryptocurrency has rocketed 150% since early May, along with big rises in other smaller digital currencies such as Ethereum's ether and Ripple's XRP.
"It should be noted that this a very different market today than it was in 2017," said Moro.
"2017 saw an overwhelming number of ICOs (initial coin offerings), which was very distracting. 2019 has less distractions. It's also a different space because the CME bitcoin futures product wasn't available until December 2017."
ICOs refer to a fundraising scheme that bypasses banks and venture capital firms and involves startups creating their own tokens and selling them to the public.
(For a graphic on 'Bitcoin hits highest in nearly 18 months' click https://tmsnrt.rs/2FyOjMa)
(Reporting by Olga Cotaga in London and Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York; Editing by Larry King and Matthew Lewis)