The crypto rebound has gained so much speculative vigor that even tokens torpedoed last year by their dependence on discredited mogul Sam Bankman-Fried have rallied, with some more than doubling this month.
The likes of FTT, Solana, Serum, Maps and Oxygen have surged despite doubts about their viability following Bankman-Fried's arrest on charges including fraud. FTT, the token of his FTX exchange until the latter imploded, is up 160% in January after losing nearly all its value in 2022, CoinGecko data shows.
These so-called 'Sam Coins' have jumped in a wider $250 billion crypto market bounce from last year's rout. The climb stretches from Bitcoin to the likes of tokens tied to artificial intelligence projects, virtual real estate and gaming.
The rallies symbolize a revival in risky trades in global markets on bets that steep interest-rate hikes are coming to an end. The big question is whether the strong start to the year is a sign of more to come or a treacherous false dawn.
"Crypto will never be free of speculation," said Noelle Acheson, author of the Crypto Is Macro Now newsletter, adding volatility is likely being exacerbated by thinner liquidity as many investors exited digital assets in 2022's selloff.
FTT, once worth $80, slid below $1 by the end of last year and has now topped $2.10. The controversial token got a lift last week on speculation that restarting FTX is one option for the administrators handling its bankruptcy.
Solana is a blockchain ecosystem that received high-profile patronage from Bankman-Fried and was once viewed as a rival to Ethereum. Questions about Solana's future continue to swirl yet its related token has leaped past $24 from $10 at the end of December.
Serum, a coin linked to a decentralized crypto exchange that was supported by Bankman-Fried's collapsed group of firms, has tripled to 43 US cents in three weeks. It peaked at over $12 back in 2021 when crypto was in a giant bubble.
Maps is linked to a navigation service while Oxygen is tied to a decentralized finance protocol. They are up more than 50% in January but are still a small fraction of their peak 2021 values. Bankman-Fried championed both projects.
"These tokens are likely not to have any fundamental value," said Jacob Joseph, a research analyst at CryptoCompare.
Crypto watchers Messari said the coins may have popped higher because upward momentum led some market players to rapidly shutter bearish bets.
"Traders tend to short low-value tokens to hedge exposure to the broader crypto market, leading others to try to perform a short squeeze and causing these quick pumps," said Kunal Goel, an analyst at Messari.
Beyond Sam Coins, the buzz around viral AI bot ChatGPT has also spilled over to crypto. Fetch.ai, the token of a project trying to marry digital ledgers and AI, has jumped to about 28 US cents this month from less than 10 cents.
The metaverse is getting in on the act too: the coin of the Decentraland virtual world has added 140% in January. In gaming, the Axie Infinity token has more than doubled even though the game's popularity crashed last year.
A laundry list of risks remains on the horizon to challenge the sanguine investor sentiment evident in the menagerie of crypto's smaller tokens.
One threat is the possibility of sticky inflation that forces interest rates higher for longer than currently expected, sapping risk appetite. Another danger is the ongoing contagion from FTX's wipeout, most recently the bankruptcy of crypto lender Genesis Global Holdco LLC.
Digital-asset markets appear to be pausing to figure out what's next. A gauge of the largest 100 coins was little changed Monday as of 6:50 a.m. in London, while the largest token Bitcoin was steady at about $22,785.
Bitcoin's 37% climb in January so far is the best for the first month of the year since 2013, helping to take the overall value of crypto tokens past $1 trillion, according to CoinGecko.