Ripple’s XRP has doubled in the run-up to its Swell conference

Catching the wave.
Catching the wave.
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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Ripple’s Swell conference—now underway this week in a swank San Francisco event space—fits the established pattern of blockchain and cryptocurrency events. Celebrities provide the glitz and the glamour, and the crypto companies finance the parties.

Today (Oct. 1) it was former US president Bill Clinton speaking in his characteristic southern drawl about the importance of blockchain technology. Tonight, Counting Crows performs. At Ripple’s May event, it was Snoop Dogg.

The splashy events don’t just elevate the company, however. They also boost Ripple’s crypto token, XRP, whose price has shot up in recent weeks.

As much as Ripple pleads it’s a disinterested user of XRP, the company is doing an awful lot to bring attention to the controversial digital asset. As the largest holder of XRP tokens, which it keeps in a massive escrow reserve, Ripple is a defendant in class-action lawsuits about whether XRP should be regulated like a stock (the ostensibly centralized control and ownership of XRP could factor into the outcome of the case). In the month preceding Swell, XRP has more than doubled in value and at one point, XRP even briefly surpassed the market cap of ethereum, a prominent rival token.

Along with the conference, XRP’s climb might have been due to speculation it fueled on Sept. 17 by hinting about an impending live product. On Monday, Ripple announced that three companies—MercuryFX, Cuallix, and Catalyst Corporate Federal Credit Union—are apparently using XRP in a commercial setting. Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse denies, however, that his company’s statements have had an impact on the XRP price.

“I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to identify what’s driving the price of any crypto,” he told Quartz on the sidelines of Swell. “It wasn’t obvious to me what drove that,” he said of the latest XRP spike. “Two days before, there had been some news about xRapid. One day before, there had been an announcement about the National Bank of Kuwait. And then, the day that it moved, Coil made its announcement about the stuff they’re doing with micropayments.”

Now, XRP claims a market capitalization of $21 billion, as circulating XRP tokens trade for $0.55 apiece.

Update This story has been updated to include fresh comments from Ripple’s CEO and information about the newly announced commercial usage of XRP.