Bitcoin smashed through the $7,000 barrier Thursday, extending its incredible six-fold year-to-date gains to trade at a level that is now five times the price of gold.

Bitcoin prices were marked $380 higher, or 5.65%, on the Bitsmap exchange in London Thursday to change hands at an all-time high of $7,142.04 each before paring gains to around $7,018.60. Bitcoins have risen more than 40% since passing the $5,000 barrier on Oct. 12 and have surged 640% -- from $966.30 -- since the start of the year. At the current levels, a single bitcoin is now worth 5.5 troy ounces of gold, based on current spot prices.

The recent runup in prices parallels a statement from the CME Group earlier this week that it will launch a bitcoin futures contract later this year based on the one-day dollar-denominated reference point of the cryptocurrency. 

"Given increasing client interest in the evolving crypto-currency markets, we have decided to introduce a bitcoin futures contract," CME chairman Terry Duffy said earlier this week when the group announced the impending contract.

The cryptocurrency's record run has also been fueled by speculation that authorities in China could be prepared to relax restrictions in trading after three major exchanges were shut down last month, as well as reports the Goldman Sachs is looking at ways in which it could play a market-making role in the virtual currency world.

The run has not come without criticism or concern, however, with Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam saying Thursday that its anonymity could be a major barrier to broader acceptance in mainstream finance.

"I think most banks in the current state of regulation have little or no appetite to get involved in a currency which has such anti-money laundering challenges," he said. "From what we can identify, the only reason today to buy or sell Bitcoin is to make money, which is the very definition of speculation and the very definition of a bubble."

Harvard economist Ken Rogoff, as well, has warned that all cryptocurrnencies are "fool's gold", writing in a recent blogpost that much of the phenomenon's future will depend on government regulation.

"Will they tolerate anonymous payment systems that facilitate tax evasion and crime? Will they create digital currencies of their own? Another key question is how successfully Bitcoin's numerous "alt-coin" competitors can penetrate the market," he said.

Check out the coolest cryptocurrency rigs we found on Instagram:

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