The Santa Claus rally has yet to materialize for stocks, but Bitcoin network mining metrics continue to advance.
This weekend, the Bitcoin mining difficulty increased by 18.14% to 93,448,670,796, its biggest jump since August 2014.
Bitcoin mining difficulty is a measure of how hard it is to discover the hash below a given target, which is required to validate the next block of transactions. The difficulty level automatically changes every 2016 blocks, or roughly every two weeks. The adjustment is based a target of 10-minute block times.
The actual figure representing difficulty is a factor in the calculation that sets the 10-minute target. This calculation accounts for the total hashing power of the network, which is now 692 PH/s (1 PH = 1 petahash, or 1015 hashing operations).
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The next difficulty increase is forecast to break the 100 billion mark, a 16% increase to 108,753,792,694.
Around this time one year ago, the difficulty level experienced its first decrease in nearly two years. It also decreased in the following adjustment, marketing the first two-period drop since late 2012. At the time, steep declines in the bitcoin price rendered mining unprofitable for many, forcing less efficient equipment offline.
As a result, the hash rate remained largely stagnant for much of the first half of 2015 after years of exponential increases.
This time around, bitcoin prices are hovering near 15-month highs following their biggest rally since mid-2014. As bitcoin has held onto its gains for several months, large miners have been able to bring more hardware online with less capital or operational risk.
In addition, advances in hardware efficiency have made it more profitable to bring hardware online even amid the continuing difficulty increases. Such advances helped the hash rate and difficulty increase even while bitcoin prices were flat.
Bitcoin mining giant BitFury recently announced that its 16 nm mining chip, which it claims to be capable of achieving efficiencies of 0.06 J/GH (1 J = 2.78×10-7 kwh, 1 GH = 109 hashes), will go into mass production in early 2016.