Crypto boom shaken as Bitcoin plunges along with other digital coins

Bitcoin has more than doubled in 2020.
Bitcoin has more than doubled in 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Bitcoin and other digital currencies plunged on Thursday (Nov 26), a slide likely to stoke speculation about the durability of the boom in cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin slumped as much as 8.7 per cent, the most since early August, while digital coins like Ether also tumbled. The Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index at one point slid more than 6 per cent.

"Conditions are very massively overbought and bound for a correction," said Vijay Ayyar, head of business development with crypto exchange Luno in Singapore. "So I don't think it's unusual frankly."

Even with the retreat, Bitcoin has more than doubled this year and until recently was knocking on the door of the record high of US$19,511 (S$26,115) set in 2017. Crypto believers tout purchases by retail investors, institutions and even billionaires, as well as the search for a hedge against dollar weakness amid the pandemic, as reasons why the boom can last.

Skeptics argue the cryptocurrency's famed volatility portends a repeat of what happened three years ago, when a bubble burst spectacularly. Some see signs of retail investors piling in to chase momentum for fast gains, storing up an inevitable reckoning.

Bitcoin dropped 5.4 per cent as of 3:07pm in Tokyo to about US$17,856, while Ether was more than 8 per cent lower at about US$528.

Concern about the possibility of tighter US crypto rules, as well as profit taking, help explain Thursday's price drop across most major digital assets, said Ryan Rabaglia, global head of trading at OSL brokerage in Hong Kong.

"It's also not unusual to see a short-term pullback following periods of significant, accelerated gains as traders look to take profits before resetting once volatility subsides," he said. "Once the dust settles, we're back to business as usual with all medium to long-term bullish indicators still in play."

Proponents of digital assets say the current focus on cryptocurrencies compared with three years ago is different because of growing institutional interest, for instance from the likes of Fidelity Investments and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Just this week, Van Eck Associates Corp. launched a Bitcoin exchange-traded note on the Deutsche Boerse Xetra exchange. In October, PayPal Holdings Inc. said it would allow its customers access to cryptocurrencies.

There is also a buzz around Ethereum, the most-actively used blockchain in the world, which is set for a network upgrade that would allow it to process a similar number of transactions as Mastercard and Visa. The shift to the new system could curb the total supply of Ether, whose price has quadrupled so far this year.

Luno's Ayyar said he expects Bitcoin to stabilize and achieve all-time highs. But that would be followed by a larger drop in the cryptocurrency, he said.