Earlier today, prices for nearly every cryptocurrency began to rapidly drop. Major cryptos like BTC, ETH, and LTC have fallen by nearly 9%, while lesser-known tokens like IOTA, NEM, and TRON have seen losses in the 15% range. While this kind of volatility is nothing new in cryptocurrency circles — three drops of similar scale happened in January of this year alone — there’s usually some obvious trigger behind the sell off. At the moment, however, the cause of the price drop is anyone’s guess. Let’s take a look at a few potential causes behind today’s crash.1. $400 million in BTC sold off by MtGox Trustee: As the MtGox bankruptcy case begins to wind down, the defunct exchange’s court-appointed trustee has quietly sold off around 35,840 BTC and 34,000 BCH — worth around $400 million — to pay off the company’s many creditors over the past two months. (This sell off may also explain why BTC’s prices have fallen steadily over the past two months, despite reaching an all time high of around $20,000 late last year.)
Now that MtGox’s BTC and BCH funds are being actively liquidated, there may be serious concerns about the price impact of selling off the remaining balance of around 166,000 BTC and BCH. That’s around $1.6 billion in BTC alone, which is roughly 1% of the total bitcoin market cap. Should the MtGox trustee decide to dump all of those coins onto the open market over a short time span, it could easily crash the market for months.
2. The SEC issues warning to “Unlawful” ICO trading platforms: While the SEC has had a largely hands-off approach to asset-like uses of cryptocurrency, is has been far more skeptical of initial coin offerings (ICOs) and the exchanges that support them. From the SEC’s perspective, money-like tokens such as BTC and ETH are assets, much like gold or silver, while ICOs function more like stocks and bonds. An exchange that deals with ICO tokens, therefore, is acting much like an unregulated stock exchange. That’s not a situation that the SEC is happy about, and they made their position very clear with a new warning issued earlier today.
While the SEC’s statement doesn’t mention specific cryptocurrency exchanges, or outline actions that the SEC may take against exchanges that fail to comply with the law, the message is clear: ICOs and exchagnes are now being monitored, and it’s only a matter of time before legal action is taken. As SEC Chairman Jay Clayton told Fox Business earlier today, “We are watching.”
3. Rumors of a serious hack at Binance: As cryptocurrency prices began to fall around mid-morning, traders on Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange Binance noticed that their accounts had been compromised. According to a Reddit post summing up the complaints, multiple users reported that their altcoin tokens had been traded for BTC, with many others claiming that “buy-orders for a specific coin at a price multiple times above its regular value” had also been placed. Binance representatives were quick to respond, noting that the problem seems to have been caused by a third-party trading program with API access used by many Binance traders. The exchange further claims that the site itself was not compromised, although they are continuing to investigate.
“All funds are safe,” Binance CEO and founder Changpeng Zhao announced on Twitter shortly after the reports began to surface. “There were irregularities in trading activity, automatic alarms triggered. Some accounts may have been compromised by phishing from before. We are still investigating. All funds are safe.” Even if Binance wasn’t hacked, it’s hard to blame its users for being skittish. Binance is one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges by volume, and a serious security flaw or hack could easily result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for traders. It could also create a substantial chilling effect on prices.
While none of these possibilities are a “smoking gun” for today’s price drop, it’s likely that all are playing a role. There’s also the very real possibility that cryptocurrency prices are falling for the same reason that the stock market is tanking — the Dow alone fell around 270 points today — namely serious concerns about the Trump administration’s proposed trade tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. With bitcoin and other cryptos still seen as a highly volatile asset class, they may be the first to be sold off as investors seek to secure their portfolios.