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Peter Vogel

Explaining the cryptocurrency major downturn

Voices Nov. 22, 2018

Bitcoin tracking site bitcointicker.co shows the Nov. 14 plunge in value for the world's original cryptocurrency.

Recently, the leading cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, took quite a pounding in terms of its price and market capitalization.

Actually, pretty much the entire cryptocurrency space was driven into negative territory, removing billions in overall capitalization from the market.

Readers of this space know I’ve been following cryptocurrencies for a number of years and that I awarded two prizes of $50 in Bitcoin to contestants in a physics engineering contest back in June of 2015. One winner cashed in his prize the next day. The other kept it until it reached a value of around $4,000.

Back then in 2015, my motivation in awarding such prizes had nothing to do with investment. I was interested in the technology behind a cryptocurrency and wanted students to have an opportunity to explore Bitcoin.

Exactly what provided the recent downward pressure on Bitcoin and the others is not clear, but it was a relatively sudden trigger that saw valuations dropping 10 per cent or so in a couple of hours on Nov. 14.

Although the numbers may appear staggering, it is worth putting them into some perspective. The entire cryptocurrency space has had a total valuation on the order of a few hundreds of billions of dollars. Phone and computer maker Apple in comparison had its market valuation cross the trillion dollar threshold just recently.

To back up a little, Bitcoin has spent most of the past few months with relatively stable pricing in the $6,000 to $7,000 range. Certainly that is far removed from a peak near $20,000 back in late 2017. There was a spike to around $7,300 at the beginning of September, but no really major up- or downtick.

At $5,300 (all pricing here is in US dollars), around the low reached on Nov. 14, Bitcoin was at the value it had back in October of 2017, several months after it began its rapid climb to the $20k peak.

As for what may have provoked the downturn, there are a couple of theories.

One is based on the overall tech sector itself, and within that sector, the aforementioned Apple. After peaking at over $230 a share, the Cupertino, CA, company suffered a steep decline that saw around a hundred billion dollars wiped from its overall valuation. That drop was driven by suggestions of declining iPhone sales.

Analysts suggest the malaise with Apple may have dragged down the entire tech sector. However that wouldn’t explain why Bitcoin’s dip was sudden, and several days after the decline in Apple stock had begun , driving it into so-called bear market territory with a dip of 20 per cent from its peak.

More likely is uncertainty over a pending fork, or split, in Bitcoin Cash, the latter itself being a result of a fork in the original Bitcoin as envisaged by the mythical Satoshi Nakamoto.

Such forks have arisen when developers in the cryptocurrency community envisage improvements to the operating structures underpinning Bitcoin and its competitors. Particularly problematic has been the scaling of cryptocurrencies to meet demand and to handle large numbers of transactions.

Interestingly, the plunge in cryptocurrency prices followed by just a few weeks the tenth anniversary of the publishing of Nakamoto’s seminal paper that started the entire field. Of course few paid attention to the notion of digital currencies until early 2017 when Bitcoin’s price first crossed $1,000.

For much of this year the price level of $6,000 has served as a floor for Bitcoin’s price. Once it breached that floor, autotrading programs triggered a further drop to the $5,200 level. After several days of stability at $5,500, another significant drop lowered the price to $4,400, where it stood at press time.

An important metric for any cryptocurrency is its market cap. Collectively, the major cryptos have a market cap around $180 billion – peanuts, really, when you compare that number to the market caps of say Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, each of which is in excess of $700 billion.

Nonetheless, market cap is a closely tracked measure, and it is significant that the market cap for Bitcoin dipped below $100 billion. In the turmoil of the downturn, longtime second-place holder Ethereum dropped into third, replaced by XRP at around $19 billion.

Interested in following Bitcoin’s price in real time? Check out bitcointicker.co. To track the market cap of the top 100 cryptocurrencies, take a look at coinmarketcap.com.

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