Bitcoin gripped the investing world last
year like no other asset class in recent memory, minting new millionaires,
sparking a pivot to blockchain technology and attracting a wave of interest
from institutional investors.
In 2018, bitcoin has been a total dud.
The price of the cryptocurrency dropped 28% in January, its
worst monthly drop in three years, according to research site CoinDesk Inc. It
fell below $10,000 on Wednesday, a two-month low. And it is down 48% from its
record of $19,282.73 reached in mid-December.
The plunge is
noteworthy even by bitcoin’s standards.
While it has been known to lose over a quarter of its market value in the span
of a day, those declines have typically been short-lived. Over the past five
years, bitcoin has fallen by more than 30% in a given month only three times,
the latest in January 2015, when it declined 32%.
Late Wednesday, bitcoin was at
$9,999.26, according to CoinDesk.
While several factors are driving the
decline, the regulatory clampdown occurring around the world is an important
reason why bitcoin and the broader cryptocurrency market have fallen on tougher
On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission halted a $600 million initial coin offering,
one of the biggest U.S. interventions into the sector. An initial coin offering
is a process by which a company creates a new virtual coin or token and offers
it for public sale. In January, the top U.S. derivatives regulator brought
charges in three cases involving virtual currencies.
Further hurting sentiment, Facebook Inc. said
Tuesday that it would stop all ads on its platform that promote
cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings. The social-media company said it
wanted to eliminate promotions of “financial products and services frequently
associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices.”
In Asia, the Chinese government has
taken steps to limit bitcoin mining operations, a blow to a large market for
minting new bitcoin.
Japan, which has held a favorable stance on cryptocurrencies,
was stung by a hack last
week in which $530 million of a cryptocurrency called NEM was
swiped from exchange Coincheck Inc.
Meanwhile, South Korea has undertaken
new legislation aimed at calming its red-hot bitcoin market.
“All of this is frightening,” said Kim Sang-woo, a 29-year-old
from Seoul who says he has been trading cryptocurrencies for nearly a year.
Mr. Kim said he initially entered the
cryptocurrency market with a $20,000 investment on South Korean exchanges,
spread out over nine digital currencies, including bitcoin and ether. Through
trading in and out of these coins, he said he made 10 times his initial
But now he said he has cut his exposure
to digital currencies, instead favoring Korean stocks. “Valuations were way too
high,” he said. “I still see positive catalysts and I’m sure all the regulation
is just a way of eventually building up a bigger market. But it’s tough right
For sure, bitcoin has still been highly
profitable for many investors. It remains up by some 900% from where it traded
at the beginning of last year. And investors who bought bitcoin as recently as
three months ago have more than doubled their money.
But in a further sign of the regulatory
pressure, South Korea’s customs service on Wednesday said that it had found
illegal foreign-exchange dealings amounting to 637.5 billion won ($594 million)
carried out through cryptocurrencies.
Kim Yong-chul, a director at the custom
service’s financial investigation division, said the figure is likely to
increase as the probe continues.
By South Korean law, any foreign
remittances above $3,000 require supporting documentation, while cumulative
overseas transactions that exceed $50,000 annually are also monitored. But
cryptocurrencies don’t face any remittance restrictions.
The customs service’s findings came a
day after South Korea’s government implemented stricter verification checks for
cryptocurrency investors, who are now required to hold certified bank accounts
to buy cryptocurrency using fiat money, or legal tender.
Also Tuesday, a South Korean court for
the first time made a ruling to confiscate bitcoin proceeds, as part of a
judgment against an illegal pornography website. The court ruled that the
website operator should forfeit some 191 bitcoin, about $1.91 million based on
its current value, in addition to a fine.
Click here for the original article from The Wall Street Journal.