File Image: IOL

INTERNATIONAL - Bitcoin dropped below $6 000 (R84 539) and dozens of smaller digital tokens tumbled as this month’s selloff in cryptocurrencies showed few signs of letting up.

The largest digital currency fell as much as 6.2 percent to $5 887 as of 3:07 pm in Hong Kong, the lowest level since June, according to Bloomberg composite pricing. 

Ether sank as much as 13 percent, while all but three of the 100 biggest cryptocurrencies tracked by Coinmarketcap.com recorded declines over the past 24 hours.

The total market capitalisation of virtual currencies dropped to $192 billion from a peak of about $835bn in January, erasing much of the gains seen during the speculative mania at the end of 2017.

“Most cryptocurrencies have been overvalued for a very long time,” said Samson Mow, chief strategy officer at blockchain developer Blockstream Corp.

“It’s hard to pin this move on any particular factor, but it feels like the opposite of last year when money piled in as people felt (fear of missing out (FOMO). Now it’s piling out as they sense panic.”

While cryptocurrencies rallied in July on hopes that a Bitcoin-backed exchange-traded fund would attract new investors, US regulators have yet to sign off on multiple proposals for such a product.

The letdown has coincided with growing concern that entrepreneurs who raised crypto-denominated funds via initial coin offerings are now cashing out of holdings such as Ether, the token for the Ethereum blockchain that is a popular platform for crypto projects.

“The big story in the market today is the huge weakness in Ethereum,” Timothy Tam, chief executive officer of CoinFi, a cryptocurrency data analysis company, said in a phone interview. 

“Bitcoin has held up relatively well versus Ethereum. It’s still quite weak versus the US dollar.”

At the height of Ether’s rally last year, the digital coin comprised 32 percent of cryptocurrency market capitalisation, coming within striking distance of Bitcoin’s 39 percent. Ether now makes up about 14 percent, while Bitcoin accounts for 54 percent after falling less quickly than its smaller peers, according to Coinmarketcap.com.

“ICOs that have raised a lot of money are really feeling a lot of pain” as their crypto holdings lose value, Tam said.

Ether has tumbled 39 percent this month, while Bitcoin has dropped about 22 percent.

It’s unlikely that recent global market turbulence, fueled by Turkey’s currency crisis, is impacting cryptocurrencies, said James Quinn, head of markets at Kenetic, a blockchain company with investment and advisory businesses.

“Correlations historically have been extremely low between cryptocurrencies and other asset classes,” he said in a phone interview from Hong Kong. “Which is one of the reasons why there is interest in this space and why people want to make an allocation in this space.”

- BLOOMBERG