Image: AFP

Cryptocurrencies have been hammered following a global sell-off in stocks, with bitcoin plunging nearly 40%.

The market capitalization (total value of the entire cryptocurrency market) lost $93.5 billion in the space of 24 hours as of 10:07 am Hong Kong time, according to data from Coinmarketcap.com. 

Bitcoin was down 48% from 24 hours before at 10:24 am Hong Kong time at $4,001.60, according to data from Coindesk, CNBC reported.

By 5.10 pm HK time, the leading crypto had risen to $5,404, according to CoinMarketCap.

The fall in cryptocurrency markets comes amid a broader sell-off in equities as governments worldwide continue to grapple with the new coronavirus that’s spreading rapidly across the world. The number of global cases has now exceeded 128,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 2,352.60 points lower, or 9.99%, its worst drop since the 1987 “Black Monday” market crash. That selling spilled over into Asia on Friday morning, where stock markets in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong saw heavy losses. 

Investors are concerned about the global economic fallout from the coronavirus as businesses are disrupted and cities are locked down. Countries have taken different approaches with Italy, one of the worst hit-nations, shutting down shops and restaurants, and the US canceling sporting events. Across the world, schools have been shut and people made to work from home. 

Over the past few years, bitcoin has been likened to “digital gold” and has been seen by some as a safe haven asset to park money when markets are facing turmoil. But bitcoin, which has now erased all of its gains for the year and is in negative territory, is behaving more like a risk asset such as an equity. 

And action by central banks has done little to soothe investors’ concerns. This includes a recent emergency interest rate cutefrom the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England as well as further easing measures by the European Central Bank. 

Other cryptocurrencies suffered similar drops on Friday. Ethereum tanked 49% at 10:24 a.m. Singapore time while XRPwas down over 42%. 

BitMEX rumors

Meanwhile, trading giant BitMEX is at the center of attention after unexpected downtime sparked rumors of foul play as bitcoin fell, Cointelegraph reported.

According to a tweet from the company, problems arose during frenzied trading activity on the evening of March 12.

As a result, BitMEX was offline for around 25 minutes, managing to address the issue by 3 am UTC. The tweet stated: “Between 02:16 and 02:40 UTC 13 March 2020 we became aware of a hardware issue with our cloud service provider causing BitMEX requests to be delayed.”

The exchange saw more liquidations than any other day over the past year, while aggregate volumes for bitcoin futures also broke records.

BitMEX liquidations chart. Source: Skew.com

Against a backdrop of heavy losses for bitcoin traders everywhere, however, BitMEX is currently fielding intense criticism. Aside from technical reliability, one theory even suggests the exchange contributed to BTC/USD’s record daily losses.

“Insane theory of the day: there was no BitMEX hardware issue,” Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of research outfit Alameda and competitor exchange FTX wrote as part of a series of tweets following the turmoil.

For Bankman-Fried, it was BitMEX’s unwillingness to address market conditions which hastened bitcoin’s fall. After the platform went offline, bitcoin recovered, he noted.

“BTC rallied without the gigantic sell wall of the BitMEX liq,” he summarized.  

BitMEX responded by calling the allegations a “conspiracy theory.”

“‘Insane’ is right. Sam, you know better than to deal in this type of conspiracy theory, especially since you operate a platform in the space and understand what kind of problems can occur at scale,” staff wrote. 

Bankman-Fried later said that he “believed” BitMEX’s denial of his version of events.

BitMEX’s insurance fund, as of Thursday, was down 1,600 BTC ($8.6 million) in 24 hours in what appears to be its biggest drop on record.

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