Last week I pointed to a decline of 23% in the market cap of major digital currencies in July, asking if this was the bottom. Now we have an answer: Not by a long shot.
This past weekend brought brutal declines for the two biggest digital currencies. Bitcoin fell to around $1,863 (38% off its all-time high) while ethereum hit a low of around $133 (67% off its high).
Bitcoin and ethereum are by far the biggest digital currencies but the entire asset class—which consists of numerous other so-called "alt coins"—suffered a similar shock. The trade publication Coindesk reported the overall market cap for digital currencies has fallen from $115 billion to $61 billion in a month.
On Monday morning the currencies had recovered slightly as bitcoin and ethereum were trading around $2,000 and $160 respectively.
There is no obvious single explanation for the price collapse, though part of it may simply be a market correction following months of speculative mania that has attracted all sorts of new investors to the market.
Ryan Selkis, a well-respected figure in the digital currency community, acknowledged the price drop has been dramatic but also noted the overall market is still well up from the start of the year:
Another factor driving the price collapse may be an unresolved dispute among leading members of the bitcoin community over how to reform the protocol that underpins the currency. If the dispute, which some are likening to a civil war, is not resolved by an August 1 deadline, it could trigger a further selloff of bitcoin—and drag other currencies down with it.
Adding to the instability is a warning from the popular trading exchange GDAX, run by Coinbase, which warned the protocol controversy could lead it to temporarily suspend bitcoin withdrawals.
A further explanation for the price drop, cited by analyst Anupam Varshney, is a recent spate of "Initial Coin Offerings"—in which founders blockchain companies have raised huge amounts of bitcoin and ethereum, and then dumped some of their windfall on the market.
The latest price turmoil, however, is hardly the first rodeo for long time followers of crypto-currency. Over the last seven years, bitcoin has been rocked by numerous spectacular crashes only to recover—which suggest bitcoin and some of the other currencies will emerge from this latest joint.
As always, digital currency investing is proving not to be for the faint of heart. And for those looking for some good news, some came earlier this month as the IRS declared it would scale back a major audit of Coinbase customers.