The digital currency markets are in turmoil. On Friday morning the price of bitcoin dropped below $12,000, which is around 40% off its recent high, while other crypto-currencies are falling as much or further.
Meanwhile, the mass sell-off appears to have forced the popular digital currency exchange, Coinbase, to go down for short stretches on Friday. Customers who visited the exchange around 9:30 a.m. ET saw a message the site is currently offline, and that only a “snapshot” view was available:
Meanwhile, those who tried to log-in received the following message:
By 10 a.m. ET the Coinbase site was back online. The company has yet to issue a statement explaining the outage, though a person familiar with Coinbase told Fortune it was the result of large traffic and trading volume, and not malicious activity.
Shortly after 11am ET, Coinbase said it has suspended some trading:
“Due to today’s high traffic, buys and sells may be temporarily offline. We’re working on restoring full availability as soon as possible,” the company said on its status update page.
The person familiar with Coinbase also disavowed rumors, circulating on corners of Reddit and social media, that the company faced a liquidity crunch. The rumors, which do not appear to have been based on any credible information, may be tied to short shellers and others trying to hammer the crypto markets. As Bloomberg reports:
“The sharks are beginning to circle here, and the futures markets may give them a venue to strike,” Ross Norman, chief executive officer of London-based bullion dealer Sharps Pixley, which offers gold in exchange for bitcoin. “Bitcoin’s been heavily driven by retail investors, but there’ll be some aggressive funds looking for the right opportunity to hammer this thing lower.”
Meanwhile, by the time Coinbase’s site recovered, prices had fallen further across all four crypto-currencies it offers:
While this week’s collapse of digital asset prices—tied in part to infighting among Bitcoin insiders—has been dramatic, it’s hardly unprecedented. The market is notoriously volatile and has experienced major crashes in the past, only to recover.
Even Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, who recently urged people to “invest responsibly,” has said the market is overly-inflated:
“We probably are in a bubble,” Brian Armstrong confide[d] to Fortune following a recent all-hands meeting. With the total market valuation of all cryptocurrencies well above $500 billion, and few opportunities to put these coins to real use, Armstrong worries that “we haven’t really earned the value of that half trillion.” Nonetheless, in his experience, each time Bitcoin’s price has surged, the valuation has leveled off at a higher plateau—even after crashes.
By mid-morning, bitcoin prices had begun to tick upwards again with bitcoin back near the $13,000 mark.
This story was updated at 11:55am ET to include the Coinbase status update.