Soaring Bitcoin Prices and Exchange Meltdowns: Is More Market Competition Needed?
Hailed as one of the most topsy-turvy days in the history of the cryptocurrency, the price of bitcoin plunged more than $1,000 in the span of about 10 minutes on November 29, hours after the cryptocurrency hit a new all-time high above $11,000. In the aftermath sell orders began piling up amid a surge in traffic resulting in intermittent outages at a number of bitcoin exchanges.
These periods of high volume activity where the price of bitcoin comes galloping out of the stables only to pump the brakes when demand soars appear to be growing in frequency. November 29’s 11 percent decline marked the lowest price observed since November 26 when bitcoin bottomed out at a low of $8,795.50.
Today’s price has since rebounded to the mid-$9,000 range at the time of writing.
Some exchanges were impacted more than others during this high demand period. By way of example, it was reported that cryptocurrency traders utilizing Coinbase, arguably the world’s largest bitcoin exchange experienced difficulties in accessing their accounts and executing market orders during this period.
BTC-USD (Coinbase) ranges between $11,485 and $8595.55 on November 29
Three other exchange players, Bitstamp, Bitfinex and Gemini, also faced outages or interruptions. Kraken also experienced some hiccups in recent weeks during volatile times. Bitfinex traders have claimed to have lost funds in the drama, as the exchange, along with Coinbase, experienced a flash crash due to technical issues; the API went down, orders didn’t match and users have ended up with negative balances.
All of this highlights a growing concern that global exchange capacity is woefully inefficient in terms of handling BTC global trading load, particularly during periods of high surge like on November 29. It suggests that a new influx of exchange market players are needed in order for Bitcoin is to sustain a trajectory of greater market adoption and expansion moving forward.
During the infancy stages of any technology movement, such challenges are par for the course. The exchanges that exist at present are no doubt feeling the heat in managing these unpredictable tides while simultaneously attempting to build capacity to address these surges over the long haul.
On November 2, Coinbase reported that it hit 12 million users, even at one point onboarding 12,000 new members in one 24-hour period. Since then the demand for bitcoin has been unrelenting, prompting assurances by Coinbase to deploy additional resources to address bottlenecks with the website and service in general.
The platforms growing pains have been well documented. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Coinbase has received hundreds of customer complaints. Moreover, U.S. financial watchdogs have been reportedly keeping a close eye on the company after a brief flash crash ensuing from a large trade order sent its system into meltdown mode. And to add to Coinbase’s already full plate, the IRS just ordered the company to fork over the records of users who recorded more than $20,000 in annual transactions on its platform between 2013 and 2015.
So what can we conclude from all of this? In the spirit of free market competition we need new exchange players to bolster the Bitcoin ecosystem during it rapid acceleration forward. Scenarios like November 29’s rise above $11,000 then swift plunge below $10,000 creates a lack of confidence in bitcoin’s capacity to meet demand. This could ultimately result in a catastrophic “Black Swan” event, thwarting progress and ushering in a new wave of divisiveness across the global Bitcoin ecosystem if not addressed. It remains to be seen whether this most recent situation sparks new conversations about innovative ways to ensure Bitcoin’s capacity needs in the days ahead.