Since December 17, the bitcoin price has been on a continuous decline, falling from $19,900 to $5,980 at its yearly low. While the bitcoin price has seen two mid-term recoveries and corrective rallies, both failed to test two major support levels at $12,000 and $10,000.
Market Manipulation Theory
Recently, a group of cryptocurrency researchers and traders suggested that the bitcoin price has began to fall from its all-time high at around $20,000, on the same day the bitcoin futures market of CME and CBOE launched.
The group of traders claimed that through the futures market, institutional investors and large-scale retail traders manipulated the market to cash out short contracts by purchasing and selling massive amounts of bitcoin in a correlated manner.
“Bitcoin reached its all time high (ATH) on December 17th of 2017, the exact date that CME futures trading began. In retrospect, it is now obvious that smart/institutional money was stocking up before that date. Hindsight is 20/20. Since 12/17/17, Bitcoin has been in a bear market. The remainder of this analysis will focus on patterns observed during this market downturn, as well as signals for when it might come to an end,” the group said.
It added that every time the cryptocurrency market experienced a correction, the magnitude of the drop declined, proposing that the large-scale investors had less amounts of bitcoin after driving major corrections. The group emphasized that the cryptocurrency market experienced three major corrections since December 2017 and the two subsequent corrections recorded lower sell volumes.
“Not only is selling volume lower, but the drops have been less severe. Each component of each leg down is less steep than the previous leg down. RSI, a momentum indicator, also shows selling has been less extreme. The trend is ‘flattening out.’”
As seen in the chart above, the initial correction of bitcoin in December led the price of BTC to fall from $19,900 to $6,000, by more than 69 percent. The second correction that occured on March 5 resulted in a drop from $11,800 to $6,500, by around 44.9 percent, and the third correction pushed the price of bitcoin to fall from $10,000 to $7,300, by 27 percent.
Validity of the Theory
In 2008, CNBC Mad Money host and fund manager Jim Cramer emphasized that it is relatively easy for large-scale investors to manipulate the stock market, which has significantly deeper liquidity than bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market.
“It’s a fun game and it’s a lucrative game. You could move it up and fade it, that often creates a very negative feel so let’s say you take a longer-term view into your day and I’m going to boost the futures and then when the real sellers come in, they’re going to knock it down and that’s going to create a negative view,” said Cramer.
CNBC Fast Money host Melissa Lee raised a similar point on May 25 show, as she noted that banks and institutions have colluded to manipulate Libor among other assets, interest rates, and commodities.
It is entirely possible that the premise established by the group of cryptocurrency traders is correct and that large-scale investors have in fact manipulated the cryptocurrency market. But, if it has been the futures market that affected the price of bitcoin over the past five months, it is completely legal to do so and it remains unclear whether similar manipulation strategies can be prevented in the long-term.
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