Price of Bitcoin Falls 12 Percent, to Lowest Value Since May

A Bitcoin (virtual currency) paper wallet with QR codes and coins are seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris July 11, 2014.
A Bitcoin (virtual currency) paper wallet with QR codes and coins are seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris July 11, 2014. –REUTERS

Bitcoin’s price has been known to surge, but lately it has been in a bit of a slump.

On Monday, the price of bitcoin dropped nearly 12 percent, to $435.60 from $492.95, according to the virtual currency website CoinDesk, its lowest value since May and far below its peak of about $1,150 last year.

Also on Monday, the price briefly plummeted to $309 on BTC-e, an exchange with shadowy backing, in what some in the industry called bitcoin’s version of a “flash crash.’’ That collapse, however, was short-lived, and the price quickly recovered to where it was trading before. The virtual currency also regained some of its lost ground to return to trading around $460 late Monday.


Yet, despite the latest one-day swing, bitcoin’s price has been steadily falling in recent weeks, a trend that follows a period of relative stability since February when the bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox collapsed.

It also is occurring as new regulations and a general stock market malaise have taken hold.

In July, New York became the first state to propose regulations for virtual currency companies. The regulations, introduced by the Department of Financial Services, include rules on consumer protection, the prevention of money laundering and cybersecurity. A “bitlicense’’ would be required for bitcoin exchanges and for companies that secure, store or maintain custody or control of the virtual currency on behalf of customers, which some supporters fear is much too broad.

Last week, another regulatory agency, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, issued a warning on the virtual currency, further igniting fears in the bitcoin world over possible new restrictions.

“Overall, the sense is that regulation is going to impede the growth of bitcoin, which is contributing the negative sentiment,’’ said Gil Luria, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “What’s been weighing on bitcoin more are shorter-term concerns about whether bitcoin can develop.’’

Those who are familiar with the virtual currency sector shrugged off the latest price movement, which they said was well within the typical range for the currency.


“This is just how bitcoin trades, for better or worse,’’ said Barry E. Silbert, who oversees a bitcoin investment fund through his company, SecondMarket. “This is normal — par for the course.’’

Bitcoin’s wild price swings, however, can be jarring, particularly for those who are new to virtual currency. Since bitcoin was introduced in 2009, its value has gone from just a few dollars to more than $1,000. On any day, the currency’s price can fluctuate by more than 5 percent.

What makes the recent decline notable is the relative calm that preceded it. The price has hovered around $600 since June and has not fallen below $500 since May, according to CoinDesk.

“What was surprising in some ways was the period when bitcoin was trading around $600 and not losing much price,’’ said Steven Englander, a research analyst with Citigroup. “The stability probably means that there isn’t much going on.’’

Bitcoin is not the only alternative currency to decline in recent days. So-called altcoins — including litecoin, which has the second-highest market capitalization behind bitcoin — have fallen in value across the board, according to the website CoinMarketCap.

Analysts and seasoned bitcoin supporters may not be concerned about the recent dive, but the volatility is probably not helping push the currency into the mainstream, analysts said. Unlike investors, who often bet on such price swings, more casual users are less likely to adopt a currency with such an unpredictable value.

“The range of fluctuations in bitcoin has a dampening effect on consumer enthusiasm,’’ Luria said.


This could spell trouble for the growing list of merchants, including Overstock and Dell, that have started accepting bitcoin as a payment option. Retailers are immune to bitcoin’s volatility because they accept the currency through a third-party payment processor, which immediately converts it to dollars. Consumers who transact in bitcoin, however, must hold some of the currency, making them susceptible to any price change.

Since bitcoin was introduced in 2009 by a programmer, or group of programmers, it has become increasingly more popular, particularly among investment companies and entrepreneurs. But consumers have remained reluctant to embrace the currency, partly because of its unpredictable price.

And analysts and investors, for the most part, do not expect this volatility to end soon. They cite the wide range of possible outcomes for the currency, so any small change in perception can drive a big price swing. In 10 years, for example, one bitcoin could be worth millions of dollars if it becomes the global capital of trade. But it could also be worth next to nothing if its development is stanched by strict oversight.

“It’s very hard to come up with a fundamental value for bitcoin,’’ said Englander, the Citigroup analyst. “What really defines the price is its reputation and expectations for the future.’’

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