The price of bitcoin (BTC) dropped sharply over the past 24 hours, down 5 percent as of 16:00 UTC. Although the leading cryptocurrency crossed above a bullish $9,000 threshold as recently as last week, a confluence of events has led traders to hit the sell button. 

Coronavirus fears continue to weigh down traditional markets Monday, with the Dow industrials down 7 percent and the S&P 500 index down more than 5 percent. 

In crypto markets, the selling of 13,000 BTC by China-based PlusToken is fueling speculation operators of the alleged Ponzi scheme are attempting to liquidate large holdings, pushing prices lower. 

“Everything is getting pummeled and even traditional safe havens like gold are barely up today,” said Rupert Douglas, head of institutional sales for digital asset management firm Koine. “There is only one asset class that people are piling into: U.S. Treasuries.” 

The moves may be more about large holders conducting business as usual than worries about larger issues, according to one market participant. 

“This isn’t Covid- or PlusToken-related. Just mini-whales taking orders from large institutions to liquidate longs at $9,000 and $10,000. This has been done in this range for months,” said James Hapak, a Toronto-based digital asset manager and over-the-counter market trader. 

A “whale” refers to individuals or entities holding large amounts of digital assets.

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From 15:25-15:30 UTC on Sunday March 8, there were over $68 million in BitMEX long liquidations. Source: Coinalyze

Indeed, BitMEX longs were liquidated to the tune of $190 million yesterday, particularly around 15:00 UTC, an event that coincided with large amounts of volume on Coinbase, with over 6,300 trades over a two-hour period.

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Coinbase experienced a large spike in volume around 15:00 UTC Sunday March 8 as BitMEX long liquidations likely exacerbated a price slide. Source: TradingView

“There are many who say crypto is falling because of PlusToken or due to the coronavirus scare. To some extent they are right, but what people should understand about crypto is that the market seems tightly controlled by groups with large amounts of capital,” said Jack Tan, co-founder of Taipei-based algorithmic trading firm Kronos Research.

“This, combined with a thin market, makes conditions ripe for manipulation of prices in large ranges while these groups profit,” Tan added.

Despite the recent sell-off, bitcoin is still up 7 percent year to date while the S&P 500 is in the red 12 percent for 2020. 

Cryptocurrency stakeholders are expecting more pain in the short term. But overall, many traders remain bullish. 

“Longer term, the market will be more driven by fundamentals, and our view is increasingly bullish for the asset class. Therefore, we have continued to buy on key support levels, most recently taking longs here around $7,686 for bitcoin and $194 for ether (ETH),” said Tan. 

Other cryptocurrency markets are red across the board. Notable losses include Lisk (LSK) down 10 percent, Dash (DASH) losing 8 percent and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) also in the red 7 percent.

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