So if you have any amount of memory for these things, you might recall how early in 2014 the largest of the Bitcoin exchanges, Magic The Gathering: Online Exchange (MTGOX) collapsed, leaving several millions of dollars missing and a hell of a lot of customers completely SOL. You may also remember the subsequent report suggesting that the incredible price rise was caused by questionable behavior at MTGOX as well. This caused the market to take a tumble and seriously shook the foundations of the Bitcoin world.
And it went down like this: after some diving prices, that exchange suddenly started seeing difficulty trading. Then a lot of difficulty trading. Then it stopped trading. Then the money was “gone”.
In the wake of all of that turmoil, there was a vacuum for a new big cheese in the Bitcoin world, and eventually this shook out to be BitStamp. It rose to the top of the pack and garnered the most trading, as well as partnering with a number of other attempts to make Bitcoin more usable in the real world, like Bitpay, which is sort of like PayPal but with Bitcoins.
You see that banner image up there? You see that flat spot? That’s what BitStamp did this morning. The price started to dip. People began reporting trouble trading. Orders weren’t going through. And then they stopped trading altogether. And now, people who trace the flow if totally trackable Bitcoins have found that about 19,000 of them… roughly $5 million worth… were siphoned off into one single account. Reports differ on whether it was a hack, or whether the exchange’s own software “accidentally” caused this issue. Their trading has flatlined in the meantime.
And here’s what’s trying to happen: people with money at BitStamp, right now, are likely desperate to get their money out. This is an issue of reliability so dire that once (if) trading resumes, everyone with an ounce of sense will want out. That means a lot of sell orders. People that panic sufficiently will be placing market sell orders, and the price will then tank, hard, as the price drops to meet the probably very low orders they’re getting.
The other exchanges are basically prevented from crashing at the moment. Until BitStamp allows trade, the people who want out… their own customers… can’t panic and get out. And I ask you: do you think a smallish operation like this can afford to soak up a $5 million hit? They’re certainly not insured for it. So we’re likely to see some very interesting fireworks in the next day or two. Either trading begins and the crash comes, or trading is suspended eternally and a second exchange bolts with the money.
But above all else, remember this: Bitcoin’s most stringent adherents trust this system more than the banks. And that really tells you all you need to know about them.