Bitcoin’s Price Was Artificially Inflated Last Year, Researchers Say

Bitcoin’s Price Was Artificially Inflated Last Year, Researchers Say, by Nathaniel Popper.

A concentrated campaign of price manipulation may have accounted for at least half of the increase in the price of Bitcoin and other big cryptocurrencies last year, according to a paper released on Wednesday by an academic with a history of spotting fraud in financial markets.

The paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, and Amin Shams, a graduate student, is likely to stoke a debate about how much of Bitcoin’s skyrocketing gain last year was caused by the covert actions of a few big players, rather than real demand from investors.

Many industry players expressed concern at the time that the prices were being pushed up at least partly by activity at Bitfinex, one of the largest and least regulated exchanges in the industry. …

Mr. Griffin looked at the flow of digital tokens going in and out of Bitfinex and identified several distinct patterns that suggest that someone or some people at the exchange successfully worked to push up prices when they sagged at other exchanges. To do that, the person or people used a secondary virtual currency, known as Tether, which was created and sold by the owners of Bitfinex, to buy up those other cryptocurrencies. …

Mr. Griffin and Mr. Shams examined the flow of Tether, a token that is supposed to be tied to the value of the dollar and that is issued exclusively by Bitfinex in large batches. They found that half of the increase in Bitcoin’s price in 2017 could be traced to the hours immediately after Tether flowed to a handful of other exchanges, generally when the price was declining. …

The new paper helped push down the already sinking price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on Wednesday. … Bitcoin is now down more than 65 percent from the highs it hit late last year.

Now apply the same methodology to spot the obvious manipulation in the precious metals market — or is that a no-go area because the central and private banks wield too much power?