A bitcoin sculpture made from scrap metal being installed outside the BitCluster cryptocurrency mining farm in Norilsk, Russia, last month. Bitcoin slid as much as 7.7 per cent to about US$28,818 in Asian trading before steadying just above US$30,000

HONG KONG • Bitcoin slumped below US$30,000 yesterday, extending a retreat from an all-time high set just two weeks ago and stoking fresh questions about the sustainability of the cryptocurrency boom.

The digital coin slid as much as 7.7 per cent to about US$28,818 in Asian trading before steadying just above US$30,000. Commentators have cautioned that a sustained drop below the latter level could presage further losses.

The largest cryptocurrency is on course for one of its worst weeks since the pandemic roiled financial markets in March last year.

“This level looks very vulnerable and a break below it is bad news in the near term for bitcoin and cryptos in general,” Oanda Europe senior market analyst Craig Erlam wrote in a note on Thursday. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a test of US$20,000 before too long.”

Bitcoin’s surge to a record of almost US$42,000 on Jan 8 embodied the embrace of risk in financial markets awash with stimulus.

Some argue that bitcoin is also becoming a more mainstream investment with a role to play in hedging risks such as dollar weakness and faster inflation. Others see little more than speculative mania since the digital coin has more than tripled in the past year.

Pinpointing who is mainly responsible for the bitcoin rally is one of the many crypto mysteries – bitcoin funds, momentum chasers, billionaires, day traders, companies and even institutional investors have all been cited.

For instance, Grayscale Investments, behind a popular bitcoin trust, saw total inflows of more than US$3 billion (S$3.9 billion) across its products in the fourth quarter.

This week, BlackRock dipped its toe into the crypto universe for the first time, saying cash-settled bitcoin futures are among assets that two funds were permitted to buy.

Recent comments by US Treasury Secretary-designate Janet Yellen may be among the reasons for this week’s bitcoin swoon, said Mr Jehan Chu, managing partner at blockchain advisory firm Kenetic Capital in Hong Kong.

In her Senate confirmation hearing, Dr Yellen cited crypotcurrency as an area of concern for terrorist and criminal financing.

Describing such fears as “unfounded”, Mr Chu said a “natural correction” is under way and that profit taking will not “reverse the unprecedented assimilation of bitcoin into Wall Street’s DNA, leading to US$100,000 levels this year”.

Some strategists are more sceptical. UBS Global Wealth Management recently warned that there is nothing stopping a wipeout in big-name digital currencies eventually amid regulatory threats and central bank-issued competitors.

Shares of Asian cryptocurrency stocks, such as Japan’s Monex Group, also slid yesterday.