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Bitcoin Price Plunges as Mt. Gox Exchange Halts Activity

Bitcoin prices have generally traded at higher dollar prices on Mt. Gox because customers have had difficulties getting the U.S. currency out of the exchange. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Bitcoin plunged more than 8 percent today after a Tokyo-based exchange halted withdrawals of the digital currency, citing technical malfunction.

Mt. Gox, a popular exchange for dollar-based trades, said in a blog post it needed to “temporarily pause on all withdrawal requests to obtain a clear technical view of the currency processes.” It promised an “update” -- not a reopening -- on Monday, Feb. 10, Japan time.

Yesterday, the Russian prosecutor general said in a statement on its website that after a meeting with the central bank, the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry, it had concluded Bitcoin and other digital currencies are illegal under current law.

“Russia’s official currency is the ruble,” according to the statement. “The introduction of other currencies and the issue of money surrogates are banned.”

Calls to the Russian prosecutor’s press office in Moscow after hours went unanswered.

The report gained wider circulation on Twitter Inc.’s service today after, a Russian state broadcaster, published an English-language article on the action.

The price of Bitcoin was down more than 6.5 percent to $732.40 at 3:09 p.m. New York time, according to the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index, which averages prices from exchanges including Mt. Gox. The price had fallen more than 8 percent at 8:23 a.m.

Market Making

SecondMarket Inc., which runs a Bitcoin investment fund for accredited investors, announced it would buy Bitcoins, partly in response to the Mt. Gox closing. Barry Silbert, the New York-based company’s chief executive officer, said in a message on Twitter that its trading team would “make a market on a pilot basis,” for orders of at least 25 Bitcoins.

Silbert, whose company brokered trades of shares in closely held companies such as Facebook Inc. before they were publicly traded, said the trouble at Mt. Gox demonstrates “a clear need for a U.S.-based, regulated, compliant and trustworthy Bitcoin exchange.”

“This could be the first step in that direction,” Silbert said in an e-mail.

U.S.-based exchanges have either closed at the behest of law enforcement or had difficulties obtaining business bank accounts because of regulatory uncertainty. State regulators are currently considering how to license digital currency exchanges as money transmitters.

Bitcoin prices have generally traded at higher dollar prices on Mt. Gox because customers have had difficulties getting the U.S. currency out of the exchange. U.S. authorities twice seized, most recently in August, Mt. Gox bank accounts in the U.S. worth a total of $5 million after the company failed to register as a money transmitter.

Premium ‘Collapsed’

In the past few days, Mt. Gox customers have also encountered delays in withdrawing Bitcoins, said Greg Schvey, head of research at the Genesis Block, a New York-based digital-currency analysis firm. As a result, the premium to other exchanges has “collapsed,” Schvey said in an e-mail.

Mt. Gox has fallen to about 25 percent of global Bitcoin-dollar trades from about 80 percent last April, Schvey said, with other exchanges such as London-based Bitstamp picking up the volume. Around the time the Tokyo firm’s bank accounts were seized, the company cited rising withdrawals as the reason why customers couldn’t get dollars out of the exchange.

“Their messaging historically has not necessarily represented the full reality,” Schvey wrote.

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