Cryptocurrencies slide as Japanese exchange withdrawals halt spook investors

Tokyo-based exchange Coincheck, said in a series of tweets that it had suspended all withdrawals

A man walks past a poster that informs customers that bitcoin can be used in this shop in Tokyo on January 06, 2018.
Bitcoin is recognised as legal tender in the world's third-biggest economy and nearly one third of global bitcoin transactions in December were denominated in yen, according to specialised website / AFP PHOTO / Toru YAMANAKA / TO GO WITH AFP STORY:  Japan-economy-bitcoin-forex, FOCUS by Ayaka MCGILL / Etienne BALMER
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Cryptocurrencies slumped after one of Japan’s biggest Bitcoin venues halted client withdrawals, spooking investors in a country that’s still wary of digital-token exchanges four years after the collapse of Mt. Gox exchange.

Coincheck, based in Tokyo, said in a series of tweets that it had suspended all withdrawals, halted trading in all tokens except Bitcoin and stopped deposits into NEM coins. When reached by phone, an exchange official wouldn’t provide further details and didn’t respond to a subsequent emailed request for comment. Additional calls to Coincheck went straight to voicemail.

NEM, the 10th-largest cryptocurrency by market value, fell 15 per cent in the 24 hours through 5:52am New York time, according to Bitcoin dropped 6.5 per cent and Ripple retreated 11 per cent in that period.

“Investors and traders are very sensitive to any news involving the big exchanges,” said Peter Sin, a trader and co-head of the digital currency sub-committee at ACCESS, a Singapore-based cryptocurrency and blockchain industry association. “This will accelerate price declines.”

Cryptocurrency exchanges, many of which operate with little to no regulation, have suffered a spate of outages and hacks amid the trading boom that propelled Bitcoin and its peers to record highs last year.

In Japan, one of the world’s biggest markets for cryptocurrencies, policy makers have introduced a licensing system to increase oversight of local venues, seeking to avoid a repeat of the Mt. Gox exchange collapse that roiled cryptocurrency markets worldwide in 2014. Coincheck has yet to receive a license, according to the website of Japan’s financial regulator.

“Coincheck is a very well-known exchange in Japan,” said Hiroyuki Komiya, chief executive of Tokyo-based Blockchain Technology Consulting. “We’ve seen several outages at various crypto exchanges recently, so the extent and seriousness of Coincheck’s halt isn’t yet clear. We’re all very eagerly awaiting to hear more detail on what’s happening.”

Coincheck, founded in 2012, had 71 employees as of July with headquarters in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, an area popular with startups that was also home to Mt. Gox, according to Coincheck’s website. Last year, it began running commercials on national television featuring popular local comedian Tetsuro Degawa.