To the Moon: A History of Bitcoin Price Manipulation
29 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2020 Last revised: 30 Sep 2020
Date Written: June 30, 2020
Unmolested prices have been shown to exhibit an expected, natural distribution characterized by Benford’s law. Deviations from this distribution indicate an anomaly, and typically that anomaly is caused by some type of fraud. With bitcoin, we conducted an analysis for the entire period of daily closing prices from July 2010 through May 2020. We also conducted analyses for calendar years 2011-2019. We can say with near 100% confidence that bitcoin’s price has been fraudulently manipulated at some point in its lifespan since 2010. We can say with 95% confidence that bitcoin was manipulated in 2013; 95% confidence that bitcoin was manipulated in 2017; and 98% confidence that bitcoin was manipulated in 2019.
We believe this is the first application of Benford’s law to bitcoin. Our ultimate aim is to raise the level of awareness such that future illicit behavior in the bitcoin marketplace is more easily identified and mitigated, either through market forces or regulatory oversight. Substantial mitigation of bitcoin price manipulation would increase bitcoin’s value by about 40%. Lastly, our findings imply that both technical and fundamental approaches to value bitcoin over the suspect periods are likely meaningless because bitcoin’s price did not reflect equally motivated buyers and sellers.
Keywords: Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, Valuation, Benford’s Law, Fraud, Manipulation, Economics, Volatility, Forensic Accounting
JEL Classification: C46, G11, G12, G14, G29, G41, K14, K24, K42, M42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation