As bitcoin on Wednesday dipped below US$10,000 ($13,754) for the first time since late November, extending a plunge that has wiped roughly half the value off the digital currency in the past month, there was only one question on investors' minds.
Has the "bubble" finally burst, or was this just another wild fluctuation as bitcoin marches towards its "true value" of US$100,000 or even higher?
With Bloomberg mulling whether Wednesday's plunge marked the beginning of the end, and the top post on Reddit's 500,000-strong cryptocurrency forum linking to the Suicide Prevention Hotline, one Twitter user made a dry observation.
"It has to bounce because 1) the coinfreude is way too high 2) there is no f***ing way the market gods will let the chart look EXACTLY like the archetype bubble chart," wrote user Modest Proposal.
The two charts attached by the user — named after Jonathan Swift's satirical 1729 essay advocating child cannibalism — do bear a striking similarity, and would place the current point in the cycle midway through the blow-off phase, somewhere between "fear" and "capitulation".
Philip Coggan, Buttonwood columnist and capital markets editor at The Economist, argued bitcoin was nearing the "distress" stage of the classic bubble model — displacement, boom, euphoria, financial distress and revulsion.
"Once the price starts to fall, the psychology changes," he wrote. "People who bought early and were counting their millions suddenly see a dent in their wealth.
"Other people may have bought above the current price and are bitterly regretting their mistake. Bargain hunters jump in and temporarily drive the price higher but it doesn't last. We have not yet reached the 'distress' stage but we might be near it."
Coggan said fears about the security of cryptocurrencies, amid reports of North Korean hacking attempts, could be the trigger for the next sell-off.
By this morning, investors were cautiously buying back in following the "cryptocalypse", which wiped more than US$206 billion off the value of all cryptocurrencies amid fresh fears of crackdowns by regulators in South Korea and China.
At the time of writing, crypto charts were a mixed bag, with bitcoin down 2 per cent on the previous day to US$11,059, ethereum down 5 per cent, ripple up 6 per cent and bitcoin cash down 5 per cent.
"The big move from US$4000 to US$19,000 was driven purely by speculative flows and a mania, and that's over now," said IG Markets chief strategist Chris Weston. "It was FOMO and greed which drove it up to such extreme levels through September and December.
"It was not about the usage of bitcoin, it was just the idea that it was front page news, it was going up by a lot every day, and people were watching other people they knew making money. [Now it's], 'How much am I going to lose?' That's a negative."
Analysts today were tipping bitcoin to test levels around US$8000 to US$9000. Unlike shares and bonds, bitcoin is nearly impossible to value as it generates no income and isn't backed by any country or central bank, forcing traders to rely on price chart analysis.
"A digital asset that has no income stream is very hard to value," Coggan wrote. "That makes it hard to designate a price target on the way up, but also hard to set a floor on the way down. But by the time people realise that, we will be in the 'revulsion' stage."
Weston said he was on the fence about the future of bitcoin, which has struggled to catch on as a payment system for day-to-day commerce due to high fees and long wait times and is largely being promoted as a store of value, or "digital gold".
"Bitcoin is one of those products where people tend not to sit on the fence," he said. "They've either got an extreme view that it's going to US$40,000, US$50,000 or higher, or that it's a massive speculative bubble.
"Unfortunately I'm one of the few people who's fairly agnostic. There are probably some further downside risks, but also there is a wave of capital waiting to come back in at the right price."
But he said he wouldn't buy at this stage.
"The reason is because there's a lot of uncertainty," he said. "We're trying to understand what the regulatory environment is going to look like in a year or two years. We have a lot of questions that need answers.
"When there's lack of certainty, that's where you have these debates going through the market, bulls having their say, bears having their say, and you get these wild fluctuations."
Weston said if he had to "pluck a number out of the air", he would put bitcoin at a fair value of about US$4000 to US$5000.
"As a payment solution, this obviously doesn't deserve to be anywhere near US$11,000," he said. "But then when you adjust for the amount of interest in it, that probably pushes it up to about US$5000 or US$6000."
Amid the regulatory uncertainty, Weston said the thing that would drive bitcoin higher again was the price itself.
"It sounds bizarre, but if it starts moving higher, if it gets to US$17,000, people [will] say, 'It's back on again'," he said.
"Until that situation, it's lacking a catalyst. My advice to anyone who is genuinely worried is always take some off the table. You should never be genuinely worried about an investment. You should never have gone out and mortgaged your house to get a loan to buy bitcoin, that's just stupid — and that's what people have done."