Flash Crash: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research September 18, 2023

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  • In cryptocurrency, a "flash crash" is a sudden and significant drop in the value of a digital asset, causing panic selling and market instability
  • Flash crashes can happen within minutes or even seconds
  • This can be triggered by factors such as market manipulation, technical glitches and panic selling
  • Flash crashes have advantages such as market opportunities and price discovery, but also disadvantages like significant losses and eroded market confidence


In cryptocurrency, a "flash crash" is a sudden and significant drop in the value of a digital asset, causing panic selling and market instability. These events typically occur in a very short period, often in a matter of seconds or minutes, and are followed by a quick recovery. Flash crashes can be triggered by various factors, including large sell orders, algorithmic trading glitches or market sentiment shifts, and they can lead to significant price volatility. Regulators and market participants employ various mechanisms to prevent and mitigate the impact of flash crashes on financial markets.

A Brief History

Flash crashes have occurred in the cryptocurrency market since the early days. One notable example took place in May 2010 when the price of Bitcoin experienced a flash crash on the now-defunct Mt. Gox exchange. During this event, the price dropped from around $17 to $0.01 before quickly recovering. This incident revealed the vulnerability of the young market to sudden price movements.

Flash Crash: Everything to Know

Flash crashes can be triggered by various factors including market manipulation, technical glitches and panic selling. Market manipulation occurs when large traders intentionally create sell pressure to drive down prices and profit from the subsequent recovery. This manipulation can involve coordinated selling, spoofing or other illicit tactics.

Technical glitches within trading platforms or exchanges can also contribute to flash crashes. Issues with order matching, liquidity provision or system overload can lead to sudden price drops. For example, if an exchange experiences a surge in trading volume that exceeds capacity, it may struggle to handle the influx of orders, potentially resulting in a flash crash.

Panic selling is another factor that can contribute to flash crashes. In times of market uncertainty or negative news, fear spreads among investors, causing them to rapidly sell holdings. This flood of sell orders overwhelms buying demand and causes prices to plummet. Margin trading and stop-loss orders can exacerbate the impact of panic selling, as automated selling triggers cascading effects.

The aftermath of a flash crash can be chaotic. Traders with stop-loss orders may find positions liquidated at significantly lower prices than expected, resulting in substantial losses. Moreover, the volatility and uncertainty created by flash crashes can erode market confidence, deterring new participants and making existing investors more cautious.

Getting Started

To understand flash crashes, it is important to grasp the basics of how cryptocurrencies function. Cryptocurrencies are digital or virtual currencies that use cryptographic technology to secure transactions and control the creation of new units. They operate on decentralized networks like blockchains, which ensure transparency, immutability and security.

Cryptocurrency markets operate twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week across different exchanges worldwide. Prices are determined by supply and demand, influenced by factors like market sentiment, news events, regulations and technological advancements. Cryptocurrencies are also highly volatile, distinguishing them from traditional financial markets.

Unique Aspects

Flash crashes in the cryptocurrency market have several unique aspects compared to traditional financial markets. One key factor is the relatively small market capitalization of many cryptocurrencies compared to stocks or commodities. The lower liquidity in the crypto market can worsen price movements, making it more vulnerable to sudden and drastic fluctuations.

Margin trading and leverage also contribute to flash crashes in the crypto realm. Traders can borrow funds to amplify positions, potentially increasing gains and losses. When a flash crash occurs, leveraged positions can be liquidated quickly, triggering a cascade of selling pressure that drives down prices.

Additionally, the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies means there is no central authority or regulatory body overseeing the market. While this provides benefits like privacy and control, it also makes the market susceptible to manipulation and sudden price movements. Without circuit breakers or trading halts, as seen in traditional markets, flash crashes can have a stronger impact in the crypto space.

Moreover, cryptocurrency trading is global, introducing additional complexities. Trading volume and liquidity can vary across exchanges and time zones. This fragmentation can lead to price differences between platforms, creating arbitrage opportunities and potentially exacerbating flash crashes as market participants exploit these discrepancies.


  • Market Opportunities - Flash crashes can create buying opportunities for traders who want to enter the market or increase holdings at a lower price.
  • Volatility Trading - Some traders specialize in profiting from short-term price movements, including flash crashes. They use advanced trading strategies to take advantage of sudden price drops and subsequent recoveries.
  • Price Discovery - Flash crashes can help reveal the true market value of a cryptocurrency by shaking out speculative investors and encouraging more informed trading decisions based on fundamental factors.
  • Risk Management - Flash crashes remind traders and investors of the risks associated with investing in cryptocurrencies. They can prompt reassessment of risk management strategies, such as setting stop-loss orders or diversifying portfolios.
  • Increased Liquidity - A flash crash often leads to increased trading volume as market participants rush to buy or sell. This surge in liquidity benefits traders by providing more opportunities to execute trades at desired prices.


  • Losses and Volatility - Flash crashes often result in significant losses for traders and investors who fail to react quickly or have stop-loss orders in place. The extreme price volatility during these crashes can lead to substantial financial setbacks.
  • Market Manipulation - Cryptocurrency markets are vulnerable to manipulation, and flash crashes can be engineered by large players to profit from panic selling or triggering stop-loss orders.
  • Confidence and Reputation - Frequent flash crashes can erode confidence in the cryptocurrency market as a whole, and investors may hesitate to enter the market due to fear of sudden price drops and potential manipulation.
  • Regulatory Concerns - Flash crashes may attract regulatory scrutiny and result in increased regulatory measures to protect investors. This can introduce additional compliance requirements and potentially limit market access for certain participants.
  • Technical Risks - Flash crashes can be caused by technical glitches or vulnerabilities in trading platforms or smart contracts. These incidents highlight the importance of robust technical infrastructure and security measures in the cryptocurrency ecosystem.