Bitcoin falls after CFTC sues crypto exchange Binance for allegedly breaking trading rules

A worsening macroeconomic climate and the collapse of industry giants such as FTX and Terra have weighed on bitcoin's price this year.
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Cryptocurrencies dropped on Monday morning after the CFTC sued Binance, the biggest crypto exchange in the world, for allegedly violating trading rules.

The price of bitcoin slid 3% to $26,955.61, according to Coin Metrics. Ether fell 3.5% to $1,704.56.

In a court filing, the CFTC, or the Commodity Futures and Trading Commission, said Binance violated eight provisions of a commodities trading law "designed to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing." The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in a federal court in Chicago, has the potential to upend the exchange's operations.

Dessislava Aubert, an analyst at crypto data provider Kaiko, said although bitcoin's March rally had already started to slow in the last week, the down move Monday was largely driven by the news about Binance. It's "the largest crypto exchange and any U.S. regulatory action against it will have huge implications for the industry," she said.

The CFTC court filing follows a CNBC report on Binance employees who have worked to subvert the exchange's compliance controls in China. Similarly, CFTC alleges that Binance has instructed its workers and customers to circumvent these controls.

"Many knew Binance had a bullseye on its back, but this is still unnerving some crypto traders," said Ed Moya, an analyst at Oanda. "Binance's success is needed to ensure a good part of the cryptoverse can grow."

Crypto exposed equities suffered from the news too. Coinbase and Microstrategy each fell 10%. Miners Marathon Digital, Hut 8 and Riot Platforms lost about 8% each.

The losses came in tandem with a surge in bond yields, which pushed the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down 0.6%. Rising rates make future profits, like those promised by growth-oriented companies, less attractive.

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Bitcoin in March

The CFTC's complaint about Binance is the latest chapter in this year's regulatory crackdown on crypto businesses, which has been a significant price catalyst for bitcoin and helped it diverge from its previously high correlation with stocks. That correlation has been sitting at its lowest levels since September 2021.

Monday's initial drop was the biggest move for bitcoin since March 22, when the Securities and Exchange Commission issued Coinbase a Wells notice warning the exchange that it identified potential violations of U.S. securities law.

Cryptocurrencies quickly bounced off their lows Monday, although they remained in the red. A similar thing happened on March 22 following Coinbase's bad news.

Bitcoin is still on track to cap a winning month, however. For the month it has advanced 16%, while ether has gained 6%. Before Monday, analysts had said the March rally may be petering out, but that a long-term bullish formation has been established.

—CNBC's Rohan Goswami contributed reporting