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Bitcoin struggles for footing on worries over China, leverage

TOKYO, May 20 (Reuters) - Bitcoin and other digital assets languished in Asia on Thursday, recovering marginally from four-month lows but weighed down by concerns over tighter regulation in China and unease over massive leveraged positions in the cryptocurrency world.

Bitcoin, the biggest and most popular cryptocurrency , rose slightly to $38,072 after plunging 14% on Wednesday to its lowest since late January.

Smaller rival ether fell more than 3% on Thursday to $2,368, extending a 28% tumble on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s declines in both digital assets were their biggest daily percentage moves in more than a year as investors rushed to exit trades that until recently were heartily outperforming traditional markets such as stocks and bonds.

The latest catalyst was a statement by Chinese financial industry groups on Tuesday banning institutions from offering cryptocurrency registration, trading, clearing, and settlement.

But bitcoin had been under pressure for almost a week after a series of tweets from carmaker Tesla’s chief Elon Musk, a major cryptocurrency backer, chiefly his reversal on Tesla accepting bitcoin as payment.

While Beijing has taken steps before to block access domestically to cryptocurrency exchanges, Wednesday’s directive was broader.

It bans the use of cryptocurrencies in payment and settlement, and prohibits institutions from providing crypto-related products or exchange services between cryptocurrencies and the yuan or foreign currencies.

Chris Weston, head of research at brokerage Pepperstone in Melbourne, pointed to how $9.13 billion of cryptocurrency positions has been liquidated across exchanges over 24 hours, and $532 billion in total volume transacted.

“It’s too early to say if the rebound we’ve seen off the lows in crypto has legs, but as we roll into Asian trade, I question if we will get a chance to catch our breath or is there more volatility in store?” he said.

The slide forced some investors to close out leveraged positions in cryptocurrency derivatives, which caused prices to fall further and knocked digital assets down into a lower trading range, traders said.

Bitcoin may fall a little further but is likely to stabilise around $30,000, said Justin d’Anethan, head of exchange sales at Diginex, a Singapore-based digital asset market.

Digital assets have been on a wild ride this year as a growing number of retail and institutional investors bet that bitcoin and other crypto currencies will gain mainstream acceptance, but large price swings are common. Bitcoin is up 27% so far this year, and intra-day volatility has spiked to near 300% this week.

While some retail traders saw missed opportunities in the slide, others saw the rout as a chance to pick up digital assets on the cheap.

“Bitcoin broke down technically,” said Michael Oliveri, an independent New York-based equity trader who was formerly a partner at First New York Securities.

“It was an easy short setup actually. I’m annoyed i didn’t short it. I wouldn’t chase it now.”

Milko Markov, an independent London-based trader, said he had been buying ether.

“Those with a bit more experience in the crypto market know two cardinal rules: don’t leverage and dollar cost average,” he said. (Reporting by Stanley White; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Tom Westbrook and Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore; Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and Kim Coghill)

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