China plans to ban bitcoin exchanges

Move said to apply to trading on exchanges; over-the-counter transactions will not be affected

BEIJING • China plans to ban trading of bitcoin and other virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the US$150 billion (S$201 billion) cryptocurrency market after the country outlawed initial coin offerings last week.

The ban will apply only to trading of cryptocurrencies on exchanges, according to people familiar with the matter.

The authorities do not have plans to stop over-the-counter trading of virtual currencies, the people said. China's central bank said it could not immediately comment.

Bitcoin slumped last Friday after Caixin magazine reported China's plans, capping the virtual currency's biggest weekly retreat in nearly two months.

The country accounts for about 23 per cent of bitcoin trades globally and is also home to many of the world's biggest bitcoin miners, who confirm transactions in the digital currency.

"Trading volume would definitely shrink," said Mr Zhou Shuojifounding partner at FBG Capital, which invests in cryptocurrencies. "Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high. This will definitely slow the development of cryptocurrencies in China."

While Beijing's motivation for the exchange ban is unclear, it comes amid a clampdown on financial risk in the run-up to a key Communist Party leadership reshuffle next month.

IMPACT ON VOLUME

Trading volume would definitely shrink. Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high. This will definitely slow the development of cryptocurrencies in China.''

MR ZHOU SHUOJI, founding partner at FBG Capital, which invests in cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has jumped about 600 per cent in US dollar terms over the past year, part of a broad surge in virtual currencies that has fuelled concerns of a bubble.

The People's Bank of China has done trial runs of its own prototype cryptocurrency, taking it a step closer to being the first major central bank to issue digital money.

"There has been a general tightening of the screws on regulating financial and monetary conditions," said Mr Mark McFarland, chief economist at Union Bancaire Privee. "All of these things suggest a longer-term process of tightening scrutiny of activities that aren't in the normal sort of monetary realm."

OKCoin, BTC China and Huobi, the country's three biggest bitcoin exchanges, said yesterday that they had not received any regulatory notices concerning bans on cryptocurrency trading.

All three venues reported transactions yesterday, with bitcoin rising 6.3 per cent on OKCoin as of 11.56am local time.

While bitcoin users will still be able to trade cryptocurrencies in China without exchanges, the process is likely to be slower and come with increased credit risk, analysts said.

The exchange ban is unlikely to have a major impact on the prices of cryptocurrencies because venues outside China will continue trading, according to FBG Capital's Mr Zhou.

The country's role in the bitcoin market had already started shrinking in recent months as the authorities tightened regulation.

At one point, exchanges in the country accounted for more than 90 per cent of the world's bitcoin transactions.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'China plans to ban bitcoin exchanges'. Print Edition | Subscribe