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Blockchain Research and Insight - Kapronasia

Blockchain technology has become one of the hottest topics in China Fintech. So when Ant Finance, the most valuable tech unicorn company in the world, announced they were working on a blockchain-based solution for the charity space, it captured lots of attention - but what is behind the move?

Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently confirmed the application of the block chain-based technology to trade finance transactions. This is a clear indication from the traditional banking sector of their support for the disruptive technology. The bitcoin’s underlying technology finally is seeing practical use.

Last week China’s central bank announced the possibility of launching its own digital currency on its official website. What is behind the government's push to launch a digital currency? Control money outflow? Better monitor cash transactions? 

So over the past week, the internet has been aflutter with talk of Bitcoin and China again. A March 10th Goldman equity research note entitled 'The Future of Finance' offered a few comments about Bitcoin in China seem to have reignited the debate about Bitcoin's place in the Middle Kingdom. There are a lot of misconceptions out there, we felt we needed to set a few of them straight.

According to the latest hardware specifications of bitcoin mining manufacturers, even with it no longer makes sense for individuals to mine on their own - even in China where electricity is somewhat cheaper. Except if they are willing to wait a long time. 

Ripple Labs announced partnerships with two U.S. banks, which will allow their customers to make same-day distributed money transfers at a very low-cost. How about partnering with Chinese banks? Could Ripple in China work with banks in a space where Bitcoin in China has struggled?

Bitcoin has seen its reputation in the eyes of the general public drop following various security breaches (i.e. Mt Gox) that have left many uncertain about the digital currency’s legitimacy and future. In addition, people are starting to question if Bitcoin really has a place in the market and if there is actually a problem that it solves – there is almost a malaise in the eyes of many who are getting tired about reading about it. Although Bitcoin might be hitting headwinds, security enhancements are underway and blockchain technology seems to be thriving.

Seven months after the PBOC's crackdown on bitcoin exchanges in China and we're seeing a resurgence in talk about what Chinese bitcoin exchanges are doing and where they are going. While accusations of falsifying trading data and questions about bitcoin's future in China still abound, China's bitcoin exchanges want to move on and forget the past, but are they going in the right direction?

We are pleased to announce the release of Zennon Kapron's book on the Past, Present and Future of Bitcoin in China. "Chomping at the Bitcoin" will be released on the 25th of August.

After successive Bitcoin crackdown by mainland regulators, banks and online merchants, Bitcoin is left hanging in China.

Fiona Zhao, one of our analysts here at Kapronasia, has been covering bitcoin in China from the beginning. Here she lays out the reasons why bitcoin in China won't survive. 

After couple of months of low trading volume and little news, BTC China, previously the largest and still one of the most prominent bitcoin exchanges in China has moved the goalposts for other exchanges (and the PBOC!) by launching the first physical Chinese Bitcoin 'ATM' at the IC Coffee Shop in Zhangjiang Hi-tech Park in Shanghai on Tuesday the 15th. In addition to the physical ATM, BTC China released a new mobile Web appcalled “Picasso ATM”, which is actually the main theme of the ATM launch.

On China's supposed bitcoin 'd-day', April 15th, BTCChina launches Shanghai ATM what could be the country's first bitcoin ATM. Kapronasia was onsite on launch day and will have an update tonight on our experience using the ATM.

China's first Bitcoin ATM

As Chinese New Year wraps up and people (very!) gradually come back to work in mainland China, we wanted to take a step back and look at where we are with Bitcoin in China for the year of the horse.

Over the past week, Robocoin Technologies announced they were expanding their Bitcoin ATM offering into Asia with planned ATM installs in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It sounds trite if you’ve read my other posts on Bitcoin in China, but ‘wow! What a week it has been for Bitcoin in China’. With the PBOC effectively cutting off (legal) funding of accounts on exchange platforms, is there a future for the currency in China?

Kapronasia began researching Bitcoin in China in August 2013. Our Bitcoin in China report released on September 18th mentioned that in the future there would be two factors that really influence the fate of Bitcoin in China: the Chinese government’s attitude towards Bitcoin and Bitcoin’s acceptance as a method of payment, at least initially, by merchants.

2013 will remembered as an incredibly dynamic year for China’s financial services industry. From the increasing number of hedge funds in the market to the emergence and regulation of Bitcoin, industry observers, investors, participants and regulators have had their work cut out for them keeping up with the market.

The year started out with the prospects of a new government taking a new stance on reforming what had been a highly regulated financial services industry; we weren’t disappointed. Regulators unveiled a reform agenda both at the fall plenary session and throughout the year that has, and will have, a significant impact on interest rate reform, capital market investment in and out of China and the financial industry as a whole. Although some of the measures are still somewhat vague, some of the implementations, including the removal of the floor on lending rates, have already have a significant impact on banking profitability – it will be a new market in 2014.

China's finance in 2013 also brought an increased focus on development zones and centers. Opened to much fanfare, but little detail, the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ) was formally established in late September. Although it is still early days, if news reports and indications from the regulators are to be believed, the FTZ promises to be a new test-bed of reform for ‘value-add’ services similar to what Shenzhen was to the manufacturing / production industry in the late 70s and early 80s; arguably, one of the most important developments in China’s economic history. Smaller initiatives such as the Hongkou Hedge Fund Center in Shanghai sought to make it easier for hedge funds to enter the market and trade on China’s expanding base of capital markets products.

And last but certainly not least, we would be remiss if we didn't touch on Bitcoin. Chinese investors and tech enthusiasts were truly ‘chomping at the bit’ in 2013 as Bitcoin went from a little known US$13 cryptocurrency, to a US$1,000 potential economic destabilizer. China topped the world in Bitcoin wallets in May 2013 and then surpassed that again in November with over 150,000 wallet downloads. With the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange and increasing popularity, China had little choice but to weigh in on the matter and in early December the People’s Bank of China annouced that Bitcoin was not a currency, banks could not deal in it, yet it could continue to be used in China. The price of Bitcoin fell, only to rise almost immediately afterward.

Will the sequel to 2013 in 2014 be as exciting? Will Xi Jinping continue to push reforms? Can the PBOC accept Bitcoins as a legitimate currency? Whatever happens, 2014 will be another dynamic year for Chinese markets and we’ll be here every step of the way to help you understand what’s happening in China’s financial services industry. 

From purchasing property with Bitcoins, to the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, to incredible mining operations, China over the past few months has become the largest Bitcoin market in the world and a key part of the Bitcoin story.

This is a great image from Fiatleak.com that shows the global flow of Bitcoins to various countries sourced from data from the world's biggest Bitcoin exchanges. Go to their site to see the real-time animated image, which is rightly described as a bit hypnotic. 

20131118 BitcoinFlows

Bitcoin acceptance in China has now extended into real estate with a residential developer in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech park in Shanghai finding a new way to promote sales through the acceptance of Bitcoin virtual currency.

Shanda Group, one of the large IT giants in China, through its real estate development arm, opened sales of its first real estate investment project on October 25th, 2013. 300 apartments in the soon to be built buildings ranging from 42-81sqm were available for sale and sold out in a few minutes as demand far outstripped supply.

Buying property with Bitcoin in ChinaHere's to a happy prosperous buying future with Bitcoin

As part of the promotion, Shanda accepted Bitcoins for payment. Although the exchange rate was ‘fixed’ at 1,000 Chinese Yuan (CNY) to one Bitcoin and the developer reserved the right to adjust the rate, the deal represents one of the first times that Bitcoin could be used for such a large scale 'public' purchase. The exchange rate was about 1,200 CNY : 1 Bitcoin on BTCChina that day, so the developer was obviously trying to hedge a bit in case Bitcoin fell through, but considering the rate is rapidly reaching nearly 2,000 CNY : 1 Bitcoin, it would have been a great deal for the developer – Bitcoin is one of the few investments in China that has been increasing faster than real estate in 2013.

The program was specific for the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech park as there are, as you would expect, a number of high-tech companies in the zone with younger workers would presumably be more aware of and in-touch with Bitcoin. The advertised price for the apartments was between 21,000-28,000 CNY / sqm, which is roughly what you might expect, if not a bit cheap.

Bitcoin Opening Ceremony

The current run-up in the price of Bitcoin is an indicator of the interest in the currency, but is likely largely due to speculation. However, examples like this property development show how Bitcoin could be used for non-speculative purposes in nearly every industry. Regular bank transactions to pay for property would typically involve a stack of paperwork and likely a solid afternoon in the bank. With Bitcoin, the transaction could be completed in minutes.

In our previous commentary, we looked at the future of Bitcoin in China and its potential to become a widely adopted and used virtual currency. One aspect of its development which will be critical if the fledgling currency is to really gain traction is the maturation of Bitcoin as a transaction platform.

In February 2013, China became the second largest active Bitcoin market globally as measured by wallet downloads. This has attracted new Bitcoin based businesses to China and what could be a massive market for the developing virtual currency. An example is Bitfash, which was launched in April 2013 and became the first online shopping platform for clothes to accept Bitcoin as payment; one of its key target markets is China. However, will Bitcoin really take off in China? Can the Chinese consumer shift the value of the virtual currency as they did with gold earlier in 2013? What will the government eventually inevitably do to control the currency? It could be a potentially huge market, but will largely depend on its payment function development, the attitude of the Chinese government and the stability of Bitcoin's value.

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