There is one reason why bitcoin quickly became the darling of HFT and various high speed algo traders operating out of China and the rest of the world: domestic transactions were "frictionless", as there were no fees on buys or sells. Until last night, that is, because as China's three largest bitcoin exchanges, BTCC, Huobi and OkCoin, all said in separate statements on their websites late on Sunday, starting Tuesday they will charge traders a flat fee of 0.2% per transaction. This is only the latest fallout from the recent crackdown on Chinese bitcoin exchanges whose activities have drawn increased scrutiny from the central bank.
Each of the statements said assessing fees will "further curb market manipulation and extreme volatility".
One of the reasons why China has dominated bitcoin trading volumes in recent years, in addition to the US of the digital currency to bypass capital controls, has been the absence of trading fees which encouraged volumes and boosted demand at Chinese bitcoin exchanges. However, when the price of bitcoin soared to near-record highs - as this website predicted would happen in the summer of 2015 - driven by a stampede of Chinese momentum chasers, it attracted attention from Chinese regulators. Helping the surge, was the collapse in the yuan which weakened 6.6% against the dollar, its worst performance since 1994 as local savers sought the relative "safety" of bitcoin relative to the renminbi.
The standoff between local bitcoin traders and exchanges on one hand, and regulators on other culminated on Jan. 11, when the People's Bank of China launched spot checks on BTCC, Huobi and OkCoin to look into a range of possible rule violations, amid increasing government efforts to stem capital outflows and relieve pressure on the yuan. According to Reuters, citing "a person familiar with the matter", the exchanges had not received direct instructions from the PBOC, but decided to introduce trading fees to align with its wishes to see the bitcoin market cool down.
So far, the impact of the new fees has been negligible, with the price of Bitcoin on the BTCChina exchange largely unchanged overnight.
And as one bitcoin bubble fizzles, a new one appears to be born. Japan.
As Cryptocoinsnews reported over the weekend, a major factor that has sent the trading volume of Bitcoin in Japan soaring, is the new virtual currency law which will be enforced by this spring, says the Business Development Lead of CoinCheck, the country’s top exchange. According to Kagayaki (Kaga) Kawabata, the introduction of the proposed law made Bitcoin a darling of top media organisations in the country. He explains:
“After this announcement, various large media that once negated Bitcoin started to feature Bitcoin again this time as an innovative technology (After the Mt. Gox incident, the media broadcasted Bitcoin as a tool for money laundering). Japanese national TV shows and newspapers such as NHK and NIKKEI featured about cryptocurrency expanding awareness of the general public and bringing in various users with diverse backgrounds from college students to elderlies.”
Kawabata, whose CoinCheck’s parent company, ResuPress, also provides Bitcoin payment processing for merchants similar to the service BitPay offers, the announcement could have contributed to a key new trend in Japan which is the changing view that Bitcoin is not just an investment vehicle. He says:
“Many still think of Bitcoin as an investment vehicle. However, the situation is changing where Bitcoin is also starting to be used as a payment method in the past few years. Currently, there’s around 5,270 merchants and website that accept Bitcoin as payment in Japan (99% of them use Coincheck payment). Regarding payment volume, compared to last year January, the monthly volume increased by 8900%. This number could accelerate in the next few years.”
He added that the enforcement of the new law may have positive side effects on Bitcoin as it was once considered a toy for geeks but is now changing dramatically now to be seen as a legit currency. Ironically, Japan was also the epicenter of the first mass bitcoin casualty, when Mt.Gox went under, wiping out hundreds of millions in the process. Then again, human memory tends to be quite shallow when potential profits are involved.
Such a change in perception, he says, has the potential to migrate serious traders to trade in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies which will inadvertently surge cryptocurrency trading volume remarkably. Which is why he is very optimistic about the future:
“We believe the hype in Bitcoin price is not just a fluke,” Kawabata says on the general outlook of cryptocurrencies. “Many factors exist that accelerate the trading volume. We believe cryptocurrencies market will grow dramatically in the next few years. Many large corporations and banks in Japan have started to show interest in cryptocurrency and started to experiment with the Blockchain technology. I think remittance will be the first practical usage of cryptocurrency where many corporations/banks will adopt cryptocurrencies.”
Of course, if and when the second coming of the Japanese bitcoin bubble fizzles, we are confident some other country in the world will open it with open arms, as the rolling digital currency bubble continues its fascinating drift around the globe.