Can China Survive Without Bitcoin?, Bitcoin Price Could Reach $98,500 Say Wall Street Analysts, Bank of America "Likes" Bitcoin
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Baidu and China Telecom Stop Accepting Bitcoin, Price Slumps Again
The bitcoin price has continued to drop overnight on major bitcoin exchanges. The price on exchanges included in the Bitcoin Price Index all currently sit below $700, with the BPI overall having dropped almost 20% to $670 since close of play last night, and BTC China’s price seeing a low of ¥4,003 ($658) this morning.
The price slump follows the statement from the People’s Bank of China and the news that divisions of Baidu and China Telecom, two of the best known names in Chinese internet and telecommunications, removed references to bitcoin payments from their sites.
Analysis of the People’s Bank statement has been divided between optimism and pessimism, but its effect was felt on bitcoin values, which dropped from a high of $1,147 on 4th December to $834 the next day on the Bitcoin Price Index. After hovering around that mark for 24 hours or so, they dropped to a low of $670 at the time of writing.
The two big Chinese companies attracted a lot of attention in the past month when they announced they would accept bitcoin for certain products and services. In both cases, it was smaller divisions of the two companies trialling bitcoin rather than large-scale adoption, and likely done as a promotion.
But then came this week’s statements by the People’s Bank, which many say amount to the government’s official disapproval of bitcoin use. Without explicitly banning bitcoin trade, the statement which “clarifies the status of bitcoin” said all financial institutions “must not use bitcoin to set the price for products or services, not buy and sell bitcoins… and not directly or indirectly provide other bitcoin-related services including registering, trading, clearing or settlement.”
The statement applies to financial institutions. Bitcoin was a ‘virtual commodity’ that should not be referred to as a currency or virtual currency, the statement said, but added that the general public was allowed to continue trading on the internet. Bitcoin websites and other businesses were allowed to use it in daily life as long as they complied with the usual regulations.
It is not known whether the software division of Baidu (Jiasule) or China Telecom subsidiary Jiangsu Telecom, who accepted bitcoin, subsequently removed the option as a result of any official directive, or were simply playing it safe.
This week Suning Tesco, a Chinese technology company, had said it planned to introduce bitcoin services such as “storage insurance, insurance for bitcoin transactions and other insurance products,” as well as accepting bitcoin payments mining equipment and other hardware products. Whether or not these plans will be affected by events over the past couple of days remains to be seen.
The price of bitcoin has seen a larger than normal drop in trading prices over the past day on a number of bitcoin exchanges.
In a major sell-off that started last night, Mt. Gox, the largest US dollar bitcoin exchange, saw a low price today of $800 from a recent high of $1,230, a 35% decrease before bouncing back up a bit. Almost 52,000 bitcoins have been traded on Gox over the past 24 hours.
CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index, which is an aggregate calculation of top exchange prices, has seen a 24-hour drop of $185 since the day’s open, or 18%, at the time of writing.
The number of negative news articles being produced about bitcoin and virtual currencies in general has probably contributed to a decline in pricing over the short term.
Earlier this week, China’s central bank along with four government ministries released a statement effectively outlawing banks to use bitcoin, which could cause problems for any business that might exchange BTC for the Chinese Yuan.
And Baidu, which is considered the Google of China, had decided to halt accepting bitcoin after its Jiasule service started accepting it in October.
After the statement was released, a price drop was seen on China’s (and the world’s) largest bitcoin exchange, BTC China, where over 73,000 bitcoins have been traded in the past 24 hours.
The news cycle is clearly changing sentiment about the distributed virtual currency, raising into question why short selling is not more prevalent to provide better liquidity and less volatility.
While shorting bitcoin is technically possible, most of the largest exchanges on the market don’t allow it, leaving specialized trading arbitrators as the only providers.
According to the People’s Bank of China, it considers bitcoin a threat to China’s financial system. However it believes the digital currency carries significant potential.
“The concern is that it interferes with normal monetary policy operation,” Hao Hong, head of China research at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.
“It represents an unofficial leakage to the current monetary system and trades globally. It is difficult to regulate and could be used for money laundering. I think the central bank is right to make this move,” he added.
While the central bank is telling the nation’s financial institutions not to deal with bitcoin, it said individuals are free to buy, sell and use the cryptocurrency, if they wish, but they must take on the risk themselves.
On a positive note, the bank didn’t ban trading platforms, such as BTC China, from dealing with bitcoin and other digital currencies, it merely said these companies have to register with authorities.
The trading platforms were also told that user anonymity is not permitted – the exchanges must receive identification documents from their customers. Plus, they must report any suspicious transactions to the authorities. The bank claims that this measure will “effectively prevent money laundering associated with bitcoin”.
Although the bank clearly stated that it would allow individuals to freely use bitcoin, the announcement has already caused a massive price drop on several exchanges, namely BTC China. In heavy volume trading earlier this morning bitcoin lost roughly 10% of its value in a matter of hours.
The opening price on BTC China was 7,005 CNY, but it quickly shed more than 10%, with the lowest bid coming in at 4,521 CNY. At the time of writing, the latest price on CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index was $889.01, with a daily change of -22.5%, or $257.23.
The volume of transactions on BTC China spiked shortly after the bank’s statement was published at 07:45 GMT. At this time, the volume of trades was 225.71 BTC, increasing by a massive 2975% to 6940.85 BTC over the next 45 minutes.
Garrick Hileman, an economic historian at the London School of Economics, said that, as he warned in his piece for CoinDesk last week, the Chinese regulatory situation has shifted unexpectedly, resulting in a significant negative impact on bitcoin’s price.
“China is arguably the largest enforcer of financial repression and the paradox we observed there prior to today has, as expected, now been resolved,” he added, going on to say:
“What was less clear last week is how much impact a sudden shift in China’s regulatory posture, and a large drop in the price of bitcoins traded in China, would have on the price of bitcoins traded outside of China.
Given the pullback we’ve observed in the Bitcoin Price Index it’s clear now that what happens in China also matters a lot outside China.”
Defining Bitcoin And Its Risks
In a Q and A-style post on the bank’s website, the institution said that it does not consider bitcoin a true currency. Roughly translated, it said:
“Some people call bitcoin “currency”, but because it is not issued by the monetary authorities, it is not truly money. Bitcoin is a virtual good, it does not have legal status and cannot and should not be used as currency in circulation in the market.”
Although the total value of bitcoins in circulation is dwarfed by national currencies, Chinese authorities seem to be taking the issue very seriously. Many Chinese citizens are investing their savings in bitcoin and some even argue they are basically hoarding the currency. This also represents a risk in terms of price fluctuations, as many speculators have no qualms about leaving the market at the first sign of trouble.
The post puts a heavy focus on the risks associated with digital currency, stating that the public currently lacks an adequate understanding of bitcoin.
It highlighted the volatility of the cryptocurrency as one of its biggest dangers plus outlined the potential of its use by criminals, hackers, illegal trading sites/scams and money launderers.
The bank is keen to prevent money laundering using bitcoin, so it is putting appropriate measures in place to target this kind of criminal activity.
The Boom of Bitcoin In China
Bitcoin has become extremely popular in China over the past few months, with some of the largest mining operations taking place there and BTC China becoming the world’s largest-volume bitcoin exchange.
Not only did BTC China beat Mt. Gox and Bitstamp to become the world’s highest volume bitcoin exchange, it recently secured $5m in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners’ local arm Lightspeed China to expand its operations further.
Also, back in May China surpassed all other countries in terms of downloads of the original bitcoin client, Bitcoin-Qt.
According to Bitnodes, China is now home to the world’s second-highest number of bitcoin nodes with 14,100 online in September, which represented 11.3% of the global total.
This recent statement from the People’s Bank of China follows comments made on 22nd November by Yi Gang, the deputy governor of the bank, who said it would be impossible for China’s central bank to recognize bitcoin as a legal, legitimate financial instrument “in the near future”.
Perhaps more significantly, he added that people should be free to buy and sell bitcoins on exchanges with no interference from the central bank, and that he would personally look at the digital currency with a long-term perspective.
The price of bitcoin is likely to fluctuate throughout the day as those involved in the space try to figure out what exactly this new development means for bitcoin in the short- and long-term not just in China, but globally.
China and France on Thursday issued warnings about the use of bitcoin, saying the virtual currency didn't offer the assurances of payment that a legal currency does and flagging the risk of speculation in something with no underlying assets.
The reports from the central banks of both nations come as the price of bitcoin surges on online exchanges. Prices on BTC China, the world's largest bitcoin exchange by trading volume, jumped fourfold in November, hitting a record for the exchange of 7,395 yuan, or $1,214, on Dec. 1. On Thursday, one bitcoin was trading at about 6,100 yuan ($1,000), down after the Chinese central bank statement.
The People's Bank of China said in a statement on its website that financial institutions shouldn't provide bitcoin-related business such as deposits, custody services or collateral business. They also are barred from offering insurance services to bitcoin-related business or issuing trust and fund products invested in bitcoin.
Chinese regulators also said online bitcoin exchanges would be required to file trading records and to take measures to address money-laundering risks associated with the virtual currency. Still, it said, investors were free to buy and sell bitcoin so long as they assume the financial risk.
China has become increasingly important to the fate of bitcoin, a four-year-old virtual currency that isn't backed by any central bank and is created through a complicated computing process called mining.
Although it is difficult to measure the extent to which Chinese demand affects prices around the world, BTC China's share of total trading volume has ticked up in recent months, in conjunction with a surge in prices.
China's market "has been too hot to say the least," said Ron Cao, managing director at Lightspeed China Partners, a venture-capital firm that invested $5 million in BTC China in November. The government wants to "cool things down a bit," he added.
The PBOC said that because no Chinese financial institution is currently involved in bitcoin transactions or investment, the virtual currency isn't capable of harming the country's financial system. But the central bank said it would closely monitor bitcoin's development while also increasing public education on bitcoin-related issues.
The fact that Chinese authorities have offered a concrete stance on the currency opens the door for further regulation. The statement "provides a starting point for which a legal framework for bitcoin can be built," said Peter Ng, a 33-year old investment banker who says he began buying bitcoin two years ago.
Officials in other countries have also been monitoring developments in the bitcoin market.
The Bank of France issued a report Thursday warning of the "dangers" of using Bitcoin. The central bank noted that Bitcoin isn't legal tender and it is possible to refuse payment in the virtual currency. Neither does Bitcoin fall under the definition of a means of payment or an electronic currency because it is not issued in exchange for funds, the Bank of France argued in the report.
Its use as an investment tool is also limited because there is no underlying asset, it is highly volatile, there can be long delays in transactions with bitcoin and there are legal risks, the French central bank said.
"Even if bitcoin does not today meet the conditions to become a credible means for investment that could therefore threaten financial stability, it represents a clear financial risk for those that hold it," the report said.
The central bank warned that speculators should be wary because bitcoin holders have no legal recourse if they are victims of theft from hackers.
The convertibility of the currency also isn't guaranteed, it noted. "The system can collapse at any moment if investors want to unwind their positions but find themselves holding portfolios that have become illiquid," the report said.
The French central bank added that the risks mean retailers have little to no reason to accept the currency, apart from promoting themselves by doing so. The bank also flagged the risk of using the anonymous currency for illegal activities, including money laundering and terrorism.
A spokesman from the Bank of England said Thursday that the bank didn't think bitcoin was "likely to have a material impact on its monetary or financial stability objectives in the short term," given "current levels of economic activity and payments involving bitcoin."
Regulators in Brussels are also following bitcoin closely, said Michel Barnier, the European commissioner in charge of financial regulation. "We remain vigilant and ready to act if necessary," said Mr. Barnier, adding that government penalties should apply if it emerges that unregulated currencies such as bitcoin are being used to commit fraud or other criminal activities.
Last month, the U.S. Senate held hearings on virtual currencies, including testimony from senior law-enforcement and regulatory officials.
A report from analysts Gil Luria and Aron Turner, which has been referenced on StreetInsider.com, takes an extremely positive view of bitcoin, suggesting digital currency has the potential to shake up the current payments space.
Titled Bitcoin: Intrinsic Value as Conduit for Disruptive Payment Network Technology, the report states:
“Among other facets, we believe bitcoin and its associated technology represent a potentially game-changing disruption to our covered payments companies.”
The authors go on to claim cryptocurrency provides a “powerful alternative to branded networks” due to its decentralised processing, new functionality and use of market-based fees.
The price of bitcoin has been a hot topic over the past week, with the digital currency increasing to the dizzy highs of $1,165 on Saturday, according to the CoinDesk BPI. On Mt. Gox, the price topped $1,242, overtaking the price of gold for the first time (gold was at $1,241 per ounce).
Erik Voorhees, who sold gambling site SatoshiDice for 126,315 BTC this year, said this showed what a “respectable asset” bitcoin is becoming.
“Clearly, bitcoin is no longer a penny stock. It’s playing in the big leagues – a share being worth more than a share of Google or Apple, and even more then an ounce of gold,” he said at the time.
The value has dipped over the past day or so, with the price, at the time of writing, hovering at around $1,071.
Up Or Down?
Many people have been asserting that the current high value is merely a temporary spike and that it will soon plummet to the level seen in September and October (around $120-$150), or perhaps even lower.
Luria and Turner disagree, believing the value will continue to increase over the coming years. They said:
“We believe rising bitcoin prices help build the network thus entrenching its value, especially vis-à-vis other alternative coins/conduits. Based on this framework, we would postulate that current bitcoin prices reflect a peak penetration of 1% of total potential demand in 10 years.”
Last month, the Winklevoss twins remarked that they envisioned bitcoin increasing by 100 times. At the time of their comments, the price of bitcoin was $343, so the value has already increased by over 211%.
Speaking to CNBC at the Dealbook conference in New York, Tyler Winklevoss, who was involved in the creation of Facebook, said: “Some people definitely view [bitcoin] as Gold 2.0.”
Ex-Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya is also pretty bullish about bitcoin.
At the end of October, he revealed he owned $5m worth of the digital currency, but said he was hoping to build that to $10m-$15m. On October 29th, the price of bitcoin was just under $200, so it is likely he had around 25,000 BTC. That quantity of bitcoins is now worth over $26m, so it seems Palihapitiya got what he wished for, and then some.
Back in May, he wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg stating that bitcoin could become a “better version” of gold, or even a replacement for the precious metal. With all the gold in the world totalling around $8 trillion, Palihapitiya said, if bitcoin replaced gold as a store of value, each bitcoin would cost almost $400,000, once all 21m bitcoins have been mined ($8 trillion/21m BTC).
“If bitcoin grows into something bigger – a useful reserve currency, then watch out: Its value will far exceed $400,000,” he wrote, adding:
“I personally think that bitcoin is already superior to gold. Its role as currency is yet to be determined, but over the next decade, being Gold 2.0 will suffice considering that it would represent a more than 3,000 times return.”
The Problem With Volatility
While many people believe that, in the long run, the price of bitcoin will be considerably higher than it is now, the common view is that its volatility will continue in the short term.
Luria and Turner explained in their report that this volatility is a result of an “extended price discovery process”. It is believed that the more liquidity bitcoin gains and the more widely it is adopted, the greater the likelihood is of the price stabilising.
Currently, the currency’s volatility is the factor that is putting a high percentage of people off taking bitcoin seriously.
University of California-San Diego researcher Sarah Meiklejohn, who wrote a paper called A Fistful of Bitcoins: Characterizing Payments Among Men With No Names, told CoinDesk the thing that makes her the “most nervous” about bitcoin is its volatility.
“It’s a chicken or egg problem. You need more people to adopt bitcoin in order to stabilize this, but people are shying away from bitcoin because they perceive it as volatile and as a risky investment,” she said.
The solution to this problem isn’t yet clear, but the bitcoin community and the businesses within it continue to work hard to make it easier for merchants to accept bitcoins and consumers to obtain it and then spend it.
VICCO, Ky. -- The city commission in Vicco approved a measure on Monday to begin paying the city's police chief in a virtual currency, a move officials say is likely the first of its kind in the nation.
Police Chief Tony Vaughn appeared before the commission last month to officially request that his salary be paid to him in Bitcoin, a new virtual currency which exists only on the Internet and this year has gained significant traction, with its value rising by the end of November to more than $1,000 per coin, according to USA Today. The currency was valued at less than $100 at the beginning of the year.
The city commission in Vicco opted last month to hold off on approving Vaughn's request in order to research the issue. Commissioner Claude Branson on Monday said officials did their homework, and there doesn't seem to be any logistical or legal issues to paying Vaughn in Bitcoin.
"We done a checkup on it, and that's the way he wants paid, and that's the way the city is going to pay him," Branson said.
Only Vaughn's take-home pay will be issued in Bitcoin, explained Mayor Johnny Cummings. All applicable federal and state taxes will be removed before Vaughn's salary is then converted electronically to Bitcoin and deposited in an online account for the city of Vicco. The currency then will be instantly transferred to Vaughn's own Bitcoin account.
While Bitcoin is neither regulated nor recognized as an official currency by the federal government, Cummings said there shouldn't be any legal obstacles for the city. He noted several businesses across the country are accepting Bitcoin or have plans to do so. He added Vaughn could begin receiving his salary in Bitcoin as early as this month.
"Basically his next paycheck," Cummings said. "They've set up the accounts for Vicco and for Tony, so it can be transferred."
Vaughn added, however, that the city is going to continue to check into the payment system and further ensure that no barriers exist before he receives his first Bitcoin transfer.
"The reason they wanted to pass the ordinance is this allows us greater latitude as far as finding out the legalities of it," he said.
Vaughn said during last month's meeting that the city stands to make history with this transaction, as there is no record of a government entity paying one of its employees in Bitcoin.
"I'm excited about it; it's a first for Vicco again," Vaughn said, referring to the city's fairness ordinance passed in January that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The city was the first in the region to approve such a law, and at the time only the third in Kentucky.
But Cummings added that publicity isn't necessarily the only reason for the city to take such a step. Since the city's passage of its fairness ordinance and a subsequent appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," officials have received several donations, including several pieces of playground equipment for a new park near City Hall. And now the city's upcoming website will be set up to accept Bitcoin donations, something Cummings said could help the small town of 300 people better afford projects to improve local infrastructure.
"We just want to be on top of things, and up-and-coming and more progressive as a city," Cummings said.
News that the small-town police chief will accept his salary in bitcoin has taken the web by storm.
Later today, Vicco’s mayor Johnny Cummings will make the transaction: sending bitcoin from the town’s wallet to Police Chief Tony Vaughn.
“The city has a bitcoin account now,” Cummings explained, “Thursday’s the pay period so today we’re going to transfer his money.”
But Vicco’s involvement with bitcoin doesn’t stop here. Cummings announced that he and Vaughn would donate their salaries for the month to a wallet setup for donations to the embattled town.
Cummings believes the digital currency will rise in value over time, with the wallet acting as a long-term investment for the town’s public works. He said:
“We’re going to let it lay there for a while. As the city needs things done, we’re going to take part of it out, but leave the majority in that account. That’s what we talked about last night.”
Two days ago, The Hazard Herald, a local newspaper, reported that Vicco’s city commission approved Vaughn’s request to have his salary paid in bitcoin after several weeks of study.
This approval paved the way for the city’s transaction with Vaughn today, which would make it the first instance of a US government entity paying an employee via cryptocurrency.
According to Cummings, Vaughn’s salary would have federal and state taxes deducted before being converted to bitcoin at the prevailing rate. This would be done on a month-by-month basis.
Small Town, Big Support
Vaughn is the sole member of Vicco’s police department, and its first policeman in 20 years. The town has a population of little more than 300 people within its city limits.
Cummings said the bitcoin community has shown great support for the town, with one bitcoin user offering to pay the salaries of Vaughn and any other policemen the town may hire. Vaughn could not be reached for comment at press time.
However, a potential drawback of this plan was highlighted today when the price of bitcoin fell dramatically. CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index showed a drop of 22.5% to $889.01 following a statement issued by China’s central bank that warned of the cryptocurrency’s risks.
Despite bitcoin’s price tumble today, Cummings said both Vicco and Vaughn remain undeterred in their commitment to the currency. He said:
“Chief Vaughn has decided this is the currency he wants to be paid in. Everything goes up and down, that’s life. But we feel that the currency is stable enough after studying it.”
Cummings added that other city employees are now considering getting their salaries paid in bitcoin instead of fiat currency. “They’re all inquiring and looking into it now,” he said.
Vicco was the subject of intense media attention after it was featured on satirical current affairs programme the Colbert Report. It became known to many as the smallest US town to pass a fairness ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to the Hazard Herald, the town received a number of donations after the episode aired, including playground equipment for a new park near City Hall.
“That was just crazy, that was when all the production companies and everyone else kept calling,” Cummings said.
When asked if Vicco’s move to approve Vaughn’s pay in bitcoin was an attempt to attract media attention to the town again, Cummings said:
“We didn’t expect the media to jump on this, it’s just something we decided to do because we’re always looking at new ways of doing things. I guess the media attention is starting now, that’s why you’re calling.”
Vicco is bracing itself for economic hardship as the coal mining industry it depends on faces a severe decline, Cummings added.
“The coal industry is dying here, and my job as mayor is to try and find other avenues for the people of the city, because it’s not good right now,” he said.
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