Last September, when we predicted that Chinese consumers, investors and savers would flock to bitcoin as a medium of facilitating capital outflows (it was trading at $230 then, it is now three times higher), we also warned that bitcoin’s upside would ultimately be capped by Beijing, when China’s authorities realized how the digital currency was being used to bypass capital controls, and launch a crackdown on bitcoin, as they have with most other capital outflow measures .
It appears that the time has come because, as Bloomberg reports, China’s regulators are studying measures to limit transactions that use bitcoins to take funds out of the country, citing people familiar with the matter.
According to Bloomberg sources, Chinese officials are considering policies including restricting domestic bitcoin exchanges from moving the cryptocurrency to platforms outside the nation and imposing quotas on the amount of bitcoins that can be sent abroad. Further indicating that Chinese regulators were “just a little behind the curve”, they allegedly noticed only recently that some investors bought bitcoins on local exchanges and sold them offshore, evading rules on foreign exchange and cross-border fund flows, the report further reveals.
A quick look at the uncanny correlation between the decline in the Yuan and the rise in the bitcoin, confirms that the digital currency has indeed been largely used to evade capital controls.
As we have repeatedly noted, and as BBG repeats, “Bitcoin has surged 21% since the end of September as the yuan’s declines accelerated, boosting speculation Chinese investors were buying the cryptocurrency as a hedge against further weakness. With the risk of quicker depreciation rising along with the odds of an impending U.S. interest-rate hike, policy makers are seeking to restrict outflow channels. Just a week ago, China limited the use of China UnionPay Co.’s cards to purchase insurance products in Hong Kong — another way of taking cash out of the country.”
In intraday trading, bitcoin erased a gain of as much of 2.6% overnight which had taken it to the highest level since June, before rebounding, although it now appears that news of the report is starting to spread.
As a reminder, back in 2013, the government classified bitcoin as a commodity and not currency, placing it outside the purview of the foreign-exchange regulator, the people said. That does not mean, however, that China is powerless at limiting bitcoin’s upside.
Several Chinese government bodies including the People’s Bank of China and the financial regulators said in a joint notice that year that bitcoin functioned like a digital commodity without the legal status of a currency. The central bank said in January it is studying the prospects of issuing its own digital currency and aims to roll out a product as soon as possible.
While China dominates bitcoin mining and trading, the government has shown caution over its spread in the nation. In 2013, the PBOC barred financial institutions from handling bitcoin transactions.