China’s individual investors are known for their huge appetite for new assets. The government’s strict currency controls make it difficult for them to invest overseas, so their money has traditionally had to go somewhere inside the country’s borders. That’s why from property to copper to domain names to fish bladders, speculation fuels asset markets in China.
Less than two years ago stocks were hot, and the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index doubled from June 2014 to June 2015. After the index tumbled last summer, though, there’s still no sign that investors are coming back to the casino-like bourses any time soon.
Where are they heading now? One word—bitcoin.
Over 94% of bitcoin trading involved Chinese yuan in August, up from about 60% a year earlier, according to data provider Bitcoinity. China’s two biggest exchanges, Huobi and OKCoin, collectively account for more than 90% of global trading. OKCoin reached more than 1 million registered users in the first half of this year, thanks to a user growth rate that was five times greater than a year earlier.
That’s a big shift. The bitcoin markets were once dominated by trading in US dollars, and the Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox. That ended in early