Chinese financial officials announced Tuesday that the country would crack down on financial institutions conducting cryptocurrency business or offering related services in light of the market’s recent volatility, marking another blow to the nascent market reeling from one of its biggest sell-offs ever after booming institutional adoption helped lift it to meteoric highs during the pandemic.
In a joint statement Tuesday, three Chinese industry groups overseeing the financial sector announced that bank and payment institutions can not conduct business related to cryptocurrencies, specifically banning a slew of activities including cryptocurrency registration, trading, clearing and settlement.
The guidelines, which reiterate a previous ban from 2017, also bar financial institutions from accepting or using cryptocurrencies in payments or settlements, developing digital currency exchange services and offering any such services to clients.
The group specifically laid into the cryptocurrency’s market massive volatility, saying digital tokens have “no real support value” and prices that are “extremely easy” to manipulate.
The move prohibits Chinese financial institutions, many of which had already shied away from offering crypto services amid the nation’s past crackdown, from issuing cryptocurrency products or services, but it doesn’t ban consumers from owning cryptocurrencies.
The value of the world’s cryptocurrencies dropped about $50 billion, or 2.5% immediately after the announcement, pushing the week’s staggering losses to roughly $500 billion from a Wednesday high above $2.5 trillion.
“Recently, crypto currency prices have skyrocketed and plummeted, and speculative trading of cryptocurrency has rebounded, seriously infringing on the safety of people’s property and disrupting the normal economic and financial order,” the Tuesday statement read. “Judging from the current judicial practice in my country, virtual currency transaction contracts are not protected by law.”
A wave of early regulatory crackdowns beginning in 2017 sparked a nearly 80% correction in cryptocurrency prices and a yearslong bull market that lasted until inflationary concerns and institutional adoption lifted the market to new highs during the pandemic. In March, Morgan Stanley became the first big bank in the U.S. to give wealthy clients access to cryptocurrency investments, and Goldman Sachs quickly followed suit with its own crypto offerings in April. JPMorgan and a slew of other smaller financial institutions have also reportedly indicated they may be next.
Cryptocurrencies soared nearly 500% over the past year as companies like Square, MicroStrategy and Tesla, in particular, started making big cryptocurrency investments, but in a testament to the market’s extreme volatility, prices have plunged by about 30% since Elon Musk said Tesla would stop investing in bitcoin last month.
What To Watch For
Regulation in the U.S. Gensler and Yellen. Earlier this month, new Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler suggested that the agency may be gearing up for a long-awaited crypto crackdown in light of the market’s recent boom, telling CNBC: “To the extent that something is a security, the SEC has a lot of authority, and a lot of crypto tokens—I won’t call them ‘cryptocurrencies’ for this moment—are indeed securities.”
I’m a reporter at Forbes focusing on markets and finance. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I double-majored in business journalism and economics while working for UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School as a marketing and communications assistant. Before Forbes, I spent a summer reporting on the L.A. private sector for Los Angeles Business Journal and wrote about publicly traded North Carolina companies for NC Business News Wire. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bitcoin does not share the traits listed above: it does not maintain a stable value and its fixed number of coins means that it can’t keep up with an insatiable global demand for safe assets like the U.S. debt market can. Indeed, investor willingness to fund more than $21 trillion in U.S. public debt, often at negative real interest rates, shows that the U.S. dollar continues to have massive appeal even as cryptocurrencies go mainstream.
Furthermore, China’s actions over the past decade show that it is deeply skeptical of bitcoin and likely sees it as a threat to the power of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2017, the People’s Bank of China and five other ministries banned financings using cryptocurrency, like initial coin offerings, and banned the exchange of fiat money for cryptocurrency, according to Rain Xie of the Washington University School of Law.