All roads lead to China: Surging demand pushes bitcoin above $700

China Daily Life
China is the leading cause of the most recent bitcoin rally (Source: Getty)

The bitcoin price has breached the $700 (£491) mark today, a mere two weeks after the cryptocurrency broke through the psychological $500 barrier for the first time since August 2014.

The price of a single bitcoin has hit a high of $703 according to market exchange trader Bitcoinity, while CoinDesk reported a day-high of $706.70 by around 1.30pm (GMT).

Today's surge follows another huge jump recorded by the cryptocurrency yesterday, when bitcoin leapt above its opening trading price of around $610 and edged above $650 by the evening.

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But what's behind the Sunday and Monday surge? The main driver is simple: All roads lead to China.

"The recent bitcoin price surge ties in with the IMF warning on Chinese state-sponsored corporate debt levels," Charles Hayter, chief executive and founder of CryptoCompare, said.

"Worries that a systemic crisis in China is on the horizon are making bitcoin more attractive.

"Not only are traders using bitcoin as a conduit to bypass capital controls and as a safe harbour from the yuan, they are also taking advantage of present volatile conditions to implement more complex trading strategies," Hayter added.

The IMF has warned China that its corporate debt risks sparking a bigger crisis if the authorities fail to tackle it. China's debt soared to a record 237 per cent in the first quarter after the government rolled out massive lending designed to boost economic growth.

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China is a "leading" market for bitcoin, where it trades at around three to four per cent higher than other currency markets. Increased demand in China, therefore, can drag up the US dollar price of a bitcoin as a result.

"Buying bitcoin with yuan costs more than doing so with dollars and Renminbi [Chinese] volume is seven times higher than USD volume. All roads lead to China," Hayter said.

"Inherent to Bitcoin is the block reward halving where the supply rate is reduced by 50 per cent. Going forward there is a feeling that the news wagon is rolling and bitcoin will remain the center of attention as volatility becomes the order of the day."

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A coming change in the way bitcoins are mined is also having an effect on the price. Bitcoins are created – or mined – by computers solving mathematical problems that require a huge amount of processing power.

The so-called halvening – a reduction in the amount of bitcoins produced by mining – means that short term supply could be squeezed, pushing up the price.

It's thought that the halvening could reduce revenue for miners by as much as 50 per cent.

On 10 July (though it is not known exactly when), the number of bitcoins mined at a time will go from 25 to 12.5.

The first halvening event happened on 28 November 2012 – and brought the number of coins generated each time a problem was successfully solved to 25 from 50.

Earlier this year, investment bank and asset managing firm Needham & Company said bitcoin has been undervalued by about $200 and should be trading at around $655 - which it has now comfortably surpassed.

Bitcoin was the world's best-performing currency in 2015, beating out the US dollar by nearly 40 per cent. Bloomberg dubbed it the "comeback of the year", after it was 2014's worst-performing currency when it lost 57 per cent of its value against the dollar.