Bitcoin craze is reaching new heighs in China.
Sun Minjie is a 28-year-old Internet worker who lives in Beijing. Eager to profit from growing demand for the digital currency, Sun has invested more than $3,000 in a company called 796 Xchange Ltd., an online exchange for trading stocks and other financial instruments related to Bitcoin, where initial public offerings are also being held.
He’s part of a small but growing group of investors in China who have put the country into contention with the U.S. as the biggest downloader of the virtual money that’s being used to buy a growing range of goods and services online. While intensified scrutiny by U.S. regulators casts doubt on the currency’s future there, China’s Bitcoin industry is expanding.
“What’s worrisome is that a lot of people could be just treating it as a speculative investment,” said Peter Pak, head of trading of BOCI Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “In China, the stock market, property and bond market are all not so good, so people get really excited when they hear of a new investment that generates high returns.”
Sun’s outlay of about 28 Bitcoins -- or $3,108 -- for more than 400 shares in 796 Xchange has returned about 46 percent since the stock’s Aug. 1 debut on the company’s own website. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index (SHCOMP) has only gained about 2 percent during the same period.
Expensive to Crack’
Bitcoin is similar to other currencies -- say, the Mexican peso -- except it’s not controlled by any government and the total number is capped at about 21 million coins. Computer users can “mine” them by solving mathematical puzzles -- uncovering the hidden series of letters and numbers that matches up with security keys specified by the computer programmers who invented Bitcoin in 2009. As more are mined, the puzzles get harder, and therefore more expensive to crack.
Sun turned to shares of Bitcoin companies after initially trying to mine the currency crunching algorithms on souped-up PCs at his office and home. He gave up after a month, concluding that his computers weren’t up to the task.
“Simple desktops can no longer dig them up,” he said.