The price of bitcoin (:BTC=) rose on Tuesday despite growing uncertainty regarding regulation in China, including a possible deadline for the country's banks to stop handling the virtual currency.
The price of bitcoin hit $500 by 10:00 a.m. London time on Tuesday, according to industry website CoinDesk, appreciating 40 percent since the recent low of $355 it reached on Friday.
Chinese media had reported that April 15 was a possible deadline set by the People's Bank of China (PBoC) for Chinese banks to freeze the accounts of bitcoin exchanges. Chinese bitcoin companies BTC Trade and Huobi.com backed those reports last week. Both exchanges signaled that their banks were due to close their accounts before, or close to, Tuesday's deadline.
A spokesperson for BTC Trade told CNBC via email on Tuesday that it had received a phone call from the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), informing that it would no longer be supported by the bank. However, BTC Trade added that no written confirmation had been sent and that it was now looking at the possibility of opening up in a different country. ABC was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.
However, BTC Trade's experience is not common with other exchanges. BTC China, a leading exchange in the country and one of the world's busiest bitcoin exchanges, said that it had received no such communication from either the central bank or its own account provider.
"As far as we know it's business as usual, " CEO Bobby Lee told CNBC Tuesday. "We have not received any calls or any changes in regulation."
Speculation regarding how Chinese authorities were going to regulate the cryptocurrency began in early December 2013, after a price surge in bitcoin which many attributed to growing enthusiasm from Chinese investors.
A statement was released on the website of China's central bank on December 5 which warned of the cryptocurrency's risks, saying that Chinese financial institutions should not trade the digital currency.
On December 18, Chinese news website Yicai.com reported that the PBoC had ordered third-party payment providers to stop using the virtual currency and had been ordered to stop any "custody, trading and other services" related to bitcoin.
Speculation stepped up a notch last month with a report by Chinese news site Caixin, which said the PBoC had introduced measures which would target 15 bitcoin-trading websites, adding that banks - who have these companies as clients - would be punished if they failed to close their accounts by the April deadline.
The PBoC has denied these most recent reports. It took to micro-blogging site Weibo on March 21 to claim state that reports of the deadline were untrue and that the guidelines set out on December 5 were the only formal communication it had released on the digital currency.
BTC China's Lee also dismissed the recent reports as just "rumors in the media", saying that there has been no amendments or updates since the December 5 PBoC statement.
"Bitcoin has been classified as being not a currency in China, so technically it's not banned, people are allowed to own and buy," he said. "Time will tell how they eventually regulate bitcoin."
Despite no confirmation of the crackdown, David Moskowitz, director at bitcoin account and transfer service Coin Republic, believes that China's bitcoin exchanges are currently trying to figure out ways around the regulations.
"(The exchanges are) offering voucher systems, they're going to be launching some ATMs there as well," he told CNBC Tuesday. "We'll see if the government bans those too."
- Australia International News
- Agricultural Bank of China