China's major bitcoin exchanges halted, or otherwise updated, their lending-based bitcoin trading services today.
First reported by China-based bitcoin traders and market observers this morning, BTCC, Huobi and OKCoin appear to have quietly adjusted their terms, though only BTCC had moved to issue a formal comment confirming the changes.
Bobby Lee, CEO of BTCC, acknowledged that changes to the exchange's service were being made in response to interactions with the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, though he stopped short of saying that the service had been terminated or disabled.
Lee indicated that the move came after the exchange received "informal guidance" from the PBoC, which has been more actively engaged with domestic bitcoin exchanges amid the run-up in bitcoin prices seen at the start of the year. The developments followed news that central bank officials had met with representatives from the exchanges.
Lee told CoinDesk:
"There's going to be some give and take. We'll likely make adjustments as time goes on."
At press time, BTCC is the only exchange to explain the changes in a message posted to its website.
"BTCC will [suspend loans and borrowing services] from 12th January, 2017," it reads.
OKCoin and Huobi did not respond to requests for further information, though a customer service representative for Huobi had indicated that it had "paused" new lending services.
At press time, traders were reporting that loan-based trading services were no longer available on Huobi.
OKCoin's international and China-facing websites OKCoin.com and OKCoin.cn were said to be offering limited or augmented versions of the services, though traders were reporting different experiences.
While some users told CoinDesk they were able to borrow 2x leverage at press time (even when executing CNY-denominated trades on OKCoin.cn), others indicated that their accounts were prohibiting this action.
One trader said he was able to see higher margin options, but only able to borrow lower amounts. (OKCoin representatives did not respond to requests for further clarity).
Nonetheless, news spread quickly about the changes on social media, with seven local industry representatives acknowledging they were aware of the supposed changes (some noted that they had yet to actively test their perceptions via exchange accounts).
Still, local traders indicated that they were not surprised by the news that some margin trading services had been updated, given the longstanding lack of legal clarity under which the exchanges had operated.
One former representative of a China-based exchange, who declined to be quoted on the record, indicated that he is unsure of whether the issue would have been with the service itself or the way it was marketed to consumers.
"I don't know if it's [paused] while they implement a system that's agreeable to the government, or if it's gone for good," he said.
OTC trader Zhao Dong, likewise, hinted at how this development could come to shape the bitcoin markets, portraying it as a double-edged sword for the industry.
"The good side of margin trading is it provided additional liquidity to the market, the bad side is it is easy for investors to lose money," he said.
Yet from some quarters of the Chinese bitcoin space, there was a broad feeling that further engagement with regulators will be forthcoming.
Ricardo Zhang, CEO for BTC123, a local bitcoin lending and news site that yesterday paused its services, told CoinDesk:
"I think this time, there will be some corresponding laws and regulations promulgated, and a more standardized industry."
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