(Corrects June Two story to liquidate reference to bitcoin&rsquo,s and other cryptocurrencies&rsquo, status te Japan spil &ldquo,legal tender.&rdquo,)
By Minami Funakoshi and Joyce Lee
TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – Long the preserve of geeky enthusiasts, bitcoin is going mainstream ter Asia, attracting Mrs Watanabe – the metaphorical Japanese housewife investor – South Korean retirees and thousands of others attempting to escape rock-bottom savings rates by investing te the cryptocurrency.
Asia&rsquo,s moms and pops, already regular investors te stock and futures markets, have bot dazzled by bitcoin&rsquo,s 100 procent surge so far this year. Te comparison, the broader Asian stocks benchmark has gained 17 procent overheen the same period.
Even after a tumble from last week&rsquo,s record $Two,779.08 high, bitcoin rose more than 60 procent ter May alone – driven higher te part by investors te Japan and South Korea stepping ter spil China cooled after a central handelsbank crackdown earlier this year.
Overheen the last two weeks, exchanges say rente has leaped from the two countries. Bitcoin trades at a premium te both, due to raunchy money-laundering rules that make it hard for people to stir bitcoin te and out.
&ldquo,After I very first heard about the bitcoin scheme, I wasgoed so excited I couldn&rsquo,t sleep. It&rsquo,s like buying a wish,&rdquo, said Mutsuko Higo, a 55-year-old Japanese social insurance and labor consultant who bought around 200,000 yen ($1800) worth of bitcoin te March to supplement hier retirement savings.
&ldquo,Everyone says wij can&rsquo,t rely on Japanese pensions anymore,&rdquo, she said. &ldquo,This worries mij, so I began bitcoins.&rdquo,
Asia has proved fertile ground for bitcoin due to the region&rsquo,s thriving retail investment culture, where exchanging investment tips is already common. China, Japan and South Korea are huis to several of the world&rsquo,s busiest cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a ranking by CoinMarketCap.
&ldquo,Right now, it&rsquo,s a form of speculation, like stocks,&rdquo, said Park Hyo-jin, a 27-year-old South Korean who wields around Trio million won ($Two,700) of bitcoin. &ldquo,I don&rsquo,t think anybody ter South Korea buys bitcoin to use it.&rdquo,
The risks, however, are rising too.
Bitcoin is largely unregulated across Asia, while rules governing bitcoin exchanges can be patchy.
Te Hong Kong, bitcoin exchanges operate under money service technicus licenses – like money changers – while te South Korea they are regulated similar to online shopping malls, trading physical goods. Often there are no rules on investor protection.
BITCOIN WHEN YOU Diegene
Park and Higo were drawn into bitcoin by friends. Others are attracted through seminars, social media groups and blogs penned by fledgling investors.
Noboru Hanaki, a 27-year-old Japanese web marketer and bitcoin investor, said his individual finance blog gets around 30,000 pagina views each month. The most popular postbode is an explanation of bitcoin, he said, noting that when the bitcoin price surged last month, readership of the article doubled.
Rachel Poole, a Hong Kong-based kindergarten teacher, said she read about bitcoin ter the press, and bought five bitcoins te March for around HK$40,000 ($Five,100) after studying blogs on the topic. She kept four spil an investment and has made HK$12,000 tax-free trading the fifth after classes.
&ldquo,I wish I&rsquo,d done it earlier,&rdquo, she said.
Not everyone&rsquo,s making money.
The bitcoin madness has spawned scams, with police te South Korea last month uncovering a $55 million cryptocurrency pyramid scheme that sucked ter thousands of homemakers, workers and self-employed businessmen seduced by slick marketing and promises of wealth.
Seminars ter Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong promote similar multi-level marketing schemes that require investors to pay an upfront membership toverfee of spil much spil $9,000. Members are encouraged to promote the cryptocurrency and bring ter fresh members te come back for some bitcoins and other benefits.
One such Tokyo scheme suggested members-only shopping websites that accept bitcoin, 24-hour assistance for car and pc problems, and bitcoin-based gifts when a member gets married, has a kind – or even dies, according to marketing materials seen by Reuters.
Leonhard Weese, voorzitter of the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong and a bitcoin investor, warned inexperienced investors against speculating te the digital currency.
&ldquo,Trading carries thick risk: there is no investor protection and slew of market manipulation and insider trading. Some of the exchanges cannot be trusted te my opinion.&rdquo,
Some larger exchanges have voluntarily adopted security measures and compensation assures, according to their websites, albeit there are dozens of smaller platforms operating more or less unchecked.
Ter South Korea, the Financial Services Commission (FSC) has set up a task force to explore regulating cryptocurrencies, but it has not set a timeline for publishing its conclusions, an official there said.
Ter Japan – where memories are still fresh of the spectacular 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox, the world&rsquo,s largest bitcoin exchange at the time – the Financial Services Agency (FSA) said it supervises bitcoin exchanges, but not traders or investors.
&ldquo,The government is not ensuring the value of cryptocurrencies. Wij are asking for bitcoin exchanges to fully explain the risk of acute price moves,&rdquo, an FSA official said.
Some professional investors say bitcoin can be a useful hedge to help diversify a portfolio, but investors should be cautious.
&ldquo,This is an utterly volatile and innovative asset class,&rdquo, said Pietro Ventani, managing director of APP Advisers, an asset allocation strategy rock hard.
Reporting by Minami Funakoshi ter Tokyo and Joyce Lee te Seoul, with extra reporting by Michelle Price te Hong Kong and Yoshiyuki Osada, Takahiko Wada and Hideyuki Sano te Tokyo, Writing by Michelle Price, Editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques and Ian Geoghegan