TOKYO -- More than 10 Japanese companies are launching exchanges for bitcoin and other virtual currencies, with an eye to tap growing demand after legal changes that make such trades cheaper and easier in the country.
SBI Holdings has set up SBI Virtual Currencies, an exchange between the yen and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and that of the Ethereum platform. The GMO Internet group is also establishing its own company, with plans to increase the number of digital currencies it trades based on demand. Kabu.com Securities and foreign exchange trader Money Partners Group plan to enter the field as well.
Starting July, Japan's consumption tax will no longer apply to purchases of virtual currencies. Exchanges in Japan have also been required since April to obtain a special license, which has requirements for finances and asset management structures, from the Finance Ministry.
"We didn't even have minimum guidelines" back in 2014, when the bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox collapsed, "so users will now feel more secure," an SBI Virtual Currencies representative said.
Around 18 companies are currently planning to apply for a license, according to the Japan Cryptocurrency Business Association. This includes the more than 10 companies newly entering the market, as well as existing exchanges like bitFlyer. Japan's three megabanks, however, are not planning at this time to start trading digital currencies.
Many new players are interested in turning such currencies into a new investment option. The price of bitcoin has tripled in the past year, and some estimate the total value of all virtual currencies at over 4 trillion yen ($35.8 billion). "There is demand among our clients for cryptocurrencies, given their rising value," said a source at one company.
But the currencies tend to have low liquidity and high volatility. Because a large volume of bitcoin trading occurs in China, that country's monetary policies have a significant impact on its value. Some foreign banks are also refusing dollar wires to and from virtual currency exchanges.
Digital currencies still occupy a small space in Japan. But they could catch on as a cheap way to settle payments and transfer funds in the future.