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Bitcoin mania triggers fundraising rush by Chinese players

Samuel Shen and Alun John
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A collection of bitcoin (virtual currency) tokens are displayed in this picture illustration

By Samuel Shen and Alun John

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Bitcoin mania has fuelled a surge in fundraising by Chinese companies seeking to expand their cryptocurrency operations or move into the red-hot sector.

From large listed companies tapping public markets to smaller players raising funds from venture capitalists, a jump in cryptocurrency prices and signs of growing acceptance of the technology by mainstream institutions have fed the market boom.

Chinese bitcoin mining machine manufacturer, Ebang International Holdings, which debuted on Nasdaq in June, conducted two fundraising rounds in February alone, raking in $170 million, even after a previous offering in November.

Newcomer Code Chain New Continent Ltd, a Chinese waste recycling company, raised $25 million in February through a share placement to fund a foray into bitcoin mining.

In private markets, "competition is white hot and filled with sharp elbows," said Jehan Chu, managing partner at Hong Kong-based blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic Capital. "Every good-quality funding round is oversubscribed within a week of it being announced."

The market has flourished despite complicated official attitudes towards cryptocurrencies in China.

Cryptocurrency exchanges are banned and mining frowned upon, but there is strong official support for developing blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, but is also key to new innovations in areas such as trade finance, supply chain management and anti-counterfeiting.

This has contributed to the emergence of attractive crypto projects in China, say investors, although many companies still list and raise money overseas.

Ebang plans to use its new capital to expand into cryptocurrency mining in its own right, to open cryptocurrency exchanges in Singapore and Canada, and to launch a Robinhood-style platform for bitcoin trading.

"Ebang's growth story is very attractive to institutional investors ... fundraising by all industry players is getting busier thanks to the bitcoin bull," said Guo Yi, COO at Univest Securities, which underwrote the deals, and has helped raise money for several other Chinese crypto players.

Canaan Inc, another Nasdaq-listed Chinese maker of bitcoin mining machines, is also expanding into mining, where powerful computers are used to verify bitcoin transactions and compete for a bitcoin reward.

Bitcoin, the world's largest cryptocurrency, has surged over 300% in value since the fourth quarter of last year.

"Bitcoin prices present us with a unique opportunity to establish mining operations," said David Feng, co-CEO of newcomer Code Chain, which has ordered 10,000 bitcoin mining machines.

"EUPHORIC ATMOSPHERE"

The Chinese rush comes as Coinbase, the biggest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange, filed last month for a Nasdaq listing. Regulatory approval would represent a landmark victory for cryptocurrency advocates seeking mainstream endorsement.

"Everyone can feel this euphoric atmosphere in the market, and Coinbase's listing would lift the mood further," said Jiang Changhao, co-founder and chief technology officer of Beijing-based Cobo a crypto custodian and wallet service provider.

Cobo plans to launch a new round of venture capital funding this month to finance international expansion, aiming for tens of millions of dollars because, Jiang said, "the market is bullish and our business is growing very, very rapidly."

Kenetic Capital's Chu said official backing for blockchain, and the use of the technology in major initiatives by giants like Ping An and Ant Financial, were a factor in the number of high quality blockchain and crypto projects in China.

But the recent price surge had "poured napalm" on to competition in the sector, he said.

Still, the entry of some Chinese firms into the crypto space has raised investor eyebrows.

Last month, short-sellers Hindenburg Research and Culper Research alleged Chinese blockchain firm SOS Ltd, had made false claims about its cryptocurrency business, allegations SOS said were "distorted, misleading and unsubstantiated".

Guo of Univest Securities said the market has zero-tolerance toward cheating, but there's nothing improper about Chinese companies jumping on to the bitcoin bandwagon.

"If people don't point figure at (Tesla founder) Elon Musk for endorsing bitcoin, what's wrong with Chinese companies embracing it?"

(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Alun John; editing by Richard Pullin)