SINGAPORE (Dec 25): If you want to understand the cryptocurrency mania, look no further than South Korea, the world’s most wired nation and home to the speediest internet. Koreans, true to their repu­tation of being early tech adopters, have taken to digital currencies like fish to water. The world’s largest bitcoin exchanges are located in Seoul and more than 1.2 million Koreans have registered accounts with a cryptocurrency exchange. The average Korean makes several cryptocurrency exchange transactions a week. Over the past two weeks, Koreans accounted for nearly a third of all bitcoin trades globally. Add in Japan, and you get close to 65% of all bitcoin trades, or up to 75% on a good day.

Koreans blame it all on the lhneun geos-I dulyeowo syndrome, the equivalent of “kiasu” in Hokkien or FOMO, fear of missing out. With Japan deeming bitcoin as legal tender in April, 2017 will probably be remembered as bitcoin’s and, indeed, cryptocurrencies’ coming-out party. The digital currency’s value surpassed US$20,000 on Dec 17. Bitcoin is up more than 20-fold this year alone in a parabolic hockey stick-style surge, and the momentum behind it shows no sign of abating. The total combined market value of cryptocurrencies is now more than US$600 billion ($809 billion), or 0.75% of the global GDP.

Two weeks ago, Cboe, the world’s largest options exchange, began trading bitcoin futures, the biggest of the 1,300 cryptocurrencies. On Dec 17, its crosstown rival Chicago Mercantile Exchange went live with crypto futures. The Nasdaq is expected to launch its own bitcoin-related products by the middle of next year. Trading on major exchanges is likely to help bitcoin gain further momentum, thereby increasing its appeal.

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