Coinbase opens first US bitcoin exchange

The first regulated US bitcoin exchange has been launched by San Francisco-based bitcoin wallet operator Coinbase.

Bitcoin wallet operator Coinbase has opened the first regulated US exchange for the digital currency.

The opening could provide a boost to the cryptocurrency, which has been hit hard by concerns about links to illegal activities and the collapse of a major bitcoin exchange last year.

"With this launch, our goal is to bring increased stability to the bitcoin ecosystem," Coinbase said in a blog post on Monday.

The company said that users in any of the 24 US states or territories supported by its US dollar wallet could begin trading immediately on Coinbase Exchange.

There will be no trading fees for users making use of the new exchange until March 30, when the company will move to a "maker-taker" model, it said.

The new exchange comes as bitcoin receives heightened scrutiny by investors and lawmakers alike, with the virtual currency undergoing dramatic value fluctuations and being linked to illegal deep web marketplaces, such as the Silk Road website.

In February last year, the once-dominant Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange Mt Gox closed down without warning, eventually filing for bankruptcy after bitcoin belonging both to the exchange and users, worth approximately $500 million, vanished -- an incident that Japanese police now suspect may have been the result of an inside job, according to reports.

On January 16, it emerged during the trial of alleged Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht that Mark Karpeles, the CEO of failed bitcoin exchange Mt Gox, had been suspected of being behind the online black market site.

Despite lingering questions over the digital currency's dependability, bitcoin backers say virtual currencies allow for an efficient and anonymous way to store and transfer funds online.

Regulators have argued that the lack of legal framework governing the currency, the opaque way it is traded, and its volatility make it dangerous.

The value of a bitcoin, which soared to over $1,200 in 2013, stood at $270.62 at the time of writing.

Coinbase earlier this month raised around $75 million in capital, bringing its total rise to $106 million.

The San Fancisco-based company began offering its bitcoin wallet and platform across Europe in September last year, selecting 13 additional countries for its beta launch in the region, including Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, and Slovakia.

With AAP