We started this post before a Greek deal rendered the discussion of a digital parallel currency moot. Nevertheless, it’s still worth looking to the Kenyan M-pesa for a better understanding of why it’s dangerous to treat fintech solutions as panaceas for economies struggling with productivity, poor credit profiles, tax collection issues and overall corruption without understanding what’s really at stake.
Kenya is often presented as an example of a country which has flourished thanks to mobile money adoption — the poster child that “digital payments can make the world a better place”.
But often forgotten is Kenya’s unique circumstances. The M-pesa mobile money system, owned and operated by Safaricom which is 40 per cent owned by Vodafone, was allowed an unchallenged monopoly in the country for a very long time. Read more
Earlier this week we gave fintech people a brief guide to the Greek crisis in a bid to explain why payments technology is unlikely to be part of any solution there.
On bitcoin specifically: why on earth would Greece want to replace the euro, a currency it already thinks too restrictive, with another which would be even more constraining and give Greeks even less control over monetary affairs!? Read more
They say crises define movements and people.
If that’s the case, purveyors of fintech payment solutions could soon be defined as those who stood ready to exploit a Greek national bankruptcy crisis for the benefit of “onboarding” users. Read more
Online retailer Overstock last week became the first company to offer a corporate bond, valued at $25m, in the form of a “crypto security”.
Unsurprisingly, the story was pumped up by the crypto trade press, which has a habit of taking statements from vested interests at face value.
But, as Bloomberg’s Mark Gilbert has hinted indirectly there’s something hypocritical about lauding a bond for its transparent blockchain traceability features while at the same time providing sketchier than sketchy details about all its other aspects. Read more
A Silicon Valley start-up that tried to offer trading in derivatives linked to private SV companies like Uber and Jawbone has been shuttered by the US authorities.
For the backstory here, you might want to first read this post from March on the Sand Hill Exchange.
Here’s the company’s version of what happened — published on Monday night, but since then “censored.”
We hope to have more on this a little later… Read more
The FT’s Richard Waters reports that Larry Summers, former US treasury secretary and secular stagnation theorist, is to form part of the advisory board at Xapo, a Silicon Valley Bitcoin start-up specialising in deep cold storage of bitcoins in Swiss vaults and the issuance of bitcoin debit cards.
Worth noting in this context, of course, is that Larry Summers is also the man arguing that bubbles are a bit of an inevitability in a secular stagnated world. Or as he explained in the Financial Times back in December 2014: Read more
Details of the hottest, most secretive bitcoin start-up in Silicon Valley have finally been revealed by chairman and soon-to-be CEO Balaji Srinivasan of 21 Inc in a post on Medium. They are, by and large, exactly what FT Alphaville reported them to be. Cold sharp summary: Bitcoin mining devices in toasters.
Calling this a simple internet of things play, however, would be lazy. To really put the audacity of Srinivasan’s vision into perspective one first has to go back in time to the days of the early internet. Read more
Some people may have had difficulty understanding what the hell Balaji S. Srinivasan, chairman-cum-ceo of secretive Silicon Valley start-up 21 Inc, is up to after reading his Medium “open for business” post.
The following slides, shared by potential investors in 21 Inc, may or may not help. But they certainly highlight the conceit on show here. Click to enlarge.
Why are the great and the good of the banking and financial services world suddenly extolling the virtues of blockchain, the technology that underpins the artificial scarcity of bitcoin?
Possibly because they’ve finally figured out that what the technology really facilitates is cartel management for groups that don’t trust each other but which still need to work together if they’re to protect the value and stability of the markets they serve.
Cartel enforcement, in that sense, appeals to all sorts of financial players from bankers and commodity producers to general asset creators. Read more
The company in question is called 21 Inc. Its business plan has hitherto been a closely guarded Silicon Valley secret. But we can now reveal how it plans to monetise the future of money. Welcome to the world claiming to exist beyond the Internet of Things…
On Wednesday FT Alphaville received a press release from a company called XBT Provider proudly announcing the launch of the “world’s first bitcoin traded note on Nasdaq Stockholm”.
The tracker product being offering, the press release claimed, would make bitcoin accessible to institutional investors by providing them with a liquid exchange-traded note.
Or as the marketing spiel put it, the product was set “to provide investors with convenient access to the returns of the underlying asset, US dollar per bitcoin, less investor fees.” Read more
Here’s a comment to note in the Bank of England’s “fundamental change” section of its One Bank Research Agenda discussion paper:
Technology is potentially transforming the landscape for money and banking. New digital or e-monies and new methods of payment and financial intermediation raise fundamental questions for financial regulation, money demand generally and central bank money in particular. For example, might central banks issue digital currencies and what would be the impact on existing payment and settlement systems? Is the cryptographic technology behind Bitcoin transformational? How will financial regulation need to adapt if new non-bank credit intermediaries emerge in scale?
Talk of official digital money, of course, is not new to FT Alphaville readers. Nor, for that matter is talk of collaborative non-bank credit unions that mint their own currencies for their own network use. Or even talk of digital money solutions that open up the central bank’s balance sheet to more people in a way that eases the safe-asset shortage. Read more
A cheaper, faster and more secure way to pay for things on the internet or on your smart phone.
Those are the usual claims you hear about Bitcoin. But on January 12, anyone transacting on the network may have come across an unusual problem: a near two-hour wait for a payment to be processed. Read more
Not to be missed in the ECB news fog: John Gapper’s account of an FT Davos lunch with Nouriel Roubini in which the formerly doom-saying NY Stern economist spelled out what polite and civilised society has always known but been keen to turn a blind eye to: the art market is actually a bit of a money laundering scam.
The key quotes not to be missed:
“Whether we like it or not, art is used for tax avoidance and evasion,” said Prof Roubini, himself an art collector. “It can be used for money laundering. You can buy something for half a million, not show a passport, and ship it. Plenty of people are using it for laundering.”
Prof Roubini argued that the art market had a series of characteristics that needed regulation. “While art looks as if it is all about beauty, as a business it is full of shady stuff,” he said. “We should correct it or it will be undermined over time.”
As the Bitcoin price crumbles….
… and the capital hole (economic flaw) at the heart of all cryptocurrency schemes is exposed, we thought we’d uncharacteristically look at what was actually good about the phenomenon of Bitcoin. Read more
A quick update on the scam-ridden world of Bitcoin — not to be confused, of course, with the (sacrosanct) technology of THE BLOCKCHAIN, still dubbed “promising” and “respectable” by VCs in the know — which seems to be fast descending into a blazing fireball of financial chaos, bankruptcy and despair.
On Monday, we had the suspension of Bitstamp, one of Bitcoin’s most reputable and liquid exchanges, founded and operated by two Slovenian kids in their 20s and funded to the tune of $10m by US-based hedge fund Pantera Capital (an arm of Fortress Investments) despite the youngsters’ lack of discernible financial credentials.
As of pixel time, the official line by way of CEO Nejc Kodric was still that a hack had pilfered $5m worth of Bitcoin from the company accounts but that Bitstamp would be back up and running within
24hrs, 48hrs, “soon”, and that customers should not worry because the company had more than enough reserves to cover their customer liabilities.*
*Update: Bitstamp is back up and trading as of Friday evening. No change to the official narrative and no real explanation of who is covering the loss. Read more
What did you miss while you were away eating turkey and whatnot?
Well, there was that one thing about China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange relaxing the rules on Chinese banks’ foreign-exchange holdings, allowing them to hold fewer dollars — a pretty useful ruling during a dollar shortage issue. Read more
Arrr, you can’t keep a good pirate down. As we’ll learn below, the suppression of buccaneering in one area soon prompts piratical hot spots else where.
Indeed, one of the things the bitcoin community is quickly learning — as it goes through about 600 years worth of banking lessons at hyper speed — is that piracy, theft and fraud is a naturally occurring cost in any money system. Call it the unintended bitcoin risk premium that anyone carrying the currency must bear. (Something that doesn’t include the risk associated with the crypto currency’s volatility.)
The lesson the community is still to learn, however, is that most ordinary folk don’t like these sorts of risks and expect risk mitigation to be a demonstrable aspect of any currency system they use. In fact, one of the things people love about today’s banking system is precisely its ability to compensate or refund people if they ever do find themselves victim of fraud, theft, hacking or sub-quality service. Read more
Someone once wisely said, “if you love something, let it go. If it returns, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it never was.”
But as Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, points out on Thursday, that’s not the message those with a tendency for passion investments seem to have ever received. They want to imprison the thing they love most and keep them in a dark dingy basement.
In a note on the non-virtues of gold and bitcoin investing (and the upcoming Swiss gold referendum), Buiter notes:
- Gold is a fiat commodity currency (with insignificant intrinsic value).
- Bitcoin is a fiat virtual peer-to-peer currency (without intrinsic value).
- Gold and Bitcoin are costly to produce and store.
- Gold as an asset is equivalent to shiny Bitcoin.
- Central bank fiat paper currency and fiat electronic currency are socially superior to gold and Bitcoin as currencies and assets. There is no economic or financial case for a central bank to hold any single commodity, even if this commodity had intrinsic value.
- Forbidding a central bank from ever selling any gold it owns reduces the value of those gold holdings to zero.
Let’s close the week off with little bit of “history is just repeating itself” education for both the champions of private cryptocurrency, unaware of the private origins of evil fiat currency, and the “take away the banks’ power to create money!” Positive Money campaign in light of the recent deluge of historically myopic press releases in our inbox.
As the BoE’s historical timeline helpfully points out, the BoE came into being when a private syndicate decided to risk all in 1688 by providing the UK government with funding when no-one else was prepared to do so. This ultimately proved to be a very good decision. It turns out lending money to government on terms you can enforce and control can be very profitable, especially if it leads to wise public investments that improve the wealth of the nation and make it easier to collect taxes as a result. Read more
Steve Randy Waldman’s latest post at Interfluidity talks about econometrics, open science and cryptocurrency. He makes the point that the real potential of “blockchain technology” is rooted in the possibility that it could one day help many different groups and movements achieve consensus for the sake of mutual discovery and progress.
There is, in his opinion, a need to create a public forum in which scientists, academics and inventors can share data and research, and in a way that allows them to shed the mal-effects of groupthink and open themselves up to public scrutiny and refutation. Read more
We can all agree that the current financial system is not perfect by any stretch. The question is, is the new system now being touted by the People’s Front of Libertaria, led by the likes of Marc Andreessen and Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne likely to be any better?
Chances are no, it’s likely to be even worse.
In fact, we propose it’s just a recasting of the old story of Animal Farm, where the animals band together to throw out their evil oppressors only to unwittingly replace them with an even greedier variety in the long run.
Hence, of course, the propaganda onslaught to convince you that what is being offered up is somehow revolutionary, when it’s actually nothing but the same old, same old. The revolution relates only to who the new overlords are. Read more
Most people know that China’s currency is classified according to trading conditions. There is, for example, CNY, which refers to onshore yuan. There’s CNH, which refers to Hong Kong (offshore) yuan. And then there’s NDF, the non-deliverable forward market.
What differentiates these currencies are the terms and conditions that apply to those particular market zones, and how easy or not it is to transfer currency in and out. As implied yields of the respective markets show (chart via BNP Paribas), the rates of return for all of these markets varies significantly — because they are, to some extent, entirely different currencies:
The latest edition of the BoE’s quarterly bulletin looks at the rise of cryptocurrencies and, as we’ve already discussed, expresses a cautiously optimistic attitude towards the technology that drives the system. Less so, however, about the potential of “bitcoin the currency” itself.
In this post, we’d like to look closer at the issue of cost and digital currencies.
Monitoring and supervising the global claims system is an expensive business. It takes a lot energy and resources to make sure wealth is allocated fairly to those who supposedly deserve it.
Hence why those who do the job must be compensated in some shape or form by society.
Yet, it is also the case that society tends to be quite fussy about who it entrusts such an important job to. For example, when trust in private institutions is low, society tends to prefer to use commodities to keep abreast of who owes what to whom. Alternatively, it turns to the liabilities of sovereign nations that have a proven track record of good economic management. Read more
The FT’s Ed Crooks reported this week that fears over the long-term health of America’s shale industry could be put to rest thanks to news that independent oil and gas companies have now substantially improved their financial positions.
From the story:
Cash earned from operations by 25 leading North American exploration and production companies is expected in aggregate to exceed their capital spending next year for the first time since 2008, according to an analysis by Factset for the Financial Times.
As Crooks recounts, the longstanding fear was that the industry was shaping up to be a Ponzi scheme, relying on nothing more than excitement over shale to continuously attract new investment, with every likelihood that things would cave in on themselves once the financing for more drilling ran out.
Thanks to a shift to more profitable oil extraction over less profitable gas, however, it now looks like shale companies’ finances have improved enough to make the business sustainable. Read more
Pirates. Can’t live with them. Can’t get rid of them.
And… it has always been so. Read more
The deadline for European institutions to be compliant with the Single European Payment Area (SEPA) standard came and went on August 1.
In theory, that means anyone in Europe should from now on be able to make and receive payments across the union on an entirely frictionless basis. For the euro project it’s the realisation of one of the system’s key objectives.
As the ECB noted:
It allows businesses to grow and to broaden their reach within Europe, and reduces costs by providing a standardised framework for all their payments. Businesses can now use a single system and set of accounts for all their euro trade in Europe.
Nobody has been more annoyed by Alibaba’s potential upcoming valuation of Snapchat at $10bn than the Bitcoin community, since its own “world changing” technology currently has a market value of no more than $7bn.
Here’s a flavour of the outrage on the Bitcoin subReddit: Read more
We’ve argued enthusiastically for the introduction of state e-money before.
But we overlooked the likelihood that it might first be adopted by countries like Ecuador as a means of getting out of their dollar bind (via Bloomberg):
Ecuador’s congress approved a new law today that allows the government to create its own parallel currency for use in local transactions as the government struggles to meet spending commitments.
Congress voted 91-22 to approve President Rafael Correa’s proposal to change the South American nation’s monetary and financial laws, allowing payments in “electronic money” and giving presidential appointees the power to decide who gets loans and how lenders invest their reserves.
The bill now goes to Correa for his signature or veto. As a current-account deficit drains dollars from the economy, making it harder for Correa to fund a burgeoning budget gap, a new currency could be used to meet government payments, said Jaime Carrera, a former deputy finance minister and director of the Quito-based Fiscal Policy Observatory. It could also lose its value quickly if not backed by the central bank, he said.
This how the Bitcoin regulator comes, not with a bang but with an AMA.
In accordance with the New York State Administrative Procedures Act (SAPA), the proposed DFS rules for virtual currency firms will be published in the New York State Register’s July 23, 2014 edition, which begins a 45-day public comment period. After that public comment period, the rules are subject to additional review and revision based on that public feedback before DFS finalizes them.
Additionally, DFS is today immediately publishing a copy of the regulations on the website Reddit. Earlier this year, Superintendent Lawsky hosted an “Ask Me Anything” forum on Reddit about DFS’ work on virtual currency regulation, which generated more than 1,200 public comments. Links to the proposed rules are also being tweeted out from the DFS Twitter handle (@NYDFS) and Superintendent Lawsky’s Twitter handle (@BenLawsky).