Friday, March 27, 2020

After Coronavirus ‘War,’ Bretton Woods-Style Shakeup Could Dethrone the Dollar

 


For governments, fighting the coronavirus pandemic is like fighting a war.
The leaders of Italy, Spain and Germany have used the analogy – along with the CEOs of Bank of America and the U.S. telecommunications giant AT&T – to describe the mass-scale efforts needed to combat the disease: mobilizations of the health care industry, a retooling by factories to produce masks and makeshift morgues to accommodate a fast-rising death count.

During a televised press conference this week, U.S. President Donald Trump characterized himself as a "wartime president."

Now, it's becoming clearer that the economic toll of the virus, as in a war, is likely to be dire. In the U.S. alone, a record 3.3 million jobless claims were filed last week. Deutsche Bank predicts the country's job losses might exceed 15 million, with Europe approaching a similar level. Countries are prepping aid and stimulus packages into the trillions of dollars, stretching already heavily indebted government balance sheets. Central banks led by the U.S. Federal Reserve have pledged nearly unlimited support to financial markets. Investors have flown to safety in U.S. dollars, and in doing so driven down emerging-market currencies, inflicting additional economic damage on some of the world's poorest countries.

So with officials starting to envision what it might take to rebuild damaged economies and restore society to a semblance of normal, speculation is mounting that seismic shifts might be in the offing for the global monetary system — a phenomenon that historically has occurred in the wake of world wars.

Think Bretton Woods, the historic gathering in 1944 at a mountaintop resort in New Hampshire, which set the template for the current system and entrenched the dollar's near-century-long reign as the world's dominant currency.

"I wouldn't rule out anything at this point," says Markus Brunnermeier, a Princeton University economics professor who has advised the International Monetary Fund, Federal Reserve Bank of New York and European Systemic Risk Board.

Questioning dollar dominance
Even before the coronavirus hit, questions were percolating among some economists and monetary officials over whether the dollar-based system could last through the 2020s.

One concern is that monetary policy in the U.S. – actions by the Fed to maximize domestic employment and keep prices stable – reverberates through countries all over the globe, often saddling them with higher inflation whenever their currencies weaken versus the dollar; while exporters of raw materials or manufactured goods might become more competitive, consumers feel the pinch from higher prices for imported goods. Another factor is that so many commodities such as oil, copper and gold are priced in dollars, leaving producers including Russia, Brazil and South Africa at the mercy of foreign-exchange markets.  

Bank of England President Mark Carney floated the idea of a "synthetic hegemonic currency," possibly based on new digital-asset technologies, to reduce the dollar's "domineering influence" on global trade. China, the world's second-largest economy, has been pressing forward with a digital version of its yuan that might be used more widely in global trade. Facebook, the social network, proposed last year to create its own payment token, libra. Bitcoin, launched in the throes of the 2008-09 financial meltdown, offers another alternative.

"Eventually we're going to get past this crisis," said Tim Shaler, a former portfolio manager at the bond fund Pimco who now serves as chief economist for iTrust Capital, which allows clients to buy cryptocurrencies and physical gold through their retirement accounts.  "If there's a possibility to create some digital currency not tied to any domestic economy, there might be an opportunity for somebody to figure that out."

The Fed helicopters in with trillions
It's little surprise the Federal Reserve is intervening so deeply in U.S. markets during a time of crisis. That "quantitative easing" (QE) playbook was put in place by former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, who garnered the moniker "Helicopter Ben" thanks to his advocacy for plying the financial system with large quantities of much money when needed. In a matter of months in 2008, from August to December, the Fed's balance sheet doubled in size to more than $2 trillion. It doubled again during the next few years to over $4 trillion.

On Monday, the U.S. central bank, now led by Chair Jerome Powell, made an unprecedented pledge to buy bonds in unlimited amounts to support markets, while reviving 2008-era QE emergency-lending programs to ply banks, Wall Street dealers and even corporations with fresh liquidity. The new efforts could quickly balloon the Fed's balance sheet to north of $8 trillion, says Stephen Cecchetti, who headed the monetary and economic department at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, in the early 2010s.

IF THERE'S A POSSIBILITY TO CREATE SOME DIGITAL CURRENCY NOT TIED TO ANY DOMESTIC ECONOMY, THERE MIGHT BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SOMEBODY TO FIGURE THAT OUT.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington were negotiating a $2 trillion aid package, but the investment-research firm Evercore ISI predicted this week in a report that another $3 trillion might be needed. Some of the Treasury bonds issued to finance surging U.S. government budget deficits might get sopped up by the Fed.  

"The central bank has to be a part of the war machine," said Cecchetti, now a professor of international economics at Brandeis University.

The dollar's inflationary threat
Despite the flood of new dollars, the U.S. currency has surged in recent weeks to its strongest levels in three years. Inflation is muted, and the economy's weakness means prices in the U.S. won't be pressured upward anytime soon.

But the Fed's trillions could eventually lead to higher inflation. There also might be a renewed outcry that such money injections merely bail out bankers and rich people, with few of the benefits going to the middle or lower classes – similar to the arguments of the Occupy Wall Street movement that followed the 2008 crisis.

Outside the U.S., central banks might emerge from the coronavirus shock with a stronger appetite for independence from American influence over the global monetary system.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out when we have at least two major financial players that are going to emerge from this," said Omer Ozden, CEO of RockTree Capital, a merchant bank with expertise in blockchain technology. "China will have its own thoughts and may take a different direction from, let's say, a Bretton Woods-style global organization."

Trustless world, trustless systems
It's highly unlikely the global monetary system would see a negotiated accord along the lines of the Bretton Woods accord, which was joined by 44 countries, said Edwin Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who oversaw the Federal Reserve's division of international finance from the late 1970s through the late 1990s.

Trump's brash, freewheeling style and protectionist impulses in recent years have alienated former allies in Europe, and his border wall campaign has ratcheted up tensions with Mexico. He demonized China in last year's trade war and recently referred to the coronavirus as the "China virus."

"One of the big challenges of today, in contrast to 2008-2009, is that the state of national cooperation is pretty low," Truman said. "In order to do, collectively, a big change in the system, people would have to agree, and everyone seems to be fending for themselves."

For George McDonaugh, CEO and co-founder of Isle of Man-based KR1, a publicly traded cryptocurrency investment company, it's the head-scratcher of "helicopter money" that might ultimately raise fundamental criticisms of the current monetary system. Deep interest rate cuts and central bank money injections in ever-growing quantities appear to have become the default solution whenever a market crisis hits every seven to 11 years.  

The Fed's trillion-dollar money injections during the 2008 financial crisis did little to weaken the dollar's dominance in the years since, but this time might be different.

"If someone on TV says we can have infinite money, someone on the other side of that TV screen says, 'Why have I been working my ass off for the past 40 years?'" McDonough said.

Telegram token investors ‘ready to accept refund’ amid SEC court battle

 


A number of investors in the token issued by messaging app Telegram are reported to be ready to accept their money back, which would see the firm settle at a fraction of the funds paid into the token.

According to a TASS report, as many as 10 separate investors in Telegram's blockchain project are now poised to accept the offer, which would see 72% of money invested in the token returned.

Head of Russian digital currency investment firm Hash CIB, Yakov Barinsky, said the refund offer was looking more attractive to investors in light of the global coronavirus crisis: "What I see now among various investors is that many, at least 10 investors with whom I spoke, are inclined to take away 72% of the invested funds. Considering what is happening in the financial markets, this offer now looks much better than in October."

Back in October, investors were offered 77% of invested funds back as refunds for the project, which has been beset with difficulties—not least ongoing investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), over what the regulator argues was an illegal sale of securities.

At the time, investors rejected the offer and agreed to extend the deadline for issuing the tokens to April 2020. Now, Telegram has said investors can receive 72% of their funds back, with the remaining 5% already spent on the development process in the intervening months.

It follows on from a ruling earlier this week, in which a federal court in New York ruled against Telegram, finding that issuing the Gram tokens would constitute a violation of securities laws.

Barinsky said Telegram could now choose to register a transaction, and to recognize the court's interpretation of its Gram tokens as a security.

"To conduct an IPO, but in this case, the launch of the project will be postponed for another period, companies usually prepare for this for at least a year. For this scenario, it will also be necessary to conduct another consultation with investors and again ask for a delay in launching the project," Barinsky said. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Toyota launches blockchain lab for verification, supply chain and more

 


Japanese automotive manufacturing giant Toyota has launched a blockchain lab that will focus on integrating the technology into most of its operations. Known as the Toyota Blockchain Lab, the project has been in the works since April last year. It will integrate blockchain into its verification processes, global supply chain, financial systems and more.

The global automotive industry has evolved rapidly, forcing carmakers to focus on providing more value to their customers. Toyota intends on keeping ahead of its rivals, and with the integration of blockchain, it will allow its customers to "connect more openly under safety and security," the company said in a press release.

@ToyotaMotorCorp
#Toyota's latest #blockchaintechnology improves information reliability and accelerates the sharing of data among multiple parties in a more open environment that is safe and secure.

The Blockchain Lab is a collaboration between the Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Financial Services Corporation. It has been undertaking demonstration trials since its formation 11 months ago. It stated, "In the following initiatives focused on customers and vehicles, demonstration trials under specific conditions were completed in November last year, confirming the usefulness of blockchain technology in each use application."

One of the key application areas for blockchain technology will be in identity verification. Toyota currently requires its clients to verify their identity separately for every service they intend to use. This reduces the chances of fraud and data breaches, but at the same time, it's quite time consuming. With blockchain, the client will only need to verify his identity once, after which he can share the data in a permissioned blockchain system.

Toyota also plans on applying blockchain in its supply chain management to improve efficiency and traceability. It will record and share information regarding manufacturing, shipping and more on a blockchain-powered network. The company, which is the second-largest automotive manufacturer after Volkswagen, will also record information about its repair parts. This will enable the end user to verify genuine Toyota products.

Toyota intends to record information about its vehicles on the blockchain platform as well. Data to be recorded includes any repairs over a car's lifetime, its mileage and ownership. This data will make it much easier to accurately value a Toyota vehicle.

Going forward, the company will partner with other industry stakeholders in its project, it revealed, stating, "In addition, with regard to various blockchain platforms around the world, in collaboration with partner companies, we will formulate non-functional evaluation items to accelerate the social implementation of the technology, and accumulate technical knowledge to select a suitable platform for each application."

Toyota has also revealed that it will integrate blockchain technology in its utopian conceptual city. Known as Woven City, it will be powered by hydrogen and will rely on smart technology. It will be built on a 175-acre land in Japan, on the base of Mount Fuji, with the construction beginning early next year. Artificial intelligence will be central to the city's operations, Toyota revealed.

Indian Parliament probing suspect ‘Bitcoin businesses’

 


An investigation into dubious digital currency businesses in India is underway, amid concerns about rampant fraud in connection with digital currencies in the country.

The investigation was revealed in a filing submitted before India's lower house, the Lok Sabha, following a formal question to the Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs Anurag Thakur.

Center-left politician Mohammed Faizal asked the Minister whether he was aware of the "cheating and fraudulent practices by bitcoin companies", and whether these firms "are repeatedly violating rules laid out by the Corporate Affairs Ministry by not filing annual balance sheets".

In his answer, Minister Thakur said the companies concerned "are not defined under the Companies Act". The Minister said only two firms dealing with BTC were registered with the Companies Registrar, and one of the companies, Zeb IT, had previously been subject to prosecutions under the Companies Act. The firm is currently in liquidation.

The other firm, Unocoin Technologies, was reported to be up to date in its filings, with the Minister saying he had yet to receive any complaints against the company.

The developments come at a time of rapid change in the Indian digital currency sector, following the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the Reserve Bank of India's earlier ruling effectively banning digital currency in the country.

The following day, Unocoin resumed fiat deposits, with several other exchanges including OKEx, Coindcx and Wazirx taking similar steps to resume business—despite none being registered by the authorities, according to the Minister's answer.

International exchanges Kraken and KuCoin have since confirmed their intentions to expand into the Indian market, with both companies expected to be eyeing a share of the newly liberated Indian sector.

The Reserve Bank of India has said it intends to appeal against the Supreme Court ruling, casting doubt on whether the position is settled long-term. For the time being, digital currency exchanges and other related companies can take advantage of the ruling to rebuild the sector so badly affected by the RBI decision.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Bank of England chief warns of CBDC ‘challenges’ on fiat money

 


The outgoing governor of the Bank of England has warned of the risks of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), highlighting the potential impact of CBDCs on fiat currency and the wider financial system.

Mark Carney, who is due to leave his post on Friday, addressed the risks posed by central bank digital currencies, highlighting the "significant challenges" that could be posed to financial stability.

First reported by Reuters, the comments come at a time when the bank is reported to be considering the feasibility of issuing its own digital currency on the blockchain:

While CBDC poses a number of opportunities, it could raise significant challenges for maintaining monetary and financial stability…and would need to be very carefully designed if it were to be introduced.

Carney said there were likely implications for commercial banks, should significant balances move towards CBDCs: "If significant deposit balances are moved from commercial banks into CBDC, it could have implications for the balance sheets of commercial banks and…the amount of credit provided by banks to the wider economy."

The comments come in the final days of Carney's tenure at the bank, as he prepares to take up post as the U.K. government's Finance Adviser for COP26. He is set to be replaced by Andrew Bailey, the current head of the U.K. financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

In the report, the bank also addressed the decline of cash, with consumers and businesses alike increasingly opting for digital payment alternatives.

The Bank of England is scheduled to meet, alongside representatives from five other financial regulators, to discuss models for issuing a digital currency. On its preferred approach, the bank said that any digital currency would be denominated in Sterling, and would not be allowed to entirely replace cash notes.

It comes as other central banks are already testing their own digital currencies. In Sweden, for example, the central bank is running tests on issuing a digital currency dubbed the 'e-Krona', while other central banks are known to be running their own feasibility assessments on the technology.

FCA issues warning to avoid coronavirus-linked digital asset scams

 


Just like there always have been, scams are found in the digital currency space. There will always be those who are too inept to make a decent living and want to take advantage of situations in order to line their own pockets. As the coronavirus has gripped the world, there's no doubt that it is being used as a tool for initiating fraudulent activity, and the U.K.'s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued a warning to remind individuals to use caution when approached about making investments related to COVID-19.

In a message posted by the FCA on its website this past Wednesday, the financial watchdog explains, "Watch out for scams related to coronavirus (COVID-19). These scams take many forms and could be about insurance policies, pensions transfers or high-return investment opportunities, including investments in cryptoassets."

As is often the case, the potential scams will offer investment opportunities that are too good to be true, which should be the first sign for individuals to stay away. The FCA adds, as it has warned in the past, "If you decide to invest in something offering a high return or in a cryptoasset, you should be prepared to lose all your money."

The scams could come in many styles – requests for donations to the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or as a means to prepare for a rebound once the markets begin to recover. Common sense dictates that any investor perform his or her due diligence before making any type of investment, and understand the source of the request before turning over any funds.

Fortunately, digital asset enthusiasts have grown accustomed to potential scams and don't fall for the tricks as easily as may have once been seen. According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau in the U.K., those COVID-19 scams that have already been seen haven't had a lot of success. However, conventional investment scams in the U.K. tied to the virus have reportedly been able to collect more than £800,000 (a little more than $1 million).

The FCA recommends that individuals stay away from offers that appear out of the blue and to ignore investment opportunities that pop up on social media. It also suggests calling back those individuals who make contact looking for investments and to never provide any personal detail under any circumstances. In addition, before making any type of investment, consumers should check the FCA's register and its official Warning List to see if the entity is legitimate. If the company isn't listed in the register, don't hand over any money. The extra five minutes taken to do the research can help individuals avoid massive financial losses and headaches.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Pair linked to crypto Ponzi scheme in US pleads not guilty

 


Two co-founders of an alleged crypto Ponzi scheme have pleaded not guilty to a range of charges, following a criminal indictment on money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

John Caruso and Zachary Salter of Zima Digital Assets have been accused of running a crypto scam responsible for defrauding some $9 million from its customers, in a structure defined as a "classic Ponzi scheme."

The first $1.9 million of deposits into the scheme were returned to early investors, validating the scheme and its claims for significant investment returns. These payments were allegedly used to encourage more investment in the scheme.

The following $7 million invested was purported to have been spent frivolously by the founders, including on luxury vacations, private jets and casino trips. The founders themselves claimed no taxable income during the period, despite showcasing their monied lifestyle on their social media profiles.

Some 90 investors were conned by the scheme, including former athletes and some elderly victims. The pair were arrested by law enforcement authorities on January 30, with an initial plea hearing for Salter taking place earlier today.

Caruso entered his not guilty plea on February 26, having previously been released from prison in 2017.

The case will now move to trial in front of a jury, scheduled to begin on July 4. If either party is convicted on the charges, they will be required to return all assets acquired through the scheme or from the proceeds of their crimes.

Among the charges on the indictment are allegations of false statements in investor contracts, alongside misrepresentations through direct messages to investor clients.

At a hearing in February, the prosecution said, "There is no evidence any of the investment funds that have been provided to Caruso and Salter have gone to any cryptocurrency/digital asset investment, or to any investment of any kind, as fraudulently misrepresented by both Caruso and Salter."

On the date of the hearing, Zima Digital Assets was still receiving new funds from investors, which the co-accused were personally misappropriating to fund their own lavish lifestyles.

Altered Carbon reduces cryptocurrency to black market payment option

 


The world of Bitcoin involves a lot of speculation of what the future will be like. Through the power of unlimited on chain scaling, Bitcoin SV (BSV) offers a world where much of the data and transactions of the world can be immutably recorded on chain, and micro transactions create entirely new business plans for intrepid individuals to pursue. But in fictional future of Netflix's Altered Carbon, cryptocurrencies appear to have found their place as nothing but black market currencies.

If you're unfamiliar with Altered Carbon, the show depicts our galaxy several centuries in the future, where a breathrough in science has allowed the rich and powerful to avoid permanent death by passing their consciousness into new bodies indefinitely. The central conflict of the show is between those with power and infinite life, nicknamed the Meths, and the various groups principally opposed to this technology due to the imbalance it creates between rich and poor. The main character of the show, Takeshi Kovacs, falls in the second camp.

The currency of the future is typically referred to as credits. The financial system supporting it is never discussed at length, and as the main characters typically have more than enough credits to do whatever they need to, the topic is never explored at very much length. But in season 2, episode 5, the set designers of the show decided to have a little fun inserting some cryptocurrencies into the mix.

In a scene where the characters are shopping for contraband technology and weapons, price tags for the items clearly have labels for several cryptocurrencies.
The Bitcoin logo in particular caused some conversation on twitter. Depending on how you tilt your head, it could either be a BTC or BSV logo.

The prices drawn up for the stickers were probably done without much thought, but the fictional prices of these contraband items is fun to think about. Gloves in the shot are worth 0.867 (either BTC or BSV) and 3,089 Litecoin. That would mean a current day price of between $210.57 and $193,309.62. Considering they are high tech, contraband gloves, it's probably toward the higher end.

While this is all a bit of good fun based on the background of a fictional universe, BSV supporters will want to hope that the real Bitcoin becomes the credits of the universe, rather than the black market payment option.

This is the second time in just a few weeks that Bitcoin gets referenced by a significant piece of pop culture. The Simpsons also recently gave a cryptocurrency explainer, with an on screen gag noting they knew the real identity of Satoshi, but "we're not telling."