Tag Archives: global banking

Cryptocurrencies – flying high or dead in the water?

Venezuela has launched its own cryptocurrency – the petro – but will it fly?Another week, another cryptocurrency. Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro is the newest convert to the crypto cause with the announcement of the country’s own digital coin, the petro. In a country that’s on its knees, few locals were able to join the celebrations – most are hard-pressed to buy food, let alone to consider the pros and cons of the latest investment opportunity.

With Venezuela’s national currency, the Bolivar, worth next-to-nothing, it’s easy to see what’s attracting its government to a new currency concept, especially one that’s linked to a state-controlled commodity like oil. The launch is a response to the social and economic problems that have left Venezuela with no chance of accessing international financing, although many will see it as a cynical move to scare up much-needed funds for the flagging administration. Maduro claims that the initial coin offering (ICO) will raise $6 billion based on the issue of 100 million oil-backed petro tokens.

It’s an idea that’s gaining traction in other struggling economies around the world. Iran’s Technology Minister Mohammed-Javad Azari Jahromi has already announced plans for its own state-backed cryptocurrency, while in neighbouring Turkey, rumours are afoot that the issue of a digital coin is being discussed by the ruling coalition parties. Brazil also appears to have its eyes on the crypto-prize, according to comments by Carlos Costa, planning chief of the country’s national development bank – BNDES – who has intimated it will press ahead with the use of blockchain technology in the near future.

Building the trust and transparency to support an ICO

There’s a gap a mile wide between announcing a coin issue and building the infrastructure to ensure it works, though. As well as blockchain, a massive investment is needed by private companies to buy the equipment and resources needed to mine the coins – money that Venezuela surely does not have.

In some ways, the idea of creating a reliable currency that isn’t dollar dependent and that would help smooth out the boom-and-bust pattern experienced by countries with unstable or inadequate banking options, is a sound one. But, it’s a process that requires trust and transparency – qualities the Venezuelan administration doesn’t appear to possess, based on its hyperinflation of the bolivar. What’s more, if Maduro lost the presidential election this spring, chances are the petro collapse, leaving investors holding the bag.

Opinion is split on the future of cryptocurrencies

Economists, investors and central banks remain split over the future of cryptocurrencies. Naysayers have variously described bitcoin as a ‘Ponzi scheme’, an ‘environmental disaster’ and ‘the mother of all bubbles’, a ‘noxious poison’. Speaking of cryptocurrencies in general, Berkshire Hathaway guru Warren Buffet has been unequivocal: ‘I can say almost with certainty that they will come to a bad end,’ he said.

Market regulators are concerned about the risk to investors, especially regarding the opportunities presented by cryptocurrencies to money launderers looking to rinse their funds, while central banks fear the threat to global financial stability – and to their own money supply monopoly, of course.

In China and Russia, the central banks have taken an unapologetically hawkish approach to cryptocurrencies. The People’s Bank of China has already closed bitcoin exchanges and supressed ICOs, while Elvira Nabiullina, the governor of Russia’s central bank has declared her opposition to the proliferation of non-fiat digital currencies, saying: ‘we don’t legalise pyramid schemes’. Not everyone is anti-crypto, though. Both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England are investigating the opportunities afforded by a distributed-ledger system like blockchain and are downplaying the associated risks.

Crunch time for crypto?

So far, most of the discussions around the efficacy, or otherwise, of digital currencies have been hypothetical. Few products or services – excepting hackers’ ransoms – are priced in bitcoin and it’s not often used in transactions because of the prohibitive costs of doing so. As an investment, the extreme price volatility makes it super-risky for all but the most reckless of gamblers.

By every standard definition, cryptocurrencies are currencies in name only. Without the backing of a central bank, they simply don’t carry the weight they need to become a usable, tradeable asset in the same way as a fiat currency. And that’s without evaluating the environmental cost of a mining process that consumes vast amounts of energy. But, even if – as is expected – the petro fails, it’s doubtful that it will sound the death knell for cryptocurrencies, in the short term at least.

International banks team up to create digital currency

Banks announce project to create a new form of digital cashIf you can’t beat them…

Six of the world’s biggest banks have teamed up with UBS to pilot a project to create a new kind of digital cash that is designed to exploit the blockchain technology that already facilitates bitcoin transactions.

Barclays, Credit Suisse, and HSBC are among the major organisations to announce their collaboration with UBS over the ‘utility settlement coin’ (USC), a virtual currency that was originally the brainchild of London start-up Clearmatics. Further discussions with central banks, as well as a review of data privacy and cyber security measures are scheduled but it’s hoped that the USC will speed up settlements and could bring central banks one step closer to the introduction of a formal digital currency.

Head of strategic investment and fintech innovation at UBS, Hyder Jaffrey, said in a statement that discussions would continue over the next 12 months, with the aim of a limited ‘go live’ towards the end of 2018.

Continue reading

Is the Bitcoin bubble about to burst?

As crypto-currency Bitcoin continues to rise in value, is a bubble forming?Are we on the cusp of a Bitcoin bubble?

What goes up must come down – or must it? Bitcoin’s recent stratospheric rise has helped push the value of crypto-currencies through the $50 billion-mark, triggering concerns over the creation of an unstable asset bubble in what is a largely unregulated market.

The rapid growth in alternative digital currencies — so-called ‘alt-coins’ — as well as in Bitcoin itself is without precedent; the value of Bitcoin alone has risen by more than 50% in a month and is currently worth more than gold. It’s an astonishing trajectory for a virtual, non-fiat currency.

Continue reading

Central banks explore digital currency

Central banks ponder the introduction of digital currencyNew currency options

Since crypto-currency bitcoin’s successful transition from experimental concept to globally accepted currency with a market value of more than $10 billion, central banks have become interested in investing in exploring the potential of digital currencies for themselves.

Countries including the UK, Russia, Canada, Australia and China are now looking at options for creating their own digital currencies and, while research is at an early stage, there’s a general recognition that the introduction of digital currencies is inevitable.

Continue reading

Brexit and Trump elevate risks to banking sector

Global events including Brexit and Trump win exert pressure on banking sectorA memorable year

2016 has certainly been a year of surprises. After what seems like decades of ‘business as usual’ in Europe and the US, the steady march of globalisation and the apparently inexorable rise of liberalism, recent political and economic events have turned the old order upside down.

Donald Trump’s US election win coming hot on the heels of the UK’s vote for EU Brexit, coupled with a worrying slowdown in Chinese economic growth and historically low interest rates have not only created uncertainty on the global stage but are also creating significant risks for the global banking sector, according to leading ratings agency Standard & Poor.

Continue reading

Sterling at risk of losing reserve currency status

Post-Brexit shocks to sterling have rocked the currency’s reserve currency statusPost-Brexit blues

When Britons voted narrowly to exit the European Union in a public referendum earlier this year, they may not have envisaged the ensuing shock to the country’s currency and financial reputation.

But now, with sterling languishing at its lowest value in 40 years and the UK stripped of its Triple-A credit rating, the country is also facing the possible loss of its reserve currency status, should it fail to secure continued access to the European single market.

US ratings agency Standard & Poor has admitted that the British government is risking significant damage to the economy’s growth, with potentially long-term implications for the country’s debt and credit profile. S&P fears that if the UK loses access to the single market, its businesses will suffer incalculable consequences for the foreseeable future.

Continue reading