Archive for the ‘Currency’ Category

An existentialist problem for virtual Bitcoins

February 26, 2014

“Virtual” has no connotations of having any virtues. As long as things “virtual” remain in the abstract world they work.

Virtual books can be read. Virtual commerce is fine for recording transactions. But virtual foods are indigestible and unsatisfying. A virtual house doesn’t keep out the rain. And virtual currencies are useless if they cannot be translated into the real world.

I am not convinced that virtual currency offers me anything more than I get with electronic transactions with real money. At least the real currency has a value which is somewhat connected to things happening on the ground (even if speculation does occur). The Bitcoin however has an exchange value solely dependent upon somebody’s imagination.

(Reuters)Mt. Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange, abruptly stopped trading on Tuesday and its chief executive said the business was at “a turning point,” sparking concerns about the future of the unregulated virtual currency. ……. The website of Mt. Gox suddenly went dark on Tuesday with no explanation, and the company’s Tokyo office was empty – the only activity was outside, where a handful of protesters said they had lost money investing in the virtual currency. …

…. Investors deposit their bitcoins in digital wallets at specific exchanges, so the Mt. Gox shutdown is similar to a bank closing its doors – people cannot retrieve their funds.

A document circulating on the Internet purporting to be a crisis plan for Mt. Gox, said more than 744,000 bitcoins were “missing due to malleability-related theft”, and noted Mt. Gox had $174 million in liabilities against $32.75 million in assets. It was not possible to verify the document or the exchange’s financial situation. If accurate, that would mean approximately 6 percent of the 12.4 million bitcoins minted would be considered missing. ……. The digital currency has caught the eye of regulators concerned with consumer protections and bitcoin’s use in money laundering. ….

…… Mt. Gox halted withdrawals earlier this month after it said it detected “unusual activity on its bitcoin wallets and performed investigations during the past weeks.” The move pushed bitcoin prices down to their lowest level in nearly two months.

Even with the halt on February 7, Mt. Gox still handled more transactions than any other in the past month. Over the last 30 days, Mt. Gox has handled more than one million bitcoin transactions denominated in dollars, or about 34 percent of activity, according to Bitcoincharts, which provides data and charts for the bitcoin network.

Critics of the exchange, from rivals to burned investors, said the digital marketplace operator had long been lax over its security. Investors in bitcoin, who have endured a volatile ride in the value of the unregulated cyber-tender, said they still had faith in the currency despite the problems at Mt. Gox.

“Mt. Gox is one of several exchanges, and their exit, while unfortunate, opens a door of opportunity,” The Bitcoin Foundation, the digital currency’s trade group, said in a statement. “This incident demonstrates the need for responsible individuals and members of the bitcoin community to lead in providing reliable services.” …….

Bitcoin value Feb 2014

Bitcoin value Feb 2014

The exchange rate applying is entirely speculative and – it seems to me – purely a result of manipulation. It is not anchored to anything real  – but why would it be?

After all it is only virtual.

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Could Russian money from Cyprus be fuelling the Bitcoin?

April 7, 2013

In the last 6 months the value of the “virtual” currency the Bitcoin has jumped from $9.7 to $149. It started increasing significantly in February and really  took off in the middle of March this year. It seems too much of a coincidence that the worries (and the rumours) about the Cyprus banks followed the same time-table.

Bitcoin value in US Dollars

Bitcoin value in US Dollars

It is thought that much of the Russian money stashed away in Cyprus – especially the “black” money – left Cyprus before all the restrictions came into effect. That money must have gone somewhere and that somewhere would need not only to be “remote” but which also could provide the possibility of some “laundering” when the money was moved again. The Bitcoin perhaps could provide such a haven. If the bubble bursts in the next few months it could well indicate that the Russian money has moved again, well “laundered” and probably at a profit.

The bitcoin logo

At current values the Bitcoin “hoard” – restricted to be 21 million Bitcoins – represents a little over $3 billion.

The Telegraph reports that

Russia is the country most interested in Bitcoin, internet searches show, after a week in which the controversial electronic currency reached a record high and led to talk of a bubble.

The virtual currency, which allows users to circumvent the banks, burst into the mainstream as the price of a Bitcoin rose to $147 (£96) against the dollar, from under $20 at the start of this year.

Russia is the country now performing the most internet searches for the term “Bitcoin”, according to Google figures, followed by Estonia, the United States and Finland. The UK is not in the top 10.

The data gave weight to the belief that the recent price spike was driven by the crisis in Cyprus, as cuts to depositors’ savings planned under its bail-out further undermined faith in the global banking system.

Russian businesses were thought to account for €19bn of deposits held in Cypriot banks as of September last year, due to tax advantages, cultural links and, in some cases, for reasons of tax evasion. …….

……….. Created by a developer using a psuedonym in 2009, Bitcoin was intended to offer a means of payment that cuts out the banks through a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash [that] would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution”.

The coins are “mined” by computer processing, with the system capping the number that can be produced at 21m. The process is technically difficult, meaning it has a cost in terms of equipment and electricity.

Cyprus could be the straw that breaks the Euro’s back

March 26, 2013

The wunderkind of the EU have just established a two-currency Europe and have undermined the trust any depositor can have in a Eurozone bank. The Cyprus solution has effectively created a Cypriot Euro which is – in practice – worth a lot less than a normal Euro. And every depositor holding more than €100,000 will be taking a very large risk if he puts his money in a weak Eurozone bank or in a weak Eurozone country. The depositor will need to demand a risk premium to cover the risk that his money could be stolen by the bank or by the State.

A Cypriot Euro (Κ€) is now worth less than a “normal” Euro (€). What that value is is a little difficult to judge but it lies somewhere between 60% and 90% of a normal Euro. All K€ which are outside of the deposit guarantee are now only worth 80% of a normal €. Moreover currency restrictions apply which are not so different to exchange control regulations for movement outside the country but which apply – in addition – to movement of money within Cyprus. A K€ still has the same buying power as a normal Euro but, on the other hand, it will no longer be possible to get any “outside Euros” to move into Cyprus and risk confiscation!

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the Eurozone announced (rather idiotically) yesterday that the Cyprus solution was the template to be used in the future.  Cyprus itself does not have an economy large enought to be so significant. But effectively  he was confirming that “Savings accounts in Spain, Italy and other European countries will be raided if needed to preserve Europe’s single currency by propping up failing banks”. But the resulting, ostensibly “single currency” will , de facto, have to distinguish between the currency held in different countries and just calling it a “single” currency will not hide the reality.  Mr. Dijsselbloem later tried to back-pedal on his statement but the truth was out by then. No amount of denials will change the fact that the Cyprus solution now sets the precedent and every weak bank will now be required to try and protect its shareholders by attacking its depositors.

I think the damage has been done and it is already too late for the EU to try and soften the message. I heard today that financial advisers in India and China were already suggesting to clients with Euro holdings to make sure it was in a strong country. This eliminates Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and even Hollande’s France. This only leaves Germany. The Russians are probably already shifting their legitimate Euro funds to Germany or the Netherlands and their not-so-legitimate money to the Bahamas or Mauritius or the Seychelles. In the short term Germany is the main beneficiary. Not only are their exports being helped by a weak Euro (kept weak because of the weak countries persisting within the Euro) but their banks are likely to see Euro deposits from the weak countries moving their way. But in the long term a flight from the Euro will not help anyone in Europe. The ideological – and almost dogmatic – attachment to the single Euro is now damaging all of Europe and delaying the recovery. Every single one of the bailed-out countries would recover faster if only they had a currency which could have been devalued.

The Cyprus solution is also a more general attack on Europe’s middle class (admittedly the richer part of the middle class). The population of the EU is about 500 million. With an average of about 2.5 individuals per household this represents about 200 million households. Probably 15-20 million households have a net worth exceeding  €200,000 which implies financial assets (as opposed to property and other non-liquid assets) of about €100,000. So an attack on European deposits of greater than €100,000 could affect some 40 – 50 million individuals.

Cyprus could be the straw that breaks the Euro’s back.

China downgrades US bonds as trade surplus expands

November 10, 2010

The Telegraph:

One of China’s leading credit rating agencies has downgraded United States of America government debt in response to what it sees as deliberate devaluation of the dollar by quantitative easing and other means.

If China, now the second biggest economy in the world, stops buying US government bonds this could have a very negative effect on the global recovery. The Dagong Global Credit Rating Company analysis is highly critical of American attempts to borrow their way out of debt. It criticises competitive currency devaluation and predicts a “long-term recession”.

Dagong Global Credit says: “In order to rescue the national crisis, the US government resorted to the extreme economic policy of depreciating the U.S. dollar at all costs and this fully exposes the deep-rooted problem in the development and the management model of national economy.

The analysis concludes:  “The potential overall crisis in the  world resulting from the US dollar depreciation will increase the uncertainty of the U.S.  economic recovery. Under the circumstances that none of the economic factors  influencing the U.S. economy has turned better explicitly it is possible that the US will continue to expand the use of its loose monetary policy, damaging the interests the creditors.

“Therefore, given the current situation, the United States may face much unpredictable risks in solvency in the coming one to two years. Accordingly, Dagong assigns negative outlook on both local and foreign currency sovereign credit ratings of the United States.”

Max King, global investment strategist at Investec Asset Management, said: “Dagong is well respected as an independent credit rating agency which takes a more conservative view than better-known American credit rating agencies.

“It is interesting to see what people with money outside the American sphere of influence think.  Until recently, the US had been regarded as beyond reproach but now independent analysts say the position is deteriorating and likely to deteriorate further.

Meanwhile Xinhua reports the trade figures for October:

China’s exports rose 22.9 percent in October from a year earlier to 135.98 billion U.S. dollars, while imports increased 25.3 percent to 108.83 billion U.S. dollars, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said Wednesday.

China’s trade surplus expanded sharply to 27.15 billion U.S. dollars last month from 16.88 billion U.S. dollars in September, making the October figure the second highest this year after July’s 28.73 billion U.S. dollars.

The higher-than-expected trade surplus would add pressure for the yuan’s appreciation and exacerbate the already grave inflation problem in China, said ANZ Bank economist Liu Ligang.

In the first 10 months, China’s trade surplus totaled 147.77 billion U.S. dollars, down 6.7 percent compared with the same period last year.

Foreign trade with the European Union, China’s largest trade partner, grew 32.9 percent year on year to 388.42 billion U.S. dollars in the first 10 months.

Trade with the United States climbed 29.8 percent to 310.71 billion U.S. dollars during the January-October period. China-Japan trade totaled 239.28 billion U.S. dollars, up 31.3 percent year on year.


Currency war of words continues – time to be in Yuan?

October 13, 2010

For the layman currency investor these are dangerous times. Countries are intervening in currency markets to hold the value of their currencies down as a way of helping their own exports. The currency market is not that “free”. The only certainty for the long term is that the Chinese Yuan is undervalued. Even Gold where the price may keep rising in Dollars may not keep pace – in the long term – with the Yuan. The Korean Won is also undervalued  but whether this will hold in the long term is uncertain. In the Eurozone the Euro will not rise till the lowish values now can get the economies of Spain and Ireland and Greece and Portugal moving again. But the current values can help the export engines in Germany and the UK  to keep going.

The G20 finance ministers will meet in South Korea from October 22 and its leaders are to gather in Seoul next month to try to reach a consensus on the global currency system to prevent competitive devaluation from damaging growth. A weekend International Monetary Fund meeting failed to defuse tensions reports Reuters.

“As chair of the G20, South Korea’s role will be seriously questioned,” Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a parliamentary panel when asked about South Korea’s currency intervention and its place in G20. Japan intervened in the currency market last month for the first time in more than six years to try to stem a rise in the yen that is putting a fragile economic recovery at risk. Noda declined to say whether Japan would step in again as the Japanese currency hovers near a 15-year high against the dollar. He drew a distinction, however, between Japan’s intervention, which appears so far to have been a one-off move, and more frequent intervention by South Korea and China. “In South Korea, intervention happens regularly, and in China, the pace of yuan reform has been slow.

“Our message is that we have confirmed at the Group of Seven that emerging market countries with current account surpluses should allow their currencies to be more flexible.”

Analysts say Tokyo is worried about Japanese exporters’ waning competitiveness against South Korean rivals, given that the yen has risen about 13 percent against the dollar so far this year, while the won has gained only about 4 percent.

Hopes for a G20 currency consensus look slim. “It’ll be impossible for the G20 to reach a consensus on currencies. Many emerging economies feel that they are being forced to intervene because of a weak dollar,” said Etsuko Yamashita, chief economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged Seoul and Beijing to act responsibly but acknowledged Tokyo’s delicate position. “I want South Korea and China to take responsible actions within common rules, though how to say this is difficult because Japan has also intervened,” he told the same parliamentary panel.

Japan sold 2.1 trillion yen ($25.65 billion) last month in its first currency intervention in more than six years to curtail the yen’s strength against the dollar. South Korea has intervened to the tune of about $13 billion since late September to try to cap the won’s rise, but analysts said its intervention had been more aggressive in relative terms.


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