One of the identifying characteristics of the crypto currency space is that crypto assets trade 24/7 dispensing with outmoded bourgeois concepts such as weekends and stock exchanges’ opening and closing hours.
This writer’s attention was caught one Sunday recently by a “trending story” about a crash in crypto prices on unconfirmed reports that the US Treasury is preparing to investigate financial institutions for money laundering carried out through digital assets.
Sensing potentially another chance to add to the digital load, this writer was disappointed to find that Bitcoin was trading at the low on that Sunday of US$51,708, down ‘only’ US$9,298 or 15% from the high earlier on the same day of US$61,006 and down 20% from the peak of US$64,870 reached on 14 April.
While the second most traded crypto asset, Ethereum, was down 18% to US$1,963 at the low on that Sunday.
A similar process happened this week with Tesla’s Elon Musk’s announcement via a tweet on 12 May that “Tesla has suspended vehicle purchases using Bitcoin” due to concerns about the carbon generated by the use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining.
Bitcoin has declined by 16% at the low on that day since the announcement, though it has since rebounded by 7%.
Still reverting to last month’s mini-panic, it does again raise the issue of the regulatory risk to the investment case for crypto, which this writer continues to believe in as regards both Bitcoin and Ethereum, which currently looks to be the operating system of choice in the blockchain space.
It is certainly true that no one should ever underestimate the jurisdictional reach of US prosecutorial efforts.
It is also the case that both Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell have of late made critical public comments regarding Bitcoin and crypto.
Thus, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell describes cryptocurrencies as “really vehicles for speculation” in a virtual event with the Economic Club of Washington on 14 April.
While Yellen said in the New York Times’ DealBook conference in February that Bitcoin is a “highly speculative asset”.
Still, these comments from Yellen and Powell reveal a remarkable lack of knowledge about crypto and, even worse, a lack of intellectual curiosity.
Much more interesting, and indeed sensible, were comments made by Michael Morrell, a former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which were highlighted in an article in Forbes recently (see Forbes article: “Janet Yellen, Bitcoin And Crypto Fearmongers Get Pushback From Former CIA Director” by Steven Ehrlich, 13 April 2021).
Morrell, a 33-year veteran of the agency, noted in a report that his research had concluded that there was “probably less illicit activity in the Bitcoin ecosystem than there is in the traditional banking system” and that such activity that did exist had declined significantly since the October 2013 shutdown of the Silk Road ‘Darknet’ market.
In this respect, it is worth highlighting that about 244,000 of the estimated 600,000 Bitcoins lost in the Silk Road debacle were subsequently recovered.
The other point made by Morrell was that the risk of illicit activity does not override the need for America to keep pace with China as regards financial innovation.
America Far Behind China in the Blockchain Race
In this respect, America is lagging way behind China in the development of a digital currency.
The pilot scheme for China’s digital currency was expanded from four cities to 28 cities last August with the intention for a broad nationwide rollout next year.
It should be noted, in the interests of fairness, that Morrell’s “independent” paper was commissioned by a recently formed lobbying group called the Crypto Council for Innovation, whose founding members include Coinbase, Fidelity Digital Assets and Square (see report “An Analysis of Bitcoin’s Use in Illicit Finance” by Michael Morell, 6 April 2021).
Still, it makes total sense to form such a lobby group given the potential longer-term existential threat to the incumbent financial services industry represented by the blockchain technology, and therefore the likely opposition from vested interests.
This is because the blockchain seemingly does away with the need for intermediaries. Meanwhile, it is commonsense that, for criminals, cash is a far better currency than Bitcoin which, by its very nature, leaves a record of transactions.
The Private Sector is Leading the Way
If the authorities in America are behind the curve the private sector is another matter as demonstrated by the recent spectacular success of the listing of Coinbase, a firm which had customer assets of US$223bn as at the end of March.
It is also the case that the recently confirmed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Gary Gensler, is considered by many to be in favour of crypto.
It is also the case that at least eight institutions have now applied for a US-listed Bitcoin ETF including recently Fidelity via the so-called Wide Origin Bitcoin Trust which filed with the SEC on 24 March.
This is why at least one Bitcoin ETF is likely to become available to American investors sooner rather than later which will then make it much easier for so-called Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) providers to recommend it as an investment to their clients.
On this point, contrary to the views of Powell and Yellen, the recently appointed deputy governor of the People Bank of China, Li Bo, described Bitcoin as an investment last month.
He said at the Boao Forum on 18 April that crypto assets, such as Bitcoin, are investment vehicles or alternative investments instead of currencies.
Meanwhile, beyond the Bitcoin store of value story, the key dynamics for crypto are adoption and the network-effect as millennials, in particular, respond to the calls to “unbank yourself”, as they find they can earn attractive rates of interest on their crypto holdings in nominal terms, let alone relative to the miniscule returns on offer in the fiat dollar world.
This “yield farming” is a referral to the booming world of “DeFi”, or decentralized finance, where Ethereum is the protocol of choice.
DeFi activity has surged since 2020 from an almost zero base with total activity currently running at US$60bn according to estimates, seen by this writer.
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