U.S. Treasury just designated China as a currency manipulator, so expect more economic shocks

The U.S. Treasury has just taken the extraordinary step of designating China as a currency manipulator, something no administration has done since the days of Bill Clinton.

With the action, the trade war between the U.S. and China has entered a new phase that will likely see both countries stepping up both their rhetoric and actions in the trade dispute that has now dragged on for over a year.

As a result of the ongoing hostilities between the U.S. government and China, the flood of investment dollars that once came from Chinese technology companies and investors into U.S. technology companies has slowed. Acquisitions and investments made by Chinese companies have been unwound over concerns from the Committee of Foreign Investments in the U.S. and tariffs slapped on Chinese imports have hit U.S. stock prices (including in the technology sector).

The news of Treasury’s move comes less than 24 hours after the Chinese government announced a complete halt on U.S. agricultural imports. More significantly, the Bank of China has let the country’s currency slide in value against the U.S. dollar to above the seven-to-one figure that was considered a line-in-the-sand for trade.

Given the escalation, economists’ fears that global markets could slip into a recession within the next nine months are more likely to be realized, according to reports from Morgan Stanley, quoted by CNBC.

“We take its literal message of planned tariffs quite seriously. There’s a pattern of responding to insufficient negotiation progress with escalation,” Morgan Stanley said in an analyst report.

The move to label China as a currency manipulator means that the U.S. will plead its case before the International Monetary Fund to take steps to curb what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called “the unfair competitive advantage created by China’s latest actions.”

If anything, China’s actions have actually been to prop up the country’s currency in the face of internal pressures to break the seven-to-one floor that had previously been set on the Renminbi’s value versus the dollar. China’s economy is slowing — in part due to tariffs imposed by the U.S., but also because economies in Europe and Asia are slowing down, which is hitting exports in the country. Indeed, much of the current growth in China’s economy has been fueled by debt-financed big infrastructure projects.

That could change as Chinese goods become cheaper thanks to the falling value of the nation’s currency. However, as Axios notes, what China is doing doesn’t actually fall under the definition of currency manipulation as it’s legally defined.

Because to be a currency manipulator a country needs to spend 2% of its gross domestic product over a 12-month period on currency manipulation. If anything, China was boosting the yuan in the face of calls to reduce its value until the President called for sanctions last week.

Even if the country’s currency devaluation does juice exports, it could have unforeseen consequences on China’s infrastructure spending and could backfire as a tool in the ongoing trade dispute.

A weaker currency means that Chinese consumers and businesses have to pay more for goods and services that are dollar-denominated. It also means that while the country is awash with cash, it could lose its competitive edge in a fight to lure top talent to the country. Losses in spending power could push the developers and programmers the country needs to transition from a manufacturing-focused economy to look elsewhere.

Stock markets are already taking note of the new U.S. action on trade. Futures show the Dow trading down about 350 points and the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indices both trading sharply lower.

VertoFX raises $2M for its African and EM currency trading platform

VertoFX, an Africa and emerging markets focused currency trading and payment startup, has raised a $2.1 million seed round, led by Accelerated Digital Ventures.

The London based company, with a subsidiary in Lagos, Nigeria, has created a platform that allows businesses and banks to exchange and make payments in exotic foreign currencies that don’t often convert or trade conveniently across businesses or banks.

For example, South Africa’s Rand is Africa’s most convertible and traded currency—with lower spreads and transaction costs—while currencies of countries such as Ethiopia or Egypt may be difficult or expensive to trade or transact B2B payments in.

“That’s the reason we are utilizing technology to create a marketplace model and price discovery to create liquidity for these currencies,” VertoFX founder Ola Oyetayo told TechCrunch.

There are around 40 global currencies that are considered exotic or illiquid, most of them in frontier markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, according to Oyetayo.

VertoFX curency startup AfricaAnd there’s a revenue opportunity to creating a convenient online marketplace for trading and payments in these currencies.

“Our research says there’s about $400 million being done by small and medium scale businesses in Africa alone in transactional volume on an annual basis. If we take 1 percent of that as a commission or transaction fee, that’s a $4 billion addressable market, just in the continent,” said Oyetayo.

vertofx founders Anthony Oduwole and Ola OyetayoVertoFX was founded in 2017 by Oyetayo and Anthony Oduwole—both ex-global bankers born in Nigeria. The company was part of Y-Combinator’s 2019 winter cohort and processed around $7 million in transaction volume last month, according to Oyetayo.

VertoFX is registered as payment services provider with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority. Current clients include several undisclosed banks and San Francisco based payment venture Flutterwave.

VertoFX doesn’t release revenue figures, but confirmed it earns a commission, or spread, on each transaction that is processed on its platform. There are currently 19 currencies on the platform and the ability to settle in 120 countries, including China and the U.S.

VertoFX is also moving into offering market research—toward potential subscription services—on the currencies it trades, according to Oyetayo.

The startup will use the round for platform development, expand the currencies, and gain licenses in new countries. “We’ll also use the round for hiring, primarily in compliance and regulator type roles,” said Oyetayo.  VertoFX already has a developer team in India and is looking at local developer talent for its Africa offices.

ADV’s Ryan Proctor confirmed the VC firm’s lead on the investment round, which also included participation from YC and several local angel investors in Africa, Oyetayo told TechCrunch.

On the possibility of becoming acquired by a big bank, VertoFX isn’t so interested, according to Oyetayo.

“We both come from big banks and if we’d wanted to go down that route we’d have developed this more as software as a service platform,” he said.

“We’re playing the long-game here and I don’t think acquisition is the end-game,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitcoin has surged above $8,000 and theories around why abound

Bitcoin is now trading at around $8,130, up a whopping 60.84 percent over the past month, with the price surging $3,086.14 over the period.

The cryptocurrency’s meteoric rise is reminiscent of its rocketing growth in the latter half of 2017, when prices reached over $18,400 on the back of buoyant capital markets, rampant speculation, and a turbulent political climate in Northern Asia spurred by saber rattling between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.

While geopolitical tension is once again gripping the market (thanks to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China), that may only be one factor contributing to Bitcoin’s surge.

“Anticipation of the upcoming supply shock [of new BTC introduced via mining] may be creating upward pressure on the price of Bitcoin,” wrote Alyse Killeen, a partner at the investment and advisory firm Stillmark, in an email. “Bitcoin is introduced to the market when the Bitcoin protocol rewards miners who validate blockchain transactions. Specifically, the Bitcoin protocol gives BTC to miners for adding blocks to the blockchain. Today, miners earn 12.5 BTC for adding a new block that is accepted by the network. In May 2020, the time of the next ‘halvening‘, that reward will be reduced to 6.25 BTC, thereby reducing the total number of BTC introduced to the market on a daily basis.”

Killeen also noted that Bitcoin is inherently more valuable today than it was at the same time last year. More Americans can access Bitcoin through apps like Cash and Robinhood, and TD Ameritrade’s BTC contracts and (soon) eTrade.

Technology advances are also making Bitcoin more useful and more secure, Killeen wrote. The development of the Lightning Network is proceeding and creating a new application ecosystem, while the Blockstream Satellite network is creating redundancies in blockchain availability.

In fact, the number of businesses that take Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies expanded exponentially yesterday thanks to an agreement between the U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoin purveyor Gemini (owned by the Winkelvoss twins of Facebook and Social Network fame) and the payment network Flexa, whose technology is undergirded by cryptocurrencies.

Using Gemini’s exchange and clearing house and Flexa’s transaction technology most of the stores an American consumer encounters in their trip to the mall now accept Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies as payments.

That adoption doesn’t explain the bump in Bitcoin prices entirely. And skeptics of digital cryptocurrencies argue that there could be a simpler explanation for the rise in digital currencies right now — good old fashioned price manipulation.

As crypto-skeptic David Gerard wrote in this blog post yesterday:

It’s because the price of Bitcoin is a proxy for margin trading — and rather than investing in the commodity itself, you can make more money by manipulating this thin and ill-regulated market to burn the margin traders.

This also allows the large holders — the “whales,” and the exchanges themselves — to cash out to whatever little actual-money US dollars are available, in a trading system where the liquidity is mostly fake dollars called “tethers.”

Willy Woo explains how short squeezes work in crypto. This is a pattern we see over and over:

1) When the market is majority short, there’s too much money to be had to allow them to win.

2) Whales keep buying up the market until the shorts get liquidated.

3) At liquidation the short seller has to buy back at market price.

4) A tidal wave of buys cascade through the orderbooks, a chain reaction, the price goes vertical.

5) Whale payday. The whales that bought up the market sheparding the price up now dump their positions at profit.

6) Blow-off. The price comes down to its organic levels.

Other investors, like Travis Scher at the Digital Currency Group think that it’s as simple as a new class of investor looking at Bitcoin as a new store of value and a haven for investors looking to escape volatile public markets.

“I spend very little time trying to understand or explain short-term crypto price movements, as the price and the fundamentals often seem to move in diametrically opposed directions. So all I can say with certainty is that there are more buyers than sellers in recent months,” Scher wrote in an email. “But in this case, I do think that one factor driving the rally is that the narrative around Bitcoin as digital gold is growing. We fully expect Bitcoin to replace gold as the leading non-government controlled store of value over the coming decade.”

Starting with data centers, Carbon Relay is slashing energy costs and emissions using AI

Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn International is backing Carbon Relay, a Boston-based startup emerging from stealth today, that’s harnessing the algorithms used by companies like Facebook and Google for artificial intelligence to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the technology industry’s own backyard — the datacenter.

Already, the computing demands of the technology industry are responsible for 3% of total energy consumption — and the addition of new technologies like Bitcoin to the mix could add another half a percent to that figure within the next few years, according to Carbon Relay’s chief executive, Matt Provo.

That’s $25 billion in spending on energy per year across the industry, Provo says.

A former Apple employee, Provo went to Harvard Business School because he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur and start his own business — and he wanted that business to solve a meaningful problem, he said.

Variability and dynamic nature of the data center relating to thermodynamics and the makeup of  a facility or building is interesting for AI because humans can’t keep up..

“We knew what we wanted to focus on,” said Provo of himself and his two co-founders. “All three of us have an environmental sciences background as well… We were fired up about building something that was true AI that has positive value… the risk associated [with climate change] is going to hit in our lifetime we were very inspired to build a company whose technology would have an impact on that.”

Carbon Relay’s mission and founding team including Thibaut Perol and John Platt (two Harvard graduates with doctorates in applied mathematics) was able to attract some big backers.

The company has raised $6 million from industry giants like Foxconn and Boston-based angel investors including Dr. James Cash — a director on the boards of Walmart, Microsoft, GE, and State Street; Black Duck Software founder, Douglas Levin; Karim Lakhani, a director on the Mozilla Corporation board; and Paul Deninger, a director on the board of the building operations management company, Resideo (formerly Honeywell).

Provo and his team didn’t just raise the money to tackle data centers — and Foxconn’s involvement hints at the company’s broader goals. “My vision is that commercial HVAC systems or any machinery that operates in a business would not ship without our intelligence inside of it,” says Provo.

What’s more compelling is that the company’s technology works without exposing the underlying business to significant security risks, Provo says.

“In the end all we’re doing are sending these floats… these values. These values are mathematical directions for the actions that need to be taken,” he says. 

Carbon Relay is already profitable, generating $4 million in revenue last year and on track for another year of steady growth, according to Provo.

Carbon Relay offers two products: Optimize and Predict, that gather information from existing HVAC devices and then control those systems continuously and automatically with continuous decision making.

“Each data center is unique and enormously complex, requiring its own approach to managing energy use over time,” said Cash, who’s serving as the company’s chairman. “The Carbon Relay team is comprised of people who are passionate about creating a solution that will adapt to the needs of every large data center, creating a tangible and rapid impact on the way these organizations do business.”

Coinbase abandons its cautious approach with plan to list up to 30 new cryptocurrencies

Coinbase is the most conservative exchange in cryptoland, largely because it operates in the U.S. under the watchful eye of the SEC. The $8 billion-valued company trades fewer than ten cryptocurrencies to consumers but on Friday announced it announced a major expansion that could see it list up to 30 new tokens.

The company said it is considering support Ripple’s XRP, EOS — the Ethereum challenger that held a year-long ICO that raised $4 billion — Stellar, a creation from a Ripple co-founder, chat app Kik’s Kin token and more.

The full list is below:

Cardano (ADA), Aeternity (AE), Aragon (ANT), Bread Wallet (BRD), Civic (CVC), Dai (DAI), district0x (DNT), EnjinCoin (ENJ), EOS (EOS), Golem Network (GNT), IOST (IOST), Kin (KIN), Kyber Network (KNC), ChainLink (LINK), Loom Network (LOOM), Loopring (LRC), Decentraland (MANA), Mainframe (MFT), Maker (MKR), NEO (NEO), OmiseGo (OMG), Po.et (POE), QuarkChain (QKC), Augur (REP), Request Network (REQ), Status (SNT), Storj (STORJ), Stellar (XLM), XRP (XRP), Tezos (XTZ), and Zilliqa (ZIL)

The company last announced new asset explorations in July, although today it did add four new ERC tokens to its pro service.

Coinbase recently revamped its policy on new token listings. Instead of abruptly adding new assets, a process that sent their valuations spiking along with rumors of inside trading, it now goes public with its intention to “explore” the potential to list new assets in order to lower the impact of a listing. It also doesn’t guarantee which, if any, will make it through and be listed.

“Adding new assets requires significant exploratory work from both a technical and compliance standpoint, and we cannot guarantee that all the assets we are evaluating will ultimately be listed for trading,” the company said.

Support for tokens is pretty nuanced. Coinbase lists some assets on its professional service only, with just nine supported on its regular consumer-facing exchange — those are Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, Zcash, USD Coin, 0x and Basic Attention Token.

The company may also introduce some tokens on a state by state basis in the U.S. in order to comply with laws.

Brian Armstrong told the audience at Disrupt San Francisco that Coinbase could list “millions” of cryptocurrencies in the future

Coinbase is looking into this glut of new tokens — some of which, it must be said, are fairly questionable as projects let alone operating with uncertain legal status — at a time when the market is down significantly from its peak in January, both in terms of trading volume and market valuations.

In recent weeks, sources at a number of top exchanges have told TechCrunch that trading-related revenues are down as much as 50 percent over recent months and, while the numbers for Coinbase aren’t clear, there’s no doubt that its revenue is taking a big hit during this ‘crypto winter.’ That makes it easy to argue that Coinbase is widening its selection to increase potential volumes and, in turn, its revenue — particularly since it just raised $300 million from investors at a massive $8 billion valuation.

Coinbase defenders, however, will argue that a greater selection has long been the plan.

Ignoring the reasons, that’s certainly true. It is well known that the company wants to massively increase the number of cryptocurrencies that it supports.

CEO Brian Armstrong said as much as our TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco in October, where he sketched out the company’s plan to be the New York Stock Exchange of crypto.

“It makes sense that any company out there who has a cap table… should have their own token. Every open source project, every charity, potentially every fund or these new types of decentralized organizations [and] apps, they’re all going to have their own tokens. We want to be the bridge all over the world where people come and they take fiat currency and they can get it into these different cryptocurrencies,” he said during an on-stage interview at the event.

That tokenized future could see Coinbase host hundreds of tokens within “years” and even potentially “millions” in the future, according to Armstrong.

The company has done a lot of the groundwork to make that happen.

Coinbase bought a securities dealer earlier this year and it has taken regulatory strides to list tokenized securities in the U.S, albeit with some confusion. In addition, its VC arm has backed a startup that helps create ‘digital security tokens’ and the exchange introduced a new listing process which could potentially include a listing fee in exchange for necessary legal work.

These 30 new (potential) assets might not be the digital security tokens that Coinbase is moving to add, but the fact that the exchange is exploring so many new assets in one go shows how much wider the company’s vision is now.

The crypto community has already reacted strongly to this deluge of new assets. As you might expect, it is a mix of naive optimism from those invested in ‘under-performing’ projects (shitcoins) who think a Coinbase listing could turn everything around, and criticism from crypto watchers who voiced concern that Coinbase is throwing its prestige and support behind less-than-deserving cryptocurrencies.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Pure Bit, a South Korean exchange, pulls a $2.8 million exit scam

Another day, another exit scam. This time it comes to us from South Korea, where an exchange, Pure Bit, has completely shut down after raising $2.8 million in Ethereum from investors.

The exchange, which promised to deliver something call Pure Coin, was live yesterday and today is completely shut down after posting “Sorry” and “Thanks” to their communications channels.

According to a Reddit thread, the team was anonymous and that the process of building and pumping exchange tokens is a “popular trend in Korea.”

“They have gotten rid of every evidence,” wrote one reader. “Website hosted by fake name / out of Korea host / messenger / contacts were all fake too. Now their only hope is to keep on track with that ether and hope for the best.”

There is no proof yet that the team has pulled a full exit scam — there are examples of founders pretending to scam their investors to “teach them a lesson” — but given the abrupt movement of 13,000 ETH out of the collection wallet we can assume that the story ends here.

Even their chat room, hosted on their own site, is shut down.

It should be noted that South Korea has banned ICOs, giving scammers the perfect cover for absolute anonymity.

It looks like Coinbase is preparing to add a lot more cryptocurrencies

Coinbase aspires to be the New York Stock Exchange of crypto, and it is taking a small — but not insignificant – step to offering a lot more cryptocurrencies after it revamped the process of listing new digital assets.

The exchange currently only supports just five cryptocurrencies — Ethereum, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic and Litecoin — and the process of adding each one has been gradual. The company would announce plans, and then later announce when listing the asset. The idea being to reduce the potential to send the value of a token skyrocketing. (Since support from Coinbase potentially adds a lot more trading volume.)

That clearly isn’t a sustainable process if Coinbase is to add “hundreds” of tokens, as CEO Brian Amstrong told an audience at TechCrunch Disrupt it eventually plans to.

Regulatory concern is high on the scale when evaluating support for new cryptocurrencies, so now Coinbase is speeding up the process by limiting trading of some tokens to specific locations where necessary.

“Today we’re announcing a new process that will allow us to rapidly list most digital assets that are compliant with local law, by satisfying listing requests in a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction manner. In practice, this means some new assets listed on our platform may only be available to customers in select jurisdictions for a period of time,” the company said in a blog post.

That’ll mean an end to the double announcement — ‘token X is coming soon’ and ‘token X is now supported’ — and instead a single reveal. That indicates that a large number of new assets may be incoming — for an idea of which ones, Coinbase recently said it is looking over a number of cryptocurrencies.

Interestingly, the company also noted that it may introduce a listing fee — this is common with many other exchanges — in the future in order to cover costs around adding some projects.

“Initially there will be no application fee. Depending on the volume of submissions, we reserve the right to impose an application fee in the future to defray the legal and operational costs associated with evaluating and listing new assets,” it explained.

The company has opened a listing proposal link, here. If similar features from other exchanges are anything to go by, Coinbase’s will be flooded by naive token holders who think they have a shot at getting listed on Coinbase, which will take them to the moon. Good luck maintaining that list, guys.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Coin offerings using celebrity glitter may not be golden, SEC warns

 A slew of media stars have hitched their stars to various virtual currencies, lending their social media outreach and luster to projects that have seemed less than golden. Now the SEC is warning celebrities that their endorsements “may be unlawful if they do not disclose the nature, source, and amount of any compensation paid, directly or indirectly, by the company in exchange for the… Read More

Luno raises $9M to bring its bitcoin wallet, exchange and services to Europe

 Luno, a bitcoin wallet and exchange based out of Singapore, is riding the crypto wave into Europe after it closed a $9 million Series B round for market expansion. The funding was led by new investor Balderton Capital, with participation from existing backer Digital Currency Group. South Africa’s AlphaCode — also a new arrival on the cap table — joined the deal which… Read More

China’s three largest bitcoin exchanges will all stop offering local trading

 Well, that didn’t take long. Yesterday, China’s longest running bitcoin exchange, BTC China, announced it will suspend its local trading service at the end of this month, and today the country’s two other major exchanges — Huobi and OKCoin — followed suit to say they will cease at the end of October. The writing was on the wall when The Wall Street Journal… Read More