Does China Have A Role In Bitcoin’s Rise

Everyone loves Bitcoin. Personally, I can’t get enough of it. Though I just sold all of my XRP, as an aside, because I learned it was being delisted from Coinbase next week, Bitcoin, on the other hand, I am keeping for the moonshot.

Now that Grayscale has its Bitcoin Trust exchange-traded fund, the market cap for Bitcoin has hit a trillion dollars. It is approaching $40,000 per coin.

We know the role central banks are playing in BTC’s rise: debasement of currency via money printing. But what about China?

This is the most curious one for me, especially following what appears to be the self-exile of Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba BABA +4.1%. Ma got into some trouble with Beijing regulators following the postponed listing of his fintech company Ant Financial, owners of AliPay, which is ubiquitous in China (you can also find it at your local CVS for some reason). Now there is talk of breaking up the Jack Ma tech empire, something akin to what anti-Big Tech advocates here in the U.S. have been asking be done of Google and Facebook.

One can almost see Chinese billionaires buying up Bitcoin, just in case Beijing comes for their wealth. Lord knows the dollar is in decline, and they probably already own a ton of stocks.

The Chinese currency, out of all the G10 currencies, has the strongest statistical correlation to BTC over the last 12 months, at around 84%. That means that as the RMB gets stronger against the dollar, so does Bitcoin, 84% of the time, says Vladimir Signorelli, head of Bretton Woods Research in Long Valley, New Jersey.

“When Bitcoin rises, the RMB is rising right along with it,” he says, adding that the euro has a 74% to 75% correlation with Bitcoin. The Russian ruble has a 25% correlation.

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And then there is the Jack Ma effect. He’s the “canary in the coal mine” says Signorelli. “There could also be an internal dynamic in China keeping Bitcoin bullish,” he says. “You have Jack Ma’s total disappearance since October. Was it a canary in the coal mine for every millionaire and billionaire in China that you need to have a Plan B? There is a real risk of outright confiscation of your wealth. They see it clearly now.”

China’s crypto market has a massive user base. Singapore-based ZB.com Exchange is one of the top four exchanges that are popular among Chinese users. “Our in-app community is very active with Chinese users right now,” says Oman Chen, ZB’s CEO. The seven-year-old company runs digital asset trading platforms ZBM, ZBX and Bithi, cryptocurrency wallets like BitBank, and has a venture capital and research arm. “Most of these traders are very optimistic about the price of Bitcoin,” Chen says.

QCash, a stable coin trading pair supported on ZB.com, which is anchored to the Chinese yuan, is seeing strong trading volumes, according to ZB data. QC is the most liquid yuan-based stable coin.

China’s Digital Yuan Experiment

Last month, China gave its digital yuan a test drive in Suzhou. The experiment lasted roughly 10 days, but stands as a testament to China’s interest in crypto beyond the Bitcoin phenomenon.

Xinhua newswire reported on one resident surnamed Lu who had bought some snacks at a store in the Tianhong Shopping Mall using digital yuan. She transferred 66.6 yuan (about $10.21) from her digital wallet to the vendor’s account with no need for a cell tower connection.

Lu was one of the 100,000 residents of Suzhou who were given 200 digital yuan in the pilot program and could spend it at designated brick-and-mortar stores as well as online at JD.com between Dec. 12 to 27. Noted: not Alibaba.

This doesn’t mean the Chinese government loves Bitcoin, of course. Just that its population is more accustomed to the concept of cryptocurrency than the average American. Go ahead, ask your dad if he knows what Bitcoin is.

“The Chinese government considers Bitcoin a commodity, not a currency,” says Aries Wanlin Wang, a Chinese cryptocurrency investor.

The digital RMB (DCEP) program in Suzhou has adopted some blockchain functionalities but it is not the fully decentralized kind that true Bitcoin lovers want.

“The Chinese government wants to promote the digital yuan before anyone else,” says Wang. “They see the potential of a new payment and clearance system in the digital currency era. It may substitute the current Swift system,” he says, which tracks interbank transactions and is led by the U.S.

Crypto For Poor Countries

Last month, Venezuela’s government said it was giving up on its currency and would switch slowly to a digital system. Their Bolivar is worth less than seashells found on Margarita Island so it makes sense.

Argentina should be next. All of this will drive continued enthusiasm for Bitcoin, no matter the price. At the start of 2020, Ripio, one of Argentina’s largest crypto exchanges, had around 400,000 users and then ended the year with over a million.  

Argentina’s tight control over dollars (no one wants pesos there), coupled with a new 35% tax, plus limits as to how many dollars you can buy (just $200), means the Argentines have discovered Bitcoin in a big way, too.

China’s currency, unlike those two basket case currencies of South America, is strong and getting stronger. Moreover, its central bank has been moving on a digital form of its currency for at least three years. They lead on this within the big and medium-sized emerging markets. Indeed, the only country ever talking about Bitcoin is Venezuela, run by the mightily corrupt Socialists United party.

“Even though Beijing has a strong resistance to cryptocurrencies, namely Bitcoin, they have taken the part of blockchain technology that is beneficial to their country’s development,” says Chen from Singapore.

“The central bank’s digital currency can not only give the country a higher level of control over the fiat currency but also snatch back some Chinese users from third-party digital payment platforms such as Alipay and WeChat,” Chen says. Since central bank digital currency is issued at the national level, like fiat currencies, the state endorsement is more powerful to skeptics and it accelerates demonetization in favor of crypto.

Bitcoin, in China at the moment, is rising with the fortunes of a stronger yuan and the digital yuan experiments.

Rich Chinese nationals may be thinking, ‘you know what, I rather have something that is loaded and convertible and beyond the reach of Beijing and perhaps the reach of the PBoC’ — that’s the central bank of China.

In this way, they don’t have to worry about currency devaluation and Bitcoin becomes a tax hedge. The top income tax rate in China is around 45%.

People might not remember, but this time last year gold was at $1515 an ounce; it’s now around $1850. The dollar on a gold basis has lost 20% or more of its value, notes Signorelli, searching for reasons why Bitcoin has doubled in less than four weeks.

“If you put your currency and inflation hedges into BTC instead of gold, man…you’re doing fantastic,” Signorelli says. “My suspicion is that as Chinese wealth increases, it is going to be increasingly difficult for Beijing to prevent their nationals from seeking ways to preserve their capital outside of the RMB. If they can’t buy U.S. real estate or stocks, and U.S. and European bonds pay little, they’ll take some more risk with Bitcoin, I think.”

Kenneth Rapoza

Kenneth Rapoza

I’ve spent 20 years as a reporter for the best in the business, including as a Brazil-based staffer for WSJ. Since 2011, I focus on business and investing in the big emerging markets exclusively for Forbes. My work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Nation, Salon and USA Today. Occasional BBC guest. Former holder of the FINRA Series 7 and 66. Doesn’t follow the herd.

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China Uncensored

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Bitcoin Futures Trading Spells Danger Ahead

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Since last October there has been a growing debate as to whether bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies by association) are safe havens or risky, speculative assets. The stress test of the coronavirus crisis has helped to clarify this.

During the past two months, bitcoin has moved in sync with the S&P 500, betraying the fact that it is a risky asset. Gold, typically seen as a safe haven, has also risen but that is likely a response to falling interest rates, huge liquidity injections from the Fed and other central banks, and the possibility of monetary debasement.

Fed liquidity boosts bitcoin futures trading

The recovery in bitcoin has come alongside the overly generous provision of liquidity by the Fed, and the worrying development is the explosion in open interest in bitcoin futures (up to three times the average of the last year).

This points to the risk that bitcoin has now become a speculative plaything (several large hedge funds have become active in the bitcoin market) in markets and is at risk of a correction should risk appetite change.

Underlying this, on longer horizon view, bitcoin has also tended to move in sync with equities, for instance the peak in bitcoin in December 2017 prefigured weakness in equities.

Still within the less ‘independent’ crypto currency community there is a view abroad that bitcoin and crypto currencies are a ‘safe haven’ in the same way people might for instance, regard gold. Recent behavior suggests this is not the case.

From the point of view of cryptocurrencies as assets, very basic data analysis suggests that optically bitcoin has a low correlation with safe havens like gold. This does not mean that bitcoin is a good diversifier or a safe haven. It has been highly volatile over the past two years and is subject to trading and liquidity risks not normally associated with safe havens.

A further clue as to the true nature of cryptocurrencies as investable assets comes from the community of people who hold and trade them. The micro-structure (or plumbing) of markets, as well as the anthropology and sociology of those who populate them (which will have to be the subject of a future missive) is crucial to the way they behave and subsequently to their risk characteristics. Note that the current spike in bitcoin futures trading coincides with a huge spike in Robinhood account trading and in retail buying of call options.

Bitcoin futures activity explodes

Though admittedly not scientific, nor thorough, I suspect that many bitcoin traders also trade equity futures and currencies and use the same equity trading rules (technical) to buy and sell bitcoin (cryptos now have their own rating system, FCAS). If this generalization holds, it suggests that risk budgeting may drive a positive correlation between cryptocurrencies and equities, especially at market highs and lows.

Another observation is that for its size (the top ten cryptocurrencies barely add up to the market cap of JPMorgan JPM ) the crypto market attracts an inordinately large amount of attention, which may draw money in at high points. To my mind this points to bitcoin having a pro-cyclical bias in terms of its riskiness as a trading asset.

On a structural basis the coronavirus crisis may create greater interest in cryptocurrencies – especially given how the crisis have underlined the role of the digital economy and how higher taxes will be required to pay for the stimulus programs enacted.

However, the disarray surrounding Facebook’s Libra project is a sign of the operating and regulatory complexities facing cryptocurrencies. More powerful still is the incentive that central banks and fiscal authorities around the world have for the bitcoin not to succeed. Witness as an example the vigour with which the Chinese – who tightly control money flows – have clamped down on cryptocurrency exchanges.

Madness of crowds

The next steps in the crypto or digital currency (they are almost the same in that crypto currencies are digital currencies that use cryptography) industry for central banks to issue their own coins, and for the digital payments industry. More thorough regulation, cleaner cross-border payment processes and more reliable identification mechanisms will be part of the workload of central banks and governments.

In the short-run, keep an eye on the growing number of speculators in the bitcoin market – financial history shows that when new assets attract crowds, it invariably ends badly.

I am the author of a book called The Levelling which points to what’s next after globalization and puts forward constructive ideas as to how an increasingly fractured world can develop in a positive and constructive way. The book mixes economics, history, politics, finance and geopolitics. Markets are the best place to watch and test the way the world evolves. Most of my career has been spent in investment management, the last 12 years at Credit Suisse where I was the chief investment officer in the International Wealth Management Division. I started my career as an academic, at Oxford and Princeton.

Source: https://www.forbes.com

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