Beyond Evergrande, China’s Property Market Faces a $5 Trillion Reckoning

As many economists say China enters what is now the final phase of one of the biggest real-estate booms in history, it is facing a staggering bill: According to economists at Nomura, $ 5 trillion plus loans that developers had taken at a good time. Holdings Inc.

The debt is almost double that at the end of 2016 and last year exceeded the overall economic output of Japan, the world’s third-largest economy.

With warning signs on the debt of nearly two-fifths of growth companies borrowed from international bond investors, global markets are poised for a potential wave of defaults.

Chinese leaders are getting serious about addressing debt by taking a series of steps to curb excessive borrowing. But doing so without hurting the property market, crippling more developers and derailing the country’s economy is turning into one of the biggest economic challenges for Chinese leaders, and one that resonates globally when mismanaged. could.

Luxury Developer Fantasia Holdings Group Co. It failed to pay $206 million in dollar bonds that matured on October 4. In late September, Evergrande, which has more than $300 billion in liabilities, missed two interest-paying deadlines for the bond.

A wave of sell-offs hit Asian junk-bond markets last week. On Friday, bonds of 24 of 59 Chinese growth companies on the ICE BofA Index of Asian Corporate Dollar Bonds were trading at over 20% yields, indicating a high risk of default.

Some potential home buyers are leaning, forcing companies to cut prices to raise cash, and could potentially accelerate their slide if the trend continues.

According to data from CRIC, a research arm of property services firm e-House (China) Enterprise Holdings, overall sales among China’s 100 largest developers were down 36 per cent in September from a year earlier. Ltd.

It revealed that the 10 largest developers, including China Evergrande, Country Garden Holdings Co. and china wenke Co., saw a decline of 44% in sales compared to a year ago.

Economists say most Chinese developers remain relatively healthy. Beijing has the firepower and tighter control of the financial system needed to prevent the so-called Lehman moment, in which a corporate financial crisis snowballs, he says.

In late September, Businesshala reported that China had asked local governments to be prepared for potentially intensifying problems in Evergrande.

But many economists, investors and analysts agree that even for healthy enterprises, the underlying business model—in which developers use credit to fund steady churn of new construction despite the demographic less favorable for new housing—is likely to change. Chances are. Some developers can’t survive the transition, he says.

Of particular concern is some developers’ practice of relying heavily on “presales”, in which buyers pay upfront for still-unfinished apartments.

The practice, more common in China than in the US, means developers are borrowing interest-free from millions of homes, making it easier to continue expanding but potentially leaving buyers without ready-made apartments for developers to fail. needed.

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, pre-sales and similar deals were the region’s biggest funding sources since August this year.

“There is no return to the previous growth model for China’s real-estate market,” said Hous Song, a research fellow at the Paulson Institute, a Chicago think tank focused on US-China relations. China is likely to put a set of limits on corporate lending, known as the “three red lines” imposed last year, which helped trigger the recent crisis on some developers, he added. That China can ease some other restrictions.

While Beijing has avoided explicit public statements on its plans to deal with the most indebted developers, many economists believe leaders have no choice but to keep the pressure on them.

Policymakers are determined to reform a model fueled by debt and speculation as part of President Xi Jinping’s broader efforts to mitigate the hidden risks that could destabilize society, especially at key Communist Party meetings next year. before. Mr. Xi is widely expected to break the precedent and extend his rule to a third term.

Economists say Beijing is concerned that after years of rapid home price gains, some may be unable to climb the housing ladder, potentially fueling social discontent, as economists say. The cost of young couples is starting to drop in large cities, making it difficult for them to start a family. According to JPMorgan Asset Management, the median apartment in Beijing or Shenzhen now accounts for more than 40 times the average family’s annual disposable income.

Officials have said they are concerned about the risk posed by the asset market to the financial system. Reinforcing developers’ business models and limiting debt, however, is almost certain to slow investment and cause at least some slowdown in the property market, one of the biggest drivers of China’s growth.

The real estate and construction industries account for a large portion of China’s economy. Researchers Kenneth S. A 2020 paper by Rogoff and Yuanchen Yang estimated that industries, roughly, account for 29% of China’s economic activity, far more than in many other countries. Slow housing growth could spread to other parts of the economy, affecting consumer spending and employment.

Government figures show that about 1.6 million acres of residential floor space were under construction at the end of last year. This was roughly equivalent to 21,000 towers with the floor area of ​​the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world.

Housing construction fell by 13.6% in August below its pre-pandemic level, as restrictions on borrowing were imposed last year, calculations by Oxford Economics show.

Local governments’ income from selling land to developers declined by 17.5% in August from a year earlier. Local governments, which are heavily indebted, rely on the sale of land for most of their revenue.

Another slowdown will also risk exposing banks to more bad loans. According to Moody’s Analytics, outstanding property loans—mainly mortgages, but also loans to developers—accounted for 27% of China’s total of $28.8 trillion in bank loans at the end of June.

As pressure on housing mounts, many research houses and banks have cut China’s growth outlook. Oxford Economics on Wednesday lowered its forecast for China’s third-quarter year-on-year GDP growth from 5% to 3.6%. It lowered its 2022 growth forecast for China from 5.8% to 5.4%.

As recently as the 1990s, most city residents in China lived in monotonous residences provided by state-owned employers. When market reforms began to transform the country and more people moved to cities, China needed a massive supply of high-quality apartments. Private developers stepped in.

Over the years, he added millions of new units to modern, streamlined high-rise buildings. In 2019, new homes made up more than three-quarters of home sales in China, less than 12% in the US, according to data cited by Chinese property broker Kei Holdings Inc. in a listing prospectus last year.

In the process, developers grew to be much bigger than anything seen in the US, the largest US home builder by revenue, DR Horton. Inc.,

Reported assets of $21.8 billion at the end of June. Evergrande had about $369 billion. Its assets included vast land reserves and 345,000 unsold parking spaces.

For most of the boom, developers were filling a need. In recent years, policymakers and economists began to worry that much of the market was driven by speculation.

Chinese households are prohibited from investing abroad, and domestic bank deposits provide low returns. Many people are wary of the country’s booming stock markets. So some have poured money into housing, in some cases buying three or four units without the intention of buying or renting them out.

As developers bought more places to build, land sales boosted the national growth figures. Dozens of entrepreneurs who founded growth companies are featured on the list of Chinese billionaires. Ten of the 16 soccer clubs of the Chinese Super League are wholly or partially owned by the developers.

Real-estate giants borrow not only from banks but also from shadow-banking organizations known as trust companies and individuals who invest their savings in investments called wealth-management products. Overseas, they became a mainstay of international junk-bond markets, offering juicy produce to snag deals.

A builder, Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd. , defaulted on its debt in 2015, was still able to borrow and later expand. Two years later it spent the equivalent of $2.1 billion to buy 25 land parcels, and $7.3 billion for land in 2020. This summer, Cassa sold $200 million of short-term bonds with a yield of 8.65%.

By: Quentin Webb & Stella Yifan Xie 

Source: Beyond Evergrande, China’s Property Market Faces a $5 Trillion Reckoning – WSJ

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Bank Mergers Are On Track to Hit Their Highest Level Since the Financial Crisis

It took less than three months for a deal to be reached between Columbia Banking System and the smaller Bank of Commerce Holdings. Banks are on pace this year to merge at a level not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. It is a sharp turnaround from last year, when the economy spiraled and many regional and community banks put merger plans on the shelf. Now, bank executives are feeling more certain about what the future holds, but some are finding it hard to make it on their own. Though the economy has in many ways recovered from 2020, loan demand is still low and profits from lending are slim.

Banks have announced more than $54 billion in deals through late September, according to Dealogic. That puts industry mergers and acquisitions on pace for their biggest year since 2008, when some big banks had to sell themselves to stave off collapse. At this time last year, banks had announced just $17 billion in mergers.

Banks typically spend weeks or months turning a potential target’s loan book upside down, searching for risky loans or other red flags, before agreeing to acquire it. But the Covid-19 pandemic muddied that process. For months, lenders struggled to assess the creditworthiness of their own customers, much less those of their competitors.

“Neither potential sellers nor buyers really wanted to do a transaction last year because of the uncertainty that could be on folks’ balance sheets,” said Kevin Riley, chief executive of First Interstate BancSystem Inc. FIBK -0.17% in Billings, Mont.

But the expected wave of loan defaults never materialized, and by the end of last year, serious merger conversations resumed, according to executives and regulatory filings. This month, First Interstate FIBK -0.17% agreed to buy regional lender Great Western Bancorp Inc. in a deal that will boost its assets to more than $32 billion.

“[Banks] are no longer fearful of the bottom falling out,” said Nathan Stovall, an analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “They are no longer looking at a deal like trying to catch a falling knife.”2019 was also a big year for bank mergers, but more of the major regionals are in play this year. So while there are fewer deals this year than at this point in 2019, the overall value is higher than it was two years ago.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp last week said it plans to buy MUFG Union Bank’s core retail-banking operations, boosting its presence on the West Coast. Another major regional, Citizens Financial Group Inc., said in July that it plans to buy Investors Bancorp Inc. Investors Bank had shelved merger talks with another bank when the pandemic hit in 2020, according to regulatory filings.

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero when the pandemic hit, and low rates have made it more difficult for banks to profit from their bread-and-butter business of lending. The average net interest margin, a measure of lending profitability, reached a record low of 2.5% in the second quarter, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Smaller banks have also struggled to compete with the high-end digital offerings and technology of the megabanks.

Sacramento, Calif.-based Bank of Commerce Holdings began courting potential merger partners in the spring of 2021. The board and management of the $1.9-billion-assets bank had for years considered different options to overcome ever-narrowing industry margins, including being acquired by a larger bank, CEO Randy Eslick said. It took less than three months to iron out a deal with $18 billion Columbia Banking System Inc. of Tacoma, Wash.

The deal was announced in June, and the combined bank will have the resources to invest in technology and other areas—trust departments, wealth management, specialty lending—that the smaller Bank of Commerce wouldn’t have been able to fund on its own.

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“Those types of things bring technology to the table that we could not afford to,” Mr. Eslick said. “At the end of the day, we have more arrows in our quiver.”

The pressure to scale up has only grown more intense in recent years, said Scott Wylie, CEO of the $2 billion First Western Financial Inc. in Denver. In July, First Western said it would buy the parent company of a smaller bank, the nearby Rocky Mountain Bank.

“For a $300- or $500- or $700-million bank, it used to be you could have a nice little business that could go for a long time,” Mr. Wylie said. “These days, that’s really hard.” Conway, Ark.-based Home BancShares Inc. said this month it would buy Happy Bancshares for more than $900 million. Within weeks, CEO John Allison got pitched another deal.

“Someone said to me, ‘Johnny, the body hasn’t even gotten cold yet…and they’re bringing all these other deals,’” Mr. Allison said.

By: Orla McCaffrey at orla.mccaffrey@wsj.com

Source: Bank Mergers Are On Track to Hit Their Highest Level Since the Financial Crisis – WSJ

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Here’s a Useful Fund For Investing In Blockchain Without Buying Bitcoin

“Buy the rumour, sell the news” is an old market saying – and we got a classic of the genre yesterday.

It was a huge day in the evolution of bitcoin. From its origins on obscure chat boards, the open-source experiment of a few renegade computer programmers, to mainstream investment vehicle.

And then yesterday, for the first time, a nation – El Salvador – made bitcoin legal tender. The bitcoin price was steadily running up on the story – from $30,000 to $53,000. Then “Bitcoin Day” arrived and wallop: it sells off $7,000 to $46,000. The bitcoin price “should” have risen. It didn’t; it rose on the rumour and sold on the news.

How many times? It’s happened before and it will happen again.

How to bet on cryptocurrencies without having to own cryptocurrencies

Traditional investors have long been searching for a vehicle by which they can own bitcoin through their Sipp or Isa, via a regular broker account. The older generation in particular don’t want to get involved with wallets and keys and storing coins on hard drives in safes and all the rest of it. They just want to be able to buy and sell bitcoin through their regular broker, with which they are familiar.

In response to this demand there have been numerous attempts to establish bitcoin ETFs, but every attempt has run into some sort of regulatory issue. The most successful were probably the Greyscale Bitcoin Trust, listed in the US, or Coinshares Swedish listed XBT Bitcoin Tracker One. Neither is quite the same as owning bitcoin, but they do track the price.

But another vehicle has come to my attention and I thought I’d flag it up for you today, as I think it might be quite useful. That is the VanEck Vectors Digital Assets Equity UCITS ETF (LSE: DAGB).

It invests in companies that, to use its own lingo, “are driving the blockchain revolution”. That is to say in miners, exchanges, payment providers, service providers and companies that hold and trade crypto and crypto patents.

If I were to draw a parallel, I’d say that, rather than buying gold, it’s like holding a basket of gold mining companies or a gold mining ETF.

The ETF is listed in London, and it’s been going since the beginning of May. There’s a dollar denominated version whose ticker is DAPP – and a sterling version, which is probably most useful to us, with the ticker DAGB (there are also euro-denominated versions listed in Germany (DAVV) and Italy (DAPP), and a Swiss franc denominated version listed in Switzerland (also DAPP)).

It’s still small – very small – but as awareness grows it has the potential to grow too. It holds 25 companies in total, with 75%-plus weighting to the US and Canada and 12% to China, and it rebalances on a quarterly basis. I’ll post the holdings below, but in case you’re not familiar with them, I’ll outline what the major ones do. 

It’s biggest holding is Marathon Digital Holdings (Nasdaq: MARA) a Nasdaq-listed bitcoin miner. Then there’s Jack Dorsey of Twitter fame’s payment company Square (NYSE: SQ) and Coinbase (Nasdaq:COIN), the recently-listed wallet-provider and exchange

Other miners it owns include Riot (Nasdaq: RIOT), Hive (Vancouver: HIVE) and Argo (LSE: ARB), while other notable holdings include Silvergate (NYSE: SI), the bank for fintech and cryptocurrency businesses, and Michael Saylor’s Microstrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR). 

Saylor has in the past year totally got the bitcoin bug and become one of the most vocal and articulate cheerleaders for the space. His company, Microstrategy, has gone from being a software company to a bitcoin holding vehicle, owning more than $5bn in bitcoin. He’s raised debt to do it so it is a highly leveraged bitcoin play.

Anyway, here are the main holdings:

HoldingTickerSharesMarket value
(US$)
% of net
assets
Marathon Digital Holdings IncNasdaq: MARA37,8581,491,2279.15
Square IncNYSE: SQ5,3801,430,1658.77
Coinbase Global IncNasdaq: COIN5,0421,345,2568.25
Hut 8 Mining CorpToronto: HUT125,4231,261,6757.74
Silvergate Capital CorpNYSE: SI7,986947,2995.81
Microstrategy IncNasdaq: MSTR1,378892,9585.48
Hive Blockchain Technologies LtdVancouver: HIVE257,250857,1615.26
Voyager Digital LtdToronto: VOYG53,621799,9654.91
Riot Blockchain IncNasdaq: RIOT24,755794,8834.88
Bitfarms Ltd/CanadaVancouver: BITF128,704763,9734.69
Galaxy Digital Holdings LtdToronto: GLXY34,963732,1894.49
Taiwan Semiconductor ManufacturingNasdaq: TSM5,431677,2464.15
Canaan IncNasdaq: CAN64,785620,6403.81
Northern Data AgFrankfurt: NB26,290568,4983.49
Argo Blockchain PlcLSE: ARB288,705533,3123.27
Bit Digital IncNasdaq: BTBT45,480533,0263.27
Ebang International Holdings IncNasdaq: EBON157,795397,6432.44
BC Technology Group LtdHong Kong: 863179,501372,2122.28
Coinshares International LtdStockholm COIN26,030257,8651.58
Diginex LtdNasdaq: EQOS40,141222,3811.36
DMG Blockchain Solutions IncVancouver: DMGI201,595205,8231.26
Huobi Technology Holdings LtdHong Kong: 1611113,001204,9561.26
Bigg Digital Assets IncToronto BIGG183,875180,4551.11
Future Fintech Group IncNasdaq: FTFT58,088156,8380.96
Bitcoin Group SeFrankfurt: ADE1,22261,2300.38
Other/Cash-4,083-0.03

Bitcoin is supposed to be outside of the traditional financial system so it sounds funny saying that I own DAGB in my Sipp, but I do. I’m not, however, recommending that you go out and buy it straight away. I see it more as a useful vehicle to be aware of.

My overriding theory that we are in a period of “frustrating consolidation” for bitcoin remains in play, so I would try to wait for the sell off to get really harsh before you buy: buy the dips, as they say. But this should be a good vehicle to play the bitcoin game, should you see fit.

Regulating the unregulatable

In other news, I see that a bit of a crypto storm is now brewing in Brussels, where the European Parliament is about to try and regulate cryptocurrencies. Good luck with that! What could possibly go wrong when regulators are trying to regulate something they don’t understand, one of the purposes of which is to obviate bureaucracy?

The polling company Redfield and Wilton has run a poll and found that the overwhelming majority of Europeans want cryptocurrencies regulated by their own countries and not at the EU level, with many seeing EU regulation as a power grab. Greece, The Netherlands and Latvia are the most anti-EU regulation, while Spain and Portugal are the most pro. Make of that what you will.

Daylight Robbery – How Tax Shaped The Past And Will Change The Future is now out in paperback at Amazon and all good bookstores with the audiobook, read by Dominic, on Audible and elsewhere.

Dominic Frisby author headshot

By: Dominic Frisby

Source: https://moneyweek.com/

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Why ‘DeFi’ Utopia Would Be Finance Without Financiers

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Leading ‘Privacy Coin’ Zcash Poised For Growth Following Placement On Ethereum

“Ether’s Market Value Surges $20 Billion In One Day While Bitcoin Prices Slow–Here’s Why

The Maker Protocol: MakerDAO’s Multi-Collateral Dai (MCD) System

Digital Assets and Blockchain Technology: US Law and Regulation

What’s ‘Yield Farming’? (And How Do You Grow Crypto

Crypto Is Beating Gold as 2020’s Top Asset So Far

“Novogratz Plows Ahead In DeFi Amid the ‘Gamifying’ of Crypto

An Emergent Alternative Financial Architecture

Crypto Exchange Gets Millions After Copy-Paste of a Rival’s Code

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Boom or bust? Welcome to the freewheeling world of crypto lending


			

Bill Gates’ Investment Firm Buys Controlling Stake In Four Seasons Hotels For $2.2 Billion

Bill Gates will purchase a majority stake in the Four Seasons hotel chain for $2.21 billion, the company announced Wednesday.

Cascade Investment LLC, which manages the Microsoft cofounder’s massive fortune, agreed to buy half of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s stake in the hotel chain. The all-cash deal pushes Gates’ ownership from 47.5% to 71.25% and values the Four Seasons at $10 billion in enterprise value. The deal is expected to close in January 2022.

The purchase is a bet by Gates in part on the rebound of high-end business travel to big cities, which has suffered a blow during the pandemic. At least two Four Seasons hotels —including the one in midtown Manhattan— are currently closed; the midtown Manhattan location, which is owned by Beanie Baby’s billionaire founder Ty Warner, is “undergoing substantial infrastructure and maintenance work,” according to a note on its website.

However, one industry insider told Forbes that luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons lose money unless they operate at very high occupancy rates. In a statement, the hotel operator said the deal “marks a pivotal point in the evolution of Four Seasons” and affirms Cascade’s commitment to provide the Four Seasons “with resources to accelerate growth and expand its strategic goals.”

Through his investment vehicle Kingdom Holding Co., Prince Alwaleed will hold onto his remaining 23.75% stake. Forbes long counted the Saudi Prince as a billionaire — and one of the richest people in the world, but removed him from the Forbes billionaires list after November 2017, when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman kept Alwaleed and other princes and business leaders captive in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh and reportedly extracted billions of dollars from them.

Isadore Sharp, Four Seasons Founder and Chairman, will also retain his 5% stake through Triples Holdings Limited, the company said. Bill Gates is currently ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest person in the world, worth an estimated $132.8 billion fortune.

In addition to its Four Seasons investment, Cascade is the largest private owner of farmland in the U.S. Gates’ investment firm also owns stakes in car dealership AutoNation, farm equipment manufacturer John Deere and other stocks.

Kingdom will retain 23.75%. Four Seasons Founder and Chairman Isadore Sharp, through Triples Holdings Limited, will keep his 5% stake. Cascade first invested in Four Seasons in 1997. It was public at that time, but the company went private in 2007. Founded in 1960, Four Seasons manages 121 hotels and resorts and 46 residential properties in 47 countries. It also has more than 50 projects at various stages of development.

“As we mark our 60th anniversary and look back on the profound impact that Four Seasons has had on luxury hospitality we also look forward with tremendous excitement and confidence in the future of the industry,” Four Seasons CEO John Davison said in a statement. “The unwavering support and partnership of our shareholders has been and continues to be critical as we capitalize on growing opportunities to serve luxury consumers worldwide.”

Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip.

I’m a San Francisco-based reporter covering wealth at Forbes. Follow me on Twitter @rachsandl or shoot me an email rsandler@forbes.com.

Source: Bill Gates’ Investment Firm Buys Controlling Stake In Four Seasons Hotels For $2.2 Billion

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Satoshi Nakamoto Collaborator Says His Bitcoin Fork, Zcash, Should Go Proof Of Stake And Wind Down Its Carbon Footprint

Zcash founder Zooko Wilcox might seem like an unlikely source to challenge Bitcoin’s ‘third rail’, its controversial, expensive, yet effective method of processing transactions, but in many ways he is the perfect candidate to offer an alternative.

After all, few know Bitcoin better than him.

An early and active participant on Bitcoin message boards, Wilcox frequently communicated and collaborated directly with the pseudonymous founder of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakomoto. In fact, he authored the very first blog post on bitcoin, which Satoshi linked to on the original Bitcoin.org website. That is the ultimate seal of approval when it comes to crypto.

However, in an interview with Forbes, Wilcox made it clear that for as far as Bitcoin has come it is far from a fully-formed project in many areas.

For starters, the pseudonymous nature of the blockchain, which hackers and criminals are slowly finding out is not nearly as private as they hoped, was not the desired end state. As Wilcox tells it, “The fact is, like, to basically 100% of all the early bitcoiners, including Satoshi and Hal (Finney) and Nick (Szabo) and Adam (Back), and everyone…Privacy was like the main value proposition.”

If nothing else, it was clear that it deserved central billing alongside independence from central banks, the more common narrative of Bitcoin’s origin story.

The proposed solution back in 2010 was something called zk-snarks (Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge). In short, zk-snarks can be used in a blockchain to hide not only the identities of the sender and receiver, but transaction amounts as well. Total privacy.

Back when Satoshi was actively developing bitcoin he had hoped to integrate zk-snarks into the network. However, by the time he stepped away in 2011 the technology was not advanced enough to install without slowing Bitcoin down (it is already slow even by crypto standards) or burdening it with too much data.

Wilcox was part of a team of scientists in 2012 who presented a proposal to integrate zk-snarks on top of Bitcoin at a conference in San Jose, but the core developers told them that the technology had to be proven on another blockchain before receiving serious consideration.

So that is exactly what Wilcox did – and a couple of years later Zcash was born.

It is also clear in his writings that Satoshi knew that bitcoin, if successful, would have a very large carbon footprint, something that my colleague Chris Helman pointed out in a recent article for Forbes, “It’s the same situation as gold and gold mining. The marginal cost of gold mining tends to stay near the price of gold. Gold mining is a waste, but that waste is far less than the utility of having gold available as a medium of exchange. I think the case will be the same for bitcoin. The utility of the exchanges made possible by bitcoin will far exceed the cost of electricity used.”

It is on this point that Wilcox wants to use Zcash to move crypto forward, starting today. In a forthcoming blog post shared exclusively with Forbes, he is advocating for Zcash to move away from the same energy-intensive ‘proof-of-work’ consensus mechanism as Bitcoin to a more eco-friendly ‘proof-of stake’ approach.

The implications of such a transition could be huge. Zcash is a close cousin of Bitcoin, its code is actually based on Bitcoin, and if successful it could open the door to Bitcoin possibly eschewing mining as well.

So what exactly is ‘proof-of-stake’? Rather than operating millions of dollars worth of energy-consuming computing hardware racing to solve complicated math problems in exchange for freshly-minted bitcoin, nodes on the network post holdings as collateral at risk of forfeiture should they act dishonorably. Proof-of-stake is lighter, faster, and in the words of Wilcox even more secure than proof-of-work.

“I think proof-of-work has some security flaws, as has been demonstrated by the 51% attacks that have occurred (when a miner controls a majority of computing power on the network and can steal tokens). And I think proof-of-stake can provide a much more powerful kind of security and at lower cost.”

He also pointed out that under proof-of-work setups users have little recourse if the network gets attacked. However, on a proof-of-stake network the bad actors can be identified and have their tokens revoked so that the rest of the network can go on operating as usual. In fact, this is similar to an argument offered by Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, which is also going through an arduous transition from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake, to justify the switch.

When asked why he is advocating for the transition now, Wilcox points to a few key reasons, most notably that the proof-of-stake is ‘proven’ and no longer experimental. As evidence he points to the successful launch of networks such as Algorand, Cardano, Cosmos, and Tezos.

In fact, environmental concerns do not seem to be a leading justification for the shift, but rather his belief that proof-of-stake is the better all-around approach moving forward. He also recognizes that right or wrong, people are increasingly worried about crypto’s carbon footprint. Switching to proof-of-stake in his mind is then a win for everyone.

That said, while Zcash is based on Bitcoin and shares many of the same characteristics, down to its hard limit of 21 million units, the two networks are in different universes from adoption and scale points of view. ZEC (Zcash’s native token) is currently priced at $111.55, while bitcoin is nearly 350x bigger at $38,709. Bitcoin processes around 250,000 transactions per day, while Zcash hovers around 4,000. Additionally, the bitcoin network’s hashrate of 102,631,000,000,000,000,000 hashes per second is orders of magnitude bigger than Zcash’s 4,992,000,000.

That said, Zcash has tripled Bitcoin’s returns to investors year to date.

So even if Zcash makes a successful transition, that does not mean that bitcoin could simply follow the same path. Plus, bitcoin’s community has historically been resistant to major change, understandable given its focus on security, and the necessity of proof-of-work has become a hardened part of its ideology.

A final reason why things are moving forward now is because as Wilcox tells it, we are entering an inflection point when it comes to protecting our privacy from governments and corporations alike, “We’re both simultaneously seeing mega corporations and governments seizing more and more control over everyone, both in the east and the west…And we’re simultaneously seeing people worldwide becoming more aware and valuing their privacy more, their autonomy, their human relationships.”

He also believes that the stakes are being raised when it comes to central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and fears of surveillance capitalism. That said, Wilcox would not be opposed to collaborating with banks around the world if they wanted to integrate Zcash and  zk-snarks, saying “We definitely could help them come up with improved or variants, zero knowledge proof that would serve their purposes. But we would do so only if that one they would feed back into ZEC, which is the engine of our mission, our mission is to empower and free everyone in the world.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website. Send me a secure tip.

I am director of research for digital assets at Forbes. I was recently the Social Media/Copy Lead at Kraken, a cryptocurrency exchange based in the United States. Before joining Kraken I served as Chief Operating Officer at the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, a non-profit trade association dedicated to the comprehensive adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies across global markets. Before joining the WSBA, I was the Lead Associate within the Emerging Technologies practice at Spitzberg Partners, a boutique corporate advisory firm that advises leading firms across industries on blockchain technology. Previously I was Vice President/Lead Strategy Analyst at Citi FinTech, where I drove strategic and new business development initiatives for Citigroup’s Global Retail and Consumer Bank business across 20 countries. I also served five years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton supporting the U.S. Department of Defense. I have a B.S. in Business Administration from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and a M.A. in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Additionally, I am a Certified Information Privacy Professional (United States, Canada, and the European Union) and a Certified Information Privacy Technologist at the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

Source: Satoshi Nakamoto Collaborator Says His Bitcoin Fork, Zcash, Should Go Proof Of Stake And Wind Down Its Carbon Footprint

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Zooko Wilcox advocates that Zcash should move to proof of stake

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Trillions of Negative-Yielding Debt Redeem Europe’s Bond Bulls

A deep pool of debt with below-zero returns is increasingly betting on European bonds. In a matter of weeks, German 10-year bond yields fell to the most in July from flirting with zero for the first time in two years, going back to minus 0.46% since the start of 2020. That fall – which has propelled bond prices – has helped push negative-yield debt volumes in Europe to a near six-month high of 7.5 trillion euros ($8.9 trillion).

Traders were alerted by the inflation bet, which initially raised borrowing costs, but lost heights after major central banks insisted on continued support. At the same time, the spread of Covid-19 variants stoked demand for the safest government loans, reviving a business that dominated global markets last year amid the pandemic.

Strategists at HSBC Holdings plc and ABN AMRO Bank NV never shied away from their call for benchmark bond yields at minus 0.50% by the end of 2021, which has been in effect since the first half of last year. That will erase a large portion of this year’s 54-basis point trough-to-peak advance.

The European Central Bank said last month that current inflation is driven by temporary factors, and any change in stance would depend on hitting the new 2% inflation target.

HSBC’s forecast was “based on the assumption that there will be no rate hikes before the end of 2023,” said strategist Chris Atfield. “It is mostly market priced now, helped by the new ECB forward guidance.”

Money markets have quickly cut back on policy tightening after the ECB revised guidance on interest rates, saying it would not react immediately if price hikes exceed that target for a “transient” period.

According to swap contracts, in July, traders wiped out 20 basis points more from rate-increasing bets. This is the biggest decrease in nearly two years, and they suggest they expect the ECB deposit rate to be below zero in five years.

HSBC’s Attfield said that “the new forward guidance criteria for rate hikes since 2008 will not have been met at any point,” highlighting the challenging task facing the ECB as it seeks to open up record monetary stimulus.

The euro area pulled out of recession in the second quarter, and headline inflation climbed to 2.2% last month. According to Mayva Cousin of Businesshala Economics, while rising pressures could push the annual CPI rate to more than 3% in the coming months, the increase will prove to be temporary and inflation is expected to decline sharply in early 2022.

According to a Businesshala survey, strategists see the German 10-year yield as low as minus 0.14% by the end of the year, down from minus 0.035% nearly a month ago. ABN AMRO strategist Flortje Merten sees a drop to minus 0.5%, given the balance between rate expectations and the state of the euro-regional economy.

“Further rate hikes and more optimistic sentiment would be two opposing factors and could keep Bund yields around these low levels,” Merton said.

This week

  • The Bank of England will meet with investors on Thursday to discuss the possibility of a split vote on bond purchases, given recent sharp remarks by some members of the Monetary Policy Committee.
  • European sovereign supplies should remain moderate at around 17.5 billion euros, according to Commerzbank, with auctions in Germany, Austria, France and Spain.

Source: Trillions of Negative-Yielding Debt Redeem Europe’s Bond Bulls

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Critics:

Historically, people give the government their money, instead of spending it, with the promise of being paid back, with interest. Now, governments are essentially getting paid to borrow money, as people become increasingly desperate for a safe haven for their wealth. The cycle becomes self fulfilling as negative rates raise further concerns about the economy.

“Bonds are supposed to pay the owner of capital something to pry the money out of their hands. But no … ” said co-founder of DataTrek, Nicholas Colas. Central banks often lower interest rates to grow the money supply in the economy, fuel demand and provide growth momentum. Other key drivers for monetary policy easing are weakening domestic outlooks, falling annual growth rates, low inflation and weakening business and consumer confidence. And in Europe’s case, make up for the lack of a coordinated fiscal response.

Another reason for negative yielding debt worldwide could be that institutional investors, like pension funds, are forced to keep buying bonds because of liquidity requirements. PIMCO’s global economic advisor Joachin Fels said there are also secular factors like demographics and technology that drive rates lower.

“Rising life expectancy increases desired saving while new technologies are capital-saving and are becoming cheaper – and thus reduce ex ante demand for investment. The resulting savings glut tends to push the “natural” rate of interest lower and lower,” said Fels.

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How To Squeeze Yields Up To 6.9% From Blue-Chip Stocks

Closeup of blue poker chip on red felt card table surface with spot light on chip

Preferred stocks are the little-known answer to the dividend question: How do I juice meaningful 5% to 6% yields from my favorite blue-chip stocks? “Common” blue chips stocks usually don’t pay 5% to 6%. Heck, the S&P 500’s current yield, at just 1.3%, is its lowest in decades.

But we can consider the exact same 505 companies in the popular index—names like JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Broadcom (AVGO) and NextEra Energy (NEE)—and find yields from 4.2% to 6.9%. If we’re talking about a million dollar retirement portfolio, this is the difference between $13,000 in annual dividend income and $42,000. Or, better yet, $69,000 per year with my top recommendation.

Most investors don’t know about this easy-to-find “dividend loophole” because most only buy “common” stock. Type AVGO into your brokerage account, and the quote that your machine spits back will be the common variety.

But many companies have another class of shares. This “preferred payout tier” delivers dividends that are far more generous.

Companies sometimes issue preferred stock rather than issuing bonds to raise cash. And these preferred dividends have a few benefits:

  • They receive priority over dividends paid on common shares.
  • Sometimes, preferred dividends are “cumulative”—if any dividends are missed, those dividends still have to be paid out before dividends can be paid to any other shareholders.
  • They’re typically far juicier than the modest dividends paid out on common stock. A company whose commons yield 1% or 2% might still distribute 5% to 7% to preferred shareholders.

But it’s not all gravy.

You’ll sometimes hear investors call preferreds “hybrid” securities. That’s because they act like a part-stock, part-bond holding. The way they resemble bonds is how they trade around a par value over time, so while preferreds can deliver price upside, they don’t tend to deliver much.

No, the point of preferreds is income and safety.

Now, we could go out and buy individual preferreds, but there’s precious little research out there allowing us to make a truly informed decision about any one company’s preferreds. Instead, we’re usually going to be better off buying preferred funds.

But which preferred funds make the cut? Let’s look at some of the most popular options, delivering anywhere between 4.2% to 6.9% at the moment.

Wall Street’s Two Largest Preferred ETFs

I want to start with the iShares Preferred and Income Securities (PFF, 4.2% yield) and Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX, 4.5%). These are the two largest preferred-stock ETFs on the market, collectively accounting for some $27 billion in funds under management.

On the surface, they’re pretty similar in nature. Both invest in a few hundred preferred stocks. Both have a majority of their holdings in the financial sector (PFF 60%, PGX 67%). Both offer affordable fees given their specialty (PFF 0.46%, PGX 0.52%).

There are a few notable differences, however. PGX has a better credit profile, with 54% of its preferreds in BBB-rated (investment-grade debt) and another 38% in BB, the highest level of “junk.” PFF has just 48% in BBB-graded preferreds and 22% in BBs; nearly a quarter of its portfolio isn’t rated.

Also, the Invesco fund spreads around its non-financial allocation to more sectors: utilities, real estate, communication services, consumer discretionary, energy, industrials and materials. Meanwhile, iShares’ PFF only boasts industrial and utility preferreds in addition to its massive financial-sector base.

PGX might have the edge on PFF, but both funds are limited by their plain-vanilla, indexed nature. That’s why, when it comes to preferreds, I typically look to closed-end funds.

Closed-End Preferred Funds

CEFs offer a few perks that allow us to make the most out of this asset class.

For one, most preferred ETFs are indexed, but all preferred CEFs are actively managed. That’s a big advantage in preferred stocks, where skilled pickers can take advantage of deep values and quick changes in the preferred markets, while index funds must simply wait until their next rebalancing to jump in.

Closed-end funds also allow for the use of debt to amplify their investments, both in yield and performance. Should the manager want, CEFs can also use options or other tools to further juice returns.

And they often pay out their fatter dividends every month!

Take John Hancock Preferred Income Fund II (HPF, 6.9% yield), for example. It’s a tighter portfolio than PFF or PGX, at just under 120 holdings from the likes of CenterPoint Energy (CNP), U.S. Cellular (USM) and Wells Fargo (WFC).

Manager discretion means a lot here. That is, HPF doesn’t just invest in preferreds, which are 70% of assets. It also has 22% invested in corporate bonds, another 4% or so in common stock, and trace holdings of foreign stock, U.S. government agency debt and cash. And it has a whopping 32% debt leverage ratio that really helps prop up the yield and provide better returns (though at the cost of a bumpier ride).

You have a similar situation with Flaherty & Crumrine Preferred and Income Securities Fund (FFC, 6.7%).

Here, you’re wading deep into the financial sector at nearly 80% exposure, with decent-sized holdings in utilities (7%) and energy (7%). Credit quality is roughly in between PFF and PGX, with 44% BBB, 37% BB and 19% unrated.

Nonetheless, smart management selection (and a healthy 31% in debt leverage) has led to far better, albeit noisier, returns than its indexed competitors. The Cohen & Steers Select Preferred and Income Fund (PSF, 6.0%) is about as pure a play as you could want in preferreds.

And it’s also a pure performer.

PSF is 100% invested in preferred stock (well, more like 128% if you count debt leverage), and actually breaks out its preferreds into institutionals that trade over-the-counter (83%), retail preferreds that trade on an exchange (16%) and floating-rate preferreds that trade OTC or on exchanges (1%).

Like any other preferred fund, you’re heavily invested in the financial sector at nearly 73%. But you do get geographic diversification, as only a little more than half of PSF’s assets are invested in the U.S. Other well-represented countries include the U.K. (13%), Canada (7%) and France (6%).

What’s not to love?

Brett Owens is chief investment strategist for Contrarian Outlook. For more great income ideas, get your free copy his latest special report: Your Early Retirement Portfolio: 7% Dividends Every Month Forever.

I graduated from Cornell University and soon thereafter left Corporate America permanently at age 26 to co-found two successful SaaS (Software as a Service) companies. Today they serve more than 26,000 business users combined. I took my software profits and started investing in dividend-paying stocks. Today, it’s almost impossible to find good stocks that pay a quality yield. So I employ a contrarian approach to locate high payouts that are available thanks to some sort of broader misjudgment. Renowned billionaire investor Howard Marks called this “second-level thinking.” It’s looking past the consensus belief about an investment to map out a range of probabilities to locate value. It is possible to find secure yields of 6% or more in today’s market – it just requires a second-level mindset.

Source: How To Squeeze Yields Up To 6.9% From Blue-Chip Stocks

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Critics:

A blue chip is stock in a stock corporation (contrasted with non-stock one) with a national reputation for quality, reliability, and the ability to operate profitably in good and bad times. As befits the sometimes high-risk nature of stock picking, the term “blue chip” derives from poker. The simplest sets of poker chips include white, red, and blue chips, with tradition dictating that the blues are highest in value. If a white chip is worth $1, a red is usually worth $5, and a blue $25.

In 19th-century United States, there was enough of a tradition of using blue chips for higher values that “blue chip” in noun and adjective senses signaling high-value chips and high-value property are attested since 1873 and 1894, respectively. This established connotation was first extended to the sense of a blue-chip stock in the 1920s. According to Dow Jones company folklore, this sense extension was coined by Oliver Gingold (an early employee of the company that would become Dow Jones) sometime in the 1920s, when Gingold was standing by the stock ticker at the brokerage firm that later became Merrill Lynch.

Noticing several trades at $200 or $250 a share or more, he said to Lucien Hooper of stock brokerage W.E. Hutton & Co. that he intended to return to the office to “write about these blue-chip stocks”. It has been in use ever since, originally in reference to high-priced stocks, more commonly used today to refer to high-quality stocks.

References:

Ethereum Creator Loses Over $400 Million As Crypto Market Collapses

TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 - Day 2

Vitalik Buterin, co-creator of the world’s second most-valuable blockchain Ethereum, has taken a major hit to his net worth after the price of ether (ETH) dipped below $2,000 earlier on Monday.

As of 3:15 p.m. ET, ETH is trading at $1,938 according to Messari, down by more than 50 percent just five weeks after reaching its all-time-high of $4,338 on May 12. The decline of the second-largest cryptocurrency falls in line with the rest of the market, as crypto prices have fallen across the board since news broke of a renewed clampdown on bitcoin miners in China.

Buterin’s two main ether addresses currently hold 325,001 and 1,366 ETH worth a collective $632,499,246 as of 3:15 p.m. ET. The current value of his holdings is $457,500,754 less than the $1.09 billion it was worth on May 3 at 1:30 p.m. ET, according to Messari, when Buterin became the world’s youngest crypto billionaire at age 27. When ETH’s value first surpassed the $3,000 price level Buterin held 333,520 ETH worth $1.09 billion. Forbes is unable to account for the 7,153 ETH difference between his holdings now versus on May 3.

Ether’s current market capitalization is $223,752,321,616, second only to the original cryptocurrency, Bitcoin with a market capitalization of $606,843,934,844. Ethereum has gained notoriety this year as the birthplace of decentralized finance (DeFi) applications aiming to create decentralized alternatives to traditional financial services. At the time of writing there is $51 billion locked in the DeFi market, according to data aggregator DeFi Pulse.

Emily Mason

 

By:

 

Source: Ethereum Creator Loses Over $400 Million As Crypto Market Collapses

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Well, it’s not necessarily Ethereum that is a risky investment, it’s cryptocurrencies: They are highly speculative. Even though some experts and crypto supporters believe they could replace fiat currency one day, the answer is much more complicated.

Despite their bustling activity growth, efficiency, and impressive blockchain technology render, many countries are still anxious about cryptos replacing fiat currency. But even though peer-to-peer currency might be the bane of central banking systems around the world, the simple answer would be: no, cryptos won’t replace fiat. Why?

Because their usage is on the rise, their speculative popularity is why they won’t be adopted as mainstream legal tender: they are driven for value storage and speculative trading – rather than for transactional value.

For instance, very few mainstream businesses accept cryptos as legal tender – only 2’300 businesses accept it in the United States, which mostly only accept Bitcoins. When you consider that there are over 30 million businesses in the US, a thin fraction accepts Bitcoins, which puts Ethereum at a disadvantage.

As the past few weeks have proven, their volatility can be a double-edged sword: Between May 12 and May 24, Ethereum has lost nearly 50% of its value. While it has somewhat recovered since it is gut-wrenching to see.

Crypto Price Mayhem: Data Reveals Bitcoin Is Braced For A ‘Short Squeeze’

bitcoin, bitcoin price, crypto, image

Bitcoin traders and investors are still reeling from a steep sell-off that’s wiped around $1 trillion from the combined cryptocurrency market.

The bitcoin price has crashed from almost $65,000 per bitcoin to under $40,000 despite a flood of positive bitcoin news in recent weeks—including Twitter TWTR +0.2% chief executive Jack Dorsey teasing a bitcoin payments plan.

Now, analysis of bitcoin trading data has suggested the bitcoin price could be hit by a so-called “short squeeze”—when the price of an asset increases rapidly due to an excess of bets against it.

“Given bitcoin’s past market performance, when traders use excessive leverage to short the market during a horizontal price adjustment, there will often be a short squeeze phenomenon,” Flex Yang, the chief executive of Hong Kong-based crypto lender and asset manager Babel Finance, wrote in analysis seen by this reporter and pointing to market data that shows recent capital inflows are “from short-sellers and that leverage has greatly increased.”

Since the bitcoin and crypto market crashed in mid-April, the volume of bitcoin perpetual holdings on the crypto exchange Binance have increased by 110%, with the ratio of long to short traders reaching a new low of 0.89—pushing funding rates into the negative.

According to Yang, the reasons behind such excessive shorts include “many people are anticipating a bear market; bitcoin “holders are building hedges,” or “those who bought at high prices are locked in.”

Historical bitcoin price data between February and April 2018 and then again from June to late July 2020, suggests an increase in short-selling is often followed by a bitcoin price surge.

“In November 2020, there was a temporary sharp increase in the number of short-selling positions at a high price,” wrote Yang. “Afterwards, the price of bitcoin continued to rise, continuing its bull market position. No matter if the market outlook is trending downwards after rebounding or if bitcoin maintains its bull market status, short traders have always suffered the consequence of being squeezed out and liquidated.”

The early 2021 bitcoin price bull run was brought to a sharp halt in April when fears over a crypto crackdown in China and mounting concerns over bitcoin’s soaring energy demands sparked panic among investors.

Tesla TSLA +1.1% billionaire Elon Musk sent shockwaves through the bitcoin market when he announced Tesla would suspend its use of bitcoin for payments until the bitcoin network increased its use of renewable energy.

The bitcoin price has failed to recover its lost ground despite continued reports that Wall Street banking giants are increasingly offering bitcoin investment and trading services and the Central America country El Salvador revealed plans to adopt bitcoin as legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar.

Follow me on Twitter.

I am a journalist with significant experience covering technology, finance, economics, and business around the world. As the founding editor of Verdict.co.uk I reported on how technology is changing business, political trends, and the latest culture and lifestyle. I have covered the rise of bitcoin and cryptocurrency since 2012 and have charted its emergence as a niche technology into the greatest threat to the established financial system the world has ever seen and the most important new technology since the internet itself. I have worked and written for CityAM, the Financial Times, and the New Statesman, amongst others. Follow me on Twitter @billybambrough or email me on billyATbillybambrough.com. Disclosure: I occasionally hold some small amount of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Source: Crypto Price Mayhem: Data Reveals Bitcoin Is Braced For A ‘Short Squeeze’

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Critics:

Predictions of a collapse of a speculative bubble in cryptocurrencies have been made by numerous experts in economics and financial markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been identified as speculative bubbles by several laureates of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, central bankers, and investors.

From January to February 2018, the price of Bitcoin fell 65 percent. By September 2018, the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index had lost 80 percent of its value, making the decline of the cryptocurrency market, in percentage terms, greater than the bursting of the Dot-com bubble in 2002.

In November 2018, the total market capitalization for Bitcoin fell below $100 billion for the first time since October 2017, and the price of Bitcoin fell below $4,000, representing an 80 percent decline from its peak the previous January. Bitcoin reached a low of around $3,100 in December 2018.From 8 March to 12 March 2020, the price of Bitcoin fell by 30 percent from $8,901 to $6,206.By October 2020, Bitcoin was worth approximately $13,200.

Bitcoin has been characterized as a speculative bubble by eight winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences: Paul Krugman, Robert J. Shiller, Joseph Stiglitz, Richard Thaler, James Heckman, Thomas Sargent, Angus Deaton, and Oliver Hart; and by central bank officials including Alan Greenspan, Agustín Carstens, Vítor Constâncio, and Nout Wellink.

The investors Warren Buffett and George Soros have respectively characterized it as a “mirage”and a “bubble”; while the business executives Jack Ma and Jamie Dimon have called it a “bubble” and a “fraud”, respectively. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said later he regrets calling Bitcoin a fraud.

How Spacs Became Wall Street Tree

If you want to see the future of so many of the special purpose acquisition companies currently flooding the market, look to the recent past. Nearly five years ago, Landry’s Seafood billionaire Tillman Fertitta took Landcadia Holdings public to the tune of $345 million. No matter that, true to the SPAC “blank check” model, there was not yet any operating business—dozens of hedge funds piled into its $10-per-unit IPO. 

In May 2018, Landcadia finally located its target: a budding online restaurant delivery service called Waitr that would merge with the SPAC in exchange for $252 million in cash. Fertitta touted the fact that the Louisiana startup, with $65 million in revenue, would now have access to 4 million loyalty members of his restaurant and casino businesses, and a new partnership with his Houston Rockets NBA franchise. Two years later, though, you very likely have never heard of Waitr. As such, its stock recently traded at $2.62, down more than 70% from its IPO price (the S&P 500 has climbed 76% over the same period).

Waitr was a disaster for pretty much anyone who bought the stock early. But the hedge funds that purchased Landcadia’s IPO units did just fine. Virtually all recouped their initial investment, with interest, and many profited by exercising warrants in the aftermarket. “SPACs are a phenomenal yield alternative,” says David Sultan, chief investment officer at Fir Tree Partners, a $3 billion hedge fund that bought into Fertitta’s Landcadia SPAC IPO—and pretty much any other it could get its hands on. 

The SPAC boom of 2020 is probably the biggest Wall Street story of the year, but almost no one has noticed the quiet force driving this speculative bubble: a couple dozen obscure hedge funds like Polar Asset Management and Davidson Kempner, known by insiders as the “SPAC Mafia.” It’s an offer they can’t refuse. Some 97 percent of these hedge funds redeem or sell their IPO stock before target mergers are consummated, according to a recent study of 47 SPACs by New York University Law School professor Michael Ohlrogge and Stanford Law professor Michael Klausner.

Though they’re loath to talk specifics, SPAC Mafia hedge funds say returns currently run around 20%. “The optionality to the upside is unlimited,” gushes Patrick Galley, a portfolio manager at Chicago-based RiverNorth, who manages a $200 million portfolio of SPAC investments. Adds Roy Behren of Westchester Capital Management, a fund with a $470 million portfolio of at least 40 SPACs, in clearer English: “We love the risk/reward of it.” 

What’s not to love when “risk” is all but risk-free? There’s only one loser in this equation. As always, it’s the retail investor, the Robinhood novice, the good-intentions fund company like Fidelity. They all bring their pickaxes to the SPAC gold rush, failing to understand that the opportunities were mined long before they got there—by the sponsors who see an easy score, the entrepreneurs who get fat exits when their companies are acquired and the SPAC Mafia hedge funds that lubricate it all. 

It’s about to get far worse for the little guy. Giant quant firms—Izzy Englander’s Millennium Management, Louis Bacon’s Moore Capital, Michael Platt’s BlueCrest Capital—have recently jumped in. Sure, they all raised billions based on algorithmic trading strategies, not by buying speculative IPOs in companies that don’t even have a product yet. But you don’t need AI to tell you the benefits of a sure thing. And that means torrents of easy cash for ever more specious acquisitions. Says NYU’s Ohlrogge: “It’s going to be a disaster for investors that hold through the merger.” 

In the first 10 months or so of 2020, 178 SPACs went public, to the tune of $65 billion, according to SPAC­Insider—more than the last ten years’ worth of such deals combined. That’s just one indication that the current wave of blank-check companies is different from previous generations. 

In the 1980s, SPACs were known as “blind pools” and were the domain of bucket-shop brokerage firms infamous for fleecing gullible investors under banners such as First Jersey Securities and The Wolf of Wall Street’s Stratton Oakmont. Blind pools circumvented regulatory scrutiny and tended to focus on seemingly promising operating companies—those whose prospects sounded amazing during a cold-calling broker’s telephone pitch. The stockbrokers, who typically owned big blocks of the shares and warrants, would “pump” prices up, trading shares among clients, and then “dump” their holdings at a profit before the stocks inevitably collapsed. Shares traded in the shadows of Wall Street for pennies, and the deal amounts were tiny, typically less than $10 million. 

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Former stockbroker and convicted felon Jordan Belfort was immortalized in The Wolf Of Wall Street. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, blank check companies, similar to today’s SPACs but known as blind pools, were his stock and trade. Getty Editorial

In 1992, a Long Island lawyer named David Nussbaum, CEO of brokerage GKN Securities, structured a new type of blank-check company, with greater investor protections including segregating IPO cash in an escrow account. He even came up with the gussied-up “special purpose acquisition company” moniker. 

The basics of the new SPACs were as follows: A sponsor would pay for the underwriting and legal costs of an initial public offering in a new shell company and have two years to use the proceeds to buy an acquisition target. To entice IPO investors to park their money in these new SPACs as the sponsors hunted for a deal, the units of the IPO, which are usually priced at $10 each, included one share of common stock plus warrants to buy more shares at $11.50. Sometimes unit holders would also receive free stock in the form of “rights” convertible into common stock. If a deal wasn’t identified within two years, or the IPO investor voted no, holders could redeem their initial investment—but often only 85% of it. 

GKN underwrote 13 blank-check deals in the 1990s, but ran into regulatory trouble with the National Association of Securities Dealers, which fined the brokerage $725,000 and forced it to return $1.4 million for overcharging 1,300 investors. GKN closed in 2001, but Nussbaum reemerged in 2003 running EarlyBirdCapital, which remains a big SPAC underwriter today. 

SPACs fell out of favor during the dot-com bubble years, when traditional IPO issuance was booming. In the early 2000s, interest in SPACs returned with the bull market, and the deals started getting bigger. Leading up to the 2008 crisis, dealmakers Nelson Peltz and Martin Franklin both turned to SPACs for financing, raising hundreds of millions of dollars each.

Around 2015, SPACs began to offer IPO investors 100% money-­back guarantees, with interest; the holder would also be entitled to keep any warrants or special rights, even if they voted against the merger and tendered their shares. Even more significantly, they could vote yes to the merger and still redeem their shares. In effect, this gave sponsors a green light on any merger partner they chose. It also made SPAC IPOs a no-lose proposition, effectively giving buyers a free call option on rising equity prices. As the Fed’s low-rate, easy-money policy propelled the stock market higher for over a decade, it was just a matter of time before SPACs came back into vogue. And so they have, with unprecedented force. 

Hedge funders may be the enablers of the SPAC boom, but they certainly aren’t the only ones getting rich. In September, a billionaire-sponsored SPAC called Gores Holdings IV said it would give Pontiac, Michigan–based entrepreneur Mat Ishbia, owner of mortgage lender United Wholesale Mortgage, a $925 million capital infusion, which would value his company at $16 billion. If the deal is completed, Ishbia’s net worth will rise to $11 billion, making him one of the 50 richest people in America. “I never knew what a SPAC was,” Ishbia admits. “I felt like it was a more efficient process.”

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SPAC MVP: United Wholesale Mortgage’s Mat Ishbia won a national basketball championship with Michigan State twenty years ago but missed his only shot in the finals. His first attempt at the SPAC game could be a slam dunk. Jacob Lewkow for Forbes

There are also the sponsors, underwriters and lawyers who create SPACs, each taking their pound of flesh from the deals. Sponsors, who pay underwriting and legal fees to set up and merge SPACs, normally wind up with a generous shareholder gift known as the “promote”—roughly 20% of the SPAC’s common equity after the IPO. 

Alec Gores, the private equity billionaire who helped take United Wholesale Mortgage public, has listed five SPACs and raised over $2 billion. In the United Wholesale Mortgage deal, Gores and his partners are entitled to purchase $106 million worth of “founder shares” for $25,000, or $0.002 a share. Gores’ private equity firm hasn’t raised a new fund since 2012. With easy scores like this, why would he? 

Among SPAC sponsors, few can match Chamath Palihapitiya’s frenetic pace. Palihapitiya, 44, is a former Facebook executive who founded Silicon Valley venture capital firm Social Capital in 2011. With his venture business slowing down, Palihapitiya has recently turned to the public markets. In the span of 37 months, he has raised $4.3 billion in six New York Stock Exchange–listed SPACs that go by the tickers IPOA, IPOB, IPOC, IPOD, IPOE and IPOF. The founder’s stock he has received for his “promote” will amount to no less than $1 billion, by Forbes estimates. In late 2019, Palihapitiya used one of his SPACs to take Virgin Galactic public. Two other deals have already been announced: mergers with home­buying platform Opendoor at a $5 billion valuation and with medical-insurance company Clover Health at $3.7 billion. Palihapitiya and Gores point out that they intend to invest hundreds of millions via private placements in their deals.  https://c4087b1b1645d1a0dc9c9c6154fc97c6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Of the $65 billion raised in SPAC IPOs so far in 2020, Forbes estimates that all told, sponsors like Gores and Palihapitiya should net more than $10 billion in free equity. Great for them, but terrible for the rest of the shareholders. In fact, by the time the average SPAC enters into a merger agreement, warrants afforded to hedge funds, underwriting fees and the generous sponsor’s promote eat up more than 30% of IPO proceeds. According to the study of recent SPACs by Ohlrogge and Klausner, a typical SPAC holds just $6.67 a share in cash of its original $10 IPO price by the time it enters into a merger agreement with its target company. 

“The problem with the typical founder-shares arrangement is not just the outsized nature of the compensation or the inherent misalignment of incentives, but also the fact that the massively dilutive nature of founder stock makes it difficult to complete a deal on attractive terms,” says billionaire Bill Ackman. 

A handful of billionaires like Ackman are structuring fairer deals with their SPACs. In July, Ackman raised a record $4 billion SPAC called Pershing Square Tontine Holdings. He’s shopping for deals, but his shareholders will face much less dilution because his SPAC has no promote. 


“A handful of billionaires are structuring fairer deals with their SPACs. but most SPAC deals don’t come with benevolent billionaires attached.”


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Daniel Och, backer of unicorn startups Coinbase, Github and Stripe via his family office, recently raised $750 million in a SPAC IPO called Ajax I but reduced its promote to 10%. His investing partner in Ajax, Glenn Fuhrman, made billions in profits running Michael Dell’s family office; the SPAC’s board includes an all-star lineup of innovators: Kevin Systrom of Instagram, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, Jim McKelvey of Square and Steve Ells of Chipotle. The group has pledged their personal capital into Ajax’s future deal. 

“We’re lowering the sponsor economics to make clear that this is not about promoting someone’s capital,” Och says. “It’s about investing our own capital, and then finding a great company that we can hold for a long period of time.” 

Most SPAC deals don’t come with benevolent billionaires attached. In fact, if history is any guide, the average post-merger SPAC investor is in for a fleecing not unlike the ones dealt out in the shoddy blind-pool deals peddled by those bucket shops of the 1980s and ’90s. 



According to NYU’s Ohlrogge, six months after a deal is announced, median returns for SPACs amount to a loss of 12.3%. A year after the announcement, most SPACs are down 35%. The returns are likely to get worse as the hundreds of SPACs currently searching for viable merger partners become more desperate. 

Problems are already surfacing in the great SPAC gold rush of 2020. 

Health-care company MultiPlan, one of the most prominent recent deals, may already be in trouble. Acquired by a SPAC called Churchill Capital Corp. III in a $1.3 billion deal, its shares plunged 25% in November after a short seller published a report questioning whether its business was deteriorating more than it let on. 

The Churchill SPAC is one of five brought to market by former Citigroup banker Michael Klein, which have raised nearly $5 billion. Klein and his partners now sit on stock holdings worth hundreds of millions, thanks largely to the lucrative promotes. Klein’s investment bank, M. Klein & Co., has made tens of millions of dollars in fees advising his own SPACs on their deals. In the case of MultiPlan, Klein’s bank earned $30 million in fees to advise Churchill to inject SPAC capital into MultiPlan. IPO proceeds, however, are now worth only 70 cents on the dollar.  https://c4087b1b1645d1a0dc9c9c6154fc97c6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“Coming out of the financial crisis there was all this talk about the expected outcomes when you have all these traders who have heads-they-win-tails-they-don’t-lose incentives, because it’s somebody else’s money,” says Carson Block, the short seller who called out MultiPlan. “Those incentive structures are alive and well on Wall Street in the form of SPACs.” 

Nikola Motor, the SPAC that broke the dam on electric-vehicle speculations, now faces probes from the Department of Justice over whether it misled investors when raising money. Its founder, Trevor Milton, is gone, and a much-hyped partnership with General Motors is in doubt. Shares have traded down 36% from where they stood when the SPAC merger was completed. 

Electric vehicles aren’t the only overhyped SPAC sector. So far 11 cannabis SPACs have either announced a deal or are searching for one. And in online gaming, there are no fewer than 10 SPACs in the works. 


Blank Checks For Billionaires 

SPACs were once shunned by savvy investors. Today they’re beloved by THE WEALTHIEST. 


It wasn’t long ago that fracking was all the rage on Wall Street, too, and SPAC IPOs provided quick and easy capital infusions. Energy private equity firm Riverstone Holdings issued three large SPACs—one in March 2016, for $450 million; then two more IPO’d in 2017, raising $1.7 billion—all intent on profiting from shale oil-and-gas investments. 

Riverstone’s Silver Run II SPAC acquired Alta Mesa Resources in 2018, but the company quickly went bankrupt, incinerating $3.8 billion of market capitalization on oil fields in Oklahoma. Its other two SPACs completed mergers, and now both are trading below $3 per share. 

Despite its dismal track record, Riverstone had no trouble raising $200 million in October for its fourth SPAC IPO, “Decarbonization Plus Acquisition.” Shale fracking is yesterday’s game, so Riverstone has moved on to clean tech. 

Hope springs eternal—especially when you can count on hedge fund money to back you up.

Antoine Gara

Antoine Gara

I’m a staff writer and associate editor at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, mergers, and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a member of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to agara@forbes.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara

Eliza Haverstock

Eliza Haverstock

I’m an assistant editor at Forbes covering money and markets. I graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in history and economics. More importantly, I covered breaking news for its student paper The Cavalier Daily, while also writing for the school’s underground satire magazine. Since then, I’ve worked at Bloomberg and Pitchbook News, writing about everything from plastic straws to pizza robots.

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Bloomberg Markets and Finance

SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies, or “blank check” companies) have become all the rage on Wall Street in 2020. Sonali Basak explains how they work and why they have grown so popular.

What is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC)? What is a blank check company? Should you invest in SPACs, and how do they work? Both a SPAC and blank check company are publicly-traded shell companies that raise collective investment funds through an initial public offering (IPO) in the form of a blind pool. The funds are placed into a trust until an acquisition is made or a predetermined period of time elapses and the fund is liquidated.

SPACs are increasingly being viewed as an alternative to the IPO process in particular for silicon valley companies since the failed WeWork IPO. Some recent SPAC mergers have been controversial such as Nikola Motors (NKLA) and Luckin Coffee (LKN). Many argue that these companies would not have made it through the traditional IPO process. We will also learn about Direct Listings, like the Spotify listing which is another alternative to the IPO process. Patricks’ Books: Statistics for Traders: https://amzn.to/3eerLA0 Financial Derivatives: https://amzn.to/3cjsyPF Corporate Finance: https://amzn.to/3fn3rvC Visit our website: http://www.onfinance.org Follow Patrick on Twitter Here: https://twitter.com/PatrickEBoyle Patreon Page: https://www.patreon.com/PatrickBoyleO…

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