September 15, 2017

If you were to read only one thing…

FT – To coin a craze: Silicon Valley’s cryptocurrency boom – Richard Waters 9/13

  • “So-called initial coin offerings, or ICOs, like this have turned into the year’s most striking financial craze. More than $1.8bn has been raised by software developers from the sale of new currencies with names such as Tezzies, Atoms and Basic Attention Tokens.”
  • “In unofficial online markets where these and other digital tokens are traded, the mania has hit even more bizarre levels. The value of Ripple — at five years, a cryptocurrency veteran — soared this year on a wider boom that was led by bitcoin. Ripple’s notional value, including coins held by the company for later sale, jumped from $500m at the start of the year to more than $35bn, before falling back to $19bn.”
  • “The boom in cryptocurrency prices has been fed by uncontrolled speculation, leading regulators to act. In recent days, Chinese authorities have banned ICOs and are now reported to be on the brink of shutting down all cryptocurrency exchanges. The Financial Conduct Authority, the UK regulator, warned anyone thinking of buying coins in an ICO that they should only do so if they are prepared to lose everything. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan, sent bitcoin prices down 10% on Tuesday when he called the currency a ‘fraud’ and threatened to sack anyone at his bank caught trading it.”
  • “But cryptocurrencies’ promoters argue that beyond the speculative mania, something profound is taking place. It has created a new way for start-ups developing platforms based on blockchain and other technologies to raise money, using online crowdfunding techniques.”
  • “Networks such as IPFS are based on a vision of decentralized online services where ordinary users interact directly with each other, rather than through internet companies that set themselves up as gatekeepers to the online world. According to the enthusiasts, many of the most popular internet applications could be remade in this way, leaving the control — and the profits — in the hands of the users.”
  • “But there is another view that draws on a different aspect of internet investment history. ‘There’s a tendency to turn the brain off and jump in. It’s like Pets.com [which shut down in 2000],’ says Mark Williams, a lecturer in financial risk management at Boston University. The speculation is being fed by a hype that is as insidious as the dotcom craze of the late 1990s, he says: ‘People are treating it like a lottery ticket.’”
  • “The value of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, has risen eightfold in the past year. That has led to a hunt for the next untapped markets, lifting the notional value of all cryptocurrencies to more than $130bn. With nothing more needed to launch a coin sale than a ‘white paper’ — the document that coin promoters use to lay out their grand plans — and the promise of some computer code, the steady flow of ICOs in the past year has turned into a flood.”
  • “The boom, which began in early summer, is already exhibiting many of the characteristics of other speculative crazes. New coins have proliferated: more than 150 token sales have been conducted or announced this year. CoinMarketCap lists prices for about 1,100 coins, with more than 120 ICOs planned before the end of September.
  • “Celebrity endorsements have followed. Paris Hilton used Twitter to boost LydianCoin, a currency for a mooted advertising market that its backers hope will raise $100m. Boxer Floyd Mayweather got there before her, using the run-up to his late August bout with Conor McGregor to promote the prediction market Stox.com and content marketplace Hubii Network.”
  • “Underpinning new blockchain-based networks such as IPFS are protocols, or rules, embedded in software that govern how participants interact. At least in theory, many of the interactions that happen online, such as those on social networks, ecommerce sites and search engines, could take place between willing users on decentralized networks.”
  • “What supporters see as a profound financial innovation, however, others warn can be an easy route to creating funny money. When buyers have been so willing to purchase currencies issued on nothing more than the promise of a future market, it’s not surprising that so many are trying to mint new ones.”
  • “Selling coins has another advantage that the ICOs are less keen to highlight: it exploits a regulatory loophole. By selling a currency rather than shares they stay outside the scope of securities regulation, removing any constraints on how they market their offerings.”
  • “Regulators are working on closing this loophole. The US Securities and Exchange Commission said in July that it had determined that many coins were in fact a type of security, and would look at the underlying nature of each ICO to determine whether they should be regulated as securities.”
  • “For their creators, ICOs have another obvious attraction. They have made it possible to raise far larger amounts than start-ups can usually tap, at least as long as enough investors can be persuaded to suspend their disbelief.”
  • Caveat emptor.

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – China exploits the vulnerability of open democracy – Jamil Anderlini 9/13

  • “Soft targets like New Zealand are testing grounds for Chinese global espionage.”

WSJ – The Life of a Contractor Worker Is a Grind of Snubs, Anxiety and Stagnation – Lauren Weber 9/13

Bloomberg Businessweek – Kim’s Nukes Aren’t a Bargaining Chip. They’re an Insurance Policy – Michael Shuman 9/7

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Moody’s – US State Pension Burdens 9-14

Environment / Science

NYT – Cassini’s Mission to Saturn in 100 Images – Jonathan Corum 9/14

WEF – Business Insider – This map reveals that temperatures have risen in nearly every US state over the last century – Leanna Garfield 9/13

Agriculture 

Bloomberg Businessweek – This High-Tech Vertical Farm Promises Whole Foods Quality at Walmart Prices – Selina Wang 9/6

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