Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock who resigned abruptly in August, has dumped his 13 percent stake in the e-commerce company he founded 20 years ago to buy cryptocurrency and precious metals, he announced late yesterday.
In a blog post at his DeepCapture.com, Byrne said that, by the end of the week, he will have reinvested all of the proceeds into “investments that are counter-cyclical to the economy.”
“Gold, silver and two flavors of crypto,” he wrote.
A longtime proponent of cryptocurrency — Overstock was one of the first companies to accept crypto payments, launched the tZERO security token trading platform and acquired the company behind Ravencoin — Byrne was ahead of the curve, but perhaps too much so, as the external pressures against him compelled his resignation from the company last month.
Byrne’s final gambit – a crypto dividend approved in July – worked to lift Overstock’s share price to a 52-week high last week, but the value of the shares fell by half as his plan unraveled.
Yesterday, after the market closed, Byrne filed a statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that he had sold 4.7 million Overstock shares worth $90 million. The transactions were over the previous three trading sessions, as the stock price fell from a high of $29.38 on Friday to $15.65 today.
Byrne’s blog post followed a statement from Overstock, announcing a halt to the crypto dividend policy after a New York Post report detailed the behind-the-scenes maneuvering – due to what Byrne described in his post as a leak from “the Deep State’s pets at the SEC.”
“They leaked that they were going to Bazoomba our digital dividend,” he wrote.
The November dividend was to be paid out as a digital security listed on tZERO. The dividend was actually a digital rights issue that would grant one digital voting series A-1 preferred stock, representing 10 shares of common stock, or 10 shares of voting series B preferred stock, that could only be traded through a Dinosaur Financial Group brokerage account and that only after being held for a six-month waiting period.
Overstock told the SEC in the filing that a new crypto dividend would be announced shortly that would exclude the long holding period and other restrictions to allow the digital rights to be traded freely and immediately.
The “leak” to the New York Post revealed that the crypto dividend was conceived by Byrne as a means to squeeze Overstock’s short sellers, who he knew would reject its complications and wind-up their positions.
The plan actually worked as Overstock’s share price surged. That is, until Byrne’s own sell-off began this week, as the Post reported that brokers at JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley were rescuing Overstock’s short sellers, offering them dollars at an equivalent value to the blockchain-based stock.
In the blog post, Byrne wrote that when word reached him of Wall Street banks stepping in to stymie his short of the shortsellers, he moved into action.
“Once that started getting back to me, I realized this: Whenever I have had any question about whether the SEC would or would not do something totally outrageous in order to hurt our company to benefit their clients on Wall Street, they never let me down: they always did the evil thing. So, Pettway decided it was time to eject, especially because he knows I need the ammo to go to war against the Deep State.”
Byrne said that he would buy Overstock shares again if the company were to bottom out in a coming economic crash, while his move into crypto assets would grow his assets under those conditions.
“You will have a friend who has sunk (almost) his entire fortune into investments that will soar if a crisis occurs.”
In the meantime, he said his net worth and “ammo” would be more secure on the blockchain, far from the reach of his enemies.
“The crypto is stored in the place where all crypto is stored: in mathematical mist, behind long keys held only in the memory of someone who is quite good at storing such things in memory (with paper backups in the hands of a priest I met 35 years ago who never sits [sic] foot in the West).”
“The other thing accomplished by the investment moves I described above is that my ammunition gets moved outside acts of retaliation from the Deep State. That is important because, in fact, I am now going to shellac them. Actually, ‘shellac’ is too weak a word for what I intend to do to the Deep State. Sit back and enjoy the show.”
The gallivanting, roguish, 6’8” executive resigned from Overstock last month after admitting to his affair with the Russian spy Maria Butina, in an attempt to avoid dragging the company further into the personal scandal.
Butina, who is now in jail for “conspiracy to act as an agent for a foreign government,” entered the US with a student visa to attend a dinner party in New York City hosted by Rockefeller heir George O’Neill for his Center of National Interest think tank that tries to bring the US and Russia together. In addition to the Rockefeller scion, her case ensnared the former head of the National Rifle Association and a gunrunner caught up in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, all three deemed her handlers here.
In a brief and bewildering letter to his shareholders, and filed with the SEC, Byrne confirmed the affair and claimed he had several roles as a confidential informant for law enforcement.
Byrne said that Warren Buffet had advised him to come clean and leave his job to prevent Overstock from being further enmeshed in a spy-versus-spy battle that had nothing to due with the online furniture business. Or crypto currencies, for that matter, although Byrne believes his enemies were motivated to target him because of his crypto evangelism.
Messaging app LINE has officially launched a cryptocurrency exchange service for its 80 million users based in Japan, days after the platform received final regulatory approval.
The Shinjuku-based messaging provider, which is 73.36-percent owned by South Korea’s Naver, said in a statement on Tuesday that the new exchange, dubbed Bitmax, is now live with trading of five crypto assets: bitcoin (BTC), ethereum (ETH), ripple (XRP), bitcoin cash (BCH) and litecoin (LTC).
According to the statement, the service was introduced in stages from 3 p.m. Japan time on Tuesday and is available first on Android devices. It can be accessed via the wallet tab on the LINE mobile app and is also integrated with LINE Pay to provide an easier Japanese yen fiat on-ramp process.
LINE said in the announcement it currently has 81 million monthly active users in Japan and 164 million globally. It operates the crypto exchange through LVC Corporation, a subsidiary, which was awarded a cryptocurrency exchange license by Japan’s Financial Services Agency on Sept. 6.
BITMAX is available to residents of Japan with a LINE account. No fees are charged for trading, though a charge of 108 yen will be applied for deposits and withdrawals.
In terms of security, LINE said it utilizes a wallet developed by Palo Alto-based BitGo to segregate customer assets and store assets in a cold wallet, which is itself managed by a dedicated team.
A strict KYC process is in place for new customers. Applicants can register their account with the app using an ID card and photographic capture, with a registered bank account and an ID or by mail.
The new service will run separately from the company’s Singapore-based Bitbox, which has been in operation since July 2018 but excludes residents of Japan and the U.S.Jinhee Lee, Chief Innovation & Product Officer, at LINE’s unblock corp via CoinDesk archives
Cryptocurrency exchange Binance, the world’s largest by trading volume, has made a strategic investment in Chinese media and data source Mars Finance.
According to a report from Bloomberg citing a press release, the investment amount was not disclosed, but values the company at $200 million.
Aside from Binance, which reportedly made its first strategic investment in China with the round, Beijing-based Mars Finance was also backed by Ceyuan Ventures and Matrixport, a financial services startup founded by co-founder of bitcoin mining firm Bitmain, Jihan Wu.
Discussing the investment, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao said:
“We have large respect for data, news and research firms which support the positive growth of the blockchain industry. We will continue to pursue strategic investment opportunities in our mission to bring crypto further mainstream, increase adoption and accessibility, and help the industry grow sustainably.”
The media site was founded by tech entrepreneur Wang Feng in 2018, Bloomberg says, and has previously raised two funding rounds from investors including IDG Capital and the venture subsidiaries of OKCoin and Huobi.
The firm’s website indicates it also offers market reports and a VC fund called Consensus Lab (no relation to CoinDesk Consensus).
The news comes as Binance’s new U.S. platform prepares to onboard customers in preparation for live trading.
Binance.US said last week that it will open registration and deposits Wednesday, Sept. 18, after which it will roll out a number of Binance products across the U.S.
The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) is charging full speed ahead with its digital currency plans, hoping to beat Facebook’s Libra to market.
A dedicated team from the central bank’s Digital Currency Research Lab is now developing the system in a closed-door environment, away from the PBoC’s downtown Beijing headquarters, a person close to the bank told CoinDesk.
The team has been working in this separate location since early summer so they could fully concentrate on the project, this person said.
The work has been expedited as Facebook unveiled in June its vision for Libra, a global cryptocurrency to facilitate payments, the source added.
The Libra announcement rattled governments around the world, spurring Congressional hearings in the United States and bold new thinking by central bankers such as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.
Much about the PBoC’s project remains under wraps, and there have been conflicting accounts about the timetable and the degree of involvement by major Chinese companies.
According to a Sept. 4 report by state-owned media outlet China Daily, “closed-loop testing” has begun for the central bank digital currency (CBDC) to simulate payment scenarios involving “some commercial and non-government institutions.”
If things go well, the project could launch sooner than Libra, which is targeting the first half of 2020 for its debut, China Daily said in an earlier report.
Forbes reported last week that China’s big four state-owned commercial banks, as well as fintech giants Alibaba, Tencent, Union Pay, and an unnamed company, will be the first batch of organizations to receive the CBDC. It could be launched as soon as November, Forbes said
The four commercial banking giants are Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is one of the largest banks in the world by total assets.
But hours following Forbes’ report, Chinese publications Tencent News and Sina said the timeline and scope of the eight institutions were “inaccurate speculations,” citing people close to the central bank.
And yet, a second source who is familiar with the PBoC’s CBDC efforts told CoinDesk that organizations mentioned in the Forbes report have indeed participated in the development of the CBDC initiative. But the source would not say whether all or only some of the mentioned institutions will be receiving the state-backed digital yuan upon the launch.
A third person who works for one of the mentioned institutions said there’s such work ongoing inside his organization but it’s unclear what the actual contribution is since the details are confidential due to non-disclosure agreements. The mentioned organizations did not respond to CoinDesk’s request for comment.
Whenever the CBDC launches, the central bank may not roll it out nationwide on Day One.
Chinese state-owned publication Global Times said last week, citing industry sources familiar with the matter, that the system may be launched in Shenzhen first to test the waters. There, local companies including Tencent and state-owned financial institutions are researching technical frameworks to support the development of the CBDC.
The PBoC’s Digital Currency Research Lab previously launched an entity called Shenzhen Fintech Research Institute with Shenzhen’s local government and financial regulator to undertake fintech and digital currency-related projects.
The institute has also been on a hiring spree with job advertisements looking for various technical experts including blockchain architects and cryptography specialists to be based in Shenzhen and Beijing.
The PBoC’s Digital Currency Research Lab has filed more than 50 patent applications to detail the potential design of the state-backed digital yuan.
CoinDesk reported previously that based on the patent filings, the envisioned CBDC may only resemble a cryptocurrency at a surface level as a peer-to-peer transaction system but will strip off most cryptocurrencies’ anonymity and decentralization features.
Rainforest Foundation US is a New York-based, non-profit NGO working in Central and South America, which is now hoping to support anti-deforestation efforts with crypto and blockchain tech.
Deforestation and fires in the Brazilian Amazon
On Sept. 4, the Rainforest Foundation reached out to the crypto and blockchain community to ask for their support to fight against deforestation and forest fires in Brazil. The post on the foundation’s website states:
“Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is up 75% and forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon have doubled compared to the past year. As guardians of our rainforests, its animals and its people, we are working with The Giving Block to form a coalition of crypto sponsors, donors and media partners who will help stop this devastation.”
Using blockchain to assure transparency
The Rainforest Foundation, which has musician Sting as one of their founders, is currently working on a blockchain pilot to assure continued transparency, which will allow donors to track the work done by the foundation in the Amazon rainforest and reward local communities who are protecting their forests with crypto.
The foundation is also researching the use of smart contracts to stop illegal logging, land trafficking and safeguard forests from gold mining.
Suzanne Pelletier, executive director at the Rainforest Foundation, said that the dire situation in the Brazilian rainforest has pushed them to come up with innovative solutions. She added:
“Business as usual has gotten us to this point. Philanthropy as usual won’t get us out. We need innovative solutions, and no one is more innovative than cryptocurrency users.”
Crypto and charity go hand in hand
Cointelegraph has previously reported that crypto and blockchain technology are increasingly being applied to support a wide variety of charitable organizations. In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, a blockchain company headquartered in the Bahamas is asking the crypto and blockchain communities to help them bring relief to the hurricane victims.
Bitcoin (BTC) is flashing green at press time, while its share of the cryptocurrency market has reached at 30-month highs above 70 percent.
As of writing, the cryptocurrency is trading at $10,350 on Bitstamp – up 6 percent on a 24-hour basis – after hitting an eight-day high of $10,506 earlier today. At that level, BTC was up 12.7 percent from the one-month low of $9,320 hit on Aug. 29.
Over the last nine weeks, BTC has consistently found takers in the range of $9,000–$10,000. The resulting recovery rallies, however, ended up creating lower highs – a sign of bull market exhaustion – as seen in the chart below.
- Bitcoin’s price recovery from the Aug. 29 low of $9,320 is backed by an uptick in the dominance rate to 30-month highs.
- Weak trading volumes, however, indicate the recovery could be short-lived and a fall back to $9,750 could be in the offing in the next day or two. Weekly chart indicators continue to call a bearish move.
- A high-volume UTC close above the bearish lower high of $10,956 (Aug. 20 high) is needed to revive the short-term bullish outlook.
- A weekly close (Sunday, UTC) above $12,000 is needed for full bull revival.
The question now is whether the latest recovery from sub-$10,000 levels will invalidate the bearish lower-highs setup with a move above $10,956.
The gains seen in the last four days look sustainable and could be extended further, as BTC’s dominance rate – the cryptocurrency’s share of the total crypto market – has jumped to 70.10 percent, the highest level since March 2017, according to CoinMarketCap.
The gauge stood at 69 percent on Aug. 29, when BTC’s price slipped to one-month lows below $9,400.
Many observers consider price gains sustainable if they are backed by a rise in the dominance rate, as discussed last month. The shift indicates money is being poured into BTC for the long haul and not to fund purchases of alternative cryptocurrencies.
Trading volumes, however, tell another story, and suggest the recovery seen in the last four days could be short-lived.
The green bars (buying volumes) seen in the last four days on the hourly chart (above left) are smaller compared to the red bars (selling volumes) seen during bitcoin’s drop to one-month lows on Aug.29.
Buying volumes only ticked up slightly in the 60 minutes to 21:00 UTC yesterday. During that time frame, BTC rose from $10,200 to $10,470. Further, Sunday’s green bar (above right) is significantly smaller than those observed during previous breakouts above $10,000 (marked by arrows).
Put simply, the price bounce seen in the last four days lacks substance and a pullback, possibly to $9,750. could be in the offing in the next day or two.
The outlook as per the daily chart would turn bullish if prices print a UTC close above $10,956 on high buying volumes. That would open the doors to $12,000
The bitcoin bulls have failed four times in the last 10 weeks to secure a weekly close (Sunday, UTC) above $12,000. Meanwhile, the sellers have failed persistently failed to keep prices below $9,500.
A downside break looks likely, as key indicators have turned bearish, including a bearish crossover of 5- and 10-week moving averages.
The moving average convergence divergence (MACD) histogram has also dropped below zero for the first time since February, while the Chaikin money flow, which incorporates both prices and trading volumes, has slipped to a 4.5-month low of 0.10, a sign of weakening bullish pressures.
Academic interest in crypto and blockchain is increasing across the board, according to a study from Coinbase published Wednesday.
The crypto exchange looked at the world’s top 50 universities (according to the U.S. News & World Report ranking) and found that 56 percent have blockchain or crypto classes available. Last year, Coinbase found 42 percent to offer such classes.
Working with survey site Qriously, Coinbase also surveyed 735 students ages 16 and older, finding a 6 percent uptick in student interest in crypto or blockchain coursework. As part of last year’s Coinbase study, 28 percent of respondents said they would be interested in such a class.
Moreover, compared to last year, twice as many university students, or 18 percent, partook in a crypto or blockchain class.
Of special note, said Coinbase, is the percent of crypto or blockchain classes not falling under the traditional computer-science label. Coinbase said 70 percent of these classes pertained to other departments – particularly finance, economics, law or engineering.
Crypto classes by department. (Image via Coinbase)
Student clubs are also a major driver of academic interest. Coinbase said 41 of the 50 universities had student-run groups related to crypto or blockchain.
As the Coinbase post put it:
“This interest in studying crypto at colleges and universities speaks volumes about the future of money.”
Malta-based crypto exchange Binance wants to spur greater research in open-source blockchain development.
To that end, the exchange unveiled Binance X on Thursday, announcing that it was funding more than 40 developers conducting research into open-source crypto software. Binance X also hopes to facilitate collaboration in the Binance ecosystem by providing resources to projects in various stages of development and tap blockchain “evangelists” to foster education around the space.
For promising developers, Binance X offers a fellowship program focused on research and development of open-source blockchain software. More than 40 project leads have already signed on as Binance X fellows, though the exchange has not revealed how much funding these individuals will receive. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
The platform is designed to serve as a cryptocurrency-focused counterpart to X Development, the research and development subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet. In addition to providing financial support, Binance X is also rolling out educational initiatives for developers and the public.
“The Binance X team will help educate, create opportunities for collaborations and jumpstart growth of these projects via the different programs and resources we have at Binance,” Teck Chia, head of Binance X, said in a statement.
By leveraging the existing ecosystem – including Binance Chain, Binance.com APIs, Trust Wallet SDKs and the Binance Charity donation platform – Binance X says it will support educational advancement at every level “from noobs to seasoned developers.”
To draw in these “noobs,” Binance X’s sponsored evangelists will host blockchain workshops and reading groups at colleges and similar venues to recruit and educate individuals.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has settled charges it filed last year against four promoters of crypto-denominated multi-level marketing schemes.
Following a federal trial in a Florida court, the operators of the fraudulent investment schemes are ordered to pay restitution and have been barred from operating or participating in other such MLM schemes, according to a statement made by the FTC on August 22.
Under the corporate names Bitcoin Funding Team and My7Network, the fraudsters promoted their crypto investment schemes by misrepresenting potential earnings. They used social media, YouTube and conference calls to promote the scams.
In one instance, investors were promised $80,000 in monthly income from an initial investment of $100.
Thomas Dulca, Eric Pinkston, Louis Gatto and Scott Chandler sat at the top of a pyramid scheme. In order to stay in operation, investors were encouraged to recruit new participants. Though promised large rewards, most participants “failed to recoup their initial investment.”
In addition to his promotion of Bitcoin Funding Team, Chandler advertised for Jetcoin, “which promised participants a fixed rate of return, but failed to deliver on these claims,” the FTC alleged.
Dulca and Pinkston are required to pay $453,932 and $461,035, respectively, though Pinkston’s, who is unable to pay the full amount, will be suspended upon payment of $29,491. Chandler is ordered to pay $31,000.
It is unconfirmed whether Gatto will pay a settlement for his involvement in the chain referral schemes.
In 2018, the FTC successfully petitioned the court to freeze the fraudster’s assets. The U.S. regulator also asked the court to order the defendants to stop working together or creating new business entities.
As part of the settlement, the men are barred from ever “operating, participating in, or assisting others in promoting or operating any multi-level marketing program, pyramid, Ponzi, or chain referral scheme.” They are also barred from misrepresenting investment opportunities.
Venezuela’s largest department store will install blockchain-enabled cash registers in its 49 retail outlets.
The megastore operator Traki announced August 22, it will integrate Singapore-based Pundi X’s point-of-sale device, XPOS, to offer a cryptocurrency payment rail for shoppers.
Already available in 30 countries, Pundi aims to sell 100,000 XPOS devices by 2021. This is part of the firm’s plan to introduce cryptocurrencies for everyday use, through an ecosystem of financial products like its XPASS crypto debit cards and Xwallet.
“We made the XPOS with the mission of creating real-life use cases for blockchain technology, and this couldn’t be better represented than Traki shoppers paying for their daily needs with cryptocurrency,” said Pundi X CEO, Zac Cheah.
Cheah continued to say that Traki has been an early adopter of blockchain technology in Venezuela.
“At Traki, we aspire to offer the most convenient options for our customers, and cryptocurrency has proven to be an effective payment solution,” said Michael Gomez, Chief of Crypto Assets department of Traki. Of Pundi’s near-300,000 wallet users, approximately one-tenth are based in Venezuela.
A period of hyperinflation and lack of liquidity has seen many Venezuelans adopt cryptocurrency as a store of value and payment option. Last year, President Nicolas Marduro launched the petro dollar cryptocurrency, pegged to the South American nation’s vast oil reserves, as a means to sidestep economic sanctions. Maduro recently ordered banks and state-owned companies to use the token.
Cryptocurrency exchange Gemini announced Wednesday that it is officially opening its doors to customers in Australia.
The exchange’s fifth international move, the development means that Australian users can buy and sell five cryptocurrencies on Gemini including bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, litecoin, and zcash. The startup, founded by investors Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, is also making available its iOS and Android application to this market.
The U.S.-based Gemini also operates internationally in Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the UK.
Speaking on the launch, co-founder and CEO Tyler Winklevoss said Gemini is looking forward to building its “Crypto Needs Rules” brand to Australia:
“We are thrilled to continue expanding our global footprint and give Aussies a safe and trustworthy cryptocurrency experience. We founded Gemini to build trust in this nascent technology and we look forward to building that trust in Australia.”
Gemini made news earlier this week by adding cybersecurity expert David Damato to its executive team as chief security officer. Damato joins Gemini with 20 years of experience in cybersecurity.
As CoinDesk reported earlier this year, Gemini is looking to expand beyond the trade of cryptocurrencies as well. At the time, CoinDesk learned that Gemini would apply for a broker-dealer license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the organization that regulates the industry in the U.S.
INX Limited, a crypto exchange startup, plans to raise up to $129.5 million through an IPO, in the first security token sale registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
No, that’s not a typo for “ICO,” the initial coin offerings that tested the limits of securities law during the go-go days of 2017. IPO means IPO here: INX, which is domiciled in Gibraltar, filed a draft F-1 (the SEC’s prospectus form for foreign issuers) with the agency on Monday and will market the tokens to retail and institutional investors through the initial public offering.
As such, it’s a major milestone since to date, token sales have been unregistered. Some issuers confined their marketing to wealthy investors so they’d be exempt from the registration requirement and filed notices with the SEC. Most didn’t even bother to tell the regulators what they were up to, and over the last year, the agency has brought a slew of cases against ICO teams for illegally selling unregistered securities.
Further, INX’s sale would also be one of the very few full-fledged IPOs in the blockchain industry and almost certainly the largest. Last year, mining subscription company Argo Mining raised $32.5 million through an IPO on the London Stock Exchange.
INX’s target userbase is largely institutional investors, even though like the INX token itself, crypto trading on the exchange will be available to the general public, provided they go through anti-money-laundering and know-your-customer screening.
“When fully operational, we expect to offer professional traders and institutional investors trading platforms with established practices common in other regulated financial services markets, such as customary trading, clearing, and settlement procedures, regulatory compliance, capital and liquidity reserves and operational transparency,” says the draft prospectus.
In this way, INX will be competing with a number of institutionally-focused, regulated trading platforms launching this year – although INX stands out in the breadth of digital assets it plans to list.
“Our vision is to establish two trading platforms and a security token that provide regulatory clarity to the blockchain asset industry. We plan to achieve this [in part] by differentiating between security and non-security blockchain asset classes and providing trading opportunities for each class,” says the prospectus, later adding:
“In the future, we intend to establish a platform for the trading of derivatives such as futures, options and swaps.”
This means the exchange will be in the same space as not only Overstock’s tZERO (security tokens) but also Coinbase Prime and Fidelity Digital Assets (spot cryptocurrencies) – and eventually Intercontinental Exchange’s Bakkt (derivatives).
Although it is a security, INX’s token could also be described as a utility token, since holders will have the option of using it on the INX Exchange to pay transaction fees.
This is perhaps ironic since, during the ICO boom, many issuers argued that their tokens were not securities because they had a utility, such as the right to use a platform developed with proceeds from the sale.
At the same time, token investors will get a share of INX’s profits, though they won’t be equity holders.
Rather, they will stand in line ahead of shareholders to get repaid, in the event of a liquidation. In this way, the token is akin to preferred stock.
“It is the Company’s intention that the INX Token holders’ claim for breach of contract will be senior to the rights of the holders of the ordinary shares of the Company in liquidation,” the document says.
The securities will be represented as ERC-20 tokens on the ethereum blockchain.
Since crypto assets are such a new and unprecedented phenomenon that does not map easily to old categories, several different regulatory agencies have claimed jurisdiction over different parts of the industry.
For INX, this has meant getting sign-off from multiple agencies. Before it can proceed with the token sale, INX still has to get the SEC to deem its prospectus “effective.”
The prospectus includes disclosures that are standard for publicly listed companies, but rare if not unheard-of in the shadowy world of crypto, such as the executives’ employment contracts.
That’s just for the fundraising. For the exchange to actually open for trading, several other approvals still must be obtained.
Since INX will be listing security tokens, it will have to first become a broker-dealer, which requires a separate registration with the SEC and acceptance into FINRA, a self-regulatory organization (SRO), and an alternative trading system (ATS), which requires filing additional forms with the SEC.
On top of securities-related approvals, to operate as a crypto exchange where investors can buy and sell bitcoin and the like, INX will need money transmitter licenses from the individual states where it does business.
INX’s management, board, advisors and early investors feature luminaries from both the crypto and traditional finance worlds.
On the crypto side, INX’s advisors include bitcoin security stalwart Jameson Lopp, Blockstream chief strategy officer Samson Mow, and Morgan Creek Capital Management CEO Mark Yusko.
The management team includes executive managing director of U.S. operations Alan Silbert, a former commercial banker who ran an early bitcoin startup called Bitpremier on the side. (His brother Barry is the founder of VC firm Digital Currency Group, which is not involved in INX).
The board, on the other hand, includes David Weild, a former vice-chairman of Nasdaq, and Thomas K. Lewis, former CEO of the predecessor company to TD Ameritrade.
Investors include Mow and litecoin creator Charlie Lee, according to the draft prospectus.
Cryptocurrency exchange Binance has announced that it’s launching a project that will develop cryptocurrencies and digital assets pegged to fiat currencies around the world.
Dubbed Venus, the “localized” stablecoin initiative will see the firm utilize its existing infrastructure, such as its public blockchain, Binance Chain, and international payment system, “to empower developed and developing countries to spur new currencies.”
Binance said it’s seeking to create new partnerships with governments, enterprises and cryptocurrency and blockchain firms to assist the effort.
The exchange stated in its Monday announcement that it “will provide full-process technical support, compliance risk control system and multi-dimensional cooperation network to build Venus,” adding:
“Binance welcomes additional government partners, companies and organizations with a strong interest and influence on a global scale to collaborate with us to build a new open alliance and sustainable community.”
The exchange has previously launched two stablecoins, BTCB, pegged to bitcoin, and BGBP, pegged to the British pound. on Binance Chain. It also listed the USDC dollar-backed cryptocurrency back in November.
In a statement to CoinDesk, Binance co-founder Yi He addressed the new project, saying:
“We believe that in the near and long term, stablecoins will progressively replace traditional fiat currencies in countries around the world, and bring a new and balanced standard of the digital economy. We hope to achieve a vision, that is, to reshape the world financial system, allow countries to have more tangible financial services and infrastructures, protect their financial security and increase the economic efficiency of countries.”
Katherine Wu was up until 3 a.m. Wednesday annotating Kik’s response to its complaint from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“That’s what I do for fun,” she told CoinDesk later that morning.
And now Wu is once again employed to dig deep, into startups.
Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Wu has been named a principal at Notation Capital, a venture capital firm that invests across the technology sector, including parts of the crypto industry.
Founded by Nicholas Chirls and Alex Lines, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Notation invests based on its teams’ areas of interest, which has included several blockchain-related investments, such as Filecoin, Livepeer and Bison Trails, to name a few. Notation is also known for investing in the very early stages of a company or project.
In a draft blog post shared with CoinDesk in advance, the company writes:
“We weren’t hiring for this role – and then we met Katherine. For anyone that’s been fortunate enough to spend some time with K-Wu, it’s clear within minutes that she has a unique talent to bring people together, ask the right questions, and then get shit done in a way that is very much her own.”
Last month, the firm hired crypto mining veteran Thomas Bailey. Wu makes it a team of four.
Down the rabbit hole
A graduate of the Cardozo School of Law in New York, Wu discovered crypto while studying to be a securities attorney.
“I fell into crypto first and then fell in love with the tech world later, which I feel like is the opposite of most people,” Wu said. “When I first got into crypto was when SAFT was starting to become a thing and ICOs were starting to become a thing.”
The legal questions raised by those token sales interested her first, but then she became more interested in the technology. “It was simply the most intellectually challenging topic I’d ever come across,” Wu said. “You’re constantly being questioned on every assumption you make.”
She was a member of the founding team at Messari, where she served as director of business development before leaving the crypto data firm in March.
While Wu will not be exclusively crypto-focused at Notation, she does expect to help the company source some of those deals. She’s reluctant to identify specific areas of the industry she’s on the lookout for.
“Because of how quickly the landscape changes and how quickly your assumption changes, it’s sometimes hard to hold onto one cool idea at a time and look at it on a long term horizon,” Wu said, concluding:
“It’s definitely really exciting for me to be given this role to write checks and support businesses if I really feel strongly about that.”
A small bank in New York City has started doing business with cryptocurrency firms, joining the very short list of U.S. financial institutions to embrace the sector.
Quontic Bank opened a checking account for a bitcoin ATM company a few weeks ago and is in the process of completing a contract to deliver banking services to another crypto startup. The bank wouldn’t name either client.
“We’re just taking steps so that when the regulatory environment becomes more crypto-friendly, we don’t have a lot of catching up to do,” said Quontic chief executive Steven Schnall, who acquired the bank in 2009. “We’re looking to diversify our product offering and our customer mix by entering into that field.”
While Schnall wouldn’t say how big he wants Quontic’s crypto business to be, he claimed the pending contract “could impact millions of Americans.”
Crypto-friendly banks are extremely rare, in part because of the extra work they have to do complying with know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations.
“Banks and other financial institutions have to look out for any suspicious activity,” said Joshua Klayman, head of the blockchain and digital assets practice at law firm Linklaters. “If you have a startup that raised money doing an ICO and didn’t do proper KYC or AML, that bank doesn’t know who the proceeds are from.”
Like those institutions, Quontic is a relative pipsqueak in the banking industry. With $420 million in assets, it is only 0.015 percent the size of JPMorgan.
Yet Quontic stands out because its leaders caught the crypto bug early on.
Students of crypto
Schnall, a longtime mortgage lender, became interested in bitcoin when it was worth less than $1, bought his first bitcoin at $75 in 2013 and lost 500 BTC in the Mt Gox debacle.
Patrick Sells, now the bank’s chief innovation officer, said Schnall began to educate him on bitcoin the first few times they met, while Sells was doing mortgage lead generation for Quontic through his own firm.
To learn more about the mechanics of cryptocurrency, Schnall and Sells built an ethereum mining operation, independent from Quontic, in January 2018. (Schnall said he is now more bullish on bitcoin than any other cryptocurrency.)
The two executives even came close to launching their own cryptocurrency, also separate from the bank, called QCoin. They lined up $2.5 million for an initial coin offering (ICO) but called it off after the market crashed.
Undeterred by the ups and downs, the bankers said that they believe banking and crypto can have a symbiotic relationship and are exploring what steps toward that goal might look like under the U.S. regulatory framework.
The bankers helped educate their staff of 180 by giving them each $20 in bitcoin when the price of bitcoin was around $3,000, and they’re looking to hire employees with experience in cryptocurrency.
“We can teach them the banking side,” said Sells, vaping in a white v-neck and jeans at Quontic’s Manhattan headquarters. “It’s easier to do that than vice versa.”
While the bank wants to let cryptocurrency companies know that it’s open to banking them, Quontic said it has high standards for crypto customers.
When the bitcoin ATM network approached Quontic a year ago, the company was not prepared for the bank’s compliance vetting.
It didn’t have a disaster recovery plan, it was not properly tracking the currency transaction reports (CTRs) filed to regulators, and the company’s reporting was not up to Quontic’s standards.
After working closely with the bank for a year, the company opened an account at Quontic a few weeks ago.
To Schnall, such professionalism is necessary for crypto startups to be taken seriously.
“You don’t have mom-and-pop financial institutions. You’re not going to have mom-and-pop crypto players of any significance,” Schnall said. “Crypto companies have to have strong controls, internal audit, and a very robust system of compliance.”
Additionally, the juice has to be worth the squeeze for Quontic to bank a crypto firm.
“There must also be a strong strategic motivation for us as well – such as meaningful deposit balances, etc.” Schnall said. “‘Meaningful’ is relative to how complex, risk-laden and labor-intensive the account will be.”
Arrington XRP Capital-backed financial startup Nexo has unveiled a crypto card with a line of credit backed by the user’s crypto holdings.
Nexo partnered with an unnamed intermediary to issue the card, which offers a way for users to “spend the value of their crypto without actually spending it,” said firm partner Antoni Trenchev.
Unlike other crypto credit cards like TenX and Crypterium that convert cryptocurrencies to fiat for every transaction, Nexo collateralizes users’ crypto and supplies them with a fiat loan. Since its founding, the startup has extended more than $700 million in crypto-collateralized loans to over 200,000 clients. Now, the loans can be used to make purchases at merchants that accept MasterCard, through a co-branding.
After swiping, an oracle confirms the user has enough collateral to cover the purchase, instantaneously executes a loan, and settles the transaction in fiat. Trenchev claims the card’s issuer is licensed within the European Economic Area.
Through additional partnerships with intermediaries, Nexo aims to expand to the U.S. and Asia by the end of the year.
The cards are available independent of a client’s credit history, as the staked collateral reduces default risk. Likewise, interest rates are set between 8 and 24 percent APR based on the loan structure and local regulations.
Users can repay their loans in either crypto or fiat, though using Nexo’s token will reduce interest rates to 8 percent. Additionally, minimum payments will be eliminated if the value of bitcoin increases. This is because the credit line is “dynamic,” meaning as the value a client’s collateralized assets increases relative to the market, their fiat debts decrease.
In fact, crypto entrepreneur Brock Pierce mortgaged a house in Amsterdam through a $1.2 million line of credit through Nexo, and hasn’t made a single repayment due to the rising value of bitcoin since he took the loan, Trenchev said.
Conversely, if cryptocurrencies crash, users will either have to “deposit more crypto, pay a part of their loan to reduce exposure, or sell a portion of their collateral to restore the loan-to-value ratio,” Trenchev said.
The company complies with know-your-customer ustomer protocol, follows international sanctions, and has integrated with blockchain investigators Chainalysis to check if collateralized crypto has been ill-gotten, it says.
Nexo has previously paid out dividends of 30 percent on $3 million of profit made during its first 7 months in operation to token holders.
The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of South Korea’s Financial Services Commission has revealed plans to bring cryptocurrency exchanges under its direct regulation.
On August 7, Business Korea reported on the FIU’s decision to shift away from its current practice of regulating crypto exchanges indirectly by providing administrative guidance to domestic banks.
A shift away from indirect regulation
In order to bring crypto exchanges into the country’s regulatory system, an FIU official revealed on Aug. 6 that the South Korean government will introduce a crypto exchange licensing system, as recommended by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). This will reportedly enhance the transparency of cryptocurrency transactions.
At a public hearing held at the National Assembly Member’s Office in Seoul, Lee Tae-hoon — who serves as head of administration and planning at the FIU — stated:
“If an amendment to the Act on Reporting and Use of Certain Financial Transaction Information, which reflects the FATF’s international standards for cryptocurrencies, passes the National Assembly, it will be possible to prevent money laundering through cryptocurrencies.”
Lee added that should lawmakers approve the decision to shift away from “indirect regulation through commercial banks to direct regulation,” oversight of the sector would be more effective.
Commentators reportedly noted that regulatory amendments would need to integrate existing stipulations, which hold that banks must issue real-name accounts to crypto exchanges. This would ensure that crypto exchanges adhere to the same know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering standards as traditional financial institutions.
Impact of FATF guidance
This week’s news aligns with recent unofficial reports that four South Korean crypto exchanges were facing stricter regulation as they attempted to renew their banking accounts.
The tightened requirements were reportedly imposed in the wake of the FATF’s new June 2019 guidance for strengthening control over crypto exchanges in order to better combat money laundering.
Wednesday, July 31 — crypto markets are seeing widespread green, with Bitcoin (BTC) breaking back above $9,700 and many large market cap altcoins seeing solid gains of between 3 and 9% on the day.
Despite trading in a lower price range since dropping back to a four-figure price point in a recent corrections, BTC is today up a solid 2.4%, bringing it to $9,717 by press time.
This mild uptick nonetheless stops short of bringing the coin back into the green on its 7-day chart, where Bitcoin is still reporting a fractional 0.7% loss. On the month, losses are starker, topping 8%.
Yesterday, Peter Tchir — a former Executive Director at German multinational investment bank Deutsche Bank — argued that Bitcoin is an indicator of hidden geopolitical tensions, pointing to the coin’s momentous performance this May at a time of fraught trade talks between the United States and China.
Also this week, erstwhile Bitcoin bear and CNBC host Joe Kernen predicted that the top coin could hit $55,000 — a 500%+ price surge — by the time of its next halving in May 2020.
Top altcoin Ether (ETH) — which celebrated its fourth birthday yesterday — has posted a 1.9% to trade around $212 by press time. In corrections earlier this week, the coin had circled perilously close to the round $200 mark, but has since recovered ground and is just slightly in the red, at 2.2%, on its 7-day chart. On the month, however, Ether is down over 18%.
XRP is reporting a 2.7% gain on the day, while among the remaining top ten coins several alts are seeing stronger upward momentum: Bitcoin Cash (BCH) is posting a 7.5% gain on the day, Litecoin (LTC) is up 3.6% and Binance Coin (BNB) is up 4.1%.
In the context of top twenty coins, Tezos (XTZ) is outstripping all other assets, seeing a 24% gain on the day following news of the token’s listing on major United States crypto exchange Coinbase. At press time, XTZ is trading at $1.24
Still among the top twenty, strong gains are being reported by Chainlink (LINK) — up over 9% — as well as by NEO (NEO), IOTA (MIOTA) and Cosmos (ATOM), all of which are up by 4-5%.
Total market capitalization for all cryptocurrencies is at $261,434,827,781 at press time, according to Coin360 data.
Dominating the crypto headlines this week is the hearing devoted to examining regulatory frameworks for cryptocurrencies and blockchain held at the United States Senate Banking Committee. Cointelegraph reported live on the most important developments during the hearing as it unfolded.
Yesterday’s Committee hearing notably follows upon earlier hearings in mid-July that had examined the regulatory hurdles surrounding Facebook’s Libra.
The United States Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs has ended the hearing on “Examining Regulatory Frameworks for Digital Currencies and Blockchain” today, July 30.
Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire, Rebecca M. Nelson, a specialist in international trade and finance; and Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor of law at the University of California Irvine School of Law all testified before the committee.
Lawmakers want the U.S. to lead in blockchain
Senator Michael Crapo of Idaho began the hearing saying that cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are inevitable and could be beneficial, further noting that the U.S. should establish itself as a global leader in this sector. Crapo concluded:
“I want the U.S. to stay at the forefront of this technology, which both has incredible potential and incredible risk.”
Sen. Catherine Marie Cortez Masto of Nevada said that she believes in the potential of blockchain, and the importance of leading in this technology over China.
Facebook’s Libra concerns many
For many lawmakers, the issue of crypto has now become synonymous with Facebook’s Librastablecoin. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio pointed out that the social media giant has “proved over and over that they can not be trusted.” Brown stipulated that Facebook intends to undermine the U.S. dollar and payment systems, while hiding behind the phrase “innovation.”
Parrying Brown’s statement, Nelson said that Facebook could be a game changer for cryptocurrencies, however it has raised both regulatory and systemic concerns before it can be implemented. Nelson also stated that Facebook has changed the debate about cryptocurrencies.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia then asked about the literal meaning of the 1:1 backing of the Libra, wherein Allaire explained that while the first wave of these types of digital currencies were focused on establishing a global digital currency, the critical mainstream use cases for the financial services sector has needed the development of stable coins, with Libra as an example.
Allaire further noted the government’s restrictive stance towards crypto-related companies, which led them to be based overseas rather than in the U.S. Allaire said that it is necessary to regulate digital assets, however, Congress should define digital assets as a new asset class. Allair stated:
“Digital money will move frictionlessly, everywhere in the world, at the speed of the internet, hopefully with a high level of security and data protection.”
Today’s hearing is part of a recent trend of increased regulatory scrutiny toward cryptocurrencies in the U.S., following the hearings on Libra. Industry players thus tend to discuss an array of relevant issues such as identity, privacy, data security, domestic and international approaches to regulation, as well as the potential of blockchain and crypto solutions for finance in the near future.
OB1, the developers behind the online decentralized marketplace and currency trading platform OpenBazaar announced a mobile counterpart called Haven.
Haven allows users to buy and sell goods and services directly with each other, using cryptocurrencies, without relying on middlemen who take a cut of merchants’ transactions or gather shoppers’ data.
The app is organized into four sections: shopping, social, chat, and a non-custodial multi-wallet. For all features of the peer-to-peer network, user information is stored locally and protected with end-to-end encryption, meaning only the parties involved in the sale or conversation are able to see the details.
Since OB1 launched its 2.0 of OpenBazaar, 250,000 nodes joined the permissionless network. Jenn Cloud, OB1 communications lead, said “there is a core user base of several thousand who frequently use the software and many more are casual users.” A substantial proportion of the “long-lasting nodes” are merchants.
“We’ve heard many stories from merchants about finding OpenBazaar a refugee from the high fees, restrictive terms and conditions, and poor treatment of merchants on eBay and Amazon.”
The app has many of the same features as OpenBazaar, but does not support P2P cryptocurrency trading. Additionally, dispute moderation is only supported by the desktop client.
The social feature is new and enables users to easily communicate with each other. Importantly, it is “not connected to transactions or any other activities on the network and will never post anything automatically,” said Cloud.
Like OpenBazaar, Haven will support BTC, BCH, ZEC and LTC. The representative said plans for a previously reported native token, OBC, are currently on hold.
Looking forward, however the team plans to add Ethereum support. Also, though “no firm plans have been made by the OB1 team… several in the OpenBazaar community have begun work to see if it’s possible to support Monero,” said Cloud.
Haven is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play. This week, the company is offering special deals, such as fifty percent off select electronics and Haven store gift cards, posted in the app “at undisclosed times.”
OB1 has raised $9.25 million to date from investors including Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, OMERS Ventures, BlueYard, Bitmain, Digital Currency Group, and venture capitalist William Mougayar.
While post offices sometimes offer banking services, Croatian Post is looking at launching a nationwide cryptocurrency exchange service.
For a pilot effort, Croatian Post, or Hrvatska Pošta, is now offering crypto-to-fiat exchanges in three post offices in the coastal town of Zadar – a place popular with tourists.
Hrvatska Pošta said Thursday that the trial run will allow it to gauge the market interest for such a service and, if successful, it may roll out crypto exchanges “in all major towns and tourist centers in Croatia.”
According to the announcement:
“Over the past few years, cryptocurrencies have developed more and more users, and Croatia will, with its network of 1,016 post offices, surely contribute to their popularity. Digitalization is one of the Croatian postal development strategies and a driver of numerous business projects. Entering the digital currency market, Croatia Post confirms its position as one of the leaders in digital transformation.”
The pilot – which allows users to convert cryptos into the Croatian national currency, the kuna (HRK) – comes via a collaboration with Croatian crypto brokerage and payments firm Electrocoin, which has been in operation for five years, Hrvatska Pošta said.
Cryptocurrency mining is now an official industrial activity in Iran after winning approval from the country’s cabinet.
In a session on Sunday, chaired by the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, cabinet ministers endorsed the activity and said industry participants would need to seek the required licenses from the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade, the Mehr News Agency reports.
As CoinDesk reported last week, crypto mining had already being given approval by the Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, a government economic commission.
On Sunday, the cabinet also said cryptocurrency users must accept the risks of the technology and that neither the government nor the banks would provide any guarantee.
Cryptocurrencies are still not allowed in domestic transactions, according to Mehr. Mined cryptos will be taxable under the country’s rules, unless the cryptocurrencies are exported and the revenues brought back to Iran.
The deputy minister energy for electricity and energy Homayun Haeri said recently that the government will also vote on a measure to approve an electricity rate for mining farms. Mehr’s report indicates that decision hasn’t yet been made.
Global crypto finance firm XBTO International (XBTOI) has gained legal status in Bermuda. XBTOI acquired a Bermuda Monetary Authority License under the island’s 2018 Digital Asset Business Act according to a statement.
Moving to Bermuda in April 2018, XBTOI is the third firm to receive a license from the regulator to date.
Per its domain, XBTOI operates on multiple finance fronts including over the counter desk trading, consulting, asset management, and VC work. The firm is looking to capitalize on the licensing with new product rollouts concerning digital asset solutions.
Solutions, it said, that were not available in other countries.
Commenting on the announcement, Chief Operating Officer Julien Auchecorne pointed out the importance of growing within Bermuda’s friendly regulatory environment:
“Our local commitment extends beyond our own office presence and working relationships with service providers on the island. We presently have a mandate to expand our office following our license obtention and remain committed to collaborating with all Bermudian stakeholders to explore how we can educate the island on the Digital Assets industry.”
XBTO first launched in 2015 under the name XBT, a play on the original bitcoin ticker symbol. The firm maintains offices in Paris and New York.
Smart Valor has secured a fresh $3.25 million round of investment, led by Venture Incubator, alongside Tally Capital and other Asian and U.S. investors.
With the news, the Zug-based startup is also announcing a new exchange operating from both Switzerland and Liechtenstein that will provide custody, trading and brokerage services. Initially, the exchange will offer BTC and ETH, each of which can trade against the fiat currencies CHF, EUR, GBP and USD.
Smart Valor CEO Olga Feldmeier told CoinDesk in an email:
“Today, Switzerland is the largest global wealth destination, home to a quarter of all global offshore wealth. For over 200 years this place stands for data privacy, safety and security, with an impeccable reputation and high-quality banking services. The same is true for Liechtenstein. But until today, ironically enough, neither Swiss Crypto Valley, nor Liechtenstein, had an exchange offering trading and custody of digital assets. Smart Valor is changing this, giving the privilege of stable, safe-haven jurisdiction not only to the rich, but to all.”
Smart Valor was approved as a regulated financial intermediary in Switzerland late last year. Venture Incubator is a joint initiative of ETH Zurich and consulting firm McKinsey & Company, and has backing from 10 of Switzerland’s most significant companies.
With the basic exchange now live, more tokens will be added monthly, with the goal of making it a leading exchange for security tokens backed by real-world assets, the company said in a press release.
“While hundreds of exchanges were created during the last several years, today there are just about a dozen which are legal, compliant, licensed and safe,” Smart Valor investor David Johnston said in a statement. “Switzerland, being at the top of the hierarchy of financially savvy but crypto-friendly jurisdictions, needs its own Coinbase.”
The exchange’s launch is accompanied by a campaign that gives initial users fee-free trading and brokerage services during the first three months. Not surprisingly, the full capacity of the early access program has been taken up by 5,000 users registered on the platform prior to today’s launch.
Feldmeier said in a release:
“This brings us a huge step forward to our vision of becoming the world’s first security token exchange for alternative investments.”
The cash-counting machines were softly buzzing in an office with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Moscow’s landmarks.
“Hear that sound?” asked the head of an over-the-counter (OTC) cryptocurrency trading desk — let’s call him ‘Oleg’ — who requested his real name and company be withheld. “You can hear it 24/7 in here.”
Business is brisk thanks to a constant flow of Chinese merchants who come in daily with heavy bags of cash. Oleg said his OTC desk sells about $3 million worth of crypto every day. Most of it usually goes to China. But what’s perhaps most surprising is which crypto.
Only 20 percent of Oleg’s sales are in bitcoin, the oldest cryptocurrency with the largest market capitalization. The other 80 percent is in the dollar-pegged token known as tether, or USDT.
Tether’s best-known application is allowing crypto traders to move money between exchanges quickly to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities. But according to several Moscow OTC traders, it has at least one real-world use case – as the go-to remittance service for local Chinese importers.
The total volume of USDT purchased by Chinese businesses can reach $10 million to $30 million daily, these traders said.
“They accumulate a lot of cash in Moscow and need tether to transfer it to China,” said Maya Shakhnazarova, head of OTC trading at Huobi Russia, the Moscow office serving high-roller clients of Singapore-based exchange Huobi Global.
It’s a simple process.
“A client comes with cash, we register the price at exchanges, when we agree on a price, we make a deal,” Shakhnazarova told CoinDesk. “The client hands over cash and a wallet address, the seller sends USDT to the wallet.”
Why tether? It has the usual advantages of crypto – no limits on how much money can be sent or where – without the volatility that makes most coins infeasible for moving millions across the border daily.
Despite longstanding questions about USDT’s purported dollar backing, exacerbated by the New York State Attorney General (NYAG) court case against the issuing company Tether, the stablecoin usually trades around $1.
The tether-for-rubles purchases often take place in offices like Huobi’s in the steel-and-glass skyscraper district of Moscow City.
“There are a lot of OTCs here in Moscow City, a bunch of offices in every building, and the volumes for them all can reach several dozens of millions of dollars a day. It’s all paid for in cash,” Shakhnazarova said.
Tether’s killer app
Chinese grey-market importers used to rely on bitcoin before the 2018 bear market, another OTC dealer, Roman Dobrynin, told CoinDesk. As the price was ever-growing, merchants and the intermediaries helping them buy crypto could make some extra money along the way.
But since the beginning of 2018, hoping that your bitcoin will still be worth the same or more at the end of the transfer became too risky.
“As the price was going down, tether became much more convenient to use,” said Dobrynin. “China is totally reliant on USDT, they trust in it a lot, plus it’s very liquid.” His own clients are mostly Chinese, and they usually find him by word of mouth, connecting via Telegram.
To buy or sell USDT for dollars from Tether itself, a trader must be verified through the company’s know-your-customer (KYC) process. However, since the token runs on top of public blockchain networks (bitcoin, ethereum and tron), anyone can receive or send it, and secondary trades are unrestricted.
Tether did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Back in China, the merchants can exchange USDT for fiat easily, even though the People’s Bank of China banned fiat-to-crypto spot trading in September 2017, forcing the exchanges to move out of the country and limiting trading to crypto-to-crypto pairs.
Chinese traders who need to liquidate crypto assets into Chinese yuan can still go to an OTC market maker, such as those registered on exchanges like Huobi and OKEx, to get matched with buyers and send them crypto after receiving a wire transfer via a bank, AliPay or WeChat Pay.
Critics of Tether have long questioned whether the stablecoin was fully backed 1:1 with dollars, as the company long insisted. The NYAG case revealed that Tether had loaned a big chunk of its capital reserves to Bitfinex, an exchange with overlapping management and owners, leaving the coin only 74 percent collateralized by cash and equivalents.
None of this seems to faze the Moscow traders or their Chinese clients.
“Nobody actually cares if tether is backed or not,” says Konstantin Plavnik, chief operating officer of Moscow-based crypto derivatives exchange Xena. Confidence in Tether’s solvency relies on long-time habit and convenience: this market needs tether, so tether is trusted.
OTC traders also point out that USDT’s daily volume exceeds its supply in circulation several times over, which indicates that people turn the token around multiple times during the day. For example, according to CoinMarketCap, on July 29, the 24-hour volume of USDT was recorded at $17.5 billion, while the total supply was just around $4 billion.
The turnaround of tether is fast, so for the merchants using the token for remittances, whether it’s worth something or not matters only within one day. Large batches of USDT get transferred to China overnight and then exchanged for yuan, crypto entrepreneurs in Moscow told CoinDesk.
“USDT will stay propped by the power of habit and trust of its users,” said Vladislav Bulochnikov, the head of product at crypto wallet app provider Chatex. “Even if it loses half of its backing — it’ll still be out there.”
Skirting capital controls
Stepping back, the Chinese government maintains strict capital controls, limiting the amount of foreign currency anyone can buy or sell to $50,000 a year. People can apply for an additional quota, but still the amount of currency they can buy and sell will be limited. In this situation, some Chinese have opted to use crypto to move money across the border, Bloomberg reported in 2017.
The fact that Chinese merchants bringing cheap goods to Moscow’s shopping malls use crypto to move money around was all but officially recognized by the Russian authorities last year.
Several large malls in the city account for around $9.5 billion of unregulated cash flow monthly, and most of the merchants are from China, said Yuri Polupanov, the Bank of Russia’s head of financial monitoring and currency control, during an event hosted by Thomson Reuters in Moscow in April 2018.
These malls, located inside huge warehouses on the outskirts of Moscow, host multiple retail stands, selling mostly clothing, usually for cheap and for cash. They are shopping Meccas for people who can’t afford to spend much on their wardrobes and avoid even mass-market chain stores.
“We see most of the revenue turned into cryptocurrency, which is not reported in any way at the moment,” Polupanov said at the Thomson Reuters event, according to the RBK news agency. “We see simultaneous transfers of that cryptocurrency via email to the homeland of those merchants and producers, and the following exchange of it for the local currency there.”
According to a March 2019 report in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, cash would be received at places like a hotel called “Druzhba” (“Friendship” in Russian), located next to the shopping mall named “Moscow.” Then this cash would be swapped for crypto and sent to Hong Kong.
The wholesale trade offices at Druzhba could be turning around $10 million to $12 million daily, Novaya Gazeta’s sources estimated.
The operations were ceased for a short time after police raided the hotel, along with the malls mentioned by the Bank of Russia, in March of this year.
Small crypto desks are still functioning at those malls, OTC trader Dobrynin believes, though they likely don’t provide the volumes merchants need.
Outside traders are often afraid to go to those areas to make deals as things can get dangerous there, he said, explaining: