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Bitcoin Prices Reach $13,500 in Zimbabwe as Military Putsch Triggers Currency Crisis

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If you think bitcoin prices are getting out of hand, you clearly haven’t been to Zimbabwe. The African country, which is known for runaway inflation and political instability, offers bitcoin at a 2:1 premium. The price gauge reached epic levels on Wednesday in the wake of a military coup targeting “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe.

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Zimbabwe’s Political Crisis

The national army seized power on Wednesday in a coup that has confirmed the arrest of the 93-year-old president.  Mugabe, who has been in power for 37 years, is apparently at the center of crimes leading to the “social and economic suffering” of the nation, the army said in a statement broadcast over national airways.

Analysts say that a coup has been in the works since Mugabe axed Vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa on suspicion of plotting to take power.

Bitcoin Surges

Bitcoin’s Zimbabwe premium reached historic levels as prices on the major exchanges topped $13,500. That’s more than double the price level offered on most global exchanges.

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Demand for cryptocurrency skyrocketed following the military putsch, which agitated an already fragile political situation inside the country. News of the coup sent bitcoin prices soaring by almost 10%, according to local exchange Golix. Political instability, combined with a shortage of fiat money, has made bitcoin much more attractive.

Last month, the Golix exchange commented on the large premium Zimbabweans pay for their digital currency. It said prices have nothing to do with domestic cash shortages, but instead reflect anticipation for government intervention in the cryptocurrency space. Growing support for bitcoin and other digital currency systems may compel the government to introduce new capital controls to limit the growth of non-fiat based money.

As RT reports, Golix has seen roughly $1 million worth of BTC transactions over the past month, compared to just $10,000 for the entire previous year.

Zimbabwe was hit especially hard by the 2008 financial crisis, as hyperinflation erased the local currency. Inflation rose by a staggering 500 billion percent, leading local authorities to drop the currency all together. Since about 2009, the country has relied on the U.S. dollar and South African rand.

The country remains in a protracted economic slump that has cut GDP in half over the past two decades. It is estimated that some 95% of locals are without a job.

Disclaimer: The writer owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

 

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Federal Reserve Hikes Interest Rates for Third Time This Year, Keep 2018 Policy Outlook Unchanged

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Federal Reserve Building

The Federal Reserve moved ahead with its third rate hike of the year Wednesday, signaling renewed confidence in the domestic economy. In doing so, policymakers affirmed their outlook for three more upward adjustments in 2018.

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Fed Vote

As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to raise the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to 1.5% on Wednesday. That was the third quarter-point adjustment of the year, with the previous occurring in June.

Seven FOMC members voted for the measure while two dissented.

The central bank also confirmed it would increase the monthly pace of reducing its balance sheet beginning to $20 billion beginning in January from $10 billion currently.

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“This change highlights that the committee expects the labor market to remain strong, with sustained job creation, ample opportunities for workers and rising wages,” central bank Chair Janet Yellen told reporters Wednesday following the decision.

Although Wednesday wasn’t Yellen’s final rate decision as head, it was the last to feature the quarterly projection materials. Yellen will step aside in February as Jerome Powell takes a the chair.

Growth Outlook

Policymakers upwardly revised their outlook on the domestic economy, arguing that volatile weather failed to tame a deepening recovery. The data certainly corroborate that point after the Commerce Department confirmed a faster pace of expansion in the third quarter. In fact, the U.S. economy strung together its fastest six-month expansion in years betwen April and September.

The Fed revised its 2018 growth outlook to 2.5% from 2.1% previously.

“Hurricane-related disruptions and rebuilding have affected economic activity, employment and inflation in recent months but have not materially altered the outlook for the national economy,” the central bank said.

Despite a more bullish outlook, the Fed gave no indication it would adopt a more hawkish rate-hike path. This moderate approach is expected to continue under the guidance of Jerome Powell in February. The Fed’s median forecast pegged the benchmark interest rate at 2.1% at the end of 2018. Analysts say that could reflect ongoing concern over sluggish inflation and wage growth.

Average hourly earnings have lagged behind the historic average throughout the recovery, raising concerns about the quality of jobs being created in the labor market. Meanwhile, the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation – the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index – averaged just 1.6% annually in October. That’s below the Fed’s target of 2% annually.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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Swiss Banks Join Forces to Launch Ethereum Platform

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Switzerland’s largest banks have converged on a new blockchain initiative powered by the Ethereum network. The new program will be implemented just in time for new regulations related to counter-party reference data.

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Banking giant UBS announced Monday it has united with Barclays, KBC, SIX and Thomson Reuters to advance the MiFID II data collection project. MiFID II is a revamped version of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, which is intended to offer greater protection for investors. MiFID II officially comes into force Jan. 3, 2018.

The joint program will be powered by Ethereum smart contracts, and will be run on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Specifically, it will allow participants to align their Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) reference data against industry consensus. In other words, it will allow financial institutions to identify and sort out anomalies. The smart contracts will reconcile anonymized reference data on the blockchain without compromising the bank’s exclusive access to the source data.

The program was incubated in London at a UBS blockchain development lab.

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“Traditionally, a firm such as ours quality checks data against multiple sources but we do not have a quality baseline against peers”, Christophe Tummers, Head of Data at UBS, said in a statement released Monday. “Through using blockchain-inspired smart contracts, the reconciliation of data can happen in almost real-time for all participants, anonymously.”

UBS blockchain strategist Emmanuel Aidoo said this was an important project because it “establishes blockchain benefits in a broader context than clearing and settlement.”

Blockchain technology has been well received by the traditional banking community, which views the new technology as a conduit for future growth, transparency and resiliency. However, these same institutions have been much more critical of blockchain-based cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and ether.

The announcement had no discernible impact on ether prices. The world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap continued to trade around $470 U.S. Ether briefly traded at record highs over the weekend before giving up gains ahead of the planned launch of bitcoin futures. Ethereum continues to be the platform of choice for developers, startups and financial institutions looking to leverage smart contract capability.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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South Korea Loosens Grip on ICOs

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Initial coin offerings (ICOs) will not be banned in South Korea after all, according to a recent decision by the central government. Although the market will still be governed by strict regulations, institutional players will have the opportunity to invest in the burgeoning market.

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ICOs Will Not Be Banned

South Korean newspaper Chosun reported Friday that the government is looking to regulate the ICO market and will allow institutional investors to participate in the controversial crowdfunding model. Chosun revealed that several government agencies have formed a task force to sort out a regulatory framework for ICOs. They include the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Financial Services Commission, Fair Trade Commission, Financial Supervisory Commission and Ministry of Justice.

The task forces are investing the possibility of taxing cryptocurrency investors, as well as implementing Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies for institutional investors. These protocols have already been adopted elsewhere and currently form the basis of the Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (SAFT) protocol.

A task force spokesperson told Chosun:

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“Currently, the task force is considering imposing stricter regulations for investor and consumer protection within the cryptocurrency market.” The spokesperson added “in regards to ICOs, the government will likely impose regulations to enable institutional investors to invest in ICOs.”

That being said, South Korea will still keep a tight lid on public access to ICOs, with the spokesperson clarifying that only institutional investors will be able to enter the market.

The spokesperson added: “It is not possible to allow any citizen of South Korea to invest in ICOs. However, the government may allow institutional investors that meet capital requirements established by the Financial Supervisory Commission.”

South Korea has adopted a fairly laissez faire approach to cryptocurrency, which has made the Asian nation a prime destination for traders. The South Korean yuan is the third most traded fiat currency involved with cryptos, behind only the Japanese yen and U.S. dollar. South Korean exchanges were at the center of the latest bitcoin rally that took prices north of $19,000.

Last month, South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) said it had no plans to monitor cryptocurrency exchanges. According to FSS head Choe Heung-sik, “supervision will come only after the legal recognition of digital tokens as a legitimate currency.”

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest money you can't afford to lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here.



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