China is coming up with cryptocurrency – shock or surprise?

The meeting of finance and technology, widely known as fintech, is changing the landscape of investment management. As the saying goes, it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future events. But it’s manifestly worth the effort because catching big trends is how fortunes are made and catastrophic losses are avoided.

Blockchain-related topics are extremely hot nowadays and cryptocurrencies are one of those. So, what is a cryptocurrency? From the word itself you can see that it has something to do with cryptography and currency. For its part, cryptography is the process of converting ordinary plain text into unintelligible text and vice-versa. Modern cryptography deals with confidentiality: information cannot be understood by anyone, integrity: information cannot be altered, and authentication: sender and receiver can confirm each other.

Putting all the pieces together, cryptocurrency is a medium of exchange value (just like ordinary money) that exists in the digital world and relies on encryption, which makes transactions secure. A cryptocurrency is an alternative form of payment to cash, credit cards, and cheques. The technology behind it allows you to send it directly to others without going through a third party like a bank. In short, cryptocurrencies are like virtual accounting systems.

As you can find, there are many exciting use cases for this. You can send money back to your family without incurring large international fees if you’re working in a different country. Merchants no longer have to worry about payment fraud because people can only spend what they have. Summing up, Cryptocurrency is a radically new way of paying that makes all the transactions secure and helps to get rid of intermediaries represented by banks, which also contributes to a significant reduction in the commission fee.

The cryptocurrencies can either be based on blockchain technology or can be centrally issued, circulated within a community or geographic location, or tied to fiat currency. Blockchain is a revolutionary ledger technology, with a wide array of potential applications from smart contracts to healthcare systems, but it did not catch the attention of speculators and the media until Bitcoin surged from $0.009 to more than $11,000 per coin. There are more than 869 cryptocurrencies, but without fundamentals, they are little more than “trust machines” and, as such, are nearly unanalyzable. They generate no cash flow, making discounted valuation approaches inapplicable, but this criticism applies to gold as well.

Although it is cheaper to invest in the early stages, during a new cryptocurrency’s initial coin offering, doing so may overlook the network effect that favors older altcoins (alternative cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin).

Cryptocurrencies are going to play a major role in the coming years and China has decided to be part of that future, in a big way. China’s official digital currency is nearly ready. As much as China frowns on cryptocurrency, it’s happy to introduce its cryptocurrency. There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstood facts surrounding the legal status of cryptocurrency in China. Various headlines like China Bans Bitcoin, China Bans Crypto Exchanges, China Bans Bitcoin Mining, and many more make most people unclear on where China stands on cryptocurrency and whether that has any real impact on how its citizens behave.

The People’s Bank of China has revealed that its digital currency, “can now be said to be ready” after five years of research work. Don’t expect it to mimic crypto, however. According to payments Deputy Chief Mu Changchun, it’ll use a more complex algorithm and structure. This project of coming up with own cryptocurrency of China was started by the former governor of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, who retired in March. He decided to come up with the digital currency which will protect China from having to adopt a technology standard, like Bitcoin, designed and controlled by others. 

Facebook Inc.’s push to create cryptocurrency Libra has caused concerns among global central banks, including the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), which said the digital asset must be put under central bank’s supervision to prevent potential foreign exchange risks and protect the authority of monetary policy. Sun Tianqi, an official from China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said, “Libra must be seen as a foreign currency and be put under China’s framework of forex management”. Dave Chapman, executive director at BC Technology Group Ltd also said on similar lines that, “It is without a doubt that with the announcement of Libra, governments, regulators and central banks around the world have had to speed up their plans and approach to digital assets. They have to consider the possibility that non-government issued currencies could dramatically disrupt finance and payments.”

How the cryptocurrency issued by China will be different from other cryptocurrencies, might be one of the questions coming to your mind. To begin with, in launching the new cryptocurrency, referred to as DC/EP for Digital Currency/Electronic Payment, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has stolen a march on both Facebook and other central bankers who have been discussing the possibility of a cryptocurrency and how it’s the implication. What sets China’s DC/EP apart from libra and Mark Carney’s(Bank of England’s Governor) “synthetic hegemonic currency” (SHC), according to Paul Schulte(The founder and editor of Schulte Research, a company does research on banks, financial technology, bank algorithms, and credit algorithms), is that while libra is little more than early-stage computer code and the SHC doesn’t appear to have gone much further than Carney’s mind, the Chinese cryptocurrency is ready to launch. “China is barreling forward on reforms and rolling out the cryptocurrency,” says Schulte, who now runs a research firm. PBOC will be the first central bank to come up with its cryptocurrency. Unlike the decentralized blockchain-based offerings, this one could give Beijing more control over its entire financial system. It would increase the PBOC’s ability to root out risks and crackdown on money laundering. It could also give the government an unprecedented window into individuals’ private lives.

Deputy Chief Mu Changchun described the central bank’s “two-tiered” system, wherein the bank would create the cryptocurrency and a small group of trusted commercial businesses would “pay the central bank 100% in full” to be allowed to distribute it. This dual delivery system is suitable for national conditions of China. It can not only use existing resources to mobilize the enthusiasm of commercial banks but also smoothly improve the acceptance of the digital currency across China. If China’s leaders agree on with this idea of a legal cryptocurrency for the whole country, its introduction will likely be gradual. Early adopters would be barred from using it on investment products, a person familiar with the central bank’s plans says, which would make the impact on monetary policy negligible. 

“China’s strategic plan is to integrate more closely with the rest of the world. Cryptocurrency is just one of the means to have a more internationalized renminbi. It’s all strategic. It’s all long term”, said Charles Liu, chairman of HAO International, a private equity firm investing over $700 million in Chinese growth companies. Finally, the Chinese government said that the cryptocurrency could launch as soon as November 11, China’s busiest shopping day, known as Singles Day.

Author
Pratik Jaju
Team Member– Fintech
(M.Sc. Finance, NMIMS – Mumbai. Batch 2019-21)

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Co-author
Omkar Pawar
Team Member– Fintech
(M.Sc. Finance, NMIMS – Mumbai. Batch 2019-21)

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Libra – Facebook’s cryptocurrency

Facebook has revealed plans for a new global digital currency, claiming it will enable billions of people around the world without a bank account to make money transfers. The digital currency is called Libra and will allow its billions of users to make financial transactions across the globe, in a move that could potentially shake up the world’s banking system.

Facebook revealed the details of its crypto currency, Libra which will let you buy things or send money to people with nearly zero fees. It released its white paper explaining Libra and the technicalities of its blockchain system before a public launch in the first half of 2020.

The effort announced with 27 partners right now ranging from Master Card to Uber and should launch sometime next year with 100 partners, as it hopes. It is a stable coin backed by a basket of actual currencies and marketable securities. Facebook will only get a single vote in its governance of the crypto currency along with its partners.

The currency will be run by the Libra association as Facebook is distancing itself from the direct management. Facebook’s involvement will be run via a new subsidiary called Calibra that handles its crypto dealings and protects users’ privacy by not mingling an individual’s payments with his/her facebook data. By this an individual’s real identity won’t be tied to his/her publically visible transactions. Calibra will also be launching a digital wallet for Libra, as a standalone IOS, android application and also as a functionality within whatsapp and messenger. Libra is the underlying technology but Calibra is likely how most people will interact with the currency. It will be the first crypto currency wallet that millions of people will have access as it takes advantage of facebook’s massive ecosystem with billions of potential users.

One of the biggest problems that the regulators will have to tackle is drug dealers and money launderers from getting their hands on Libra and using it to move money from the eyes of the law enforcement like with any crypto currency.

“The issue is that once you apply traditional regulation to tokens that are backed by money in the bank then those tokens start to look a lot like normal fiat money, after all most money we use today – credit card, apple pay, PayPal etc is just the digital representation of money that the banks promise to ultimately backup. This is the exact same thing except on a blockchain”- Techcrunch

Libra Whitepaper states that unlike previous blockchains which view the blockchain as a collection of transactions, the Libra blockchain is a single data structure that records the history of transactions and states over time. Facebook has created a whole language for writing commands on its protocol called MOVE (programming language), which is an open source prototype in anticipation of a global collaborative effort to advance this new ecosystem.  The facebook has done its homework to cherry pick the best bits and pieces of other crypto project to create Libra.

Like bitcoin there is no real identity on the blockchain; from the perspective of the block chain itself you don’t exist, only public private key pairs exist. Like hyperledger it’s permissioned (at least to start); initially the consensus structure of Libra will be dozens of organisation that will run nodes on the network, validating transactions. Like tezos it comes with on-chain governance; the only entities that can vote at the outset are founding members. Like ethereum, it makes currency programmable and in a number of ways the whitepaper defines interesting ways in which its users can interact with the core software and data structure. For example anyone can make a non-voting replica of the blockchain or run various read comments associated with objects such as smart contracts or a set of wallets defined on Libra. Crucially, Libra’s designers seem to agree with ethereum that running code should have a cause so as to all operations require payment of Libra as gas for it to run. Also like ethereum, it thinks proof of stake is the future but it is also not ready yet. Like binance’s coin it does a lot of burning. Like coda, users don’t need to hold on to the whole transaction history – states Coindesk.

Now needless to say, this is pulling a lot from the latest and greatest crypto ideas and collaborating it.

Facebook launched 2 crypto currencies, addition to Libra the project will also have a Libra investment token, which is how the stake holders (100 or so partners facebook hopes to have lined up on launch) will make money on this, as Libra itself is not supposed to fluctuate in value.

Unlike Libra a currency that will be broadly available to the public, the investment token is a security according to facebook that will be sold to a much more exclusive audience – the funding corporate members of the projects governing consortium known as the Libra association and accredited investors. While Libra will be backed by a basket of fiat currencies and government securities, interest earned on that collateral will go to holders of the investment token. As previously reported ahead of the official announcement, each of the 27 companies that facebook recruited to run validating nodes as founding members of the consortium, invested at least 10 million dollars for the privilege. The investment token is what they received as a financial reward, but that reward will only be meaningful if the network takes off – states Coindesk.

The assets in the reserve are low risk and low yield for early investors which will only materialise if the network is successful and the reserve grows to a substantial size, facebook said in one of the series of documents that supplement the Libra white paper.

This sound a lot like how an Initial Coin Offering – (ICO) has worked over the past of years, except without the expectation of price appreciation as the reward to early investors.

 We will have plenty of time and a lot of information to dig into in the coming months, but my bottom line and initial take is that the money we have today has not worked very well for all of us, furthering the gap between the rich and the poor. Libra (crypto currency) has the potential to bridge this gap but it has to bypass too many regulatory complications.

If facebook succeeds and receives cash for Libra, it and the other founding members of the Libra association could earn big dividends on the interest. If Libra gets hacked or proves unreliable lots of people around the world could lose their personal information and money. But it is clear that facebook has tried to reinvent money, we will have to wait and see if they can pull it off.

Author
Indrajith Aditya
Team Member – Equity Research and Valuation
(M.Sc. Finance, NMIMS – Mumbai 2018-20)


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