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Bitcoin holders — especially those who bought in during the crypto-currency’s recent surge past $1,000 — are a bit shell-shocked this week:
Bitcoin prices plunged again Monday morning after Mt.Gox, the major exchange for the virtual currency, said technical problems require it to continue its ban on customer withdrawals.
Mt.Gox said it has discovered a bug that causes problems when customers try to use their account to make a transfer or payment of bitcoins to a third party. It said the problem is not with Mt.Gox software but affects all transfers of bitcoins to third parties.
The exchange said it was suspending withdrawals and third-party payments until the problem is fixed, although trading in bitcoins continues.
A bug is allowing a third party receiving a bitcoin transfer to make it look as if the transfer did not go through, which can lead to improper multiple transfers, Mt.Gox said.
Bitcoin prices on Mt.Gox plunged from about $693 just early Monday to $510 at 6 a.m. ET, soon after the statement was posted. Prices had been as high as $831 just after 7 p.m. Thursday before Mt.Gox’s halt of withdrawals was first disclosed early Friday morning.
Mt.Gox tried to put the best face on the technical problems in its latest statement, noting that the technology is “very much in its early stages.”
“What Mt.Gox and the Bitcoin community have experienced in the past year has been an incredible and exciting challenge, and there is still much to do to further improve,” it said.
This is one of those “teaching moments” that the President likes to point out. But the lesson isn’t that bitcoin in particular or crypto-currencies in general are fatally flawed. It is that they are currencies, not money or investments, and the differences between these three concepts is crucial to doing asset management right.
An investment is something that, if successful, generates cash flow and potentially capital gains, but if less successful can produce a capital loss. Money, in contrast, is capital. It is what you receive when you sell an investment and/or where you store the resulting wealth until you decide to buy something with it. Money does not generate cash flow and does not “work” for you the way an investment does. Instead, it preserves your capital in a stable form for later use.
“Sound” money exists in limited quantity and doesn’t have counterparty risk – that is, its value doesn’t depend on someone else keeping a promise – so it tends to hold its value over long periods of time. Gold and silver, for instance, have functioned as sound money for thousands of years. As you’ve no doubt heard many times, the same ounce of gold that bought a toga in ancient Rome will buy a nice suit today. Ditto for oil, wheat and most of life’s other necessities.
Currency, meanwhile, is the thing we use for buying and selling. It can also be money, as in past societies where gold and silver coins circulated. But it doesn’t have to be. Paper dollars, euro, and yen are representations of wealth rather than wealth itself and are only valuable because we trust the governments managing them to control their supply and banks to give us back our deposits on demand. Such currencies are not very safe but are extremely convenient, so even people who understand the inherent flaws of today’s currencies keep some around for transacting.
As for bitcoin, for a while the more excitable in the techie community seemed to think that crypto-currencies could function not just as currency but as money, i.e., as a form of savings, because the supply of bitcoin was limited by the algorithm that creates it. But they were overlooking counterparty risk. Since the vast majority of bitcoins in circulation are stored electronically and transmitted over the Internet, they’re only valuable if those media function correctly. Let a system fail, as Mt. Gox apparently has, and the bitcoins in that system are either unavailable (in which case their immediate value is zero) or suddenly very risky, in which case they’re obviously not a good savings vehicle.
Is this a deal-breaker for crypto-currencies? No. In many ways bitcoin is a better currency than the dollar because it can’t be inflated away by a desperate government or confiscated in the coming wave of bank bail-ins.
People who understand crypto-currencies and own a small amount of bitcoin for transactional purposes are probably unfazed by the latest speed bump. And people who had their life savings in it have received a valuable lesson in the nature of money.
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Chucked something in the wash and turned it on too high, only to see it pop out at the end of the cycle and it ends up the size of your hamster. Well, Obama has been doing the same. Except this time it’s not your winter woollies that he’s shrinking, it’s the greenback.
The US currency is shrinking as a percentage of world currency today according to the International Monetary Fund. It’s still in pole position for the moment, but business transactions are showing that companies around the world are today ready and willing to make the move to do business in other currencies.
The US Dollar has long been the world’s number one denomination in world currency supply. It represents 62% of total holdings in foreign exchange in central banks around the world. But, it is in for a tough race from up-and-coming strong currencies. The Japanese Yen and the Chinese Yuan are both giving the Americans a good run for their money. The Swiss franc is too (surprisingly). There is $6 trillion in foreign exchange holdings around the world at any given time, on average and the US Dollar represents almost two-thirds of that.
The fact that Brazil and China have also just signed a currency-swap deal worth something to the tune of $30 billion stands as living proof that the dollar may be further on the wane. China will exceed all expectations in the future as the world’s largest economy. The US will be overtaken. The Chinese currency will one day overtake the Dollar too. Has to be!
Although, it’s not quite there for the moment. China is not near being the world’s reserve currency yet. In order to be the world’s reserve currency there would be the need to produce enormous quantities of what the world wants. China has got that one off pat already. Then, countries holding the reserve currency would need to be able to spend that currency elsewhere in other countries or find a place to put it while waiting to do so. World capital markets are currently in dollars (40%), which means that there would be no possibility of using the Chinese currency. But, that’s only a matter of time. Some are predicting this will happen pretty soon.
The Federal Reserve has come in for some strong criticism over the unconventional Quantitative Easing methods that have resulted in 3 trillion spanking new dollars rolling off the printing presses. This has certainly brought about some degree of worry around the world that the dollar is not quite as safe as it might have been thought to be in the past. Is the world worrying that the dollar is not as safe a bet as it used to be in world domination. Are central banks worried that it will shrink in the wash and the colors will run?
Some are predicting that the dollar will shrink rapidly over the next two years and it will lose its top place as the world’s reserve currency by 2015. In the 1950s the dollar was 90% of total foreign currency holdings around the world. The dollar has definitely lost out to other currencies that are stronger. If there is a continued move and the dollar shrinks, then the resulting catastrophe that will ensue will have a spiral effect on the already enormous US budget deficit (over $1 trillion a year on average).
The only reason the Federal Reserve has been in a position to print more money recently is simply because they are in the strong position to be able to do so as the world’s leading reserve currency. If that changes, then the Americans won’t have the possibility of just hitting the button and setting the printing presses rolling. That means the US will be in no other position than to end up having to pay their debt back.
The US economy and the market are starting to show signs of recovery. Signs. It’s not sustained, hope as they might. If the dollar loses its attraction, then it won’t be used as the international reserve currency. Businesses will start using another currency and the dollar will lose out further still.
Some experts are saying that the problems of the dollar are like a time-bomb ready to explode. Ultimately, it will bring about the death of the dollar. As we stand on and watch, huddled around the coffin as it is lowered into the ground, we know it’s all too late. The flowers have been sent and the Stars and Stripes has been played in recognition of loyal service for the nation.
The QE methods are nothing more than aiding and abetting the already problematic situation of the greenback. We might look back in years to come and reminisce over whether it was the right (long-term) solution to use QE, whether printing bucks sent the greenback to an early grave, or whether it just reached the end of its life and croaked peacefully without making too much noise.
But, criticism of and worry over the dollar and its longevity have been hot topics for years now. The US dollar is a fiat currency that can easily lose status, deriving its value from government regulation and law. But, then again, so is the Euro. So, people living in Europe shouldn’t start throwing stones…they live in glass houses too…and that’s before they start.
Originally posted: Death of the Dollar
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2013 was a year in which lots of imbalances built up but none blew up. The US and Japan continued to monetize their debt, in the process cheapening the dollar and sending the yen to five-year lows versus the euro. China allowed its debt to soar with only the hint of a (quickly-addressed) credit crunch at year-end. The big banks got even bigger, while reporting record profits and paying record fines for the crimes that produced those profits. And asset markets ranging from equities to high-end real estate to rare art took off into the stratosphere.
Virtually all of this felt great for the participants and led many to conclude that the world’s problems were being solved. Instead, 2014 is likely to be a year in which at least some – and maybe all – of the above trends hit a wall. It’s hard to know which will hit first, but a pretty good bet is that the strong euro (the flip side of a weakening dollar and yen) sends mismanaged countries like France and Italy back into crisis. So let’s start there.
The basic premise of the currency war theme is that when a country takes on too much debt it eventually realizes that the only way out of its dilemma is to cheapen its currency to gain a trade advantage and make its debts less burdensome. This works for a while but since the cheap-currency benefits come at the expense of trading partners, the latter eventually retaliate with inflation of their own, putting the first country back in its original box.
In 2013 the US and especially Japan cheapened their currencies versus the euro, which was supported by the European Central Bank’s relative reluctance to monetize the eurozone’s debt. The following chart shows the euro over the past six months:
For more details:
Euro rises to more than 2-year high vs. dollar; yen falls
The euro jumped to its strongest level against the dollar in more than two years on Friday as banks adjusted positions for the year end, while the yen hit five-year lows for a second straight session.
The dollar was broadly weaker against European currencies, including sterling and the Swiss franc. Thin liquidity likely helped exaggerate market moves.
The European Central Bank will take a snapshot of the capital positions of the region’s banks at the end of 2013 for an asset-quality review (AQR) next year to work out which of them will need fresh funds. The upcoming review has created some demand for euros to help shore up banks’ balance sheets, traders said.
“There’s a lot of attention on the AQR, and there’s some positioning ahead of the end of the calendar year,” said John Hardy, FX strategist at Danske Bank in Copenhagen.
Comments from Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank chief and a member of the European Central Bank Governing Council, also helped the euro. He warned that although the euro zone’s current low interest rate is justified, weak inflation does not give a license for “arbitrary monetary easing.
The euro rose as high as $1.3892, according to Reuters data, the highest since October 2011. It was last up 0.3 percent at $1.3738.
The currency has risen more than 10 cents from a low hit in July below $1.28, as the euro zone economy came out of a recession triggered by its debt crisis.
Unlike the U.S. and Japanese central banks, the European Central Bank has not been actively expanding its balance sheet, giving an additional boost to the euro.
Here’s what a stronger euro means for France, the second-largest and arguably worst-managed eurozone country:
French Economy Contracts 0.1% In Third Quarter
The final estimate of France’s gross domestic product, or GDP, in the third quarter remained unchanged at the previous estimation of a contraction of 0.1 percent, indicating that the euro zone’s second-largest economy is struggling to sustain the rebound it witnessed in the second quarter with a growth of 0.6 percent.
The third-quarter GDP growth was in line with analysts’ estimates. According to data released on Tuesday by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the deficit in foreign-trade balance contributed (-0.6 points) to the contraction in the third quarter, compared to the positive (0.1 percent) contribution made in the preceding quarter.
At the beginning of 2013, most of the eurozone was either still in recession or just barely climbing out. Then the euro started rising, making European products more expensive and therefore harder to sell, which depressed those countries’ export sectors and made debts more burdensome. So now, under the forced austerity of an appreciating currency, countries like France that were barely growing are back in contraction. And countries likeGreece that were flat on their back are now flirting with dissolution.
Recessions – especially never-ending recessions – are fatal for incumbent politicians, so pressure is building for a European version of Japan’s “Abenomics,” in which the European Central Bank is bullied into setting explicit inflation targets and monetizing as much debt as necessary to get there. The question is, will it happen before the downward momentum spawns political chaos that spreads to the rest of the world. See Italian President Warns of Violent Unrest in 2014.