Ever-volatile bitcoin is embraced by Wall Street

This June 17, 2014 file photo taken in Washington, DC shows bitcoin medals. (AFP / KAREN BLEIER)
Updated 30 November 2017
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Ever-volatile bitcoin is embraced by Wall Street

NEW YORK: Bitcoin’s stratospheric rise this week follows the digital currency’s embrace by mainstream trading platforms and is seen by some in finance as normal growing pains often experienced by innovative technologies.
After starting the year at around $1,000, bitcoin, which first appeared in 2008, on Wednesday surged as high as $11,434 before promptly falling 15 percent. Near 1700 GMT Thursday, the virtual currency stood at $9,420.
Nasdaq is the latest major financial market to reportedly planning to launch a bitcoin futures exchange next year, although the exact timing is unclear. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange announced plans to offer bitcoin trading in the next few months.
Brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald also is looking to begin trading bitcoin derivatives on an exchange it owns.
“The asset class is not going away,” Cantor Fitzgerald chief executive Shawn Matthews told the Wall Street Journal.
“If you look at the next level, it will be the institutions coming in and being larger participants in the marketplace, especially as liquidity gets better.”
The exchanges will trade bitcoin derivatives, not the currency itself, including futures, which set prices for a commodity or financial instrument at a future date.
“The listing of bitcoin products by derivative markets is a major indirect endorsement that this thing is here to stay,” said David Yermack, a finance professor at New York University, adding that the markets will attract new investors who bet that bitcoin will fall in value.
Yermack, who teaches a course on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, is closely watching the development of blockchain, the underlying technology behind bitcoin.
Bitcoin has been propelled by the rising prominence of blockchain, which leading banks increasingly view as being at the heart of financial technology, Yermack said.
Still, “it is hard to come up with an explanation for why (bitcoin) has been driven by a factor of 10 since the start of the year,” Yermack told AFP.
“It is just mind blowing.”
The embrace of bitcoin by mainstream exchanges has aided the digital currency’s image after it was once associated with drug dealing and money laundering. It also was viewed as risky because it is not regulated or backed by a central bank.
“The biggest problem the banks have faced has been the regulatory uncertainty,” said Lou Kerner, a self-described crypto “evangelist.”
The announcements by the CME and others “addresses it for that particular kind of assets,” he said.
Kerner, who believes bitcoin eventually will become more valuable than gold, batted away talk that the cryptocurrency is overvalued.
“You can find a lot of people to tell you it’s a bubble, and that is what they said at $100, at $1,000, at $10,000, but that does not really add anything to the dialogue,” he said.
Jeff Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs, also views bitcoin as comparable to gold, likening its creation through sophisticated computer technology to metals mining.
“Bitcoin is a commodity, not much different than gold,” he said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television. “I don’t see why there is all this hostility to it, because it fits the same as many other commodities.’
But a key problem facing bitcoin is its limited liquidity, he said, with total market value globally of $170 billion compared with the $8.3 trillion gold market.
“If you give bitcoin decades to grow and it becomes as big as gold, which I am not trying to forecast ... then the volatility would come down,” he said.


Unaoil’s former Iraq partner pleads guilty to bribery

Updated 19 July 2019
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Unaoil’s former Iraq partner pleads guilty to bribery

  • It is the first guilty plea to result from a three-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into suspected bribery and money laundering
  • Unaoil is a Monaco-based oil and gas firm

LONDON: The former partner in Iraq for Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil and gas consultancy, has pleaded guilty to five counts of bribery in the first conviction in a three-year criminal investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Basil Al Jarah, 70, pleaded guilty on July 15 to conspiring to give corrupt payments in connection with the award of contracts to supply and install single point moorings and oil pipelines in southern Iraq, the SFO said.
Al Jarah’s conviction, which comes six months before three other defendants in the case face a criminal trial in London, was announced after a judge lifted reporting restrictions in a pre-trial hearing on Friday, the SFO said.
Ziad Akle, Unaoil’s former territory manager for Iraq and Stephen Whiteley and Paul Bond, who worked for Dutch-based oil and gas services company SBM (Offshore), have pleaded not guilty.
Akle, 44, has been charged with three offenses of conspiracy to make corrupt payments. Bond, a 67-year-old former senior sales manager with SBM (Offshore), and Whiteley, a 64-year-old former vice president of SBM (Offshore) and one-time Unaoil general territories manager for Iraq, Kazakhstan and Angola, each face two counts.
Sam Healey, a lawyer at JMW Solicitors who is representing Whiteley, said his client “strenuously denied” all alleged offenses.
“Mr Whiteley co-operated fully with the SFO as they opened their enquiries and will rigorously defend the charges,” he said.
Lawyers for Al Jarah and Bond declined to comment. A lawyer for Akle was not immediately available for comment.
A spokeswoman for Unaoil declined to comment, while SBM Offshore has said it is company policy to not comment on past or current employees.