South Korea considers cryptocurrency tax as regulators grapple with ‘speculative mania’
South Korea considers cryptocurrency tax as regulators grapple with ‘speculative mania’
As bitcoin futures made their world debut on a US stock exchange this week, policy makers have been forced to contend with cryptocurrencies becoming more of a mainstream play and the need to regulate them.
The world’s biggest and best known cryptocurrency, bitcoin , surged past $17,000 (SR63,750) to new all-time highs this week, marking an almost dizzying 20-fold rise this year and feeding fears of a bubble.
Australia’s central bank governor Philip Lowe warned on Wednesday the fascination with the assets felt like a “speculative mania.”
The comments come days after his New Zealand counterpart said bitcoin appeared to be a “classic case” of a bubble, and cast doubt on its future. The chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday warned trading and public offerings in the emerging asset class may be in violation of federal securities law.
Digital currencies are very popular across Asia, with many retail investors giving up their daily jobs to trade them full time in countries such as Japan and South Korea, which together make up for more than half the global trading volumes by some estimates.
But the possibility of major losses if the bubble bursts and wild gyrations of 10-30 percent in a single day have instilled a sense of urgency among policymakers to come up with a regulatory response.
In Seoul, after an emergency meeting on Wednesday, South Korea’s government said it will consider taxing capital gains from trading of virtual coins and will also ban minors from opening accounts on exchanges, according to a statement obtained by Reuters ahead of its official release.
To be eligible, exchanges in South Korea will need to uphold investor protection rules and disclose all bid and offer quotes.
The measures need parliamentary approval. Seoul will maintain a current ban on all financial institutions dealing virtual currencies.
“The regulations in Korea will not have a negative effect,” said Thomas Glucksmann, head of marketing at Hong Kong-based exchange Gatecoin, adding that on the contrary, “licensing brings certainty, which encourages already regulated entities ... to get involved in addition to skeptical retail investors.”
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, the Seoul-based operator of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchange Bithumb, said it will fully comply with potential regulations from the South Korean government and adequately capitalize itself to protect its clients.
Elsewhere in Asia, China in September ordered Beijing-based cryptocurrency exchanges to stop trading and immediately notify users of their closure, in a move aimed at limiting risks in the speculative market. Economists and cryptocurrency advocates say the move was also intended to close an avenue used to evade Beijing’s capital controls.
Japan requires crypto-currency operators to register with the government. The Japanese government in April granted cryptocurrencies legal status as a means of settlement and in September officially recognized 11 digital currencies exchanges.
Bitcoin dropped to $16,575 on Wednesday, down 0.5 percent on the day, after losing $152 from its previous close. On Bithumb, it was down 2 percent at $17,083. Bitcoin futures maturing in January on the Cboe Global Markets’s Cboe Futures Exchange were $17,700, having opened at $18,010.
Bitcoin-related shares in Seoul slumped in early trade on news of the government’s emergency meeting, before rebounding as the statement did not mention harsh restrictions. Vidente and Omnitel, which hold stakes of Bithumb, were up 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Bitcoin mining-related company JCH Systems were up 1 percent.
While crypto trading has attracted anyone from hedge funds and finance professionals to housewives and college students, it is yet to lure institutional asset managers whose mandates require them to make long-term investments which do not chime with highly-volatile digital currencies, whose fundamental values are also difficult to define.
“BlackRock’s view is that this isn’t a financial asset that we would trade in terms of equities or fixed income instruments,” said Belinda Boa, head of active investments for Asia Pacific, BlackRock.
“There are questions around the store of value and the fact that actually for our clients we’re looking at longer term investments.”
Gulf companies challenged by debt and rising interest rates
- Debt restructurings on the rise, but below crisis levels
- Central Bank of the UAE has raised interest rates four times since last March
There has been an uptick in recent months in heavily-borrowed companies in the Gulf seeking to restructure their debts with lenders. Although the pressure on companies is not comparable to levels witnessed in the region following the 2008 global financial crisis, rising interest rates will eventually begin to have a greater impact, say experts.
Speaking exclusively to Arab news, Matthew Wilde, a partner at consultancy PwC in Dubai, said: “We do expect that interest rate increases will gradually start to impact companies over the next 12 months, but to date the impact of hedging and the runoff of older fixed rate deals has meant the impact is fairly muted so far.”
The Central Bank of the UAE has raised interest rates four times since the start of last year, in line with action taken by the US Federal Reserve. The Fed has signalled that it will raise interest rates at least twice more before the end of the year.
Wilde added that there had been a little more pressure on company balance sheets of late, although “this shouldn’t be overplayed”.
Nevertheless, just last week, Stanford Marine Group — majority owned by a fund managed by private equity firm Abraaj Group — was reported by the New York Times to be in talks with banks to restructure a $325 million Islamic loan. The newspaper cited a Reuters report that relied on “banking sources”.
The Dubai-based oil and gas services firm, which has struggled as a result of the downturn in the hydrocarbons market since 2014, has reportedly asked banks to consider extending the maturity of its debt and restructuring repayments, after it breached certain loan covenants.
A fund managed by Abraaj owns 51 percent of Stanford Marine, with the remaining stake held by Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Waha Capital. Abraaj declined to comment.
Dubai-based theme parks operator DXB Entertainments struck a deal last month with creditors to restructure 4.2 billion dirhams ($1.1 billion) of borrowings, with visitor numbers to attractions such as Legoland Dubai and Bollywood Parks Dubai struggling to meet visitor targets.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Sharjah-based Gulf General Investment Company was in talks with banks to restructure loan and credit facilities after defaulting on a payment linked to 2.1 billion dirhams of debt at the end of last year.
Dubai International Capital, according to a Bloomberg report from December, has restructured its debt for the second time, reaching an agreement with banks to roll over a loan of about $1 billion. At the height of the emirate’s boom years, DIC amassed assets worth about $13 billion, including the owner of London’s Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, as well as stakes in Sony and Daimler. The firm was later forced to sell most of these assets and reschedule $2.5 billion of debt after the global financial crisis.
Wilde told Arab News: “We have seen an increasing number of listed companies restructuring or planning to restructure their capital recently — including using tools such as capital reductions and raising capital by using quasi equity instruments such as perpetual bonds.”
This has happened across the region and PwC expected this to accelerate a little as companies “respond to legislative pressures and become more familiar with the options available to fix their problems,” said Wilde.
He added that the trend was being driven by oil prices remaining below historical highs, soft economic conditions, and continued caution in the UAE’s banking sector.
On the debt restructuring side, Wilde said there had been a “reasonably steady flow of cases of debts being restructured”.
However, the volume of firms seeking to renegotiate debt remains small compared to the level of restructurings witnessed in the aftermath of Dubai’s debt crisis.
Several big name firms in the emirate were caught out by the onset of the global financial crisis, which saw the emirate’s booming economy and real estate market go into reverse.
State-owned conglomerate Dubai World, whose companies included real-estate firm Nakheel and ports operator DP World, stunned global markets in November 2009 when it asked creditors for a six-month standstill on its obligations. Dubai World restructured around $25 billion of debt in 2011, followed by a $15 billion restructuring deal in 2015.
“We would not expect it to become (comparable to 2008-9) so barring some form of sharp external impetus such as global political instability or a protectionist trade war,” said Wilde.
Nor did he see the introduction of VAT as particularly driving this trend, but rather as just one more factor impacting some already strained sectors (e.g. some sub sectors of retail) “which were already pressured by other macro factors.”