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.


Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank forced to close by US sanctions

Updated 19 September 2019

Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank forced to close by US sanctions

  • Jammal Trust Bank is accused of helping to fund the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon
  • The bank has 25 branches in Lebanon and representative offices in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Britain

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank has been forced to wind itself down after being hit last month by US sanctions for allegedly helping to fund the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, the bank said on Thursday.
The central bank said the value of the bank’s assets, and its share of the national deposit guarantee body, were “in principle enough to pay all deposits and commitments.”
Jammal Trust Bank denied the US allegations in August after the bank and its subsidiaries were hit with sanctions, accused of helping to fund the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
“Despite its sound financial situation ... and its full compliance with banking regulations, the (bank) was forced to take the decision to liquidate itself in full coordination with the central bank,” Jammal Trust said in a statement.
The bank has 25 branches in Lebanon and representative offices in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Britain, its website says.
It is a relatively small lender, with net assets of 1,600 billion Lebanese pounds ($1 billion) at the end of 2017, according to the annual report on the latest year for which data is available.
Washington has sought to choke off Hezbollah’s funding worldwide, with sanctions among a slew of steps against Tehran since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.