Saudi markets chief warns of dangers of ‘speculative’ cryptocurrencies

Saudi markets chief warns of dangers of ‘speculative’ cryptocurrencies
Mohammed Al-Kuwaiz, chairman of Saudi Arabia's Capital Market Authority warned the Euromoney Saudi Arabia Conference about the perils of cryptocurrency investment. (Reuters)
Updated 02 May 2018

Saudi markets chief warns of dangers of ‘speculative’ cryptocurrencies

Saudi markets chief warns of dangers of ‘speculative’ cryptocurrencies
  • Blockchain technology holds huge positive potential
  • Possible inclusion in the MSCI index later this year a big boost for markets

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are “speculative investments” that are very often a “source of fraud,” Saudi Arabia’s main market regulator warned yesterday.

Mohammed Al-Kuwaiz, chairman of the Capital Market Authority (CMA), told financial professionals on the opening day of the Euromoney conference in Riyadh that investors should beware of cryptocurrencies because of worries about value and potential abuse by criminals.

“We think that cryptocurrencies are currently a solution trying to find a problem. The global financial industry does not know how to treat them. They say they are a possible replacement for conventional currencies, but we do not see that.

“They also claim to be a store of value, but the jury is still out on that too. What they are today are just speculative investments, and we have warned investors about that. There is very little to justify them and they are often a source of fraud,” he said.

Al-Kuwaiz’s strong stance on cryptocurrencies is in contrast to the official attitude earlier this year, when the CMA said it was considering what the regulatory response should be to digital currencies such as bitcoin.

The CMA chairman drew a distinction between cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that many of them use. “Our belief is that blockchain can be truly transformational across many industries,” he said.

He said that the Kingdom had made big strides in developing a financial infrastructure and ecosystem to attract local and foreign investors. “In 2013, foreigners were effectively banned from the Saudi market. But just recently we moved from number 63 to the top 12 of the “ease of doing business” tables produced by the World Bank,” he said.

Al-Kuwaiz said that over the past two years CMA had put in place measures to facilitate ease of raising funds, and ease of investment. It had also helped to build confidence in the Saudi financial system by allowing electronic voting by shareholders and adopting measures to protect minority shareholders.

“The result is that in recent months we have seen the biggest increase in licenses granted since the CMA was started. There has been a rapidly accelerating pace of buy-in from foreigners since the start of the year,” he said.

The inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the FTSE Russell emerging market index, and the potential inclusion in the MSCI index later this year, would further speed the development of the Saudi financial industry, he said.

“We are offering the world a product, and if you want to sell your product successfully you have to have a certificate of value, a stamp of approval to show the buyers. That is what inclusion on the emerging markets indices is, a stamp of approval from the world,” he said.