‘Gulf will lead digital currency world’

Saudi Arabia and UAE embrace blockchain despite a crash in coin prices. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019

‘Gulf will lead digital currency world’

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE have agreed to pilot a shared digital currency for cross-border bank transactions
  • Bitcoin prices have plummeted by more than 50 percent in the last year

LONDON: The Gulf is overtaking Asia as the global leader in cryptocurrencies, as countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE embrace blockchain technology despite the crash in coin prices, according to the cofounders of a new digital-currency exchange.
Bitcoin prices have plummeted by more than 50 percent in the last year, from a high of $9,683.54 on May 4, 2018 to under $4,000 on Thursday afternoon. Ethereum, another prominent digital currency, lost 83 percent of its value over the same period.
That has not deterred the founders of the Abu Dhabi-based Hayvn, who believe digital currencies are still in their infancy and are yet to benefit from big bucks being pumped in by institutional investors. A move by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to pilot a shared digital currency for cross-border bank transactions also points to the longer-term potential of cryptocurrencies, said Hayvn cofounders Ahmed Ismail and Christopher Flinos.
“We see the Gulf leading digital currencies going forward, globally,” said Flinos. “It started in Asia, and we now see the GCC taking over from Asia as the global leader in digital currencies and their integration into the financial system.”
Flinos said there was an appetite for cryptocurrencies among big regional investors, but that they lack a safe and secure platform on which to trade. 
“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest cryptocurrency markets, potentially, within the region,” he said. “Middle Eastern high-net-worth individuals generally have a higher risk tolerance … they like equities, they are used to volatility. They’re not afraid of new things, they’re not afraid of chasing yield.”
Flinos and business partner Ismail, who met while working at Merrill Lynch in the mid 2000s, plan to launch Hayvn soon and have had discussions with the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) authority about regulating the platform. The executives say that regulation, along with cryptographic security provided by a company called nCipher, will make Hayvn stand out from other global exchanges, some of which have been hit by high-profile cyberattacks. The Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange, notably, filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after losing some 850,000 bitcoins — then worth about $500 million — and $28 million in cash from its bank accounts.

 

The Hayvn exchange will be aimed at institutional investors with more than $500,000 of investable funds, such as hedge funds, private banks and high-net-worth individuals. Its founders have not yet disclosed which cryptocurrencies it will trade, but confirmed the majors will be there. They have also held initial discussions about being an exchange for “intra-GCC trading coins” of the sort being piloted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Despite the roller-coaster ride in crypto prices, Hayvn cofounder Ismail said that there is a gap in the market for a well-regulated and secure exchange. 
“Cryptocurrency exchanges right now, globally, are effectively just casinos,” he said. “We saw that (in) a lot of the exchanges around the world, it was pretty much the Wild West … there was a lot of price manipulation, there was a lot of money laundering, institutional money was still not convinced.
“We saw what was going on in the digital currency market. And we saw this massive gaping hole.” 
Ismail described the ADGM’s regulatory framework as “rigorous” and said the planned security on the trading platform means it is “completely unhackable.”
“We’re not simply an exchange — retail exchanges are a dime a dozen, it’s very easy to set one up,” he said, pointing to the research the company plans to conduct with a London-based university.
Ismail acknowledged the crash in prices of bitcoin and ethereum, but said that it was still early days for cryptocurrencies, which until now have been traded mainly by small individual investors. 
“The reason there has been massive amounts of volatility in (bitcoin) or ethereum or any of the large coins is the fact that it’s been pretty much retail (investors),” he said. “Institutional money is still waiting on the sidelines to get into cryptocurrency. It’s moving. There are paradigm shifts that are happening right now in the whole cryptocurrency world. But it’s still not there yet. We’re still at the very very beginning of the digital currency revolution.” 
So will cryptocurrency prices recover in the short term?
“Who knows? It may be overvalued, it may be undervalued,” said Ismail. 
“We ultimately don’t care. We’re looking at this as a real asset class that has long-term probability. It might not be bitcoin, it might be another cryptocurrency that’s going to emerge in the short to medium term.”

FASTFACTS

Bitcoin prices have lost about half their value over the past year.


IMF downgrades outlook for world economy, citing trade wars

Updated 40 min 53 sec ago

IMF downgrades outlook for world economy, citing trade wars

  • Growth this year will be ‘weakest since the 2008 financial crisis,’ according to 2020 forecast

WASHINGTON: The International Monetary Fund is further downgrading its outlook for the world economy, predicting that growth this year will be the weakest since the 2008 financial crisis primarily because of widening global conflicts.

The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook foresees a slight rebound in 2020 but warns of threats ranging from heightened political tensions in the Middle East to the threat that the US and China will fail to prevent their trade war from escalating.

The updated forecast released on Tuesday was prepared for the autumn meetings this week of the 189-nation IMF and its sister lending organization, the World Bank. Those meetings and a gathering on Friday of finance ministers and central bankers of the world’s 20 biggest economies are expected to be dominated by efforts to de-escalate trade wars.

The new forecast predicts global growth of 3 percent this year, down a 0.2 percentage point from its previous forecast in July and sharply below the 3.6 percent growth of 2018. For the US this year, the IMF projects a modest 2.4 percent gain, down from 2.9 percent in 2018.

Next year, the fund foresees a rebound for the world economy to 3.4 percent growth but a further slowdown in the US to 2.1 percent, far below the 3 percent growth the Trump administration projects.

IMF economists cautioned that that even its projected modest gains might not be realized.

“With a synchronized slowdown and uncertain recovery, there is no room for policy mistakes, and an urgent need for policymakers to cooperatively de-escalate trade and geopolitical tensions,” Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s chief economist, said in the report.

Last week, the US and China reached a temporary cease-fire in their trade fight when President Trump agreed to suspend a tariff rise on $250 billion of Chinese products that was to take effect this week. But with no formal agreement reached and many issues to be resolved, further talks will be needed to achieve any breakthrough. The Trump administration’s threat to raise tariffs on an additional $160 billion in Chinese imports on Dec. 15 remains in effect.

The IMF’s forecast predicted that about half the increase in growth expected next year will result from recoveries in countries where economies slowed significantly this year, as in Mexico, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

This year’s slowdown, the IMF said, was caused largely by trade disputes, which resulted in higher tariffs being imposed on many goods. Growth in trade in the first half of this year slowed to 1 percent, the weakest annual pace since 2012.

Kristalina Georgieva, who will preside over her first IMF meetings after succeeding Christine Lagarde this month as the fund’s managing director, said last week that various trade disputes could produce a loss of about $700 billion in output by the end of next year or about 0.8 percent of world output.

IMF economists said that one worrying development is that the slowdown this year has occurred even as the Federal Reserve and other central banks have been cutting interest rates and deploying other means to bolster economies.

The IMF estimated that global growth would have been about one-half percentage point lower this year and in 2020 without the central banks’ efforts to ease borrowing rates. “With central banks having to spend limited ammunition to offset policy mistakes, they may have little left when the economy is in a tougher spot,” Gopinath said.

In addition to trade and geopolitical risks, the IMF envisions
threats arising from a potentially disruptive exit by Britain from the EU on Oct. 31. The IMF urged policymakers to intensify their efforts to avoid economically damaging mistakes.

“As policy priorities go, undoing the trade barriers put in place with durable agreements and reining in geopolitical tensions top the list,” Gopinath said. “Such actions can significantly boost confidence, rejuvenate investment, halt the slide in trade and manufacturing and raise world growth.”

The IMF projected that growth in the 19-nation euro area will
slow to 1.2 percent this year, after a 1.9 percent gain in 2018. It expects the pace to recover only slightly to 1.4 percent next year.

Growth in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is expected to be a modest 0.5 percent this
year before rising to 1.2 percent next year.

China’s growth is projected to dip to 6.1 percent this year and 5.8 percent next year. These would be the slowest rates since 1990, when China was hit by sanctions after the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.