Facebook’s Libra currency under fire

Libra has raised eyebrows among the world’s financial regulators, including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Facebook’s Libra currency under fire

  • Libra will be co-managed by 100 partner firms, including Facebook’s newly-minted financial services division Calibra
  • Libra, which is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player Bitcoin, is expected to launch in the first half of 2020

LONDON: Facebook’s planned virtual unit Libra, already under heavy attack from US President Donald Trump and global regulators, faces skepticism among the wider cryptocurrency community as well.
One theme — besides Brexit — dominated discussion among the movers and shakers from London’s financial technology or FinTech industry as gathered for their annual get-together: the future of virtual currencies.
“Can I just ask you to raise your hand if you would not be willing to use Libra?” asked the moderator at an event at London’s recent ‘FinTech Week’.
In the room, filled with about 100 experts and media who closely track the sector, about two-thirds of participants raised their hand to express distrust at the upstart currency.
Helen Disney, founder and boss of Unblocked Events, which promotes the blockchain technology that powers many cryptocurrencies, acknowledged growing doubts over who exactly would oversee and regulate Libra’s operation.
People are “concerned about how the governance... would work,” Disney told AFP.
“The cryptocurrency community is very libertarian in thinking,” its “about giving power to the people, democratization of finance, keeping away from big banks and companies who control (the) economy,” she said
Last week’s gathering came one month after Facebook announced to the world its plans for the virtual currency.
Libra, which is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player Bitcoin, is expected to launch in the first half of 2020.
Whereas Bitcoin is decentralized, Libra will be co-managed by 100 partner firms, including Facebook’s newly-minted financial services division Calibra.
The companies behind Libra — which will be backed with a basket of real-world currencies — include payment giants Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, as well as taxi-hailing services Lyft and Uber.
To access Libra on smartphones, users will go through a virtual wallet that will also be named Calibra.
While Facebook boasts an enormous customer base dotted across the globe that should facilitate Libra’s uptake, it firm also been plagued by privacy concerns that could make users hesitate.
“Can’t wait for a cryptocurrency with the ethics of Uber, the censorship resistance of Paypal, and the centralization of Visa, all tied together under the proven privacy of Facebook,” said Sarah Jamie Lewis, head of non-profit research organization Open Privacy.
Libra has meanwhile raised eyebrows among the world’s financial regulators, including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve.
But Disney believes that Libra will finally force regulators to present clear regulation guidelines, as demanded by the cryptocurrency community itself.
“We have been waiting for a long time for a clearer signal (regarding) the regulation of cryptocurrencies and digital assets,” she said.
But James Bennett, head of cryptocurrency research firm Bitassist, argues that Libra should not be seen in the same light as Bitcoin.
“In the long run, people may realize that Libra is not a cryptocurrency,” Bennett said at the FinTech Week event.
“A true cryptocurrency should be resistant to attacks by all parties, from sovereign states to global corporations,” he said, adding that “cryptocurrency is a type of money used to transfer value over the Internet that cannot be stopped, confiscated or destroyed by any single entity.”
Trump has meanwhile unleashed a vicious attack on virtual currencies, slamming them for their alleged shadowy nature and arguing that Libra had no standing nor dependability — unlike the dollar.
“I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air,” Trump tweeted Thursday.


Egypt to press ahead with sale of stakes in state companies — govt adviser

Updated 52 min 24 sec ago

Egypt to press ahead with sale of stakes in state companies — govt adviser

  • The government has been talking for years about selling the stakes but has repeatedly postponed the program
  • The government set up NI Capital in late 2015 as a state-owned financial services company to help it navigate financial markets

CAIRO: Egypt is fully committed to its program to sell minority stakes in state companies and is tackling a number of issues that have held it up, a government adviser on the share sales said on Thursday.
The government has been talking for years about selling the stakes but has repeatedly postponed the program, raising doubts among some economists about its commitment to privatization.
“From the meetings I attend on a weekly basis, the government is as keen as I have ever seen them on proceeding with the privatization program,” Mohamed Metwally, CEO of NI Capital, told Reuters.
“There has never been slack on this. It’s just a matter of sometimes you face things that take longer to prepare than expected,” said Metwally in his first interview with the media since taking over as NI Capital’s CEO in July.
The government set up NI Capital in late 2015 as a state-owned financial services company to help it navigate financial markets.
The government announced in 2016 that it was selling company stakes, with some to be sold by the end of that year. Since then it has sold only 4.5% of one company, tobacco monopoly Eastern Company in a transaction in March.
Metwally said the delays had been caused by weak markets, legal hurdles, the readiness of each company’s financial documentation and in the case of some companies a downturn in the business cycle.
Egypt last year released a list of 23 state-controlled companies to be brought to market as an initial batch.
The first sales will be companies already trading on the Egyptian Exchange, most likely Abu Qir Fertilizers and Chemicals Industries and Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling Co., sources familiar with the planned transactions told Reuters.
Metwally, citing reasons of financial compliance, declined to discuss individual companies before they reached the market.
He said stake sales could raise around 40 billion Egyptian pounds, roughly equal to 5% of the stock market’s current capitalization of 750 billion-800 billion pounds.
Among the hurdles bringing companies to market has been a tangle of ownership structures, with different entities requiring different legal processes for selling their assets.
“We had a few transactions that were held up by this process, but now it’s behind us,” Metwally said.
A potential future delay to the Egyptian share sales could be the initial public offering of Saudi Arabia’s state oil company Aramco, which may be announced as early as next week.
“Right now liquidity is being sucked out of the market because of anticipation of the Aramco offering,” Metwally said.
If the Aramco sale raises more than $25 billion, it would make it the world’s biggest IPO.
“Now should it (the Egyptian sales) happen, let’s say, in November, or wait till January or February when the Aramco IPO is out of the way?” he said.
Another stumbling block has been the trade war between China and the United States, which by creating a glut in products sold by some of the companies reduced their prices by 30-40% and temporarily lowered valuations, Metwally said.
He said these issues were all being resolved, paving the way for a possibly rapid roll-out.
“Progress is happening in every single transaction,” he said.
“That might put us in a high-quality problem in the future, in which they’re all ready at the same time, and we’ll just have to schedule them one after the other as part of our capital markets management process.”