FII: Bank chiefs, CEOs pass mixed verdict on cryptocurrency investment

CNN's Richard Quest (L) moderates a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 26, 2021. (AFP)
CNN's Richard Quest (L) moderates a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 26, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2021

FII: Bank chiefs, CEOs pass mixed verdict on cryptocurrency investment

CNN's Richard Quest (L) moderates a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • Saudi central bank chief does not foresee destruction of banking system by digital currencies
  • Leading investors still view gold and dollar as a safer haven for investments than bitcoin

RIYADH: The verdict on cryptocurrency products and funds was mixed as CEOs, central bank chiefs, investors and policymakers exchanged views on the topic on the first day of the Future Investment Forum in the Saudi capital.

The three-day forum, which is themed “Invest in Humanity,” includes talks on artificial intelligence, robotics, education, healthcare and sustainability.

Taking part in a session on Tuesday, Fahad Al-Mubarak, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s central bank, said SAMA should have no involvement with crypto-assets as many of those who deal in them are criminals.

He did not foresee the destruction of the banking system by digital currencies but rather an expansion of centralized systems for regulating tender.

Bitcoin is the leading digital currency trading internationally, followed by Ether and Solana.




The three-day forum, which is themed “Invest in Humanity,” includes talks on artificial intelligence, robotics, education, healthcare and sustainability. (AFP)

Regulators are still playing catch-up when it comes to how cryptocurrencies should be governed, Al-Mubarak said.

Having made his point, he noted that there has been a sharp jump in online banking during the coronavirus disease pandemic. “Before the pandemic, only 35 percent of bank transactions were electronic,” he said. “Now it’s around 55 percent.”

Hussain Abdulla, co-CEO of Qatar-based investment bank QInvest, said cryptocurrency products were not yet Shariah-compliant, and more understanding was needed.

Nevertheless, he warned that the Middle East is lagging way behind the US and Europe when it comes to digitization of the banking industry.

“Winners in the banking industry will be those who take steps today toward digitization rather than later,” Abdulla said.

Several prominent business people who took part in FII sessions on Tuesday said leading investors still view gold and the dollar as a safer haven for investments than bitcoin.

Both Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, and David Solomon, chairman and CEO of the Goldman Sachs Group, said they preferred investments in US dollar over bitcoin.

Ray Dalio, founder and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, opted for gold over bitcoin.

Khaldoon Khalifa Al-Mubarak, CEO and managing director of the UAE’s Mubadala Investment Co., said he would take bitcoin “hedged in gold.”

In the past week, the crypto industry has seen inflows to the tune of $1.5 billion, amid soaring optimism with the trading of bitcoin exchange traded funds.

Inflows so far this year hit $8 billion, far exceeding the record set for the whole of 2020 of $6.7 billion, according to data from a report released by digital asset manager CoinShares on Monday.

The bulk of inflows for the sixth straight week went to bitcoin, with $1.45 billion, data showed. Inflows year-to-date amounted to $6.1 billion.

With more than 250 expert speakers from the economic, business, education and corporate worlds, discussions at the FII, dubbed the “Davos in the Desert,” have centered on investments that aim to create the greatest benefits for humanity.

Solomon said there must be clarity regarding indicators of economic recovery and action plans, and this contributes to attracting investments and facilitating the movement of funds.




Guests attending the opening ceremony of the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP)

More broadly, he underscored the importance of supporting and investing in small businesses to ultimately bring growth and innovation to economies.

“One of the key solutions to drive economic participation and growth is support for small businesses and finding ways that we all can contribution to growth and innovation,” Solomon said.

BlackRock’s Fink said: “It is important to improve human and environmental conditions and to think about long-term solutions, and governments have a great burden.”

In his remarks, Al-Mubarak highlighted the importance of coming together to combat the challenge of climate change.

“The climate challenge will require everybody to contribute in their own way. Nobody is going to solve it on their own. We have to solve it together, working together globally as institutions, as governments, as civil society.”


Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact

Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact
Updated 15 sec ago

Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact

Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact
  • US output up, crude stocks fall modestly

NEW YORK: Oil prices edged lower in choppy trade on Wednesday, taking a breather after gains earlier this week, as investors assessed the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant on the global economy.

The market had a muted reaction to US weekly inventory figures, which showed a smaller-than-anticipated decline in crude stocks and another bump up in overall production, giving credence to expectations that supply will increase in coming months.

Brent crude futures were down 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $75.29 a barrel at 10:52 a.m. EDT (1552 GMT). US West Texas Intermediate crude was at $71.94 a barrel, down 16 cents or 0.3 percent.

Brent crude prices have rebounded by over 9 percent since Dec. 1 on signs omicron has had only a limited impact on oil demand, after a 16 percent drop since Nov. 25.

“Around two-thirds of the previous price slide (has) been corrected," Commerzbank said in a note.

"There has been no noticeable slowing effect on oil demand as yet. Even aviation, the sector that should have been hit first, has seen only a marginal decrease in seating capacity.”

The emergence of the variant combined with the US decision to release inventories from its strategic reserve to knock the market back on expectations that supply would outweigh demand by the early months of 2022.

Ultimately, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, chose to maintain its schedule of boosting supply by 400,000 barrels per day every month — despite fears that the new coronavirus variant would sap demand.

US output, meanwhile, rose to 11.7 million barrels per day in the most recent week, though weekly output figures are volatile. The US Energy Department also said gasoline and distillate inventories rose more than anticipated, while crude stocks fell by a mere 240,000 barrels, less than expected.

“The headline numbers are bearish and the market is not reacting aggressively in either direction,” said Tony Headrick, energy market analyst at CHS Hedging.

The market was also focused on the resumption of talks between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program. Western officials have voiced dismay at sweeping Iranian demands. If US sanctions were eased, it could lead to higher exports of Iranian oil, which could add downward pressure on oil prices.

Tensions between Western powers and Russia over Ukraine also remained high after President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward.


Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup

Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup
Updated 12 min 38 sec ago

Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup

Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup
  • Foreign funding was seen as crucial in helping Sudan emerge from decades of isolation
  • The US has put on hold $700 million in economic assistance since the coup

KHARTOUM: Sudan was unable to access $650 million in international funding in November when assistance was paused after a coup, the finance minister of the dissolved government said — a freeze that puts in doubt basic import payments and the fate of economic reforms.
The financing included $500 million in budget support from the World Bank and $150 million in special drawing rights from the International Monetary Fund, said Jibril Ibrahim, who was appointed to a civilian transitional government in February.
Foreign funding was seen as crucial in helping Sudan emerge from decades of isolation and supporting a transition toward democracy that began with the 2019 overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir.
The Oct. 25 coup upended that transition. The United States has put on hold $700 million in economic assistance since the coup and the World Bank, which had promised $2 billion in grants, has paused disbursements.
After mass protests, the military on Nov. 21 announced a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He is tasked with forming a government of technocrats but faces political opposition to the deal.
“Sudan had tremendous international support. Now donors will be much more cautious,” said one former official from the dissolved government.
The onus will now be on the military and the government to show they are not returning to the very Bashir-era model that was being restructured and reformed, the former official said.
The US Treasury declined to comment. The IMF, which approved a $2.5 billion, 39-month loan program in June that is subject to periodic review, said it continued to “closely monitor developments.”
Before the coup the inflation rate, one of the highest in the world, had begun to fall, and the exchange rate had stabilized following a sharp devaluation in February.
Western diplomats and bankers say those reforms are now at risk and it is unclear how Sudan can fund imports without printing banknotes, a policy that fueled a long-running economic crisis but stopped during the transition.
Around the time of the coup, Sudan had enough reserves to cover just two months of strategic imports, a second former official said.
Ibrahim, a former rebel leader who secured his ministerial role through a peace deal and expects to retain it, said he hoped international support would return gradually over the next three to six months and that meanwhile bills could be paid and reforms would continue.
“Basically we depend on tax, customs and gold revenues and on different (state) companies working in various fields,” Ibrahim said in an interview at the Finance Ministry in Khartoum. For imported basic goods, such as flour, fuel and medicine, “we cannot cover it completely, but the majority of the strategic commodities we can cover with our exports,” he said.
The government had begun to reduce its trade deficit through tax and customs reforms, but those revenues were interrupted by a blockade by a tribal group at Port Sudan before the coup. A further blockade has been threatened.
Ibrahim said the main impact of the freeze in international support would be on development projects covering areas including water supply, electricity, agriculture, health and transport. An internationally funded basic income program to lessen the impact of subsidy reform has also been frozen.
Sudan’s 2022 budget was being planned with no allowance for international assistance, Ibrahim said, but with a target of sticking to a 1.5 percent deficit limit defined under an IMF financing program. Projected growth for 2022 could fall from 3 percent to 1.5-2 percent, he said.
Ibrahim said Sudan would seek investment rather than grants from wealthy Gulf Arab states that now face their own economic challenges.
“Up till now there have not been any big promises of support from any country, Arab or non-Arab, but contacts with all friendly states continue,” he said.


Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap

Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap
Updated 08 December 2021

Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap

Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap

RIYADH: Australia turned the heads of crypto enthusiasts on Wednesday with the country’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announcing a consultation on digital currency reforms.

In a speech in Melbourne, Frydenberg said the government is studying plans for a central bank digital currency, along with regulating the crypto market, as it seeks to reform how consumers and businesses in the country pay for goods and services.

The government will also consult on a digital version of cash that will be universally accessible and consider a license framework that allows crypto transactions in a regulated environment.

The Australian government expects to receive advice on both by the end of 2022, Bloomberg reported.

“If we do not reform the current framework, it will be Silicon Valley that determines the future of our payments system,” Frydenberg said in the speech. “These are significant shifts which we need to be in front of.”

Reacting to the speech, Mikkel Morch, executive director at crypto/digital assets hedge fund ARK36 said: “Governments around the world are waking up to the reality that cryptocurrencies have already become an entrenched part of the global payments environment - and one that is preferred over the legacy systems by a growing number of individuals.

“After the recent EU crypto regulation proposal, Australia has now announced its working on a similar document - and it is to be expected that other major jurisdictions will follow suit.”

“Importantly, the scope of the regulation outlined by the Australian Treasurer doesn't seem to be overly restrictive. Clearly, then, the regulators recognise the immense economic and innovation potential of crypto and don't want to stifle it,” Morch added.

Edan Yago, the lead contributor to the Bitcoin DeFi protocol Sovryn commented that it is a “question of time” before all payments and financial transactions are digitised on public ledgers, adding: “The future of money and finance is borderless and digital.”

India

India is considering appointing a capital markets regulator to oversee cryptocurrencies, as authorities look to classify them as financial assets, Bloomberg reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which is planning to introduce legislation in the ongoing Parliament session, will give cryptocurrency holders a deadline to declare their assets and fulfil any new rules.

The bill will likely use the term crypto assets instead of cryptocurrency and will not refer to the central bank's plan to create its own digital currency, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Violators can be fined up to 200 million rupees ($2.7 million) or imprisoned for a year and a half, according to the proposals.

The government may also consider setting a minimum investment level for crypto assets to protect small investors, Bloomberg News reported.

Daily Trading

Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency in trading internationally, traded lower on Wednesday, falling by 2.18  percent to $50,126 at 5:37 p.m Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $4,401, up by 2.38 percent, according to data from Coindesk.


Pakistan’s fashion startup raises $2.4m in Pre-Series A round

Pakistan’s fashion startup raises $2.4m in Pre-Series A round
Updated 08 December 2021

Pakistan’s fashion startup raises $2.4m in Pre-Series A round

Pakistan’s fashion startup raises $2.4m in Pre-Series A round

RIYADH: Pakistan-based fashion e-commerce startup Clicky has raised $2.4 million in a pre-Series A round led by early-stage investors in UAE and Pakistan, Magnitt reported. 

The startup aims to use the newly acquired funding to scale its private-label product, through working directly with manufacturers and fashion designers. 

Clicky, founded in 2016, offers fast fashion products with a focus on apparel, footwear, and accessories, working with diverse local manufacturers and International bands. 

The fashion startup has been experiencing growth of over 20 percent month-on-month and a fourfold business growth in less than a year, following Fatima Ventures and Souq’s investment in earlier rounds.  


Japan’s economy shrinks by 3.6% in the third quarter of 2021: Economic wrap

Japan’s economy shrinks by 3.6% in the third quarter of 2021: Economic wrap
Updated 08 December 2021

Japan’s economy shrinks by 3.6% in the third quarter of 2021: Economic wrap

Japan’s economy shrinks by 3.6% in the third quarter of 2021: Economic wrap

Japan’s gross domestic product narrowed by an annual rate of 3.6 percent in this year’s third quarter, lower than the government’s preliminary estimate of 3 percent.

Weak consumer spending was mainly responsible for the decline in activity, as well as exporters suffering from supply chain disruptions, according to Bloomberg.

French economy

Economic activity in France is set to rise again in December, even as the country grapples with another wave of Covid-19, the Bank of France said. It also added that economic activity surpassed pre-pandemic levels in November.

This is according to the central bank’s survey of 8,500 companies.

Economic activity was 0.5 percent above pre-crisis levels in November. It is also set to surpass this level by 0.75 percent this month. Consequently, production will grow by around 0.75 percent in the fourth quarter, Bloomberg reported.

China’s rate

China trimmed its relending facilities by 0.25 percent to boost activity in the rural sector. Small firms were particularly hit by higher production costs and this step aims to support them.

The three-month relending rate is now 1.7 percent. The six-month rate is 1.9 percent while the one-year rate is 2 percent.

India’s monetary policy

The Reserve Bank of India decided to keep its policy repo rate unchanged, at 4 percent, during its meeting on Wednesday. 

The new decision is in line with the bank’s target of a 4 percent inflation rate while boosting economic expansion.

It added that consumer prices are set to rise by 5.3 percent for the 2021-22 fiscal year.