“If authorities do not act preemptively, cryptocurrencies could become more interconnected with the main financial system and become a threat to financial stability.”
The official crackdown on the entire cryptocurrency space got a new and broader framework from Agustín Carstens, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and former governor of the Bank of Mexico. In a lecture in Frankfurt on Tuesday, he let fly some real zingers interspersed with indications of what is to come. He clarified the main concern – that the crypto ecosystem, as it “piggybacks” on the financial system, transfers its risks to the financial system.
Here are some excerpts from his lecture that I think are very insightful views of how bank regulators will be looking at the crypto ecosystm.
He said, “We are seeing the type of cracks and cheating that brought down other private currencies starting to appear in the House of Bitcoin”:
“In Bitcoin, these take the form of forks, a type of spin-off in which developers clone Bitcoin’s software, release it with a new name and a new coin, after possibly adding a few new features or tinkering with the algorithms’ parameters. Often, the objective is to capitalize on the public’s familiarity with Bitcoin to make some serious money, at least virtually.”
“Last year alone, 19 Bitcoin forks came out, including Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold and Bitcoin Diamond. Forks can fork again, and many more could happen. After all, it just takes a bunch of smart programmers and a catchy name.”
These multiplying cryptos “dilute the value of existing ones, to the extent such cryptocurrencies have any economic value at all,” he said. There are now over 1,500 cryptocurrencies, up from just a handful several years ago.
“Even if the supply of one type of cryptocurrency is limited, the mushrooming of so many of them means that the total supply of all forms of cryptocurrency is unlimited. Given the experience with currency debasement that has peppered history, the proliferation of such private monies should give everyone pause for thought.”
“Historical experiences suggest that these “assets” are probably not sustainable as money. Cryptocurrencies are not the liability of any individual or institution, or backed by any authority. Governance weaknesses, such as the concentration of their ownership, could make them even less trustworthy.”
“Indeed, to use them often means resorting to an intermediary (for example, exchanges) to which one has to trust one’s money.”
“More generally, they piggyback on the same institutional infrastructure that serves the overall financial system and on the trust that it provides. This reflects their challenge to establish their own trust in the face of cyber-attacks, loss of customers’ funds, limits on transferring funds and inadequate market integrity.”
“While perhaps intended as an alternative payment system with no government involvement, [Bitcoin] has become a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster.”
“The volatility of bitcoin renders it a poor means of payment and a crazy way to store value. Very few people use it for payments or as a unit of account. In fact, at a major cryptocurrency conference the registration fee could not be paid with bitcoins because it was too costly and slow: only conventional money was accepted.
“To the extent they are used, bitcoins and their cousins seem more attractive to those who want to make transactions in the black or illegal economy, rather than everyday transactions. In a way, this should not be surprising, since individuals who massively evade taxes or launder money are the ones who are willing to live with cryptocurrencies’ extreme price volatility.”
“Strong case for policy intervention”
“In practice, central bank experiments show that [distributed leger technology] based systems are very expensive to run and slower and much less efficient to operate than conventional payment and settlement systems. The electricity used in the process of mining bitcoins is staggering… making them socially wasteful and environmentally bad.”
“Therefore, the current fascination with these cryptocurrencies seems to have more to do with a speculative mania than any use as a form of electronic payment, except for illegal activities. Accordingly, authorities are edging closer and closer to clamping down to contain the risks related to cryptocurrencies.”
“There is a strong case for policy intervention. As now noted by many securities markets and regulatory and supervisory agencies, these assets can raise concerns related to consumer and investor protection. Appropriate authorities have a duty to educate and protect investors and consumers, and need to be prepared to act.”
“Moreover, there are concerns related to tax evasion, money laundering and criminal finance. Authorities should welcome innovation. But they have a duty to make sure technological advances are not used to legitimize profits from illegal activities.”
“Central banks, acting by themselves and/or in coordination with other financial authorities like bank regulators and supervisors, ministries of finance, tax agencies and financial intelligence units, may also need to act, given their roles in providing money services and safeguarding money’s real value.”
“Working with commercial banks, authorities have a part to play in policing the digital frontier. Commercial banks are on the front line since they are the ones settling trades, providing real liquidity, keeping exchanges going and interacting with customers. It is alarming that some banks have advertised “bitcoin ATMs” where you can buy and sell bitcoins. Authorities need to ensure commercial banks do not facilitate unscrupulous behaviors.”
“Financial authorities may also have a case to intervene to ensure financial stability. To date, many judge that, given cryptocurrencies’ small size and limited interconnectedness, concerns about them do not rise to a systemic level. But if authorities do not act preemptively, cryptocurrencies could become more interconnected with the main financial system and become a threat to financial stability.”
“Thus, central banks must be prepared to intervene if needed. After all, cryptocurrencies piggyback on the institutional infrastructure that serves the wider financial system, gaining a semblance of legitimacy from their links to it. This clearly falls under central banks’ area of responsibility. The buck stops here.”
“In particular, central banks and financial authorities should pay special attention to two aspects. First, to the ties linking cryptocurrencies to real currencies, to ensure that the relationship is not parasitic. And second, to the level playing field principle. This means ‘same risk, same regulation.’ And no exceptions allowed.”
Alas, cryptocurrencies have already crashed. But this is not like the dotcom crash – though it’s even more brutal. Read… Largest Cryptocurrencies Plunge 50%-80%, $372 Bn Gone in 1 Month. Will it Hit the US Economy?
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