China’s new digital currency


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China launching Cryptocurrency

— China’s central bank on the brink of launching a digital currency. How will this revolutionize the monetary landscape in China and abroad?

— and, we meet a scholar whose calling revolves around friendly China-US ties. How can people on both sides maintain the relationship.

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CHINA’S CENTRAL BANK SAYS THEIR DIGITAL CURRENCY IS READY

From ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’从中国制造到中国智造

Made in China” used to be a synonym for cheap products, but all that has changed. China has made huge progress in innovation and technology. From the Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, the fastest in the world, and the 500-meter-wide radio telescope in southwest China’s Guizhou Province, to the development of lithium battery and 3D-printed blood vessels made from stem cells and renewable energy technologies, Chinese innovations are making a name for themselves.
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CGTN’s special program “New China” gives you an in-depth look at China 70 years on. Our crew is on a 12-day journey around China’s southwestern, southeastern and northeastern regions. Don’t miss it. #PanoramicChina #70YearsThriving

China’s central bank speeds up digital currency drive

 Private-sector players likely to participate in project

Photo: VCG

With internet technologies advancing and cryptocurrencies flourishing amid a broad digital transformation, individual countries are starting to issue legal tender in digital form, and the People’s Bank of China (PBC), the country’s central bank, is also accelerating its pace in this area.

As of Sunday, the PBC had applied for 74 patents involved with digital currencies to the National Intellectual Property Administration, according to a report by the Economic Information Daily on Monday.

The PBC said it will speed up the development of legal digital currency on Friday.

Wang Xin, director of the PBC Research Bureau, said in July that the authority is organizing market-oriented institutions to jointly research and develop a central bank digital currency and the program has been approved by the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

“China is beefing up efforts in digital currency innovation, a trend driven by emerging technologies that is spreading worldwide,” said Huang Zhen, a professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics.

Rather than letting cryptocurrencies challenge the position of sovereign currencies, it is wiser for countries to roll out their own digital currencies, Huang told the Global Times on Monday.

Chinese authorities ordered a ban on initial coin offerings in 2017 and stopped direct bitcoin-yuan trading as the rapidly expanding market spawned concerns over financial risks.

The PBC, one of the earliest central banks in the world to start the process of digital currency innovation, launched its program in 2014 during the tenure of former governor Zhou Xiaochuan. In 2017, the PBC established a research institution for the digital currency.

“China is among the leading countries in terms of its research into a government-backed currency,” said Huang.

Favorable conditions

The basic conditions favorable for China’s implementation of a digital currency include comprehensive and fast networks, broad digitalization in the financial sector, and advanced financial technologies – particularly blockchain, a digital, public ledger that records online transactions, according to Huang.

In recent years, Chinese internet companies have made huge achievements in the mobile payment and e-commerce sectors, helping create a digital economy of more than 30 trillion yuan ($4.36 trillion), according to media reports.

In June, US social media giant Facebook released an official white paper for its cryptocurrency project Libra, a blockchain-powered stablecoin expected to arrive in 2020.

The move stepped up the global race for digital currencies, with China’s central bank paying close attention.

The central bank is closely working with market participants on creating a central bank digital currency, PBC official Wang said.

“China’s private market players have accumulated some experience in the digital currency sector. Their participation in the government’s work will effectively help promote the project,” Cao Yin, an expert in the blockchain sector, told the Global Times on Monday.

It is likely that the sovereign digital currency will be issued within two or three years at the soonest, although the authority tends to take a prudent attitude, Cao said.

Once it is broadly implemented, the new currency will have a big impact on Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay, the two dominant mobile digital payment tools in China, as the PBC’s digital currency is featured by decentralization, unlike the former two.

Challenges ahead

There are still some bumps on the road to promoting the digital currency.

“For this new kind of currency, its nature actually poses challenges to existing policies in such aspects as foreign exchange control, so it takes time to balance benefits with potential risks,” said Cao.

A flexible and open mechanism is needed by the PBC to attract more talent, he added.

Digital currencies can help strengthen regulation as transaction data can be tracked and analyzed, including illegal money laundering, according to Huang. But laws and rules should be formulated in a timely fashion to protect individual information. “Safety is the biggest issue,” he added.

“Use of the digital currency to better serve the real economy also requires policy guidance,” said Huang.
Newspaper headline: PBC accelerates digital currency drive.

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Facebook delves into Cryptocurrency, the Libra coin plan

Cryptocurrency and Facebook logo are seen together in this photo. Photo: IC 

 

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Facebook delves into Cryptocurrency, the Libra coin plan


Cryptocurrency and Facebook logo are seen together in this photo. Photo: IC

Experts raise concerns over privacy and regulation

Facebook unveiled plans Tuesday for a new global cryptocurrency called Libra, pledging to deliver stable virtual money that lives on smartphones and could bring over a billion “unbanked” people into the financial system.

The Libra coin plan, backed by financial and nonprofit partners, represents an ambitious new initiative for the world’s biggest social network with the potential to bring crypto-money out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Facebook and some two dozen partners released a prototype of Libra as an open source code for developers interested in weaving it into apps, services or businesses ahead of a rollout as global digital money next year.

The nonprofit Libra Association based in Geneva will oversee the blockchain-based coin, maintaining a real-world asset reserve to keep its value stable.

The Libra Association’s Dante Disparte said it could offer online commerce and financial services at minimal cost to more than a billion “unbanked” people – adults without bank accounts or those who use services outside the banking system such as payday loans to make ends meet.

“We believe if you give people access to money and opportunity at the lowest cost, the way the internet itself did in the past with information, you can create a lot more stability than we have had up until now,” Disparte, head of policy and communications, told AFP.

Facebook will be just one voice among many in the association, but is separately building a digital wallet called Calibra.

“We view this as a complement to Facebook’s mission to connect people wherever they are; that includes allowing them to exchange value,” Calibra vice president of operations Tomer Barel told AFP.

“Many people who use Facebook are in countries where there are barriers to banking or credit.”

But the move raised questions about how such a new money would be regulated, with one lawmaker calling for a pause on Libra.

“Given the company’s troubled past, I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues,” said Maxine Waters, chair of the financial services committee in the US House of Representatives.

Meanwhile French Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said such digital money could never replace sovereign currencies.

“The aspect of sovereignty must stay in the hands of states and not private companies which respond to private interests,” Le Maire told Europe 1 radio.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said Facebook’s new currency would have to withstand scrutiny of its operational resilience and not allow itself to be used for money laundering or terror financing.

ING economists Teunis Brosens and Carlo Cocuzzo said in a research note it was not clear what Libra was or how it might be overseen while US Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat and banking committee member, voiced concerns over Facebook’s checkered record on protecting users’ privacy.

Backed by real cash

Libra Association debuted with 28 members including Mastercard, Visa, Stripe, Kiva, PayPal, Lyft, Uber and Women’s World Banking.

Calibra is being built into Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp with a goal of letting users send Libra as easily as they might fire off a text message.

Libra learned from the many other cryptocurrencies that have preceded it such as bitcoin and is designed to avoid the roller-coaster valuations that have attracted speculation and caused ruin.

Real-world currency will go into a reserve backing the digital money, the value of which will mirror stable currencies such as the US dollar and the euro, according to its creators.

“It is backed by a reserve of assets that ensures utility and low volatility,” Barel said.

The Libra Association will be the only entity able to “mint or burn” the digital currency, maintaining supply in tune with demand and assets in reserve, according to Barel.

“It is not about trusting Facebook, it is effectively trust in the association’s founding organizations that this is independent and democratic,” Disparte said.

New directions

The launch comes with Facebook seeking to move past a series of lapses on privacy and data protection that have tarnished its image and sparked scrutiny from regulators around the world.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has promised a new direction for Facebook built around smaller groups, private messaging and payments.

The new Calibra digital wallet promises eventually to give Facebook opportunities to build financial services into its offerings, offer to expand its own commerce and let more small businesses buy ads on the social network.

“We certainly see long-term value for Facebook,” Barel said.

Facebook said it would not make any money through Libra or Calibra, but rather was seeking to “drive adoption and scale” before exploring ways to monetize the new system.

Financial information at Calibra will be kept strictly separate from social data on Facebook and won’t be used to target ads, Calibra vice president of product Kevin Weil told AFP.

Libra will be a regulated currency, subject to local laws in markets regarding fraud, guarding against money laundering and more, Weil said.

‘Watershed’ moment?

According to Facebook and its partners, local currencies and Libra may be swapped at currency exchange houses or other businesses.

And the ubiquity of smartphones means digital wallets for Libra could make banking and credit card services and e-commerce available in places where they don’t now exist.

Analyst and cryptocurrency investor Lou Kerner said Facebook’s move has the potential to open the door for cryptocurrency to a wider public.

“What Facebook is really good at, is making things really simple to use,” Kerner told AFP.

“And that’s what is super exciting for the crypto industry, is somebody comes along who understands user experience and has billions of users that they can roll this out to.”

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SC to regulate digital assets


Good move: Lim says many people have bypassed Malaysia because the policy was not clear about digital assets

Move seen to spur growth in digital currency sector

Regulatory oversight of digital currencies and tokens, which kicks in from today, offers timely clarity and transparency to various players in the fledgling industry.

Omni Capital Partners Sdn Bhd managing director Scott Lim said everything would be above board with the regulation and governance under the Securities Commission (SC).

“Digital assets in Malaysia have been underwhelmed mostly. A lot of people have been bypassing Malaysia because the policy was not clear about it.

“Certainly, now that this is regulated by the SC, it’ll be good. We shall wait for the guidelines,” he said.

Celebrus Advisory co-founder Edmund Yong said the regulation is very much welcomed and one which is needed, as it would spur growth in the industry.

Celebrus is a compliance-first blockchain consultancy firm.

He added that the statement by the Finance Ministry was very accommodative with the intention to use tokens and the recognition of it as a fund-raising tool.

“In fact, it can be an indirect source of foreign direct investment, a borderless method to raise funds.

“But from now until March 31, there will be a twilight period. Many activities will be stopped in their tracks because they don’t know where they stand.

“Some would possibly even move offshore because of the draconian RM10mil and 10-year imprisonment punishment,” said Yong.

He said digital tokens could also be for points in computer games or reward points, and it too would be quite draconian if it is all painted with the same brush.

The Capital Markets and Services (Prescription of Securities) (Digital Currency and Digital Token) Order 2019 kicks in today and any person operating unauthorised initial coin offerings (ICOs) or digital asset exchanges faces up to a 10-year jail term and up to a RM10mil fine.

Digital currencies and digital tokens are collectively known as digital assets, which will now be prescribed as securities.

The SC is putting in place relevant regulatory requirements for the issuance of ICOs and the trading of digital assets at digital asset exchanges in the country.

This is expected to be launched by the end of the first quarter this year.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said the offering of such instruments, as well as its associated activities, would require authorisation from the SC and needed to comply with relevant securities law and regulations.

“The Finance Ministry views digital assets as well as its underlying blockchain technologies as having the potential to bring about innovation in both old and new industries.

“In particular, we believe digital assets have a role to play as an alternative fund-raising avenue for entrepreneurs and new businesses, and as an alternative asset class for investors,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Any person offering an ICO or operating a digital asset exchange without the SC’s approval will face an imprisonment term not exceeding 10 years and a fine not exceeding RM10mil.

Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad mooted the idea of the Harapan Coin last year, which would be the world’s first political fund-raising platform using blockchain and cryptocurrency technology.

In November last year, shareholders of Country Heights Holdings Bhd approved the company’s plan to conduct an ICO to issue its own cryptocurrency, called “horse currency”.

Country Heights founder and chairman Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew had said that the company would like to be the first to launch cryptocurrency in the country when the regulations are ready.

The company’s plan is to eventually issue one billion horse currencies backed by RM2bil worth of physical assets held by the holding company, with an initial 300 million open to the public for circulation.

StarBizBy ROYCE TAN roycetan@thestar.com.my

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Environmental impact of cryptocurrency


Ten years ago, an anonymous cryptographer laid out the principles of an online currency that would operate beyond
the reach of governments and central banks. — dpa

BITCOIN was supposed to solve the problems of analogue currencies. Instead, it created a new one: an enormous amount of global energy consumption that rivals the power usage of an entire country like Ireland.

According to findings of a new study, the implementation of this cryptocurrency could lead to enough emissions being produced so that global temperatures rise 2°C by 2033.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that the hardware and electricity needs of Bitcoin alone could significantly impact climate change for the worse.

“Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change. This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list,” said Katie Taladay, one of the paper’s co-authors from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The technical design of how transactions are processed causes Bitcoin and many of the growing numbers of rival cryptocurrencies to consume an enormous amount of energy in so-called Bitcoin mining centres around the world.

And yet the digital currency Bitcoin is still enjoying hype as one of the greatest financial phenomenons of our time.

The foundation for Bitcoin was laid out 10 years ago when an anonymous cryptographer using the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” published a paper laying out the principles for autonomous digital money.

The ideas it contained were revolutionary: No control by central banks, no national borders.

Instead, a mechanism called blockchain would provide trust and security in the system. In broad strokes, blockchain is a publicly viewable ledger of transactions, each saved one after the other.

But as the cryptocurrency’s wild fluctuations and electricity needs have attracted a lot of media attention, the ramifications of the latter have only recently been brought to light.

In a different article published in May by financial economist and blockchain specialist Alex de Vries, the electricity consumption of Bitcoin was estimated to be around the same as the electricity use of the Republic of Ireland.

De Vries also predicted that Bitcoin could be using as much as half of a percent of the world’s total electricity consumption by the end of this year.

“To me, half a percent is already quite shocking. It’s an extreme difference compared to the regular financial system, and this increasing electricity demand is definitely not going to help us reach our climate goals,” de Vries said.

“With the ever-growing devastation created by hazardous climate conditions, humanity is coming to terms with the fact that climate change is as real and personal as it can be,” said Camilo Mora, associate professor of geography in the College of Social Sciences at UH Manoa, Hawaii.

“Clearly, any further development of cryptocurrencies should critically aim to reduce electricity demand,” Mora, the lead author of the new study warns.

So as Bitcoin celebrates 10 years since its creation and it gains more and more supporters each year, we should probably take a moment and give this energy-sucking technology a re-think. – dpa By AMY WALKER

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Get-rich-quick ‘Bitcoin Formula’ exposed: Vincent Tan denies investing US$250m



 

Vincent Tan denies investing US$250m in get-rich-quick ‘Formula’

PETALING JAYA: Berjaya Corp Bhd founder and executive chairman Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun (<<pic) has denied investing US$250 million in a project known as “The Formula” which allegedly promises huge profits and quick riches.

Tan said in a statement today said that the ‘The Formula’ is supposedly a share trading platform that allows trades executed through it to beat the stock market with an accuracy of 80% thereby allowing users to make huge profits.

“I refer to a current online media entitled ‘Vincent Tan gives back to the people with his latest project” wherein it is reported that I have invested US$250 million in a project known as “The Formula” with a wish to make Malaysians wealthy.

“I would like to categorically deny that I have made an investment in this project or that I am in any way involved in it and there is absolutely no truth in this report which I believe has been put out by unscrupulous persons to deceive the public,” Tan said.

Tan has reported the matter to the relevant authorities so that appropriate action can be taken and urged the public to take caution on promises of quick riches and not to fall prey to scams.

Tan said this is not the first time his name has been used in similar instances for the purpose of lending credibility to online investment scams.

On June 28 (see below), Tan exposed a dubious startup trading platform called “Bitcoin Formula” which used his name and doctored photos to promote its business.

An article claiming he had invested in and was promoting Bitcoin Formula, together with some photographs, was circulated on social media.

The article was accompanied by a few photographs, one showing Tan allegedly awarding a cheque for RM500,000 to Bitcoin Formula for winning the “Project of the Year” prize in a computer engineering “hackathon” in Kuala Lumpur, and another picture of him apparently speaking about Bitcoin Formula at a social media business summit.

Both pictures were in fact images altered with the use of photo-editing software and had originally been taken by theSun in March 2014 and January last year.

A check with the Companies Commission of Malaysia found that no company by the name of Bitcoin Formula exists.

Credit:  Kevin Deva newsdesk@thesundaily.com

‘Bitcoin Formula’ exposed

 

This picture of Tan Sri Vincent Tan speaking at the Social Economic Forum at the GK Enchanted Farm in Bulacan in the Philippines was doctored to appear as if he was promoting Bitcoin Formula

PETALING JAYA: Berjaya group founder and executive chairman Tan Sri Vincent Tan has blown the whistle on a dubious startup trading platform called “Bitcoin Formula”, which has used his name and doctored photos to promote its business.

It came to Tan’s attention that an article claiming he had invested in and was promoting Bitcoin Formula, together with some photographs, was being circulated on social media after a friend who saw it asked him if it would indeed be a good investment.

“How can it be a good investment when the operators have to resort to such dishonest ways like using my name in fake reports and doctored photographs to promote their business?” he said.

“I think anyone who invests in such a shady business will surely lose their money,” said Tan, who urged the public not to be deceived by such posts on social media.

The article about the company, that purports to promote blockchain and crypto technologies, claimed Tan had donated RM500,000 to Bitcoin Formula, a supposed financial startup by young computer engineers developing an efficient trading platform.

The article was accompanied by a few photographs, one showing Tan allegedly awarding a cheque for RM500,000 to Bitcoin Formula for winning the “Project of the Year” prize in a computer engineering “hackathon” in Kuala Lumpur, and another picture of him apparently speaking about Bitcoin Formula at a social business summit.

Both pictures were in fact images altered with the use of photo-editing software, and had originally been taken by theSun in March 2014 and January last year.

The cheque presentation photo was actually of Tan presenting a RM500,000 award to representatives of Dharma Master Cheng Yen of the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation after she was named Better Malaysia Foundation’s Personality of the Year in 2015.

The other image was taken when Tan was speaking at the Social Economic Forum that was held at the GK Enchanted Farm in Bulacan, in the Philippines.

A check with the Companies Commission of Malaysia found that no company by the name of Bitcoin Formula exists.

Tan is apparently the latest prominent person whose name had been used by get-rich-quick scheme operators to scam unsuspecting people, and prominent tycoons like AirAsia founder Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and “Sugar King” Robert Kuok were among people whose names have been used by these scammers.

Tan also dismissed a Facebook article claiming that he will be donating RM525 million to Tabung Harapan Malaysia.

“There is absolutely no truth to either of these reports, that I believe have been put out by unscrupulous persons to deceive the public. I hope the public do not get fooled by these fake reports,” he added.


Credit:  Amar Shah Mohsen newsdesk@thesundaily.com

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BLOCKCHAIN beyond Bitcoin


Blockchain is beginning to enter the spotlight as organisations see uses for it over and above the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. From combating fake degrees to being able to track the origin of organic products, blockchain is proving to be a reliable solution in trust.

The underlying technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and ethereum is blockchain.

Creating trust in transactions Varanasi: Blockchain can be used to store verified documents so that users don’t have to keep validating important documents every time it’s submitted to a new party.

While blockchain was confined to finanin cial tech the early days, many organisations are starting to employ it in other industries because the technology is highly secure and even allows for transparency.

This encourages trust and in some cases even eliminates the need for a third party to validate the data, making it valuable to many organisations.

WITH fake doctorates and degrees becoming increasingly common, how are employers and graduates to find an efficient way to bridge the gap in trust?

According to Dr Mohamed Ariff Ameedeen, from University Malaysia Pahang (UMP), the solution could lie with blockchain technology.

As director of IBM’s Centre of excellence, which has been based in the university since 2012, he is continuously exploring novel uses for blockchain beyond cryptocurrency.

he said one of the early ideas the team was working on was a secure database that would prevent students from hacking to change their grades.

however, his team then decided to solve a more pressing issue affecting universities – fake degrees.

Mohamed Ariff said some universities are already integrating QR codes into graduates’ certificates to help validate credentials. however, even QR codes are now easily tampered with.

Taking it one step further, the UMP team created a system called Valid8, a QR code linked to a student profile secured by blockchain, which contains the student’s name, photo, title of degree and the year it was awarded.

This made tampering with the QR code pointless, as it only acted as a key to the information on the blockchain.

“even if someone used another person’s QR code, the data would clearly show it was not the person’s name or photo connected to the certificate,” he said.

he added that all the info placed on the blockchain is already publicly available so it would not compromise the students’ privacy.

Mohamed Ariff said making the data trustworthy meant time savings – as employers don’t have to contact the university to verify the certificate, they can be quicker in deciding if they should hire the job applicant.

So far, UMP has run a pilot programme with Valid8 by issuing supplementary certificates to 180 graduates from the industrial Management Faculty.

Mohamed Ariff said it took a couple of days to configure the blockchain node and a few more days to input the 180 students’ data.

“Although entering the information is relatively straightforward, migrating 15 years of old data (of earlier graduates) that includes more than just the initial four data points is going to take a bit longer,” he said.

The full-scale test for Valid8 will be the students graduating at the year-end convocation, estimated to be around 2,000.

To make the student profiles more useful, Mohamed Ariff said the team is planning to add more information such as grades, attendance, courses and maybe even disciplinary records.

“The beauty of blockchain is that it can grow with time and track a student’s academic life. imagine how much data it would have if a profile was set up for students when they entered kindergarten,” he said.

To encourage such a situation, UMP is open to collaborating with other universities that wanted to adopt blockchain for student iDs.

however, eduValue founder Barry Ew Yong warned that even a secured system has an obvious point of failure – human error.

he added that once errors entered the system there is a chance that it will be perpetuated. “Technology does not increase trust. Systems increase trust, though technology can be a useful tool to do so,” he said.

Like with UMP’s Valid8, the quality assurance startup has adopted blockchain to secure graduate certificates, using the technology to store a softcopy of the degree.

The company serves around 30 private schools, mostly tertiary schools offering up to Masters. Founded in Singapore in December 2012, it only just started employing blockchain.

he said the company uses a two stage system to ensure that only qualified students would be given certificates.

in the first stage it will help set up the standard by which students will be evaluated in order for them to graduate, and the approval process will be audited – schools found lacking will be struck off the system.

in the second stage it will vet all data being uploaded to the platform.

For UMP this is just a start – it’s also testing a blockchain based e-wallet called Xchain that students, lecturers, staff and vendors would eventually use for all transactions in UMP.

Beyond the security benefits, Mohamed Ariff said the open-nature of blockchain’s shared ledger meant the spending patterns could be analysed, making the university a giant data pool.

“With a population of 13,000 users, there’s a lot of potential data. And as a university, we love data,” he said.

Xchain is still in beta as the team is waiting to get Bank Negara to issue it an e-wallet license.

Mohamed Ariff concluded that blockchain is promising, especially for the education field, which relies on data that is open to peer review while also being trustworthy and tamper-evident.

ACADEMICIAN hu Dong, who advises Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Zero Bay incubator, said the supply chain industry could see huge advantages by having a more efficient and transparent data manto agement system.

Blockchain can be used track a product’s origin and determine if the materials were sourced as claimed, which is invaluable to sectors such as organic farming and ethical diamond mining. Also, by tracking the product’s trail along each stop on the supply chain, should an issue arise that requires a product to be recalled, the company could zero in on where the fault occurred.

For example, if a company found that the computer it’s making has a faulty hard drive, it would be able to identify which one of its factories was responsible. it then only needs to recall the computers that originated from the affected factory instead of all its products.

This would save cost as the recall will be smaller

and speed up the process which could help limit damage to the company’s reputation.

Dong, who was in Malaysia for a conference by blockchain incubator WeMerge, said the highlight of blockchain is accountability and transparency so it would create a higher degree of trust, which makes it great for smart contracts.

A smart contract can digitally facilitate, verify, or enforce the performance of a contract without the need for third parties. And if executed via blockchain, the transactions are trackable and irreversible.

He said smart contracts could ensure factories, for instance, get paid faster, as the payment can be released once the contract is verified through the blockchain instead of waiting for a third-party to process it.

Startup Eximchain, which has raised US$20mil (rM78.41mil) in funding to continue developing blockchain solutions, is offering Smart Contracts.

Its solution allows banks to verify the validity of orders and provide the necessary financing; and the transaction history can be used by suppliers to prove their reliability to buyers and rating institutions. For banker turned blockchain technologist Bobby Varanasi, limiting the technology’s application to Bitcoin is just shortsighted.

The co-founder of Thynkblynk Technologies, along with partner Parag Jain, have developed ChainTrail, a “trust platform” for storing verified documents, including education certificates, medical records and contracts.

By using ChainTrail, you don’t have to keep verifying a document each time it’s presented to a new party.

However, Varanasi said the company was not in the business of certification and that the onus was on the data provider, be it a university or bank, to ensure that the data is correct.

“A lie, once committed to blockchain, would become an immutable one,” said Jain, referring to how data can only be added but not modified on a blockchain.

To mitigate such risks, ChainTrail vets customers by validating their credentials and ensuring that they are authorised to represent stakeholders.

For instance, it would verify that a lecturer is from the university he or she claims to represent.

It also offers templates for agreements such as contracts and term sheets.

“In today’s world, lack of trust is increasingly permeating the world of trade, both politically and financially… blockchain as a tech has finally presented an opportunity to create trust amongst a variety of parties that transact with each other,” said Varanasi.

Chain of trust:

 

Built for cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain is being used in innovative ways in a number of industries.

  

Basics of blockchain

LIKE a lot of complex technologies, blockchain is easier to understand once you break it down.

A blockchain is made up of a block of “transaction data” which is why it’s also called a ledger. Each block also has a hash – a string of numbers which uniquely identifies the block.

And similar to how a person has their parent’s names added to theirs, a block features a portion of the preceding block’s hash.

Put in terms of family lines, it’s like how you could tell that Amir bin Ali is the son of Ali bin Abu, who is in turn the son of Abu bin Bakar, and so on.

Basically, the hash “chains” the blocks together, by affirming their place in relation to the blocks before and after, hence the term blockchain.

Security in numbers

A key feature of blockchain is security. Blockchain runs on the paraphrased adage that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time.

So rather than making it tamper-proof, blockchain is tamper-evident – this is done by making a copy of the blockchain available to all members of the network, which is why blockchain is sometimes referred to as a public ledger.

As members of the network all have a copy of the same blockchain, if anyone’s chain is compromised by a hacker, it would look different from others.

If you have ever tried to organise a movie night with an extended group of friends on a WhatsApp group, you’ll get the idea.

Say, you want to watch Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and get the ball rolling by choosing the day and cinema, and then ask whoever that’s interested to add their names to the list.

The original message can’t be altered as it has been sent to the group. Instead everyone adds to the data by including their names and maybe a request for a specific timeslot. This concept is called “persistence”, wherein the older data cannot be retroactively altered.

Though a cheeky friend could change the date to try to troll the group, he wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that earlier messages will show a different date. This is what makes a public ledger like the blockchain tamper-evident.

Blockchain transaction

The blockchain is stored on computers, also known as nodes, that are connected via a peer-to-peer network.

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What is Blockchain Technology, its uses and applications?

Bitcoin: Utter pipedream


No intrinsic value: Unlike enterprises, bitcoin has no business, no intrinsic value, no cash flows and no balance sheet. — AFP

I JUST returned from a meeting of the Asian Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee in Bangkok.

The group comprises Asian academic experts on economics and finance. Their role is to monitor the state of the world economy and the workings of its financial markets in the light of existing and prospective policies; and draw lessons and give advice on vital public policy issues of current interest to regulators and market practitioners to make the world a better place.

The group comprises 23 professors from 14 countries, coming from a diverse group of universities and think-tanks, including the universities of Sydney and Monash, and of Fudan, Hong Kong and Sun-Yat-Sen in China, Universitas Indonesia, universities of Tokyo and Hitotsubashi, Yonsei and Korea universities, Sunway University, Massey University in New Zealand, University of the Philippines, Singapore Management University, National Taiwan University, Chulalongkorn University and NIDA Business School, University of Hawaii and University of California at Davis, University of Vietnam, and Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

They examined key issues surrounding the theme: “Cryptocurrencies: Quo Vadis?” focusing on the role and activities of the flavour of the month, bitcoin. At the end of it all, they issued the following statement:

“Cryptocurrencies in general, and bitcoin, in particular, have been receiving considerable press of late, driven mainly by wide swings in value in the cryptocurrency exchanges. There are now in excess of 2,500 products considered to be cryptocurrencies and in the last three weeks alone their combined market value has plummeted from US$830bil to US$545bil as of today, of which US$215bil is attributed to bitcoin and bitcoin cash.

To keep this in perspective, however, Apple Inc has a market value of US$880bil as of today. Market value measures the equity value of a business – or what investors are willing to pay for its future profits. Unlike enterprises, however, bitcoin has no business, no intrinsic value, no cash flows, no profit and loss statement, and no balance sheet. It is a speculative instrument.

Cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, are not considered currency today because they are not a universal means of payment, nor a stable store of value, nor a reliable unit of account. Buyers purchase on the basis that these cryptocurrencies would rise in value. While market value has been the main focus of the current interest, the more important issues are around the role of cryptocurrencies both as financial assets, and the role they can play in transaction settlements, and their implications, if any, on financial stability.

While there is much interest in cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, the volume of transactions remains very small currently. For example, total US dollars (cash) in circulation amount to US$1.6 trillion as of today. M3 (broad money) is valued by the Federal Reserve at US$14 trillion. Total US economy assets in 2016 were valued at US$220 trillion. So why the fascination with cryptocurrencies? Supporters of Bitcoin claim it to be a superior store of value to fiat money issued by central banks because its supply is limited by design and therefore cannot be debased. In addition, the technology behind bitcoin, called the Blockchain, provides anonymity to its players. That is why it is a favourite with money launderers, tax evaders, terrorists, drug smuggler, hackers, and anyone who wants to evade the rule of law. Many people who use cryptocurrencies assert that they pay minimal transaction costs mainly because it avoids the cost of financial intermediation.

Still, there is large potential for capital gains because of the wide volatility of its price movement. This is the main driving force behind the popularity of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. However, there are high risks involved including extreme volatility and opaque, unregulated exchanges that are prone to cyberattacks.

Authorities and regulators worry about bitcoin because they fear it is a bubble. In the event of a bust, investors in bitcoin – they are many, spread over various continents and countries – will be hurt; and they exert pressure on governments to regulate this business in order to protect investors.

In addition, they worry about the impact – in the event that cryptocurrency trading becomes a significant element in maintaining financial stability – in terms of the impact on the transmission of monetary policy and on its effects on the banking system, and most of all, on systemic risk, if any.

Authorities have responded in different way. In South Korea, new regulations today require banks and exchanges to identify who their customers are, imposing greater transparency in the conduct of the cryptocurrency business. On the other hand, Japanese authorities are more liberal. They only require the registration of companies engaged in this business at this time.

Many other authorities, including those in the US, are adopting a wait-and-see attitude while studying the issues, recognising that there may be a role for them to introduce some regulatory measures in the event that the volume and price volatility of cryptocurrency transactions become more and more significant.

In the meantime, government and tax authorities feel uneasy about the impact on revenue collection. Other regulators are worried about crowdfunding through ICOs (initial coin offers). Authorities in a number of countries, including the US, have introduced measures to regulate the issue of new ICOs to ensure that investors are provided with the necessary information before making such investments.

At the same time, central banks in many countries are looking into the desirability and possibility of issuing their own digital currencies, including to counter privately-issued cryptocurrencies.

Recommendations:

1. Bitcoin came into prominence because of an apparent lack of confidence in fiat currency. It is imperative that governments and central banks continue to give priority to (i) protecting the integrity of their currencies; (ii) designing policies to contain inflation to prevent it from debasing the currency; and (iii) strengthening their mandate to promote financial stability over financial development, if needed (including ensure fintech development does not undermine confidence). Also, in cases where authorities do not have the power to regulate the cryptocurrency business, they should actively seek such authority where appropriate.

2. Monetary authorities should be open to creating digital currencies rather than confining their money supply to notes, coins and deposits. But they should do so in a transparent manner and only after careful consultation and study.

3. It is the role of government to warn their citizens and investors about the high risk involved, and ensure transparency in bitcoin activity, and not to unduly introduce more and more regulations that will stifle innovative initiatives. Blockchain technology, for example, does have other useful applications apart from the issue of its use in the creation of digital currency.

Investor protection

As we see today, bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies are not currencies. Mostly, they reflect speculative activity. Hence, investing and transacting in them involve high risks. It is imperative that investors realise this and approach investing in cryptocurrencies with great caution and with as much information as is available to help them manage these risks.

Investors must fully understand that cryptocurrency prices need not necessarily always rise, particularly because they have no intrinsic value, they could just as easily fall. So investors beware: Caveat emptor.”

Update

The following developments are noteworthy:

> Columbia’s Prof N. Roubini (Dr Doom) claims bitcoin is not a currency. Few price anything in bitcoin. Not many retailers accept it (even bitcoin conferences don’t accept it as payment). And it’s a poor store of value because its price can fluctuate 20%-30% a day. Worse, he labelled it “the mother of all bubbles” because its claim of a steady-state supply is “fraudulent”.

It has already created thee similar currencies: Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Bitcoin Gold. Together with the hundreds of such other currencies invented daily, this creation of money supply is debasing the currency at a much faster pace than any major central banks ever did. Furthermore, bitcoin’s claimed advantage is also its Achilles’s heel – for, even if it actually did have a steady supply of 21 million units, it is not a viable currency because the supply won’t track potential nominal GDP growth; hence, prices will become deflationary – the kind of phenomenon that economist Irving Fisher believed caused the Great Depression.

Indeed, the head of the European Central Bank had since declared to the European Parliament that cryptocurrencies are unregulated and “very risky assets. Their price is entirely speculative”. That’s not what we want or need. It’s a pity the FOMO (fear of missing out) of many retail investors will end them in a wild goose ride!

> Over its nine-year history, bitcoin has had five-peak-to-trough falls of more than 70% each. The recent decline offers a dose of reality to new investors – bitcoin dropped to a low US$7,850 on Feb 2 for the first time since November 2017 – crashing 60% from the high of nearly US$20,000 in mid-December. Sentiment has shifted dramatically this year.

On Feb 5, it fell another 4% to US$7,524. Also, the fledging market has taken a number of blows: Facebook has since banned advertisements on it (for being misleading); US Securities and Exchange Commission has accused some latest ICOs as “outright scams”; US and UK largest banks have put up “road-blocks” to financing bitcoins; and the recent Japanese hack theft of 523 million crypto-XEM (worth US$500mil) brought back memories of Mt Gox, which collapsed after a similar hack in 2014.

> Arbitrage traders (buying where it’s cheap and reselling where it is dear) have been active – taking advantage of price differentials in multiple places and different times. They call it “capturing the arb”. Hedge funds, high frequency traders and even amateur enthusiasts are giving it a shot. Price divergences can be due to glitches or network traffic jams. In South Korea, exchanges quote abnormally wide prices reflecting high investors’ demand for bitcoin in the face of strict capital controls – giving rise to a “Kimchi premium” (of as high as 50% above US price; now down to 5% as price disparities are swiftly traded away).

> Concern over cryptocurrency activity is spreading beyond China, Japan, South Korea and India. This prompted the governor of the Bank of England, who also chairs the Global Financial Stability Board, to voice his unease over the anonymity embedded in blockchain technology underlying their use, especially for illicit activity (including money laundering). He disclosed that it would be on the agenda at the next G20 meeting. Tax authorities have also expressed concern over the under-reporting of capital gains tax.

> Bitcoin futures trading on Chicago’s CME and CBoE exchanges have been slow to catch fire – at the pace of a “slow walk”.

What then, are we to do

Reality check: Bitcoin is proving that cryptocurrencies can erase wealth as fast as they create it. In January 2018 alone, it wiped off US$45bil from its US$200bil in market value generated in all of 2017 – the biggest one-month loss in US dollar terms in its short history. Since then, more value is being lost. For most economists and finance experts, they don’t represent an investable asset – there are liquidity issues, safety issues, exchange issues; most of all, they have no intrinsic value.

Can’t realistically put a fix on their fair value. They are for speculators who are prepared to lose everything. Of course, its something else for those who use them for illicit activity (home to criminals and terrorists), including money laundering. Anonymity means you are potentially closing a chain, while at somewhere along it had some illicit activity that cannot see the light of day.

Fair enough, these concern regulators. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the huge range of opportunities presented by the underlying technology – a view shared by many in relation to raising the efficiency of payment systems. Regulators are right to want to regulate crypto but also, continue to encourage innovation on blockchain. As I see it, so far in 2018, bitcoin has been a total dud. The list of factors driving its decline is growing, especially rising regulatory clampdown occurring around the world.

So, the cryptocurrency market has fallen on tougher times. For sure, Bitcoin has been highly profitable for many investors. Indeed, there continues to be strong interest among millennials.

Bottom line: the year so far has been terrible for bitcoin. But the fundamental positive story for crypto appears to remain intact. Protecting consumers should make it harder for charlatans to sell digital dust. There is a point where it goes from “buying on the dip” to “catching a falling knife”. Only time will tell. So, beware!

NB: Following global regulatory crackdown, bitcoin’s price has on Feb 6 fallen to a low of US$5,947, wiping out over US$200bil so far this year. Bitcoin’s market cap is now US$109bil, about one-third of the total crypto market (that’s down from 85% this time last year). The Bank for International Settlements (banker to central banks) has now condemned bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster” (refers to huge amounts of electricity used to create it) and warns it can even become a “threat to financial stability”.

By Lin See-yan – what are we to do?

Former banker Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of The Global Economy in Turbulent Times (Wiley, 2015) and Turbulence in Trying Times (Pearson, 2017). Feedback is most welcome.

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