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Can Blockchain Accelerate Asset Management Industry’s Long-Awaited Disruptions?

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Isn’t it time accountancy firms demanded spreadsheet management from corporates?

Rohit Kulkarni, Managing Director, Private Investment Research at SharesPost.

Blockchain has already disrupted how consumers pay for goods and services and how companies raise capital. But the technology also holds significant potential on we manage money.

As Millennial income contributes to a greater share of global assets over the next decade, we believe Blockchain technology can help asset management firms streamline operations and create trustworthy, digital experiences. Blockchain startups, however, need to work with incumbents and regulators to develop these services. We expect companies to roll out the first wave of applications over the next 12 months.

If Blockchain Can Digitize Trust, Will We Need Financial Intermediaries?

The financial services industry is full of middlemen that facilitate transactions, such as commercial banks, investment banks, stockbrokers, pooled investment funds, and stock exchanges. These intermediaries direct otherwise uninvested capital to productive businesses through debt, equity, or some combination of the two. The middlemen bring together those institutions with surplus funds with parties that want to borrow.

Since securities can be viewed as legal agreements, we can use distributed ledgers and smart contracts to digitally encode the rules that govern sales and purchases of these assets. Rather than relying on third parties to record and transcribe data, investors can simply check and verify a single, immutable smart contract.

We recently surveyed over 2,000 consumers and investors about potential markets that Blockchain could disrupt. Four of the 5 potential areas they identified were financial services, including asset management.

Exhibit 1: Investors bullish about Blockchain disruption in the finance industry

Exhibit 1

Source: SharesPost Research; N = 81 investors; Survey Question: “Which sector of Blockchain technology are you most bullish on?”; Percentages rounded off to the nearest integer

Blockchain Use Cases Span A Variety of Asset Management Functions

Blockchain can help asset managers manage data and provide clients with long term solutions instead of mere products. Below we show examples of how Blockchain could help managers reduce costs, increase revenues or both, from customer onboarding and custody services to clearing and settling transactions. The technology can eliminate the need for third parties to process, verify and safe guard financial assets.

Exhibit 2: Blockchain can have a wide-ranging impact on the asset management industry

Exhibit 2

Blockchain can save money, increase efficiencies, and unlock new revenue opportunities.

Asset management firms continue to face challenges to their traditional business model: growth in revenues and assets under management (AUM) has signficiantly declined while regulatory/compliance problems continue to rise. We believe the asset management industry can enjoy significant cost savings and improved efficiencies using Blockchain. Asset management firms rely on data security, redundancy, and reliability. We expect Blockchain will allow such firms to unlock new and incremental revenue opportunities with easy, real-time access to data.

Exhibit 3: Blockchain can have a wide-ranging economic benefit on the asset management industry

Exhibit 3

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Bitcoin hits $1 trillion market cap, surges to fresh all-time peak

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Bitcoin hits $1 trillion market cap, surges to fresh all-time peak 1

By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Tom Wilson

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Bitcoin touched a market capitalization of $1 trillion as it hit yet another record high on Friday, countering analyst warnings that it is an “economic side show” and a poor hedge against a fall in stock prices.

The world’s most popular cryptocurrency jumped to an all-time high just below $55,772, posting a weekly jump of 13%. It has surged roughly 66% so far this month and was last up 6.8% at $55,079.

Bitcoin’s gains have been fueled by signs it is gaining acceptance among mainstream investors and companies, from Tesla Inc and Mastercard Inc to BNY Mellon.

All digital coins combined have a market cap of around $1.7 trillion.

“If you really believe there’s a store of value in bitcoin, then there’s still a lot of upside,” said John Wu, president of AVA Labs, an open-source platform for creating financial applications using blockchain technology.

“If you look at gold, it has a market cap $9 or $10 trillion. Even if bitcoin gets to half of gold’s market cap, that’s still growth of 4X, or $200,000. So I don’t know when it stops rising,” he added.

The next milestone will be overtaking Alphabet Inc, currently valued at $1.431 trillion, said Jacob Skaaning, portfolio manager at crypto hedge fund ARK36.

“There will likely be some big fluctuations along the way, but I’m still very bullish and I believe the uptrend will continue for the time being,” he added.

Still, many analysts and investors remain skeptical of the patchily regulated, highly volatile digital asset, which is little used for commerce.

Analysts at JP Morgan said bitcoin’s current prices were well above estimates of fair value. Mainstream adoption increases bitcoin’s correlation with cyclical assets, which rise and fall with economic changes, in turn reducing benefits of diversifying into crypto, the investment bank said in a memo.

“Crypto assets continue to rank as the poorest hedge for major drawdowns in equities, with questionable diversification benefits at prices so far above production costs, while correlations with cyclical assets are rising as crypto ownership is mainstreamed,” JP Morgan said.

Bitcoin is an “economic side show,” it added, calling innovation in financial technology and the growth of digital platforms into credit and payments “the real financial transformational story of the COVID-19 era.”

Other investors this week said bitcoin’s volatility presents a hurdle for it to become a widespread means of payment.

On Thursday, Tesla boss Elon Musk – whose tweets have fueled bitcoin’s rally – said owning the digital coin was only a little better than holding cash. He also defended Tesla’s recent purchase of $1.5 billion of bitcoin, which ignited mainstream interest in the digital currency.

Bitcoin proponents argue the cryptocurrency is “digital gold” that can hedge against the risk of inflation sparked by massive central bank and government stimulus packages designed to counter COVID-19.

Yet bitcoin would need to rise to $146,000 in the long-term for its market cap to equal the total private-sector investment in gold via exchange-traded funds or bars and coins, according to JP Morgan.

Rival cryptocurrency ether also hit an all-time peak of $1,974.99 on Friday, and was last up 1% at $1,958.76, after its futures were launched on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Bitcoin’s surge extended to crypto-related stocks as well, such as Silvergate Capital Corp, which was up 8.2%, cryptocurrency miner Riot Blockchain, 13.5 higher%, and Marathon Patent Group, up 7.3%.

Shares of Overstock.com, an online retailer and blockchain tech investor, gained 4.1%; while MicroStrategy Inc, a bitcoin buyer and business intelligence software firm, advanced 4.1%.

(Graphic: Cryptocurrencies surge multi-fold from March lows link: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/yzdpxwaynvx/Pasted%20image%201613731432324.png)

(Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York and Tom Wilson in London; Editing by Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)

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Teed off: As COVID fuels S. Africa’s housing crisis, golf courses feel the heat

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Teed off: As COVID fuels S. Africa's housing crisis, golf courses feel the heat 2

By Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It sounds like a developer’s dream: A greenfield site in the heart of Cape Town, close to the best schools, hospitals and transport links and big enough to build more than 1,400 affordable new homes. The only hitch – it’s a golf course.

The 46-hectare (114-acre) Rondebosch Golf Club is one of hundreds of golf courses in South Africa facing scrutiny by land rights campaigners as a surge in evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic exposes an acute shortage of low-cost housing.

Rondebosch had its lease renewed by the city government late last year despite the presentation of some 1,830 objections by local housing rights group Ndifuna Ukwazi, which says turning golf courses over for homes is a way to tackle deep inequality.

“Using this land for the benefit of a few wealthy individuals at the expense of those in dire need of affordable housing is inefficient, unequal and unjust,” said Michael Clark, head of research and advocacy at Ndifuna Ukwazi.

Warnings by city officials that eviction is on the cards for occupiers of abandoned buildings, just months after Rondebosch’s lease was extended, have roused activists and sparked calls for cities to prioritise land use according to need.

“Golf courses occupy expansive tracts of land in well-located areas across cities,” said Edward Molopi, a researcher with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), which uses litigation and advocacy to support human rights.

“South African cities face an acute need for affordable housing and this land can be used to address the problem,” Molopi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that he knows of hundreds of housing evictions since lockdown began.

Nearly three decades after the end of white minority rule, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, according to the World Bank, with urban areas still starkly divided along racial and class lines.

In other countries too, from South Korea to the United States, the swathes of green space needed for a round of golf have stirred debate around alternative uses for the land, whether apartment blocks, public parks or even vineyards.

‘NOT THE ONLY LAND’

But in South Africa, where tracts of land, including golf courses, were used as physical barriers to separate different racial groups during the apartheid regime, campaigners say repurposing such areas is key to achieving a fairer society.

Golf lovers have a choice of about 450 courses in South Africa, according to independent golf course ranking platform Top 100 Golf Courses.

They are easy to spot on a Google Maps view of the nation’s cities, many in close proximity to other golf courses, and also poorer neighbourhoods or townships.

But officials say finding space for affordable homes is more complex than repurposing golf courses.

Not all of the courses are publicly owned or suitable for residential use, said officials from the cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. The sport also draws tourists and creates jobs, they added.

“Densification, diversification and inclusionary housing requirements in well-located parts of our cities is a more realistic approach,” said Nthatisi Modingoane, a spokesman for the city of Johannesburg.

‘SPATIAL JUSTICE’

Johannesburg’s Observatory golf course lies less than five kilometres (three miles) from Hillbrow, an inner-city suburb notorious for derelict, overcrowded buildings and crime.

People unable to afford rent end up there in “dark buildings” – properties seized by rogue landlords that offer crowded but cheap rooms, often without electricity.

“Since COVID, people need cheap rent, but if you don’t pay the landlords you get kicked out or … they kill you,” said Ethel Musonza, a housing activist who used to live in a dark building.

“There is a big need for people to be resettled in a safe place they can afford,” she added.

But the Observatory course sits on the site of an old ash dump, making it a poor site for residential construction, said club captain Simon Leventhorp.

“There is need for affordable houses but golf courses aren’t the only land available,” he said, adding that the club had a lower membership fee that other courses, making it a more inclusive space.

Some courses – like Rondebosch in Cape Town – do fit the bill for affordable housing, said Clark.

Golfers at the course can still enjoy views of the city’s famous Table Mountain from the greens, but authorities did add a two-year cancellation clause to the club’s lease if an alternative use of the land is identified.

Land used for community and recreational use, including golf courses, is currently being reviewed for possible residential sites, the city added.

In the meantime, land campaigners will continue to put pressure on state and city governments to “proactively intervene in housing markets”, said Molopi from SERI.

“This will be central to dismantling the ‘apartheid city’ and moving towards urban spatial justice,” Molopi said.

(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @KimHarrisberg; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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UK might need negative rates if recovery disappoints – BoE’s Vlieghe

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UK might need negative rates if recovery disappoints - BoE's Vlieghe 3

By David Milliken and William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England might need to cut interest rates below zero later this year or in 2022 if a recovery in the economy disappoints, especially if there is persistent unemployment, policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said on Friday.

Vlieghe said he thought the likeliest scenario was that the economy would recover strongly as forecast by the central bank earlier this month, meaning a further loosening of monetary policy would not be needed.

Data published on Friday suggested the economy had stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown hit retailers last month, while businesses and consumers are hopeful a fast vaccination campaign will spur a recovery.

Vlieghe said in a speech published by the BoE that there was a risk of lasting job market weakness hurting wages and prices.

“In such a scenario, I judge more monetary stimulus would be appropriate, and I would favour a negative Bank Rate as the tool to implement the stimulus,” he said.

“The time to implement it would be whenever the data, or the balance of risks around it, suggest that the recovery is falling short of fully eliminating economic slack, which might be later this year or into next year,” he added.

Vlieghe’s comments are similar to those of fellow policymaker Michael Saunders, who said on Thursday negative rates could be the BoE’s best tool in future.

Earlier this month the BoE gave British financial institutions six months to get ready for the possible introduction of negative interest rates, though it stressed that no decision had been taken on whether to implement them.

Investors saw the move as reducing the likelihood of the BoE following other central banks and adopting negative rates.

Some senior BoE policymakers, such as Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden, believe that adding to the central bank’s 875 billion pounds ($1.22 trillion) of government bond purchases remains the best way of boosting the economy if needed.

Vlieghe underscored the scale of the hit to Britain’s economy and said it was clear the country was not experiencing a V-shaped recovery, adding it was more like “something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery.”

“I want to emphasise how far we still have to travel in this recovery,” he said, adding that it was “highly uncertain” how much of the pent-up savings amassed by households during the lockdowns would be spent.

By contrast, last week the BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, likened the economy to a “coiled spring.”

Vlieghe also warned against raising interest rates if the economy appeared to be outperforming expectations.

“It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.

Higher interest rates were unlikely to be appropriate until 2023 or 2024, he said.

($1 = 0.7146 pounds)

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)

 

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