Elizabeth Belugina, the Head of Analytics Department at FBS
These days cryptocurrencies are now on everyone’s lips. Are we on the edge of new financial reality or is this just another bubble?
A new global passion
In the year of 2017,there are a lot of cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, ETH, Ripple, Litecoin, Solar Coin, Waves and hundreds of other “coins” that emerge almost every day.The overall capitalization of this market surged by more than 800% this year. Because of their specific features cryptocurrenciesare considered a new asset class, which currently offers the highest returns among all asset classes. Cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value and are valuable only when exchanged with other currencies, but unlike fiat money, they don’t represent debt.
Although a lot of people rushed into Bitcoin – the first and the most popular cryptocurrency – not all of them can boast of understanding the blockchain technology, which lies at its basis. The blockchain is indeed a revolutionary thing. It allows building systems of distributed ledgers, which are based on peer-to-peer networks of computers and do not have a central authority. In such systems, transactions are recorded and verified on a shared, virtually incorruptible database in the form of a chain of blocks. A non-tech mind can concentrate on the main benefits of the system: the need of oversight or intermediation goes away, transactions become cheaper, transparency increases as transactions cannot be altered or deleted.
Bitcoin came into existence just a few weeks after the global financial crisis, yet the world has become really obsessed with it only this year. According to CoinDesk, about 40% of crypto enthusiasts bought Bitcoins for the first time in 2017.
Where the price comes from?
Bitcoin’s price depends on several factors.At the base of everything, there’s, of course, supply & demand.
Bitcoin supply is limited. The total number of Bitcoins in existence is not expected to exceed 21 million. In line with Bitcoin generation algorithm, the number of Bitcoins generated per block is set to decrease by 50% approximately every 4 years. Finite supply is one of the reasons why the asset’s price is going sky-high.
Demand is another big driver. A lot of Bitcoin investors became such out of fear of missing out (FOMO). Many websites contributed to the rush with posts that a person who bought 250 Bitcoins in 2010 would have by now become a millionaire.
News flow is a great engine of the demand for Bitcoins. If well-known companies and businesses start accepting Bitcoins as a means of transaction, the cryptocurrency’s quotes move up.Negative news can be about government regulations in various countries, bankruptcy or hacks of bitcoin exchanges, related websites and services.In addition, Bitcoin falls when large players need fiat money and sell large quantities of Bitcoins to get it.
The most recent wave of interest in cryptocurrencies was driven by Initial Coin Offerings (ICO). ICOs are a new form of crowdfunding. Various types of ventures raise money by selling tokens for Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. Often an idea is enough to collect millions of dollars.These tokens grant investors access to a product or service that will be built with the money raised in the ICO. This option based on Ethereum – a cryptocurrency, but also a platform for apps – has broadened horizons for a lot of projects, but also gave scammers a way to attract funding and disappear. It seems that ICOs, which have gone rogue on a global scale, represent the main risk for cryptocurrencies’ ecosystem.
The future of cryptocurrency market: investor’s perspective
If you decide to trade cryptocurrencies, you’ll need to take into account the fact that they are highly illiquid and extremely volatile. Low liquidity is what makes the market vulnerable to speculation: large players can easily manipulate the price. Cryptocurrencies have low correlation with other asset classes but are highly correlated among themselves. As the price of Bitcoin climbed, investors got interested in other cryptocurrencies.
In addition, it’s necessary to understand that buying a cryptocurrency is not like buying a stock or commodity futures. There’s something of a Wild West in the cryptocurrencies market. Dealing with cryptocurrencies involves a whole bunch of risks:risk of systemic & flash crashes, centralized exchange hacking,fork risk, mining concentration risk, regulatory risk, compliance & due diligence risks and many other risks.
As Bitcoin’s price is still more than 300% up from the start of the year, concerns that such surge is a bubble are shared by the majority of market players. According to the famous anecdote, American businessman Joe Kennedy once said: “You know it’s time to sell when shoeshine boys gives you stock tips.” And now you can hear about Bitcoins everywhere. The current situation is often compared to 17th-century Dutch tulip bubble or the weeks before the dot-com crash.
On the bright side, crypto market cap varies between $100 billion and $147.1 billion, which is commensurable to the market cap of McDonald’s. It’s a drop in the ocean compared with other financial markets, so a scope for further growth exists.
There are several things that may drive Bitcoin “to the moon”. Blockchain technology is a revolution, which will lead to a better and a more efficient economy. Some experts compare it with the Internet and say that now that it is here it won’t go away. As cryptocurrencies are at the moment at the front side of the blockchain, it’s hard to believe that they will go down. The negative talk about Bitcoin and its brothers and sisters comes mainly from banks and governments, which of course can’t welcome something that will deprive them of control over money supply and circulation. Yet, it’s not likely that cryptocurrencies will be banned in the entire world. The Bank of Sweden has already started investigating a possibility of turning national currencies into cryptocurrencies.
That said, one has to understand that the market may be currently pricing in more than Bitcoin has to offer.As a result, short-term investment horizon is a most sensible option when dealing with Bitcoins – for now. Don’t be in a hurry to swap your fiat currencies for Bitcoins –nothing should be done in a hurry except catching fleas. At the same time, keep your eye on the ball: Bitcoin 2.0 will be the future.
Economic recovery likely to prove a ‘stuttering’ affair
By Rupert Thompson, Chief Investment Officer at Kingswood
Equity markets continued their upward trend last week, with global equities gaining 1.2% in local currency terms. Beneath the surface, however, the recovery has been a choppy affair of late. China and the technology sector, the big outperformers year-to-date, retreated last week whereas the UK and Europe, the laggards so far this year, led the gains.
As for US equities, they have re-tested, but so far failed to break above, their post-Covid high in early June and their end-2019 level. The recent choppiness of markets is not that surprising given they are being buffeted by a whole series of conflicting forces.
Developments regarding Covid-19 as ever remain absolutely critical and it is a mixture of bad and good news at the moment. There have been reports of encouraging early trial results for a new treatment and potential vaccine but infection rates continue to climb in the US. Reopening has now been halted or reversed in states accounting for 80% of the population.
We are a long way away from a complete lockdown being re-imposed and these moves are not expected to throw the economy back into reverse. But they do emphasise that the economic recovery, not only in the US but also elsewhere, is likely to prove a ‘stuttering’ affair.
Indeed, the May GDP numbers in the UK undid some of the optimism which had been building recently. Rather than bouncing 5% m/m in May as had been expected, GDP rose a more meagre 1.8% and remains a massive 24.5% below its pre-Covid level in February.
Even in China, where the recovery is now well underway, there is room for some caution. GDP rose a larger than expected 11.5% q/q in the second quarter and regained all of its decline the previous quarter. However, the bounce back is being led by manufacturing and public sector investment, and the recovery in retail sales is proving much more hesitant.
China is not just a focus of attention at the moment because its economy is leading the global upturn but because of the increasing tensions with Hong Kong, the US and UK. UK telecoms companies have now been banned from using Huawei’s 5G equipment in the future and the US is talking of imposing restrictions on Tik Tok, the Chinese social media platform. While this escalation is not as yet a major problem, it is a potential source of market volatility and another, albeit as yet relatively small, unwelcome drag on the global economy.
Government support will be critical over coming months and longer if the global recovery is to be sustained. This week will be crucial in this respect for Europe and the US. The EU, at the time of writing, is still engaged in a marathon four-day summit, trying to reach an agreement on an economic recovery fund. As is almost always the case, a messy compromise will probably end up being hammered out.
An agreement will be positive but the difficulty in reaching it does highlight the underlying tensions in the EU which have far from gone away with the departure of the UK. Meanwhile in the US, the Democrats and Republicans will this week be engaged in their own battle over extending the government support schemes which would otherwise come to an end this month.
Most of these tensions and uncertainties are not going away any time soon. Markets face a choppy period over the summer and autumn with equities remaining at risk of a correction.
European trading firms begin coming to terms with the new normal
By Terry Ewin, Vice President EMEA, IPC
In recent weeks, the phrase ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ has received a large amount of usage. Management consultancies, industry associations and organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have all used it in order to discuss how the current crisis, caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, presents an opportunity for new and worthwhile change.
The saying is also commonly used to indicate that the destruction and damage that is caused by a crisis gives organisations the chance to rebuild, and to do things that would not have previously been possible. This has the potential to impact financial trading firms, where projects that this time last year would not have made much sense now appearing to be as clear as day. In Europe, banks and brokers alike are beginning to think about what life will look like post-pandemic, and how their technology strategies may need changing.
We can think of three distinct phases when it comes to a crisis. Firstly, there is the emergency phase. This is followed by the transition period before we come to the post-crisis period.
Starting with the emergency phases, this is when firms are in critical crisis management mode. Plans are activated to ensure business continuity, and banks and brokers work to ensure critical functions can still take place so as to continue servicing their clients. With regards to the current crisis period, both large and small European banks and brokers were able to handle this phase relatively well, partly due to the fact that communications technology has reached the point where productive Work From Home (WFH) strategies are in place. For example, cloud-connectivity, in addition to the use of soft turrets for trading, has enabled traders from across the continent to keep working throughout lockdown. From our work with clients, we know that they were able to make a relatively smooth transition to WFH operations.
In relation to the current coronavirus crisis, we are in the second phase – the transition period. This is the stage when financial companies begin figuring out how best to manage the worst effects of the ongoing crisis, whilst planning longer-term changes for a post-crisis world. One thing to note with this phase, is that no one knows how long it will last. There is still so much we don’t know about this virus. As such, this has an impact on when it will be safe for businesses to operate in a similar way to how they were run in a pre-pandemic world. But with restrictions across Europe starting to be eased, there is an expectation that companies will start to slowly work their way towards more on-site trading. For example, banks are starting to look at hybrid operations, whereby traders come in a couple of times a week, and WFH for the rest of the week. This will result in fewer people in the office building, which makes it easier to practise social distancing. It also means that there is a continued reliance on the technology that enables people to WFH effectively.
Finally, we have the post-crisis period. In terms of the current crisis, this stage is very unlikely to occur until a vaccine has been developed and distributed to the masses. Although COVID-19 has caused mass economic disruption, many analysts are predicting a strong rebound once the medical pieces of the puzzles are put into place. It may not be entirely V-shaped, but the resiliency displayed by the financial markets thus far suggests that it will be healthy.
Currently, many European trading firms are taking what could be described as a two-pronged approach.
The first part of this consists of planning for the possibility of an extension to phase two. Medical experts have suggested that there could be some seasonality to the virus, with the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the Autumn meaning that the risk of new restrictions remains. If this comes to fruition, there would be a need for organisations to fine-tune their current WFH strategies and measures, and for them to take greater advantage of the cloud so as to power communications apps.
The second component consists of firms starting to think about the long-term needs of their trading systems. Simply put, they are preparing themselves for the third phase.
It is in this last sense, that the idea of never letting ‘a good crisis go to waste’ resonates most clearly.
Currency movements and more: How Covid-19 has affected the financial markets
The COVID-19 pandemic has been more than a health crisis. With people forced to stay indoors and all but the most essential services stopped for multiple weeks, economies have suffered and financial markets have crashed. Perhaps the most public and spectacular fall from grace during the early stages of the pandemic was oil. With travel bans in place around the world and no one filling up at the pumps, the price of oil plummeted.
Prior to global lockdowns, US oil prices were trading at $18 per barrel. By mid-April, the value had dropped to -$38. The crash was not only a shocking demonstrating of COVID-19’s impact but the first time crude oil’s price had fallen below zero. A rebound was inevitable, and many traders were quick to take long positions, which meant futures prices remained high. However, with stocks piling up and demand sinking, trading prices suffered. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the only market that’s taken a knock since COVID-19 struck.
Financial Markets Fluctuate During Pandemic
Shares in major companies have dipped. The Institute for Fiscal Studies compiled a round-up of price movements for industries listed by the London Stock Exchange. Tourism and Leisure have seen share prices drop by more than 20%. Major airlines, including BA, EasyJet and Ryanair have all been forced to make redundancies in the wake of falling share prices. The automotive industry has also taken a knock, as have retailers, mining and the media. However, in among the dark, there have been some patches of light.
The forex market has been a mixed bag. As it always is, the US dollar has remained a strong investment option. With emerging markets feeling the strain, traders have poured their money into traditionally strong currency pairs like EUR/USD. Looking at the data, IG’s EUR/USD price charts show a sharp drop in mid-March from 1.14 to 1.07. However, after the initial shock of COVID-19 lockdowns, the currency pair has steadily increased in value back up to 1.12 (June 25, 2020). The dominance of the dollar has been seen as a cause for concern among some financial experts. In essence, the crisis has highlighted the world’s reliance on it.
Currency Movements Divide Economies
In any walk of life, a single point of authority is dangerous. Indeed, if reliance turns into overreliance, it can cause a supply issue (not enough dollars to go around. More significantly, it could cause a power shift that gives the US too much control over economic policies in other countries. Fortunately, other currencies have performed well during the pandemic. Alongside USD and EUR, the GBP has also shown a degree of strength throughout the crisis. However, these positive movements haven’t been shared by all currencies.
The South African rand took a 32% hit during the early stages of the pandemic, while the Mexican peso and Brazilian real dropped 24% and 23%, respectively. Like the forex market, other sectors have experienced contrasting fortunes. Yes, shares in airlines and automotive manufacturers have fallen, but food and drug retailers have seen stocks rise. In fact, at one point, orange juice was the top performer across multiple indices. With the health benefits of vitamin C a hot topic, futures prices for orange juice jump up by 30%. The sudden surge had analysts predicting 60% gains as we move into a post-COVID-19 world.
Looking Towards the Future through Financial Markets
The future is always unknown and, due to COVID-19, it’s more uncertain than ever. However, the financial markets do provide an indication of how things may change. The performance of USD and EUR in the forex markets suggest there could be a lot more trade deals negotiated between the US and Europe. The surge in orange juice futures suggest that health and wellness will become a much more important part of our lives. Even though it was already a multi-billion-dollar industry, the realisation that a virus can alter the face of humanity has given more people pause for thought.
Then, of course, there’s the move towards remote working and socially distance entertainment. From Zoom to Slack, more people will be working and playing from home in the coming years. The world is always changing, but recent have events have made us appreciate this fact more than ever. The financial markets aren’t a crystal ball, but they can offer a glimpse into what we can expect in a post-COVID-19 world.
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