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Technologies May Change, but Fraud is Fraud

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The global financial industry needs to speed up its fraud detection through analytics

By: Thomas Lee, Senior Writer at SharesPost

We have a tendency to think we live in unique times, that the introduction of new technology forever changes things.

But strip away the bells and whistles and we find that human behavior remains the same, especially when it comes to financial markets. Investors want to make money, sometimes illegally.

So calls for the Securities and Exchange Commission to craft new rules specifically for cryptocurrencies largely misses the point. The laws that have successfully governed our markets and protected investors for more than 80 years don’t change just because the technology does.

“Whatever you call the underlying instrument or interest, fraud is fraud,” Troy Paredes, a former SEC Commissioner under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, recently told me. “If it’s a security and there’s fraud, the SEC has an obligation to act.” Paredes now runs Paredes Consulting firm in New York.

The cryptocurrency industry has been calling for the SEC to issue guidance that offers broad clarity on what constitutes an utility token, which allows the user to exchange for a service or perk, and security token, in which the holder expects a financial return, and thus subject to SEC regulation.

Without such guidance, the industry warns, the cryptomarkets will continue to be volatile. But be careful what you wish for.

Crypto investors may crave certainty but for the SEC to quickly push out new rules will only hurt the industry, not help it. If the SEC decided this is a utility token and this is a security token, then the agency would just box itself into a corner.

For example, a token might start as utility, in that it grants the user access to certain services on the Blockchain, but then becomes a security once it gets traded on the secondary market. In other words, a holder might initially buy a token to exchange for a service but then decide to sell it to another investor for profit.

What’s more desirable, the SEC issues rules now only to entirely scrap them a year later because they were wrong? Or a thoughtful, gradual approach that allows the agency to adjust accordingly should circumstances demand it?

There’s something much larger at stake here. Since Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which created the SEC, the capital markets in the United States have been the best in the world. Why?

It helps to have the world’s largest economy. But China is the world’s second largest economy yet even its own companies like Alibaba choose to go public in America.

Investors prefer U.S. financial markets because we operate under the rule of law, a system that’s both transparent and consistent. Investors park their cash in America because they trust our markets. We don’t swap our foundational principles for short term convenience and fleeting investment opportunities.

Messing with a system that has served so well is unwise. There will always be new technologies like cryptocurrencies and Blockchain. And then there will be something else. Should the SEC keep creating new rules to suit these technologies?

Some critics warn that the United States risks falling behind the rest of the world in cryptocurrencies and Blockchain. They point out Japan, which has been more permissive of coins and tokens. But Japan has also experienced some big growing pains.

In 2014, crypto exchange Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy after disclosing that 850,000 Bitcoins suddenly disappeared, probably stolen. And last January Coincheck said hackers stole more than $500 million worth of NEM coins.

People often forget the point of financial regulation is to not only promote stable markets but also fight fraud. Focusing on investor protection helps the SEC stay focused on its core mission and not get distracted by flashy new terms and technologies.

In early April, SEC chairman Jay Clayton attended a conference at the University of Chicago when a person asked him about things that surprised him so far about the job.

The amount of fraud with initial coin offerings and penny stocks, Clayton said.

Clayton probably sounded like he was equating ICOs with penny stocks. Combined with a recent SEC penalties against shady Blockchain and digital coin outfits, some people predicted the SEC would adopt a hard stance against the industry.

However, Clayton was not making a wholesale judgement on ICOs so much as a general observation about human behavior. Whenever someone has introduced a new financial innovation, bad actors have tried to cheat investors.

Take penny stocks. You could argue that penny stocks and the online exchanges that trade them were an innovation in the sense that it added liquidity in the market and allowed a greater portion of the public to invest in companies. But over time, people ultimately committed a great deal of fraud with penny stocks, forcing the SEC to act.

Technologies may change. But fraud is fraud.

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Exclusive: Portugal sees green hydrogen output by end-2022, $12 billion in investment lined up

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Exclusive: Portugal sees green hydrogen output by end-2022, $12 billion in investment lined up 1

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal will start producing green hydrogen by the end of 2022 and already has private investment worth around 10 billion euros ($12 billion) lined up for eight projects that are expected to move forward, Environment Minister Joao Matos Fernandes said.

He told Reuters in a telephone interview there were also several “pre-contracts for the purchase and assembly of electrolysers” to produce the zero-carbon fuel made by electrolysis out of water using renewable wind and solar energy.

Such hydrogen is more expensive to extract than the heavily polluting conventional method of using heat and chemical reactions to release hydrogen from coal or natural gas, known as brown and grey hydrogen respectively.

Hydrogen is now mostly used in the oil refining industry and to produce ammonia fertilisers, but sectors such as steelmaking, transportation and chemicals are beginning to develop large-scale hydrogen applications to gradually replace fossil fuels as countries try to reduce pollution.

The European Commission has mapped out a plan to scale up green hydrogen projects across polluting sectors to meet a net zero emissions goal by 2050 and become a leader in a market analysts expect to be worth $1.2 trillion by that date.

“By the end of 2022, there will certainly be green hydrogen production in Portugal,” Matos Fernandes said. “Green hydrogen will, over time, allow Portugal to completely change its paradigm and become an energy exporting country.”

He said seven groups had submitted applications under Europe’s IPCEI scheme for common-interest projects to make part of a planned export-oriented “hydrogen cluster” near the port of Sines, from where hydrogen could be shipped to Rotterdam. Total investment there is estimated at some 7 billion euros.

A consortium including Portugal’s main utility EDP, oil company Galp, world’s largest wind turbine maker Vestas, among others, is behind one of the projects.

In Estarreja in north Portugal, local firm Bondalti Chemicals aims to invest 2.4 billion euros in a hydrogen plant.

Altogether, these envisage an installed capacity of over 1,000 megawatts (MW).

Matos Fernandes said Portugal was also negotiating with Spain the construction of a pipeline for renewable gases, including hydrogen, from Sines to France, crossing Spain.

LITHIUM PLANS

Spain and Portugal also want to develop an ambitious cross-border lithium project taking advantage of the geographical proximity of their lithium deposits and aiming to cover the entire value chain from mining to refining, cell and battery manufacturing to battery recycling, he said.

Portugal is already a large producer of low-grade lithium mainly for the ceramics industry, but is preparing to make higher-grade metal used in electric car batteries.

A much-awaited licensing tender for lithium-bearing areas that has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic should take place by the year-end, Matos Fernandes said.

He promised the tender would address environmental concerns by local communities and there would be no lithium mining “at any cost”.

The minister also said Portugal would use its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union to finalise a landmark law that would make the bloc’s climate targets irreversible and speed up emissions cuts this decade, expecting it to be approved in the first half of 2021.

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and David Evans)

 

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Under fire in EU, AstraZeneca CEO says ‘hopefully’ will meet vaccine supply goals

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Under fire in EU, AstraZeneca CEO says 'hopefully' will meet vaccine supply goals 2

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot said on Thursday he hoped to meet the European Union’s expectations on the number of COVID-19 vaccines the company can deliver to the bloc in the second quarter, after big cuts in the first three months of the year.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has been under fire in the EU for its delayed supplies of shots to the 27-nation bloc, which ordered 300 million doses by the end of June.

“We are working 24/7 to improve delivery and hopefully catch up to the expectations for Q2,” Soriot told EU lawmakers in a public hearing.

Under its contract with the EU, the company has committed to delivering 180 million doses in the second quarter.

Soriot did not mention the 180 million target, but said he was confident the company will be able to increase production in the second quarter using factories outside the EU that had no production problems, including in the United States.

He confirmed the company was trying to get 40 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the EU by the end of March, which is less than half the amount it promised for the quarter in its contract.

The EU, which has fallen far behind the United States and former member Britain in vaccinating its public, has repeatedly urged the firm to deliver more.

Lower-than-expected yields – the amount of vaccine that can be produced from base ingredients – at its factories hurt output in the first three months.

Asked about supplies to Britain, which relies on the same factories used by the EU, Soriot said the former EU member with a population of around 66 million was smaller, and noted that most doses produced in the EU were used to serve the EU which has a population of about 450 million.

Executives from rival drugmakers that have developed or are testing COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna Inc and CureVac NV were also part of the panel.

But most questions were directed at Soriot amid anger that the company has failed to deliver promised vaccine quantities to the bloc on schedule.

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said the company has experienced fluctuations as the U.S. biotech group ramps up output of its COVID-19 vaccine.

He said usually a company would stockpile product ahead of a launch, but it is shipping every dose it makes, leaving it without any spare inventory.

His comments came a day after the company increased its output target for this year and 2022 as it invests in additional manufacturing capacity.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason in London and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Susan Fenton, Bill Berkrot and Keith Weir)

 

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Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels

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Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 3

By Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) – Airbnb’s quarterly results are likely to show the pandemic may have helped the home rental company lure leisure travelers away from big hotels during the global travel collapse of 2020.

Weary of being locked up in their homes for months, travelers hit the road and booked homes and cottages on Airbnb, while avoiding flights and downtown hotels, analysts said.

Airbnb accounted for 18% of the total U.S. lodging revenue in 2020, up from 11.5% in 2019, data from hotel analytics provider STR and vacation rental data company AirDNA showed.

It outperformed the hotel industry and online travel agents such as Expedia and Booking.com thanks to its greater offer of ‘sun, ski, and suburban’ rental homes, Cowen & Co analysts said.

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 4

(Graphic: Airbnb grabs bigger share of U.S. lodging market in pandemic: https://graphics.reuters.com/AIRBNB-RESULTS/yxmpjxqdopr/chart.png)

For an interactive graphic, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3pPbQwH

THE CONTEXT

In 2019, about 90% of Airbnb’s bookings came from leisure travels compared with about 20%-30% for large hotels chains, including Marriott and Hilton, that rely on business travel to grow their profits.

“Unfortunately, the hotel operators do not have as much supply in locations where people are willing to travel,” said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at AirDNA.

Lane said with mass vaccinations later in the year, the share of alternative accommodations including Airbnb will drop before continuing to grow at 2%-3% per year once normal travel patterns return.

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 5

(Graphic: Airbnb U.S. sales against top hotels: https://graphics.reuters.com/AIRBNB-RESULTS/gjnpwzkdbvw/chart.png)

For an interactive graphic, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3dPKvsd

THE FUNDAMENTALS

* The San Francisco-based company is expected to report gross bookings of $23.10 billion in 2020, down from about $38 billion a year earlier, according to the mean estimate of 12 analysts according to Refinitiv; gross bookings are seen rising by 50% in 2021.

* Analysts’ mean estimate for Airbnb’s full-year net loss is $3.52 billion, bigger than a loss of $674.3 million a year earlier. Full-year revenue is expected to drop 32% to $3.27 billion.

WALL STREET SENTIMENT

* Of 34 brokerages, 20 rate Airbnb’s stock “hold”, 12 “buy” or higher and two “sell” or lower

* Wall Street’s median 12-month price target for Airbnb is $156​, about 22% below its last closing price of $200.20.

* The company’s stock has nearly tripled since listing in December

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 6

(Graphic: Airbnb’s stock has nearly tripled since debut: https://graphics.reuters.com/AIRBNB-RESULTS/jznpnoqrlvl/chart.png)

For an interactive graphic, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3dG2lOd

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sweta Singh and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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