By Andrew Keys, Managing Partner at DARMA Capital
The bubble and burst of cryptocurrency in 2017 led to the industry suffering from a collective hangover in 2018 and 2019. But in the wake of crypto markets’ irrational exuberance in 2017 and equally irrational despondency in 2018, the core blockchain community of developers and technologists got to work, heads down, and focused on building infrastructure. Their labour is now bearing fruit, and we’re at the crossroads of the next industrial revolution.
Blockchain is entering a pivotal year in 2020, a period that will decide not just the future of cryptocurrency, but blockchain and the very idea of decentralisation. In light of that, here are 5 predictions for how blockchain will shape the world as we enter a new decade:
The potential for global economic recession looms, sparking trouble for fiat currencies
Economic uncertainty has been looming over the globe for years. It’s not so much a matter of if, but when the house of cards tumbles with major worldwide implications. Europe will likely be the first to hit recession. One look at the five biggest economies in the region and it’s clear. Germany’s Deutschebank is on life support. The United Kingdom has been eating itself with Brexit for years. France is in a state of constant protest. The Spanish and Italian economies are drowning. The European Union is by now only nominally a union, and growing divisions will leave many nations especially vulnerable.
With respect to the USA, the country’s economic state will largely depend on whether China and the US reach a trade deal in 2020. If this happens, the economic will get a tailwind into 2021 and Donald Trump will be re-elected. The house of cards will live another day. If however, there’s no trade deal or no re-election and the global economy is further challenged, the bottom could fall out of Quantitative Easing Mania, and the value of many national currencies around the world will be challenged like never before. The value of fiat currencies could endure a precipitous drop in value via extreme inflation.
Digital assets have exiguous properties similar to gold and oil in that they are provenly scarce. If and when this crisis lands, the digital asset class will be the hedge to traditional central banking systems that resort to printing—and thus depreciating—currencies in times of crisis.
The US playing catch-up after China’s big play in crypto and blockchain
Speaking of China, it’s clear that the company is making its move into the blockchain and crypto space. The country has issued new legislation towards mining, state news channels are praising Bitcoin, and in October 2019 Chinese President Xi Jinping announced governmental support for blockchain technology. China’s central bank will soon test its own digital currency in the cities of Shenzhen and Suzhou with four state-owned commercial banks. Countries like the US, that may have been slugging to take a leading role in supporting blockchain development will be left with little choice but to play catch-up, and the result will be a huge net positive for the industry.
Trillion-dollar companies signalling the climax and end of the 3rd industrial revolution
When the next behemoth rises over a trillion dollar valuation it will stay there. That same company probably won’t pay a single dollar in US taxes, a prime example of vast inequality in the value capture of our economic systems. And it’s only getting worse. Legacy Web 2.0 companies are making billions for the shareholder capital class by using the individual as the product. They’re spilling personal data into the clutches of nefarious actors with alarming regularity. As more and more companies pass the trillion dollar mark, it will signal the blow-off phase of late capitalism. After the inevitable crash, we’ll be faced with a once-in-an-epoch opportunity for more equitable, democratised and sustainable business models to proliferate.
The emergence of a billion dollar DeFi ecosystem
Decentralised Finance will continue to lead the industry in the first quarter of 2020. Over $600 million dollars are currently locked up in decentralised finance platforms and that number will cross one billion in the first half of the year. That said, DeFi organizations will probably have to spend some big legal dollars in compliance and lobbying. Just one example: in all 50 states, a company needs a specific license to lend to retail clients. When DeFi inevitably gets too big to ignore, regulators will roll out the red tape carpet.
The awakening of blockchain’s sleeping giant – the supply chain
Counterfeit goods represent a market of over $1.8 billion dollars annually, with some estimates seeing that number rising over 10% as production and online distribution methods improve. Household names like Louis Vuitton and Levis have been quietly perfecting proof of concept trials with leading blockchain companies to ensure provenance and protect consumers on a global scale. A recent report stated that companies in Western Europe alone are set to save $450 billion dollars in the next fifteen years with blockchain based supply chain solutions, with operating costs reduced almost 1% across the board.
Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output
By Ahmad Ghaddar
LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell from recent highs for a second day on Friday as Texas energy firms began to prepare for restarting oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.
Brent crude futures were down $1.16, or 1.8%, to $62.77 per barrel, by 1150 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.42, or 2.4%, to $59.10 a barrel.
Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to analysts.
Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.
However, firms in the region on Friday were expected to prepare for production restarts as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.
“The market was ripe for a correction and signs of the power and overall energy situation starting to normalise in Texas provided the necessary trigger,” said Vandana Hari, energy analyst at Vanda Insights.
Oil fell despite a surprise fall in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]
The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
While the thawing relations could raise the prospect of reversing sanctions imposed by the previous U.S. administration, analysts did not expect Iranian oil sanctions to be lifted anytime soon.
“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon said.
(Additional reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by Jason Neely)
Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies
By Douglas Busvine and Christoph Steitz
BERLIN (Reuters) – The semiconductor crunch that has battered the auto sector leaves carmakers with a stark choice: pay up, stock up or risk getting stuck on the sidelines as chipmakers focus on more lucrative business elsewhere.
Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors have cut output as the chip market was swept clean by makers of consumer electronics such as smartphones – the chip industry’s preferred customers because they buy more advanced, higher-margin chips.
The semiconductor shortage – over $800 worth of silicon is packed into a modern electric vehicle – has exposed the disconnect between an auto industry spoilt by decades of just-in-time deliveries and an electronics industry supply chain it can no longer bend to its will.
“The car sector has been used to the fact that the whole supply chain is centred around cars,” said McKinsey partner Ondrej Burkacky. “What has been overlooked is that semiconductor makers actually do have an alternative.”
Automakers are responding to the shortage by lobbying governments to subsidize the construction of more chip-making capacity.
In Germany, Volkswagen has pointed the finger at suppliers, saying it gave them timely warning last April – when much global car production was idled due to the coronavirus pandemic – that it expected demand to recover strongly in the second half of the year.
That complaint by the world’s No.2 volume carmaker cuts little ice with chipmakers, who say the auto industry is both quick to cancel orders in a slump and to demand investment in new production in a recovery.
“Last year we had to furlough staff and bear the cost of carrying idle capacity,” said a source at one European semiconductor maker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“If the carmakers are asking us to invest in new capacity, can they please tell us who will pay for that idle capacity in the next downturn?”
The auto industry spends around $40 billion a year on chips – about a tenth of the global market. By comparison, Apple spends more on chips just to make its iPhones, Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling reckons.
Moreover, the chips used in cars tend to be basic products such as micro controllers made under contract at older foundries – hardly the leading-edge production technology in which chipmakers would be willing to invest.
“The suppliers are saying: ‘If we continue to produce this stuff there is nowhere else for it to go. Sony isn’t going to use it for a Playstation 5 or Apple for its next iPhone’,” said Asif Anwar at Strategy Analytics.
Chipmakers were surprised by the panicked reaction of the German car industry, which persuaded Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to write a letter in January to his counterpart in Taiwan to ask its semiconductor makers to supply more chips.
No extra supplies were forthcoming, with one German industry source joking that the Americans stood a better chance of getting more chips from Taiwan because they could at least park an aircraft carrier off the coast – referring to the ability of the United States to project power in Asia.
Closer to home, a source at another European chipmaker expressed disbelief at the poor understanding at one carmaker of how it operates.
“We got a call from one auto maker that was desperate for supply. They said: Why don’t you run a night shift to increase production?” this person said.
“What they didn’t understand is that we have been running a night shift since the beginning.”
NO QUICK FIX
While Infineon, the leading supplier of chips to the global auto industry, and Robert Bosch, the top ‘Tier 1’ parts supplier, both plan to commission new chip plants this year, there is little chance of supply shortages easing soon.
Specialist chipmakers like Infineon outsource some production of automotive chips to contract manufacturers led by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), but the Asian foundries are currently prioritising high-end electronics makers as they come up against capacity constraints.
Over the longer term, the relationship between chip makers and the car industry will become closer as electric vehicles are more widely adopted and features such as assisted and autonomous driving develop, requiring more advanced chips.
But, in the short term, there is no quick fix for the lack of chip supply: IHS Markit estimates that the time it takes to deliver a microcontroller has doubled to 26 weeks and shortages will only bottom out in March.
That puts the production of 1 million light vehicles at risk in the first quarter, says IHS Markit. European chip industry executives and analysts agree that supply will not catch up with demand until later in the year.
Chip shortages are having a “snowball effect” as auto makers idle some capacity to prioritize building profitable models, said Anwar at Strategy Analytics, who forecasts a drop in car production in Europe and North America of 5%-10% in 2021.
The head of Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics, Jean-Marc Chery, forecasts capacity constraints will affect carmakers until mid-year.
“Up to the end of the second quarter, the industry will have to manage at the lean inventory level,” Chery told a recent Goldman Sachs conference.
(Douglas Busvine from Berlin and Christoph Steitz from Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gilles Gillaume in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)
Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets
By Tommy Wilkes
LONDON (Reuters) – The Australian dollar rose to near a three-year high and the British pound scaled $1.40 for the first time since 2018 on optimism about economic rebounds in the two countries and after the U.S. dollar was knocked by disappointing jobs data.
The U.S. currency had been rising in recent days as a jump in Treasury yields on the back of the so-called reflation trade drew investors. But an unexpected increase in U.S. weekly jobless claims soured the economic outlook and sent the dollar lower overnight.
On Friday it traded down 0.3% against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index at 90.309.
The Aussie rose 0.8% to $0.784, its highest since March 2018. The currency, which is closely linked to commodity prices and the outlook for global growth, has been helped by a recent rally in commodity prices.
The New Zealand dollar also gained, and was not far off a more than two-year high, while the Canadian dollar rose too.
Sterling rose to $1.4009 on Friday, an almost three-year high amid Britain’s aggressive vaccination programme.
Given the size of Britain’s vital services sector, analysts say the faster it can reopen the economy, the better for the currency. Sterling was also helped by better-than-expected purchasing managers index flash survey data for February.
The U.S. dollar has been weighed down by a string of soft labour data, even as other indicators have shown resilience, and as President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief efforts take shape, including a proposed $1.9 trillion spending package.
Despite the recent rise in U.S. yields, many analysts think they won’t climb too much higher, limiting the benefit for the dollar.
“Our view remains that the Fed will hold the line and remain very cautious about tapering asset purchases. We think it will keep communicating that tightening is very far off, which should dampen pro-dollar sentiment,” said UBS Global Wealth Management strategist Gaétan Peroux and analyst Tilmann Kolb.
ING analysts said “the rise in rates will be self-regulating, meaning the dollar need not correct too much higher”.
They see the greenback index trading down to the 90.10 to 91.05 range.
The euro rose 0.4% to $1.2134. The single currency showed little reaction to purchasing manager index data, which showed a slowdown in business activity in February. However, factories had their busiest month in three years, buoying sentiment.
The dollar bought 105.39 yen, down 0.3% and a continued retreat from the five-month high of 106.225 reached Wednesday.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)
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