World Computer? New Protocol Could Supercharge Ethereum Blockchain

World Computer?
New Protocol Could Supercharge Ethereum Blockchain

With scaling the center of attention in the public blockchain sector,

an older but lesser known attempt to overcome the restrictions inherent in ethereum is getting a refresh. Revealed in an exclusive interview with CoinDesk, a new TrueBit protocol is being released this December, one that removes the ethereum "gas limit," which today puts an upper-bound on the number of computations the network can achieve, bringing the second largest blockchain by market capitalization closer to its oft-touted goal of becoming a "world computer."

While TrueBit is one of many in-progress scaling solutions being engineered for the ethereum platform – working alongside mechanisms such as sharding, state channels and Raiden – it distinguishes itself by focusing on the computational power of the network at large, instead of just transaction speed. Geared specifically towards heavy computations, such as those video broadcasting and machine learning would require, TrueBit could resolve the fact that ethereum is still about as fast as a "smartphone from 1999," as ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin joked last year.

"In short, the new scheme would be a vast simplification of the current TrueBit protocol," said Zack Lawrence, the co-founder of 1protocol, who developed the technology. And these gains all came about after speculation that someone could exploit the protocol, after an amendment to its white paper was released last month. Jason Teutsch, a mathematician and co-founder of TrueBit, framed the speculation, and the process for patching the vulnerability,

with a silver lining:

"When so many people have eyes on the papers, over time, you get more and more confident that it's correct, but it's always an ongoing process for these things that are living systems… Now, we go another layer down the protocol rabbit hole, it's this iterative process of getting deeper and deeper into this."

Hit the jackpot?

And going deeper led the devs to the incentive mechanism used in the protocol. TrueBit aims to remove the gas limit on ethereum by moving computations off-chain – outsourcing them to an external marketplace that rewards participants for solving and verifying the computations. Within the marketplace "task givers" pay "verifiers" to solve computations in exchange for rewards, while "validators" check that the computations are correct.

To make sure everyone runs effectively, Truebit relies on an incentive scheme dubbed the "forced errors jackpot," which ensures validators are actively checking for correctness by requiring verifiers to occasionally submit incorrect information. If a validator finds these forced errors, they're rewarded with a substantial payout: the "jackpot." But according to Lawrence, that process can be a lot less complicated.

Within the new protocol, instead of limiting the participants' tasks, everyone can participate openly. Those that verify correct computations still get paid, but if another participant finds an error, they can submit what they believe the computation should be and enter that into the verification game. All the potential answers are then pooled together until a consensus is reached.

Because that verification pool is costly to participants, the protocol incentivizes them to work together honestly so disputes do not occur, since the reaching consensus within that verification pool would be costly for everyone. Not only does this iteration eliminate the security flaws pointed out when the amendment was released, but it's also easier to implement and could increase the number of computations participants are willing to perform since it eliminates the once-every-so-often jackpot, Lawrence told CoinDesk.

Security challenge

Still, the new protocol may not be the last step in evolving TrueBit to achieve optimum efficiency. Teutsch explained that both versions of the protocol will still hit against eventual limits when it comes to massive computations. If, for example, verification takes too long or gets too expensive, those who notice errors might be inclined to keep quiet, and just let them go. "Remember that the verification game is really slow compared to native computation, so my concern expressed here is more than just theoretical," he said.

Plus, because TrueBit is a protocol built on game theory (rather than relying on more familiar security auditing processes), Teutsch said, its "security is an observational science," in which devs try to put themselves in every position an attacker might be in. Because of this, Teutsch said the developers may decide to run both the original protocol (now internally nicknamed TrueBit Classic) and the new protocol in parallel for better security.

But nodding to the fact that digital security is an immensely challenging prospect that takes continual work,

 Teutsch told CoinDesk:

"Full confidence happens once you have all the money in the world behind it, and it's sat there for a few years."

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For security agencies, blockchain goes from suspect to potential solution

For security agencies, blockchain goes from suspect to potential solution

  • Australia blockchain grant for intel sharing
  • Investigators so far seen blockchain, bitcoin as criminal havens
  • US, UK eye blockchain's military, security, intel potential

Police and security agencies have so far only taken

an interest in blockchain – the distributed ledger technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin – for tracking criminals hiding illegal money from banks. But that's changing as some civilian, police and military agencies see blockchain as a potential solution to problems they have wrestled with for years: how to secure data, but also be able to share it in a way that lets the owner keep control.

Australia, for example, has recently hired HoustonKemp, a Singapore-based consultancy, to build a blockchain-based system to record intelligence created by investigators and others, and improve the way important information is shared. "They've been trying for years to come up with a centralised platform, but people are reluctant to share information," said Adrian Kemp, who runs the consultancy, which was awarded a A$1 million ($757,500) grant by AUSTRAC, Australia's financial intelligence agency, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

Blockchain's appeal for data sharing is threefold.

Its ledger, or database, is not controlled by any single party and is spread across multiple computers, making it hard to break. Once entered, any information cannot be altered or tampered with. And, by using so-called smart contracts, the owner of information can easily tweak who has access to what. It's a sign of how far blockchain technology has come within a decade since the publication of a pseudonymous paper describing bitcoin and the blockchain ledger that would record transactions in it. Bitcoin has since become the preferred currency not only of libertarians and speculators, but also of criminal hackers. The bitcoin price is volatile, and hit record peaks late last month.

Governments are already exploring ways to store some data, such as land records, contracts and assets, in blockchains, and the financial industry, too, has experimented with blockchain technologies to streamline transactions and back-office systems, though with limited success.

Securing shared data

The closest most law enforcement agencies have come to the blockchain has been working with start-up firms to analyse it for evidence of criminal deals. But in the past year or so that attitude has begun to change. The United States Air Force (USAF) has funded research into how blockchain could ensure its data isn't changed. In May, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a grant to the company behind an encrypted chat program to make a secure messaging service based on the blockchain.

Amendments to a recent U.S. Senate defense bill require the government to report back on "the potential offensive and defensive cyber applications of blockchain technology and other distributed database technologies" and how foreign governments, extremists and criminals might be using them. Britain, too, is exploring several uses of the blockchain, say consultants and companies working for several departments.

Cambridge Consultants, a U.K.-based consultancy, said it had worked with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, a U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) agency, on using a blockchain to improve the trustworthiness of a network of sensors on, for example, security cameras. The UK's justice ministry is looking at proving that evidence – video, emails, documents – hasn't been tampered with by registering it all on a blockchain, according to a blog post on its website.

Marcus Ralphs, a former soldier and now CEO of ByzGen Ltd, which makes blockchains for the security sector, said he was working on projects with the MoD using blockchain to track the status and level of individuals' security clearance. Other work included helping the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) improve the way work permits are issued and records stored.

'Passing the buck'

These are early days. Kemp says there's no guarantee his project will be deployed more widely. And some who have worked with AUSTRAC are skeptical, saying such projects have more to do with agencies turning to the private sector because they're running low on resources and ideas. "The government is just looking to pass the buck on to private industry," said Simon Smith, a cyber private investigator who has worked on cases involving AUSTRAC. Many police forces and armies aren't ready for the technological and mental leap necessary.

The Police Foundation, a UK think-tank focusing on policing and crime, is pushing British police to explore the blockchain, but its director, Rick Muir, said "we are still at the stage of 'what is blockchain?'." Neil Barnas, a USAF major who last year wrote a thesis on the potential of blockchain in defense, said U.S. military and security agencies were slowly waking up. The problem, he says, is that military minds are more inclined towards centralized systems than the decentralised ones that blockchain's distributed ledger embraces. That said, blockchain's association with the criminal underworld has not dented its appeal to those who see its potential, said ByzGen's Ralphs. "The negative narrative around it has not at all watered down or diluted interest of the people we've been engaging with," he said.

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USV’s Albert Wenger: Cryptocurrency as a Whole Will Be Worth Trillions of Dollars

USV’s Albert Wenger:
Cryptocurrency as a Whole Will Be Worth Trillions of Dollars

 

Following bitcoin’s historic march to $10,000

and subsequent volatility, covered by CCN, various prominent Wall Street executives have been weighing in on bitcoin and the cryptocurrency ecosystem in general, showing they aren’t too fond of it. Nobel Prize-Winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently stated that bitcoin should be “outlawed,” while Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein apparently soured on bitcoin as he stated that it’s a “vehicle to perpetrate fraud.”

However, Union Square Ventures (USV) partner Albert Wenger recently shared his views on the cryptocurrency ecosystem, and made it clear that he feels its current $300 billion market cap is just the beginning of the journey. While speaking to CNBC, Wenger stated that “a bubble is only something you can ever figure out in hindsight,” and added that he finds it instructive to look at Amazon’s stock chart. The e-commerce giant’s chart, Wenger continued, looks like a “massive upward-sloping curve,” but when we zoom in on it, we can see that in the beginning there was a run-up and big drop-off. To him, the cryptocurrency’s chart will, in the future, be a “very massive run-up.”

As such, it’s possible that the current run-up turns out to be “a blip on that chart.” To him, since the cryptocurrency ecosystem has grown to where it is today, there’s definitely a way for it to do down as well, but there’s also a path for it to reach trillions of dollars.

He notably stated:

“And there’s definitely also a path to the future where cryptocurrency as a whole will be worth trillions of dollars. So I believe that there’s a good change cryptocurrencies taken together as a bucket will be worth trillions of dollars.”

Wenger added that he believes we’re still far from that, and that there will be set backs along the way. When asked if he believed cryptocurrencies were going through an “Amazon moment,” he clarified that they’re going through an “exuberant moment.” Regarding whether or not there’s a bubble, he stated that “at some point there’s a reset,” adding that using the word bubble implies it’s about to pop, something Wenger believes may or may not happen.

To Wenger, all this irrational exuberance is a good thing for cryptocurrencies in the long run, as it brings investors and entrepreneurs to the space. Since cryptocurrencies are still a novelty, he added, we still need to try new things to see what works. Earlier this year, USV’s co-founder Fred Wilson dismissed potential bitcoin crash predictions, and explained the optimal cryptocurrency holdings for investors, according to their comfort levels.

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National Cryptocurrencies? All Currencies Will Be Digitized, Cryptocurrency Expert Says

National Cryptocurrencies? All Currencies Will Be Digitized, Cryptocurrency Expert Says

Bitcoin has burst through the $10,000 barrier

and Ethereum is bumping up against $500. But today's important cryptocurrencies might just be the loud and noisy open act to the really big deal of the next decade. That is, the end of cash as we know it. "All currencies will be digitized," Bitt founder and director Gabriel Abed said today at TechBeach retreat in Jamaica. "Cash has seen its days."

National Cryptocurrencies? All Currencies Will Be Digitized, Cryptocurrency Expert Says. Bitcoin has burst through the $10,000 barrier and Ethereum is bumping up against $500. But today's important cryptocurrencies might just be the loud and noisy open act to the really big deal of the next decade. That is, the end of cash as we know it. "All currencies will be digitized," Bitt founder and director Gabriel Abed said today at TechBeach retreat in Jamaica. "Cash has seen its days."

Cryptocurrency, Bitt is a fintech starup,

nd Abed spoke today on a panel addressing cryptocurrencies and blockchain along with other Carribean startups and banking infrastructure representatives, such as Justin Ram, the Director of Economics for the Caribbean Development Bank.

"There’s a future coming that complete disrupts what we know today," Abed said. "I see a different future where central banks are issuing digital dollars … a new economic age of digital dollars." Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, and hundreds of others, typically are issued by private individuals, groups, or organizations, or mined via cryptographic protocols. Russia, however, among just a few other nations on the planet, has publicly announced plans for a national cryptocurrency: the CryptoRuble. China is working on a similar currency, as is Kyrgyzstan. At this moment, the U.S. Federal Reserve has no such plans — although, you'd have to think it would make quantitative easing much more simple.

What's better about a national cryptocurrency?

 "A national cryptocurrency would be better," Abed says. "It's more efficient, more immutable, more transparent."Bitt is talking to the Central Bank in Jamaica, Abed said, to potentially test technology like this, while the company is in active pilots in other Caribbean nations. Jamaica is doing what it can to enable fintech startups, said another panelist, in order to foster innovation."I do not want to see a situation where the regulators have too heavy a hand initially," said Ram, from the Carribean Development Bank. "We can utilize the Caribbean as a sandbox … and little “ays” can open big doors."

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Bitcoin Futures Get Official Green Light From Regulators

Bitcoin Futures Get Official Green Light From Regulators

Opening up Bitcoin future exchanges..!!

  • CME, Cboe allowed to proceed after pledges to regulators
  • CFTC says venues will help U.S. surveil bitcoin’s spot market
     
Bloomberg’s Rob Urban reports on the CME and CBOE opening up Bitcoin future exchanges.CME Group Inc. and Cboe Global Markets Inc. are poised to offer bitcoin futures contracts, easing the way for mainstream investors to bet big while dragging regulators into a realm skeptics call a fad and fraud. CME, the world’s biggest exchange owner, and smaller venue Cboe, known for its VIX volatility products, were allowed to offer the products after pledging to U.S. regulators that they comply with the law. CME said its contract will begin trading Dec. 18, while Cboe said it is “operationally ready” and would announce a start date soon. Cantor Exchange, a subsidiary of Cantor Fitzgerald, also will offer bitcoin binary options.

Bitcoin extended gains following the announcement.

The moves are a watershed for Wall Street professionals — including institutional investors and high-speed traders — who’ve been eager to bet on cryptocurrencies and their wild swings. But the new products will also spur federal regulation, with the contracts announced Friday subject to oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. All three exchanges promised to help the agency surveil the underlying bitcoin market.

“Bitcoin, a virtual currency, is a commodity unlike any the commission has dealt with in the past,” CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo said in a statement. “We expect that the futures exchanges, through information sharing agreements, will be monitoring the trading activity on the relevant cash platforms.” Trading in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is largely unregulated, and that’s the point. Bitcoin was introduced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as a way of avoiding governments and central banks. Now with its meteoric rise and the proliferation of cryptocurrencies, banks, brokers and mainstream investors want in. And they want regulation, something they’ll get plenty of a market like CME or Cboe’s.

 Plans to Train His Sights on Bitcoin

Under a process called self-certification the exchanges assured the CFTC that the new products complied with the rules. While it doesn’t technically require CFTC approval, the regulator could have stayed their plans if they weren’t satisfied. Friday’s announcement allows them to go forward. “The launch of the futures will actually make the market healthier,” Cboe President Chris Concannon said in an interview after the announcement. “It will create pricing equilibrium in the market. Clients who are holding bitcoin now have no way to hedge their risk. These products allow them to hedge, and to take opposing views. More importantly, it brings a wave of regulatory oversight.”

U.S. financial regulators have struggled for years to agree on what, exactly, bitcoin is and what risks it might pose. That’s left its enthusiasts and financial professionals unsure which government agencies might try to police the rapidly growing market. In addition to the CFTC, there’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department’s FinCEN, which tracks illicit payments.

The CFTC declared in 2015 that it would treat bitcoin as a commodity. “But the IRS says it’s property, the SEC said now some digital currency is a security, and FinCEN says digital currency is a ‘money-like instrument,’” said Adam White, general manager of GDAX, a cryptocurrency exchange owned by Coinbase. His company is trying to work with all of them, he said, while offering his own definition: “It’s a new asset class.” The new derivatives will open the door for institutional investors to get into the market, likely pushing the price higher once they start trading, said Naeem Aslam, a chief market analyst at TF Global Markets in London.

“This is going to bring large sum of money in this area,” Aslam said. “It sends the message that the product does have some regulation around it and it is trading on the same exchange where other reputable derivatives are.” Bitcoin, created in 2009, excited early investors with its potential use as a global currency, free from bank fees and government control. Transactions take place person-to-person around the world — anywhere there’s Internet access. The cryptocurrency’s price skyrocketed in recent months, surpassing $11,000 this week before paring some gains.

After Friday’s announcement, exchanges and the CFTC will have to keep tabs on that underlying market, according to Jeff Bandman, who until June advised Chairman Giancarlo on financial technology issues. “It’s well understood that bad actors can take actions in the spot market for a commodity where the reward or payoff is the derivatives market and vice versa,” Bandman, who now runs Bandman Advisors, said in an interview before Friday’s announcement. “This would represent a new opportunity for mischief.”

Brian Quintenz, a Republican commissioner at the CFTC, said in an interview in London earlier this week that such venues will have to be vigilant if they list contracts. They would “take on a significant but a very, in my view, positive role in ensuring manipulation is not occurring in how they calculate the prices for these futures,” he said. That “can bring some regulatory oversight on their own” to bitcoin, he said. There are other ways the new futures could spur more vigorous oversight of the cryptocurrency. The contracts, for example, could make it easier to create an exchange-traded fund tied to bitcoin — even after a previous attempt was knocked down.

That could enlist the SEC. In March, the agency rejected a bitcoin ETF proposed by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss — the co-creators of the Gemini exchange — saying necessary surveillance-sharing agreements were too difficult given that “significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated.” Cboe will base its XBT futures on the Gemini Exchange’s bitcoin auction price. On Thursday, a top SEC official weighed in. David Shillman, associate director in the agency’s division of trading and markets, said a strong bitcoin futures market could make the regulator more comfortable approving bitcoin ETFs. Many mainstream investors and their brokers — lured by bitcoin’s meteoric rise this year — wouldn’t mind some government oversight to head off potential abuses.

“The problem with the futures contracts is they are regulated derivatives that are based off underlying trading in unregulated markets,” Richard Johnson, a market-structure analyst at Greenwich Associates who specializes in blockchain, said before Friday’s announcement. “That does create a potential problem.” Ever since digital currencies began emerging, U.S. regulators have faced a big dilemma: The laws that empower watchdogs and delineate their areas of responsibility were written decades ago when money was minted on paper, companies turned mainly to the stock market for capital, and commodities came from farms, mines or wells. Many authorities have held back, studying what to do.

CME Chief Executive Officer Terrence Duffy sped up that process in October when he disclosed his plan for futures. His announcement of an imminent product caught some CFTC officials by surprise, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. Exchanges like CME, which profit from increased trading volumes, can approve new futures contracts themselves. Still, CME and Cboe conferred with the CFTC while crafting terms for their products. The agency said they made a number of adjustments. CME, for example, increased its margin requirement for the contracts.

At the SEC, Chairman Jay Clayton has warned that initial coin offerings — which are also backed by the blockchain ledger technology that underpins bitcoin — are probably ripe with fraud. Earlier this year, the SEC cautioned that in many instances the offerings are essentially securities that must be registered. In November, the SEC warned that celebrities who endorse ICOs risk running afoul of securities laws if they don’t disclose their compensation. “Most people believe that bitcoin is not a security,” Clayton said this week. “The question is, jurisdictionally, where does the SEC fall. The various regulators are thinking about it. There are jurisdictional issues around bitcoin and bitcoin trading and where it’s taking place.”

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, is taking a cautious approach. Federal Reserve Chair nominee Jerome Powell has said bitcoin isn’t big enough to affect monetary policy. And Randal Quarles, who was confirmed in October as the Fed’s first-ever vice chair responsible for regulating banks, has said authorities should keep a close eye on digital currencies, slowly adopting useful innovations if deemed safe. The problem among regulators is that they each have roles with bitcoin, but that there’s too little coordination, said Justin Slaughter, a former top aide to a CFTC commissioner who now consults on financial technology and regulation as a partner at Mercury Strategies. “It’s been very scattershot, it’s been somewhat confused,” he said.

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This Is What Could Pop the Bitcoin Bubble

This Is What Could Pop the
Bitcoin Bubble

Bitcoin and bubble have become virtually synonymous

in the minds of many skeptics during this year’s breathtaking rally. While the digital currency has defied doomsday prophesies, there’s a number of ways this party could end badly for the swelling ranks of bulls. But be warned: many of the potential causes of death have surfaced during the past few years, and have proven unable to bludgeon bitcoin into oblivion thus far.

Knifed by a Fork

The multiple offshoots of bitcoin could cause the world’s largest digital currency by market value to cede its crown. Divides among developers as to how to proceed with upgrades to bitcoin’s network have led to "forks," in which different versions of the currency are spun off from the original. Excessive fragmentation could prove a bug for bitcoin, just as it did for the U.S. financial system during the free banking era. When it comes to cryptocurrencies, hedge fund manager Mike Novogratz warned, "not everything can win" — though that’s not enough to stop him from launching a $500 million fund to invest in the asset class. Ether, the second-largest digital currency, has posted massive gains since the bitcoin forks began. But even that advance pales in comparison to the surges in bitcoin and bitcoin cash over the same span.

Strangled by Regulators

Given bitcoin’s checkered history as the means to purchase illicit materials, a vehicle for capital flight, and a victim of theft, it’s no surprise that regulators around the world have cast a watchful eye over the asset class. As such, the specter of a complete crackdown on cryptocurrencies remains an ever-present tail risk. The SEC has been keeping an eye on crypto and has given guidance saying some tokens may be securities, making them subject to their oversight. UBS Group AG Chief Investment Officer Mark Haefele said the wealth manager wouldn’t dedicate funds to bitcoin because "all it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action."

Federal Reserve Chair nominee Jerome Powell said bitcoin isn’t big enough to matter right now, but alluded to the possibility that it could impede the central bank’s transmission mechanism "in the long, long run." That raises the prospect of bitcoin becoming a casualty of its own success should cryptocurrencies gain sufficient mainstream adoption and pose a threat to the government’s ability to collect taxes or the efficacy of monetary policy. Even so, the recent history on restrictions is not encouraging for bitcoin bears: the digital currency was able to shake off what was tantamount to an attempted ban by Chinese authorities in September.

Hacked to Pieces

Ever since the 2011 breach of the Mt. Gox exchange, bitcoin owners have had to face the possibility that this intangible asset may fall into the hands of hackers. The Tokyo-based exchange filed for bankruptcy February 2014, alleging there was a high possibility that what was then nearly half a billion in bitcoin had been stolen. The 2011 breach and 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox were accompanied by steep declines in bitcoin, as was the $65 million theft of the digital currency from Hong Kong exchange Bitfinex in 2016. But a $31 million hack of alternative currency tether earlier this month was only a speed bump for bitcoin. After falling more than 5 percent, the cryptocurrency recovered to post a fresh record high the same session.

A Short Demise

CME Group Inc., Cboe Global Markets Inc., and Nasdaq Inc. are planning to offer bitcoin derivatives — a move which seems poised to introduce more two-way traffic to the asset class. At present, most options investors have for shorting cryptocurrencies are fairly expensive and risky. With futures from reputable, established exchanges in play, more investors may be incented to enter into positions that put downwards pressure on prices.

The introduction of bitcoin futures could also ultimately prove detrimental to its valuation should clearing organizations come under stress amid the digital currency’s wild swings. Thomas Peterffy, chairman of Interactive Brokers Group Inc., argued in an open letter that allowing bitcoin futures on platforms that clear other derivatives would raise the risk of price gyrations that could "destabilize the clearing organization itself." Any institutional credibility recently gained by bitcoin could evaporate should such the cryptocurrency’s fluctuations serve to disrupt and undermine the operations of financial markets.

Pass Away on Profit-Taking

The failure of major cryptocurrency exchanges such as Coinbase to handle traffic on the day bitcoin breached $11,000 throws into sharp focus the scalability problems that cryptocurrencies face as speculative vehicles. "A bitcoin correction is now likely and human psychology suggests it will finish the day lower," wrote Bloomberg macro strategist Mark Cudmore. "If this was a normal market, it would almost definitely retrace in the short-term because large barrier magnets had been taken out." Profit-taking opportunities when the cryptocurrency passes significant milestones could foster steep declines and waves of selling pressure due to poor liquidity.

Death by ¯_(ツ)_/¯

It’s been a puzzle to explain why bitcoin’s gone parabolic. Why would we expect the way down to be any different? The practical applications for cryptocurrencies to facilitate legal commerce appear hampered by relatively expensive transaction fees and the high energy costs associated with mining at this juncture. On this note, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said that bitcoin "ought to be outlawed" because "it doesn’t serve any socially useful function." Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has said that "you have to really stretch your imagination to infer what the intrinsic value of bitcoin is," calling the cryptocurrency a "bubble." Perhaps it could end like the dot-com bubble — with investors who have no clue how to value high-flying assets fleeing for the exit en masse.

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The Blockchain Is Bigger Than Any Bubble

The Blockchain Is Bigger Than
Any Bubble

Bitcoin is a poor currency and a crazy investment
but the technology behind it is a real breakthrough.

Coin of the virtual realm.

An influential new recruit has joined the chorus of bitcoin skeptics. The chief investment officer of UBS, the world’s biggest wealth manager, says it’s too risky to be added to the firm’s portfolios — and his assessment is relatively mild. Others have called it “the very definition of a bubble” and even “a fraud.” Those stronger terms are justified, especially after the latest spell of wild price volatility. But the idea underlying bitcoin — blockchain, or distributed-ledger technology — could be transformative.

The problem with bitcoin and other so-called digital currencies is that they’re a misuse of this technology. As either a new form of money or an investment, bitcoin has fatal disadvantages. Tokens that are privately created — "mined,” if you insist — can succeed in a limited way as a means of exchange and be used to execute certain kinds of transactions. (Cigarettes in prison are a kind of currency.) But as a reliable store of value, bitcoin is much less useful, because its volatility is so extreme. The value of ordinary currencies is underwritten by governments and stabilized by central banks acting as trusted monopoly producers. Bitcoin and its rivals leave those vital roles vacant.

Moreover, bitcoin has no fundamental value as an asset — no stream of future income, no ultimate assurance of liquidity or security, and (unlike gold, say) no alternative use. Its scarcity (hence some floor on its value) is purportedly guaranteed by the underlying technology, but most of its buyers simply take that on trust. Should they come to doubt that guarantee, its price will collapse. In the meantime, bitcoin’s utility as a means of exchange depends on official tolerance — a point rightly emphasized by UBS’s Mark Haefele. That tolerance cannot be taken for granted, especially as bitcoin’s appeal rests so much on the anonymity of its users. At the moment, its comparative advantage is its usefulness for illicit purposes.

All this said, the distributed-ledger technology that underlies bitcoin is potentially very powerful. By reducing the need for central intermediaries, it holds out the promise of processing transactions of various kinds more efficiently than today. Many banks and exchanges are exploring these applications. Blockchain technology might also be used one day to produce new kinds of central-bank money. Central-bank digital currency could start to replace the electronic payment systems that financial institutions use with each other. A more radical idea is to use digital currency, issued and supervised by the central bank, at the retail level to replace physical cash. All these ideas are worth study now. And they’ll still be worth pursuing after the bitcoin bubble bursts.

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Bitcoin Frenzy and Trendy Computers

Bitcoin Frenzy and Trendy Computers
Bitcoin 10,000! 11,000! 10,000! 9,000! 10,000!
Whatever!
How do you value a bitcoin?


I think you can reasonably put a range around the value:

  • On the downside, if people decide to stop using bitcoin as a means of exchange or a store of value or a speculative instrument, then its value will be zero. There is no scrap value for a bitcoin. 
  • On the upside, if bitcoin becomes the sole currency for all transactions in the world, you could take Dan Davies's back-of-the-envelope valuation methodology from 2014, plug in a gross world product of about $100 trillion, and get a value per bitcoin of about $500,000. (Here is a talk from Mike Novogratz along related lines.) But that methodology treats bitcoin as just base currency; if you assume that it also replaces all financial assets then you should probably scale that number up by an order of magnitude or so. 

So let's say that in the most pessimistic scenario a bitcoin will be worth $0, and in the most optimistic scenario it will be worth $5 million. So! Great! Now all we have to do is to figure out the likelihood that everyone decides bitcoin is a fraud and stops using it, and the likelihood that bitcoin becomes the sole means of exchange and sole store of value, and the distribution of possibilities in between, where it fills some smaller or larger niche with some smaller or larger value. I suppose that that is a hard and interesting intellectual problem, though more hard than interesting. Certainly no one seems to be answering it in any particularly rigorous way, nor do I think it is obvious that you even could. ("Macro guys are generally intuitive," says Novogratz; "they’re trying to play the futures, they’re trying to make bets on less information than the normal investors are.") The main question is: In one or five or 50 years, will everyone on earth want to use bitcoin, or a lot of people, or a few people, or nobody? There are no fundamentals, no cash flows or price-earnings ratios, to evaluate. It is pure speculation about speculation, a Keynesian beauty contest where all the pictures are blank. 

Now: This is fine. It's not bad. It's not an argument against bitcoin, not a reason to short it at any particular price level. The fact that bitcoin's success relies in collective trust in it, and that that trust has no underpinning in any external reality, is not a problem. Humans put their collective trust in lots of things with little or no underpinning in external reality; it is what has made us successful as a species. Society itself is a matter of collective trust. "There are undeniably certain successful, long-lasting, bubbles," says Jean Tirole, who let us just assume is using the term "bubble" in a technical and non-pejorative sense to mean an asset whose value is based solely on collective acceptance: "gold (whose value vastly exceeds the price that it would fetch if it were treated as a raw material and used for industrial or decorative purposes); or even the dollar, the pound or the euro." You could quibble that the dollar's value is maintained not by collective trust but by the fact that it must be used to pay U.S. taxes, but of course the U.S. tax system, and the U.S. government, and the notion of "the U.S." in the first place, are all maintained by collective trust.

But it is kind of boring. Arguments about bitcoin are like every other shouty argument about financial markets, but with a void at their core. "Bitcoin is capitalism, distilled," says Adam Ludwin, but it isn't quite; bitcoin traders are not allocating capital to productive uses in the real world. Bitcoin is finance, distilled, though, in the narrow sense that the distillation throws away all the messy productive real-world consequences of finance and leaves you with just an abstract thing to trade. You can do technical analysis or talk about sentiment or praise the technological innovation or bemoan the bubble or whatever, but you cannot compute the present value of the future free cash flows. And because there is no real historical analogue to bitcoin, people tend to answer the central question of bitcoin's viability through introspection. If you think that bitcoin is cool and revolutionary, you will be biased towards thinking that everyone else will eventually agree; if you think that bitcoin is a dumb fraud, you will expect everyone else to figure that out eventually too.

And so everything has a bit of a knee-jerk surface quality, where analysis often begins and ends with "I like bitcoin" or "I dislike bitcoin." "You know what I'd like to read is an article about a prominent person who thinks bitcoin is bad," I joked grimly on Twitter yesterday. Here are those articles about Jamie Dimon and Jack Bogle and Warren Buffett and Joseph Stiglitz and Ben Bernanke and, look, you know what, I don't need to do this list, Bloomberg has actually published multiple articles just rounding up which prominent people are for and against bitcoin; here's one from earlier this month, and here's an extremely comprehensive data visualization from this week. The Great Bitcoin Side-Choosing of 2017 is in full swing, but the side-choosings don't really add much to our understanding of the world.

A final thing to say about this model is: It makes for a lot of volatility. There is a traditional model of financial markets in which noisy speculators will push prices around, and then value investors will step in to push prices back toward fundamental values. So if a thing is worth $10,000, and people get excited and bid it up to $10,100, value investors will see it being overvalued and will start selling, capping the upside. If this causes the excitable speculators to start dumping the thing, and it falls all the way to $9,900, then the value investors will see it being undervalued and start buying, flooring the downside. Prices can fluctuate around fair value, and the value investors can be mistaken about what fair value is, but this basic process of trying to match price with value puts some constraint on volatility.

On the other hand, an asset that trades purely on trust is free of those constraints. If your measure of value is just that people like it, then the fact that the price has fallen means that the price should have fallen. If it goes up to $11,000, and then falls down to $9,000, there is no value-based argument to step in to buy. There might be an argument from sentiment or technicals or your faith in the future, but you cannot exactly say that the loss of enthusiasm that brought the price from $11,000 to $9,000 was wrong. The enthusiasm is the value. You should buy if you think other people will buy and sell if you think other people will sell; a contrarian value investor in bitcoin would be a category mistake. And contrarian value investors — the ones who buy when everyone is selling and sell when everyone is buying — are traditionally the ones who limit volatility in markets.

Anyway yesterday bitcoin had "a breakneck advance to a high of $11,434 before the reversal took it as low as $9,009," though "as of 3:36 p.m. in New York, it traded at $9,911.10, virtually unchanged from where it began the session." Meanwhile many of the big cryptocurrency exchanges had technical problems caused by heavy traffic. And there is this:

Rita Scott’s grandson convinced her in mid-November to get in on the latest investing sensation and buy bitcoin. “I thought it was a big coin,” the 70-year-old said. “I didn’t even know what it was, a piece of coin? Why would I invest in a piece of coin?”

Computers.

Here is a article about how "computer-powered trend-following hedge funds" are increasingly following trends into "less liquid, more exotic markets … like Brazilian and Czech interest rate derivatives, natural gas, uranium funds and even cheese and milk contracts," where returns are better than in more traditional markets. (Presumably all the trend-followers following the trend into trend-following in traditional markets have dissipated the returns to trend-following there, while trend-following in exotic markets has only just become trendy.) One simple story about the computerization of stock markets is that you'd expect it to start in extremely liquid stuff where there is tons of data and not much friction involved in implementing an idea derived from that data, and then move on to places where data is sparser and trading is more difficult, and that seems to be happening here.

Another story about computerization is that you'd expect computers to do a lot of analytical grunt work, freeing up humans to do higher-level thinking and add more value. In a sense that story is implicit in every article like this — the humans, after all, are the ones who decided to apply their computerized strategies to milk trading or whatever — but there's also the hint of the

opposite story too:

Hedge funds dabbling with these markets therefore need to make a big investment in expensive and sometimes complicated traditional trading infrastructure, hiring human traders and establishing relationships with big banks that can facilitate activity in “over the counter” markets, as opposed to assets that trade on an exchange. “Some of these markets require human traders and relationships with brokers and banks,” Mr Sargaison says.

You'd think that execution trading would be easier to automate than the investing decisions, but perhaps not. Perhaps in the future the high-level trading and investing decisions will be made by the computers, but they'll keep humans around to introduce them to banks and make sure the paperwork is in order.

Elsewhere, here's a heartwarming holiday story:

A computer glitch has allowed all of American Airlines’ pilots to take vacation during the week of Christmas, according to ABC and Reuters. The error could leave thousands of planes grounded during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

What if this is the future of artificial intelligence? What if the computer has grown a heart? Actual human managers, faced with the problem of staffing planes for Christmas, would pursue ruthless economic efficiency, flying more planes to make more money at the cost of making pilots miss the holidays with their families. But the computer decided instead to give everyone a Christmas miracle. "The system went from responsibly scheduling everybody to becoming Santa Claus to everyone," said a spokesman for the pilots' union. The computer has the holiday spirit, or at least a sense of humor. Look I know that this computer system is not like a sentient AI that actually made a conscious decision to do this — I realize it's just a spreadsheet or whatever that was programmed badly — but still I can dream. Eventually a sentient AI is going to be scheduling the pilots, and doing the trading, and so forth, and it would be nice if that AI is the sort of AI you could get a beer with.

Drug charities.

I am not a biochemist, but I have to think that the pharmaceutical industry's innovations in financial engineering are almost as impressive as its innovations in chemistry. One innovation that I have always been a little awed by is

the "copay charity":

Pharmaceutical companies increased their donations to copay charities in recent years, often in tandem with large increases of the price of drugs. Under federal law, drug companies can’t give direct co-pay help to patients covered by Medicare — which would be considered an illegal kickback because it could steer patients to one drug or another. Instead, they’re permitted to donate to independent charities that help Medicare patients, provided the companies don’t exert sway over how the nonprofits operate. 

The idea is that you invent a drug, manufacture it for $1, and then price it at $100. Medicare or other insurers pay for $90 of the cost, and patients pay a $10 copay. Some patients cannot afford it. You could just give them the $10, and you'd be better off: You'd effectively be selling the $1 drug for $90 instead of $100. And in fact there is a certain amount of this, in the form of copay coupons and "access programs" and so forth, but insurers don't like it: The point of the copay, from their perspective, is to steer patients away from expensive drugs and toward cheaper substitutes, so getting rid of the copay feels like a way for the drug company and the patient to team up to cheat the insurer. And Medicare is particularly strict about it, which is why these charities exist: If you give the money to the patients through a charity, rather than through a coupon, it looks a little bit less like you're teaming up to cheat Medicare.

Unless:

It had another effect, according to a redacted letter from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. It provided drugmakers with data that could help them see if their contributions were helping their own customers, potentially giving the companies “greater ability to raise the prices of their drugs while insulating patients from the immediate out-of-pocket effects,” and letting Medicare pay for the cost increases, according to the OIG’s letter, which was posted on the HHS website.

That's about Caring Voice Coalition, "one of the biggest patient assistance charities in the U.S.," which "is funded almost entirely by drugmakers" and which pays patients' copays so that the drug companies can get more money from Medicare. I mean, so that the patients can get access to life-saving medicines that they otherwise couldn't afford. Both are true. The OIG is "rescinding its previous favorable advisory opinions of the charity," which may prevent drugmakers from continuing to donate to it, which may make endanger its survival, which may make it harder for patients to afford life-saving drugs. That is perhaps the cleverest part of the copay charity scheme: How could anyone criticize a charity that lets people buy life-saving drugs?

Congrats OLA.

One of the weird symbolic fights over the Dodd-Frank Act has been over whether, when a big bank fails, it should be seized by financial regulators and recapitalized or liquidated in a way that protects the broader financial system, or whether instead it should have a messy bankruptcy. Intuitively you would think that having banks fail in a good way would be better than having them fail in a bad way, but there is some vague notion that setting up a good way for them to fail makes them "too big to fail," and that the only safe approach is to throw them into bankruptcy like everyone else. (Also there is always at least some risk that the good way to fail might require taxpayer support.) Anyway there has been much fulminating against Dodd-Frank's "orderly liquidation authority" but at the end of the day it looks like the

Trump administration wants to keep it:

The Treasury Department, in a coming report on the Dodd-Frank provision known as orderly liquidation authority, plans to propose changes to the policy without scrapping it wholesale, these people said.

Amusingly, President Donald Trump sent a memo to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "symbolically placing use of the authority on hold except for emergency use." Why would you use it except in an emergency?

People are worried about stock buybacks.

The basic worry about stock buybacks is that U.S. public companies have a lot of money and are spending it on buying back their own shares rather than on raising worker salaries or increasing research and development. This worry has been sharpened by a U.S. tax plan that would raise taxes on middle-class individuals and sharply cut Medicare in order to pay for lower taxes on corporations. If the corporations pass their higher after-tax incomes on to workers, then this might be a wash. But:

Major companies including Cisco Systems Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. say they’ll turn over most gains from proposed corporate tax cuts to their shareholders, undercutting President Donald Trump’s promise that his plan will create jobs and boost wages for the middle class.

The president has held fast to his pledge even as top executives’ comments have run counter to it for months. Instead of hiring more workers or raising their pay, many companies say they’ll first increase dividends or buy back their own shares.

For a while last year, I was half-joking that corporate stock buybacks might become a campaign issue in the presidential election. Maybe in the 2018 midterms they actually will!

Things happen.

Marvin Goodfriend Is Nominated to Be a Fed Governor. Matthew Klein: The DOJ’s case against the AT&T/Time Warner deal makes no sense. "In sum, §7 of the Clayton Act is a promising vehicle for combatting the anticompetitive effects of horizontal shareholding, should they be found." How a Small Bet on Tencent Made an African Firm One of the World’s Most Valuable. Banks Are Spending $20 Billion on Compliance Tech Ahead of MiFID. Credit Suisse vows to return 50% of profits to shareholders by 2019. Wells Fargo Is Dubbed a Repeat Offender and Faces New Wrath From Its Regulator. Companies Get Extra Incentive to Disclose Bribes: No Charges. Meditation Brings Calm to CEOs. New York City Has Genetically Distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ Rats.

Chuck Reynolds


Marketing Dept
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about -Bitcoin.
Interested or have Questions. Call me 559-474-461

As bitcoin passes $10,000, experts consider whether cryptocurrencies will crash or carry on

As bitcoin passes $10,000, experts consider whether cryptocurrencies will crash or carry on

  • Bitcoin has posted a return of over 900 percent since the start of the year
  • One technical trader said the rise of bitcoin in 2017 is the biggest bull market he has seen in over 40 years of working in finance
  • David Shrier, academic and CEO of Distilled Analytics, told CNBC that he has absolutely no doubt that there is feverish speculation going on with cryptocurrencies

Our mistake on bitcoin was treating it like a currency:

Bubble, Ponzi, tulip and trouble have been among the words used by crypto-critics over the past year as bitcoin powered from under $1,000 and passed the much talked about $10,000 marker. Despite being talked down by some major financial names, not least JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, it looks like cryptocurrencies could be here to stay. Bitcoin has posted a return of over 900 percent since the start of the year with one technical trader saying the rise of bitcoin in 2017 is the biggest bull market he has seen in over 40 years of working in finance.

David Shrier, academic and CEO of Distilled Analytics, told CNBC that he has absolutely no doubt that there is feverish speculation going on with cryptocurrencies but that in itself is not a bad thing. "There is enough utility and utilization of bitcoin that it will retain some kind of value, even if the price settles down a bit. Amazon didn't go to $0 when the dotcom bubble burst, but other frothy stocks with no reality behind them did. Similarly, bitcoin won't go to zero, but I do believe a number of these other cryptocurrencies will fail," Shrier said.

Dominic Williams, chief scientist at research group the DFINITY Project, is also skeptical about the viability of initial coin offerings (ICOs) in particular, saying "only a fraction of the projects holding ICOs have any chance of success." ICOs are a way for companies to raise money — people pay money in exchange for a token or digital currency. The token doesn't usually give the investor equity in the company. Instead, it can be traded or used to do something with the firm.

Bitcoin will be "the biggest bubble of our lifetimes,

"The vast majority have been created specifically with the ambition of collecting money from enthusiastic investors rather than delivering utility in the real world," he said.Meanwhile, Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of hedge fund Citadel, is concerned that some investors are mixing up blockchain and bitcoin. Blockchain is a general term for a distributed digital ledger that can record transactions and is tamper-proof. It's the underlying technology that makes cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum possible. He told CNBC that many people buying it, do not understand the underlying technology.

A ramp up in retail accounts over the Thanksgiving holiday helped bitcoin over $10,000 and some in the financial industry are worried about the fallout of a possible price crash. Shrier said he is not overly worried that a crypto-bubble "crash" will hinder bank acceptance of so-called distributed ledgers and added that "speculation helps attract new sources of risk capital and new entrepreneurs to the space." "Other market forces will assert themselves eventually, and what will emerge out of that is a new way of operating," he told CNBC.

It's official: Bitcoin is bigger than Disney 
 

On bitcoin's price volatility, Williams explains that for a cryptocurrency to be used day-to-day, its value has to be stable otherwise it cannot be effective as a medium of exchange."The value of bitcoin is notoriously volatile because it is created mainly by the interaction of speculative demand, which makes application as a normal currency impossible for now," he said.He is concerned though about the possibility that some people getting in on the action may get burned and bitcoin ends up being a kind of pyramid marketing scheme that leaves only the early buyers rich, with everyone else losing plenty of money.

Only time will tell

The rally may not even be over yet, according to some commentators. The man who called bitcoin's rise to $10,000, fund manager Michael Novogratz, has over 20 percent of his net worth in cryptocurrencies and told CNBC that he sees the possibility of it reaching $40,000 by the end of next year.

Chuck Reynolds


Marketing Dept
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about -Bitcoin.
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2017 is the year cryptocurrency joined the global financial system

2017 is the year cryptocurrency joined the global financial system


This week, the value of a single bitcoin officially cleared $10,000,

a new high point that’s over an order of magnitude greater than its price at the start of this year. Bitcoin has defied market expectations before, but in 2017, it didn’t just become more valuable. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have become an acknowledged part of the financial system — albeit a nebulous one.

Bitcoin traded at around $960 at the beginning of the year, and it’s risen steadily since then, with a steep jump in the past two months. There are multiple, complementary explanations for this, but this latest boom was sparked partly by the CME Group, a futures marketplace that announced its intent to start listing bitcoin by the end of the year. It’s a stamp of approval that could help cement bitcoins’ position at other major financial institutions, many of which are already handling bitcoin-related trading in some capacity. Even JPMorgan Chase, whose CEO Jamie Dimon has said he would fire anyone who traded bitcoin, is reportedly considering a plan to let its clients access CME’s futures.

Bitcoin isn’t replacing cash,
but it’s gotten a big stamp of investor approval

Not everyone believes that bitcoin is ready to enter the futures market. Themis Trading principal Joe Saluzzi warned that the currency is dangerously unregulated: “It reminds me of the financial crisis all over again,” he told CNBC. And bitcoin is so volatile that spending it doesn’t make sense. Nobody knows how valuable a single bitcoin might BECOME — while Thomas Glucksmann of currency exchange Gatecoin said $10,000 was still “cheap in my opinion,” bitcoin has also suffered extended catastrophic crashes, including a long slump after passing $1,000 in 2013. As an example of just how surreal bitcoin fluctuations can be, Gizmodo writer Kashmir Hill tweeted about buying a sushi dinner in 2013 for the equivalent of $99,000 today.

There are still places where bitcoin payments make sense, although they’re sometimes unsavory: far-right groups have used them after being dropped by payment processors, for instance. And the underlying blockchain technology has myriad uses that aren’t cryptocurrency-focused — from quickly processing international money transfers to tracking legal marijuana. But people have also found uses for cryptocurrency that go beyond replacing cash. The best-known example of 2017 might be initial coin offerings or ICOs, in which companies sell digital tokens based on cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. ICOs range from serious fundraising efforts to absurd but startlingly successful jokes, and some have earned endorsements from the likes of Paris Hilton and Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan. And unlike Dogecoin or other earlier novelty currencies, they’ve attracted serious regulatory attention.

Some countries have outright banned ICOs — China barred the offerings as a form of “illegal public financing,” and South Korea announced “stern penalties” for running them. But other countries have attempted to clarify how existing rules apply to them. The US Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that some ICOs fell under securities law, setting them apart from general crowdfunding efforts. Japanese regulators also outlined how ICOs may fall under existing financial rules. In the US, the SEC has even issued guidance for how celebrities can hawk them.

Cryptocurrencies’ overall legal status is still complicated, but several countries have made major policy decisions around them in 2017. Some of these are negative: China shut down currency exchanges earlier this year, although traders have moved to other platforms, and the SEC rejected a high-profile application for a bitcoin stock fund. Many other countries have given more ambiguous signals. Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered regulators to develop a wide-ranging set of rules for miners and traders, even as officials have signaled a crackdown. India’s government launched a committee earlier this year to study digital currency regulation, and the Supreme Court recently urged it to speed up its work.

People have been prosecuted for cryptocurrency-related crimes like Ponzi schemes in past years, and governments have issued guidance about bitcoin. Some of these new decisions just raise new questions: the SEC, for instance, didn’t address how it would punish a decentralized network for violating securities rules. Likewise, getting attention from investors and regulators doesn’t tell us whether bitcoin will succeed in the long run, or whether cryptocurrencies will play a major role in most people’s lives. But even if cryptocurrencies aren’t directly competing with their traditional counterparts, the past year shows how serious they’ve become to both regulators and investors.

Chuck Reynolds


Marketing Dept
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about -Bitcoin.
Interested or have Questions. Call me 559-474-461