Category Archives: banking

Book Review: Bitcon – The Naked Truth About Bitcoin

Jeffrey Robinson, the author of the well known book “Laundrymen” that I’m now reading, has written an engaging story about The Satoshi Faithful (as he calls them) supporters of Bitcoin and where their Faith is leading them stray.

The book is called BitCon: The Naked Truth About Bitcoin and it doesn’t pull punches in deriding the would-be currency. If you don’t know anything about Bitcoins, it may skip over some of the introductions necessary to hold your own in conversation. This isn’t a primer on Bitcoins or crypto-currencies, but it also doesn’t spend chapters on involved technical details so you won’t be completely lost.

I described the book as “engaging”. For me, already very sceptical of the long-term chances of success for Bitcoin and specifically  critical of its suitability as real “currency”, it had me nodding in agreement with many sections. Frankly, I don’t know how persuasive it would be to a fervent supporter (not that much anything would be).

I did enjoy the insights into some of the personalities behind Bitcoin and the histories of different supporters and how this has changed over the short time Bitcoins have been around. I learnt more about the Dark Web than I knew before, gaining a new appreciation for how dark the underbelly of the web and Bitcoins are.

Robinson ignored what I think is a key limitation on Bitcoin. Supporters claim its value derives in large part from the limited supply, but without any intrinsic value, other crypto-currencies are near-perfect substitutes. I’ve blogged about this before and was looking forward to seeing another take on it.

I enjoyed the book, reading through it fairly quickly and without wanting to switch to something else, suggesting Robinson hit the target with length and balance of information vs entertainment.

Go grab a copy from Amazon – BitCon: The Naked Truth About Bitcoin.

Argentina in default for second time in 13 years

S&P declares Argentina to be in default for the second time in 13 years and the third in 25. Inflation is likely to hit 40% this year and the Peso has already lost a quarter of its value this year, measured against the US Dollar.

Messages? This time isn’t different, sovereign debt crises happen all the time, ignore currency risk at your peril and there are many reasons governments can default on their debt.

Bacon flavoured Bitcoins

Bitcoins are an awful idea as a currency. The 21m fixed limitation on bitcoins in a hopefully growing economy requires deflationary prices. Deflationary prices in turn discourage consumption and encourage hoarding. Low consumption and hoarding lead to low economic growth, a decreased velocity of money and more deflation.

But what about Bitcoins as an interesting speculative investment? With prices surges recently some could have made serious money. With the inevitable crash, brave souls may make money shorting Bitcoins. (but “markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solveny” etc.)

But, the Bitcoin supporters say, if there is a 21m ultimate final supply, won’t increasing demand lead to increasing prices? Won’t this become a type of collectors’ item?

Here we run firmly into the absolute lack of intrinsic value for Bitcoins. Gold is a limited, non-corroding, shiny, vaguely useful in electronics element. It also barely has intrinsic value but at least it is truly unique.

What’s to stop someone investing Bacon Flavoured Bitcoins with a maximum supply of 21m (or any other number). A new version of Bitcoins for when the original or “Classic Bitcoins” are so tightly in demand that there is obviously demand for more of the same or similar. We could also have cheese flavoured, bubble-gum flavoured or, my personal favourite, Dutch Tulip flavoured Bitcoins.

Artificial scarcity is not true scarcity and near substitutes can be created at will.

Bitcoins will not remain above USD100 by end 2013.

Banking failures in South Africa

South Africa has a pretty rich history of banking failures.  This paper, part of a masters, by Sipho Makhubela, provides an interesting over of banking failures since 1994. I haven’t read the entire paper yet, but Section 4 (starting on page 72) outlines  the background behind banking failures in South Africa and is fascinating reading in its own right.

Summary of Cypriot capital controls

From a number of sources (CNN, USAToday, FT)

No Eurozone country, since the creation of the Euro, has ever instituted capital controls. It’s not really allowed, except in exceptional circumstances. Which goes to show the value of rules with exceptions for “exceptional circumstances”. Which is to say, not much.

The cost to large depositors

Deposits above 100,000 euros have been frozen at both banks. They could be wiped out entirely at Popular. At Bank of Cyprus, about 40% will be converted into equity.

So that is an absolute bank failure, no two ways about it.

The capital controls

depositors would be able to withdraw no more than €300 in cash each day, said people familiar with the move. Transfers over €5,000 would require permission of the central bank.

Overseas credit card transactions would be limited to €5,000 per month, but unrestricted in Cyprus. And there would be a ban on people taking more than €3,000 of bank notes out of the country per trip.

These rules will expire in 7 days. Oh, unless they’re renewed. Prediction – they will be renewed.

Gold ain’t happening yet

Paulson and Soros still think Gold is a buy, adding to their stakes as the price declines. It’s also not very brave of me to blog about this now as gold has declined when for much of the financial crisis it was increasing in price. I’ve been watching other things.

The idea that the gold price must increase because of massive monetary easing reflects a broken understanding of the economy and a liquidity trap. The money isn’t going anywhere. It is being hoarded in bank vaults. Very few people want to borrow, and aside from banks buying up gold with their excess cash (which would effectively be a massive speculative prop-trading bet on the direction of the gold price) there are few reasons for gold to be spiking massively.

One possibility is the simple safety argument. If you don’t know where else to put your money, put it into gold because it’s gold and it’s safe. Except why should gold be safe? The price swings all over the place like many commodities, but unlike most commodities it has limited industrial uses. Gold arguably has very little intrinsic value.

I’m not saying gold is going to tank. I really don’t know.  I also don’t think anybody else really has a good idea of where the gold price is going to and much of the speculation is by people who think it’s going to rise. Therefore it may have been overbought already (whatever that means when it comes to gold, that is).

Hyperinflation is not here. Gold price increases are not guaranteed. If your entire investment view is centered on monetary policy giving rise to massive inflation, you’re in for a painful ride.

(The one risk that does remain is that when the economy starts turning, and I’m thinking maybe as far away as 5 or 10 years out, if the liquidity isn’t quickly pulled back, we might have high inflation and increases in gold prices. I don’t see this as a major part of the view of current gold bugs. There are too many ifs and too much time and far too much uncertainty.)

A post about a post about accounting standards

The IASB and FASB are trying to get their heads around expected loss models for credit provisioning. I’ve seen some of what they’ve suggested over time and they really have had some odd ideas. Maybe this is one area where actuaries really are more comfortable since it’s our daily world.

Anyway, to the point, it looks like their is trouble in paradise.  The FT Alphaville guys have a post showing the tense discussion between the two recently.

I don’t know what this means for the IFRS4 Phase 2 project and insurance accounting conversion. Well it’s not good anyway.