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One in ten euro zone households owns crypto-assets -ECB survey

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – One in ten euro zone households have bought crypto-assets such as bitcoin, with the rich only slightly more likely to own some than the poor, a European Central Bank study showed on Tuesday.

With the “crypto” market in turmoil, authorities are trying to gauge whether gyrations in this relatively new corner of the financial system could burn a hole in household budgets.

The ECB’s Consumer Expectation Survey found that an average of 10% of the households in the six countries where the poll is conducted own crypto-assets, with the proportion ranging from 6% in France to 14% in the Netherlands.

Around 37% of respondents reported owning up to 999 euros ($1,065) worth of crypto, with 29% holding between 1,000 euros and 4,999 euros and 13% between 5,000 euros and 9,999 euros. The balance had invested more than that.

In all countries, the richest 20% of respondents was most likely to own crypto currencies but a greater proportion of lower-income households reported owning digital coins than those in the middle ground.

“On average, young adult males and highly educated respondents were more likely to invest in crypto-assets in the countries surveyed,” the ECB said. “With regard to financial literacy, respondents who scored either at the top level or the bottom level in terms of financial literacy scores were highly likely to hold crypto-assets.”

Repeating its longstanding line, the ECB said those assets were unsuitable for most retail investors and urged European Union authorities to approve new rules on crypto assets “as a matter of urgency.”

The data, released for the first time on Tuesday, was cited in an article published as part of the ECB’s Financial Stability Review.

Launched in 2020, the ECB’s Consumer Expectations Survey is carried out monthly in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. It is still in pilot mode and results are not published in full by the ECB.

($1 = 0.9376 euro)

(Reporting by Francesco Canepa in Frankfurt; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Cryptoverse: Is the end of the bitcoin winter nigh?

By Medha Singh and Lisa Pauline Mattackal

(Reuters) – The crypto winter is into its ninth week and bitcoin can’t shake the chills.

From technicals to turnover, market indicators are flashing red or amber for the biggest cryptocurrency, which has lost a third of its value in just two months.

So what now?

Bitcoin’s limited history isn’t much of a guide on crypto winters, which we’re defining as prolonged bearishness for a month or more.

There have been five since 2017 and three since 2021. Last year’s two crashes lasted 14 and 10 weeks and caused bitcoin to lose 45% to 47%. If they were typical, bitcoin’s latest drop – 36% shed in eight weeks – has road left to run.

“Bitcoin is just not attractive to retail investors right now. Nobody really sees that potential for bitcoin to give out 10 times (return),” said Joseph Edwards, head of financial strategy at fund management firm Solrise Finance.

Indeed the macro background is far from supportive for an asset class now firmly seen as volatile, risky – plus vulnerable in the face of inflation. As worries over rising global rates and geopolitics bring U.S. stocks close to confirming a bear market, cryptocurrencies aren’t on anyone’s shopping list.

Yet even in the icy wilderness, there are some signs that the crypto king is plotting its comeback.

Bitcoin is drawing strength from the rest of the crypto market, for example, its relative stature providing some comfort for investors fleeing altcoins such as stablecoins deemed ultra-risky after the collapse of TerraUSD in early May.

Bitcoin dominance, a measure of the ratio between its market cap to the rest of cryptocurrency markets, has jumped to a seven-month high of over 44% even as its price has decreased.

“Institutional investors particularly are fleeing to safety, to a certain extent, to bitcoin, which has the most institutional adoption,” said Marcus Sotiriou, analyst at UK-based asset broker GlobalBlock.

Last week, bitcoin futures saw their largest net long position since the contract was launched in 2018, CFTC data showed, indicating traders are increasing positioning for a rise in the price of the cryptocurrency.

Graphic: Crypto winters – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/akpezrmbgvr/Pasted%20image%201653292753399.png

f994f9ab-98a4-4360-9360-c90e8116c4b31

FEAR AND GREED

Scary times, though.

Bitcoin has lost half its value since a Nov. 10 peak of $69,000. This week, it is flirting with $30,000, after touching a 17-month low of $25,401 on May 12. It remains the largest digital asset by market cap, but the market value of all cryptocurrencies now stands at $1.3 trillion, less than half the $3 trillion peak in November.

Data platform Coinglass’s bitcoin Fear & Greed index of market sentiment – where 0 indicates extreme fear and 100 extreme greed – is hovering at 13.

Ether, the No. 2 token by market value, has hovered near the $2,000 mark, and is down about 60% from a peak of $4,868 on Nov. 10.

Bilal Hafeez, CEO at research firm Macro Hive, pointed to $2,300 and $2,500 as key levels and warned that failure to hold above either of those marks in the near term would be a bearish signal.

The crypto market is cowed.

Total spot market volume for all cryptocurrencies at major exchanges had fallen to $18.4 billion as of Monday – less than half of the $48.2 billion seen on May 14, which was the highest volume for 2022, according to news and research site The Block.

Blockchain analytics firm Glassnode said on May 9 that bitcoin at $33,600 puts 40% of investors underwater on their holdings.

“Many folks are left wondering what they should do with their coins – keep holding on for dear life or book losses and move on?” said Lindsey Bell, chief markets and money strategist at Ally Invest.

“It’s a good reminder that crypto probably shouldn’t be more than, say, 1-2% of your portfolio.”

(Reporting by Medha Singh and Lisa Pauline Mattackal in Bengaluru; Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and Pravin Char)

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What you need to know about Davos on Monday

By Kathryn Lurie

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – The World Economic Forum returned to Davos on Monday with a unique spring gathering. Here is what you need to know about Day 1:

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK ‘DARKENS’

Multiple threats to the global economy topped the worries of the world’s well-heeled at the annual Davos think-fest on Monday, with some flagging the risk of a worldwide recession.

Among the major threats to economic growth, IMF First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath told Reuters that the conflict in Ukraine could escalate, adding: “You could have sanctions and counter sanctions.”

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said the war, tighter financial conditions and price shocks – for food in particular – have clearly “darkened” the outlook in the month since the IMF cut its global growth outlook, though she is not yet expecting a recession.

MEET YOU AT BITCOIN PIZZA, BRUH

A free bitcoin pizza stall and a “Liquidity Lounge” were among the treats on offer for forum attendees in Davos where blockchain and cryptocurrency firms have taken over its main street, despite a recent crash in digital-coin values.

The $800 billion lost in market value of digital currencies has not dented plans of cryptocurrencies and their providers to show off their products and services.

Tether, one of the world’s largest stablecoins, offered up free slices to celebrate Bitcoin Pizza Day on Sunday, in honor of the day in 2010 when Laszlo Hanyecz paid for two pizzas with 10,000 bitcoin, which was worth about $41 at the time.

FEAR FUELING OIL SUPPLY CRUNCH

The world is facing a major oil supply crunch as most companies are afraid to invest in the sector amid green energy pressures, the head of Saudi Aramco told Reuters, adding it cannot expand production capacity any faster than promised.

Amin Nasser, head of the world’s largest oil producer, said he was sticking to the target of expanding capacity to 13 million barrels per day from the current 12 million by 2027, despite calls to do it faster.

LIEV SCHREIBER AT DAVOS

Ukraine can win the war against Russia but it will be a long fight and the conflict must not be allowed to fade out of the news, Hollywood actor Liev Schreiber said on Monday in Davos.

“It’s overwhelming how resilient the Ukrainian people are,” Schreiber, whose grandfather was of Ukrainian and Polish descent, told Reuters TV on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. [L2N2XF1HP]

Ukraine is top of the agenda for the four-day event, which kicked off with a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

(Writing by Kathryn Lurie; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Matthew Lewis)

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U.S. households felt financially flush going into 2022, Fed says

By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – U.S. households reported their highest level of financial well-being since tracking began almost a decade ago and the gains late last year were felt across all racial and ethnic groups, a Federal Reserve report released on Monday showed, a sign of both the benefits and risks of the central bank’s aim to vanquish inflation.

Workers during the late fall of 2021 also reported enjoying the benefits of working from home even as the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic continued, with little fervor to return to the office and general bullishness about the labor market.

Both findings were part of the U.S. central bank’s annual “Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking” report based on responses from 11,000 adults in October and November of 2021, before a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant briefly dented economic growth.

It’s in line with other data, which has revealed not only that Americans in general have seen a boost in their finances over the past two years but that the gains have been felt the most by racial and ethnic groups who were disproportionately affected when the pandemic hit in March 2020 and more than 20 million people lost their jobs.

Black and Hispanic households experienced greater acceleration in real incomes compared to white families between 2019 and 2021 as the labor market recovery gathered pace and fiscal policies preserved gains, according to a report released earlier this month by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, a global think tank.

Some 78% of adults said they were living comfortably or doing “okay” financially, up from 75% in 2020 and the highest level since the survey began in 2013, the Fed’s survey showed, and financial well-being increased among all racial and ethnic groups, with a noted jump among Hispanics.

Healthier household balance sheets overall are due to a combination of pandemic-era direct cash payments and enhanced unemployment benefits that cushioned the economic blow of the pandemic on Americans in 2020 and part of 2021, rising asset prices, as well as a tight jobs market which is fueling strong wage gains.

Fed officials added that the sharp rise in children attending in-person schools and the temporarily enhanced child tax credit passed earlier in 2021 also likely contributed.

The share of Americans who said they would be able to cover a hypothetical $400 emergency expense using cash, savings or a credit card paid off on the next statement also rose to the highest level since the survey began, to 68% from 64% in 2020, the Fed said.

PLENTIFUL JOBS, BUT FOR HOW LONG?

The Fed is currently trying to rein in inflation that is running at a 40-year high, and it pivoted late last year to a more aggressive monetary policy stance after two years in which it had kept financial conditions purposefully loose to shield the economy from the worst of the pandemic.

The central bank began its tightening cycle in March and has already raised its benchmark overnight lending rate by 75 basis points as it tries to dampen demand among U.S. consumers who still have spending power despite a surge in prices exacerbated by depleted supply chains caused by the war in Ukraine and periodic pandemic-related lockdowns in China.

The Fed is closely watching the U.S. unemployment rate, which at 3.6% currently, is back near pre-pandemic levels, as it strives to choke inflation without causing outsized job losses more likely to impact the very same communities who have benefited the most from a tight labor market.

For now, there are few alarm bells. The financial well-being report showed that late last year, when the unemployment rate was still higher, 15% of workers said they had switched jobs in the past year and that most who had done so said the job change was an improvement.

Around 22% of employees worked from home in the fall of last year, down from 29% in the previous year, and well above the 7% who worked completely from home before the pandemic.

Most workers reported wanting to continue to do so, citing a better work-life balance, and said they would be about as likely to look for a new job if they were forced to return to the office as if their employer implemented a pay freeze, the Fed report said.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Crypto exchange BitMEX co-founder gets 6 months house arrest for U.S. charges

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The co-founder and former chief executive of the cryptocurrency exchange BitMEX has been sentenced to six months of house arrest after pleading guilty to violating the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, U.S. prosecutors said.

Arthur Hayes, 36, will also pay a $10 million fine and serve two years of probation following his house arrest for failing to establish an anti-money laundering program at BitMEX, which he founded with Benjamin Delo and Samuel Reed in 2014. Hayes was sentenced in federal court in Manhattan on Friday.

“While building a cryptocurrency platform that profited him millions of dollars, Arthur Hayes willfully defied U.S. law that requires businesses to do their part to help in preventing crime and corruption,” Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in a statement.

Prosecutors had sought a “significant” prison term, saying a $10 million fine was not enough to deter other cryptocurrency companies from similar behavior. Hayes’ lawyers had sought probation, without home detention.

A spokesperson for Hayes declined to comment on the sentence.

Delo and Reed have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

The three were charged in 2020 with failing to implement a “know your customer” requirement as required by federal law.

Prosecutors said BitMEX was “in effect a money-laundering platform,” and Hayes did nothing after learning in 2018 of allegations that BitMEX was being used to launder proceeds from a cryptocurrency hack.

BitMEX last year agreed to pay up to $100 million to settle separate charges for unlawfully accepting customer funds to trade cryptocurrency without being registered, and failing to conduct customer due diligence.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

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India’s top crypto app CoinSwitch calls for regulatory ‘peace, certainty’

By Aditya Kalra

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – India must establish rules on cryptocurrencies to resolve regulatory uncertainty, protect investors and boost its crypto sector, CoinSwitch CEO Ashish Singhal said on Sunday.

Although India’s central bank has backed a ban on cryptocurrencies over risks to financial stability, a federal government move to tax income from them has been interpreted by the industry as a sign of acceptance by New Delhi.

“Users don’t know what will happen with their holdings – is government going to ban, not ban, how is it going to be regulated?,” Singhal, a former Amazon engineer who co-founded CoinSwitch, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

CoinSwitch, which is valued at $1.9 billion, says it is the largest crypto company in India with more than 18 million users. The firm, based in India’s main tech hub of Bengaluru, is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Tiger Global and Coinbase Ventures.

“Regulations will bring peace … more certainty,” he added.

Blockchain and cryptocurrency companies have a large presence at this year’s Davos meeting, which coincides with a period of crypto prices plummeting around the world.

India’s central bank has voiced “serious concerns” around private cryptocurrencies, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December said such emerging technologies should be used to empower democracy, not undermine it.

Exchanges often struggle in India to partner with banks to allow transfer of funds and in April, CoinSwitch and some others disabled rupee deposits through a widely-used state-backed network, alarming investors.

‘CLARITY’

While moves on taxation and certain advertising regulation had brought some relief, a lot more needed to be done, Singhal said, adding that India should develop a set of laws.

These should include norms for identity verification and transferring crypto assets, while for exchanges, India should put in place a mechanism for them to track transactions and report them to any authority if need be.

While no official data is available on the size of India’s crypto market, CoinSwitch estimates the number of investors at up to 20 million, with total holdings of about $6 billion.

Regulatory uncertainty has been widely felt. In April, Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, launched in India, but within days paused use of a state-backed inter-bank fund transfer service.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong later said in May the move was triggered due to “informal pressure” from India’s central bank.

CoinSwitch too has paused so-called UPI transfers to hold talks with banking partners and make them comfortable, Singhal said in the interview. He added CoinSwitch was is in talks with regulators to try and restart the transfer service.

“We are pushing for regulations. With the right regulation, we can get the clarity,” he said.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in Davos; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Crypto crowd dominate Davos main street despite price crash

By Jessica DiNapoli

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – A free bitcoin pizza stall and a “Liquidity Lounge” were among the treats on offer for attendees at this year’s meeting in Davos, where blockchain and cryptocurrency firms have taken over its main street, despite a recent crash in digital coin values.

Executives from the crypto sector have descended on the annual gathering of business leaders and politicians in the Swiss Alpine resort, seeking to encourage faster adoption of their technology, which is largely unregulated.

The crypto crowd’s prominence at Davos, while largely on the sidelines of the main event, comes as cryptocurrencies shed $800 billion in market value earlier this month.

Small traders have flocked to crypto in the hope of quick returns, despite warnings from regulators that the emerging assets can be high risk. Luna, until recently the eighth-biggest digital coin and backed by institutional crypto investors, has shed nearly all of its value.

“What surprised me was just how fast it completely imploded into nothing,” Jeremy Allaire, CEO and cofounder of Circle Internet Financial, whose USDC stablecoin is pegged to the U.S. dollar, said of Luna’s collapse.

“To see something that seemed like an apparent, high growth competitive thing just completely implode to zero in 72 hours, I’ve have never seen anything like that,” he told Reuters.

But recent losses have not dented the crypto companies’ plans to show off their products and services.

Securrency Inc, a digital market infrastructure backed by Abu Dhabi, came to Davos for the first time this year “to build relationships and network” and show how it can bridge new technologies and traditional finance, said CEO Dan Doney.

The company has set up its own agenda of panels on digital currency, in the style of the World Economic Forum’s, just outside the security cordon for the main conference centre.

Tether, one of the world’s largest stablecoins, offered passers-by free slices to celebrate Bitcoin Pizza Day on May. 22, when in 2010 Lazlo Hanyecz paid for two pizzas with 10,000 bitcoin, worth about $41 at the time.

Bitcoin, which was worth $30,332 on Monday, fell to its lowest levels since December 2020 earlier in May. The world’s largest cryptocurrency had hit a record high of $69,000 in November.

“We’re used to this, and as the market gets bigger, the peaks and valleys will be smoother,” said Cliff Sarkin, chief operating officer of CasperLabs, a provider of blockchain technology to businesses, which is hosting speakers and events.

The token tied to Casper’s technology has also taken a hit, Sarkin told Reuters.

The WEF, which typically caters to the financial elite including major banks such as Citigroup to Credit Suisse, is holding panels on cyrptocurrencies’ carbon footprint and future and one on decentralized finance.

“It’s been rising outside and inside the gates,” said Stan Stalnacker, chief strategy officer at social network Hub Culture, which also operates a digital currency, referring to crypto’s presence in the conference and on its sidelines.

Stalnacker estimated that about 50% of the town’s storefronts have been occupied by blockchain or cryptocurrency firms for the duration of the event.

(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in Davos; Additional reporting by Divya Chowdhury in Davos; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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U.S. dollar net long bets slip, bitcoin futures surge-CFTC, Reuters data

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Speculators’ net long positioning on the U.S. dollar slipped, after hitting their highest level since late November in the previous week, according to calculations by Reuters and U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released on Friday.

The value of the net long dollar position drifted lower to $19.75 billion in the week ended May 17, from $19.82 billion the previous week.

The dollar has been underpinned overall in recent months by safe-haven bids amid soaring inflation, a hawkish Federal Reserve and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

That rally, however, fizzled this week due to increased volatility in global financial markets after the lofty levels the dollar had scaled in recent months.

Bitcoin futures, on the other hand, posted their largest net long position since the contract was launched in 2018.

For the week of May 17, net longs in bitcoin rose to 806 contracts, compared with net longs of 703 contracts the previous week, CFTC data showed.

Bitcoin BTC=BTSP, the largest cryptocurrency by market value, last fell 3.6% to $29,203, not far from a December 2020 low of $25,400 it hit a few weeks ago.

Japanese Yen (Contracts of 12,500,000 yen)

$9.884 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 12,113 11,196

Short 114,422 121,650

Net -102,309 -110,454

EURO (Contracts of 125,000 euros)

$-2.681 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 230,770 228,230

Short 210,431 211,701

Net 20,339 16,529

POUND STERLING (Contracts of 62,500 pounds sterling)

$6.186 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 26,613 29,469

Short 105,854 109,067

Net -79,241 -79,598

SWISS FRANC (Contracts of 125,000 Swiss francs)

$2.088 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 5,240 4,727

Short 21,832 20,490

Net -16,592 -15,763

CANADIAN DOLLAR (Contracts of 100,000 Canadian dollars)

$1.132 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 36,069 38,679

Short 50,565 44,086

Net -14,496 -5,407

AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR (Contracts of 100,000 Aussie dollars)

$3.138 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 41,473 36,869

Short 86,115 78,583

Net -44,642 -41,714

MEXICAN PESO (Contracts of 500,000 pesos)

$-0.708 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 77,819 63,921

Short 49,604 47,196

Net 28,215 16,725

NEW ZEALAND DOLLAR (Contracts of 100,000 New Zealand dollars)

$1.13 billion

17 May 2022 Prior week

week

Long 14,998 15,203

Short 32,765 28,199

Net -17,767 -12,996

(Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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G7 finance leaders reaffirm FX commitment in communique

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany (Reuters) – The Group of Seven (G7) finance leaders on Friday pledged to closely monitor markets given recent volatility and reaffirmed their existing commitment on exchange rates, a final communique showed.

Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki had told reporters on Thursday Tokyo wanted his G7 counterparts to reaffirm the group’s commitment on exchange-rate policy, as the country struggles to rein in a sharp yen fall that was pushing up import costs.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Francesco Canepa; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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G7 backs debt relief efforts for Sri Lanka – draft communique

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany (Reuters) – The Group of Seven economic powers support debt relief efforts for Sri Lanka, G7 finance chiefs said on Thursday in a draft communique from a meeting in Germany after the country defaulted on its sovereign debt.

“The G7 stands ready to support the Paris Club’s efforts, in line with its principles, to address the need for a debt treatment for Sri Lanka,” the draft statement to be finalised before the end the meeting on Friday said.

G7 finance chiefs also singled out China, which has become a major creditor to low-income countries, to actively contribute to debt relief for such countries.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Fed has ‘important but quite limited’ authority to police climate change risk, says nominee Barr

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve has “important but quite limited” authorities to police financial risks emanating from climate change, according to Michael Barr, President Biden’s nominee to lead to the central bank’s regulatory work.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate, Barr said the Fed’s role on climage change is limited to assessing any risks banks might face, and should not be in the business of telling firms where they should or should not lend.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder)

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Barr, Biden’s pick for Fed regulation role, to be quizzed by Senate

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Michael Barr, the second person nominated by Democratic President Joe Biden to be the Federal Reserve’s Wall Street cop, will appear before the Senate on Thursday to make the case for why he should take on the central bank’s sweeping regulatory portfolio.

Barr, a former Treasury Department senior official under President Barack Obama, looks to be well-positioned to win Senate confirmation after receiving early support from key moderates and progressive Democrats in the evenly divided chamber. He will testify before the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. ET (1400 GMT).

In his prepared testimony, Barr said he would work to ensure the financial system is resilient, operates fairly, and allows room for innovation with “clear rules of the road.”

He is in a stronger position than Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s first nominee for Fed supervision vice chair, who withdrew her nomination after Democrat Joe Manchin refused to back her.

Barr, currently a law professor, has already drawn support from moderate Democrats, including Manchin, and progressives anxious to ramp up scrutiny of Wall Street after what they say was regulatory easing under Republicans. At Treasury, Barr was a central figure in the drafting of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which established a range of safeguards following the 2008 financial crisis.

“This is going to be a far easier, simpler and faster hearing than we saw last time,” said Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research for brokerage BTIG, adding that Barr should be confirmed by August.

Barr would fill the remaining vacancy on the Fed board and take on a broad agenda that is likely to include revisiting rules that were eased under his predecessor, Randal Quarles, and taking steps to address climate change risk, fintechs and cryptocurrencies.

Raskin withdrew her nomination after Manchin, who represents coal-producing West Virginia, opposed her because she had called for financial regulators to more aggressively police climate change risks. The decision effectively ended her nomination.

But Manchin announced Tuesday he would back Barr. In the progressive wing, Elizabeth Warren, a prominent big-bank critic, said in April that she supported Barr.

Progressives have changed their tune on Barr after opposing him last year for comptroller of the currency, another top regulatory post. They wanted a more liberal pick, saying his work in the private sector, as well as his resistance to some stricter Dodd-Frank proposals, were marks against him.

However, after progressives’ preferred candidates, including Raskin and Saule Omarova, a previous Biden pick for comptroller of the currency, flopped amid resistance from moderate Democrats, they are now eager to simply fill key posts.

The Fed’s regulatory work, for example, has slowed with no fulltime supervision chief.

“The Fed urgently needs a vice chair on board who can guard against risks to financial stability,” said Carter Dougherty, a spokesman for advocacy group Americans for Financial Reform.

If confirmed, Barr will also join 18 other Fed policymakers in setting the course of monetary policy as the central bank battles to bring down 40-year-high inflation. Barr’s views on monetary policy are not well known, but so far policymakers have been unanimous in pivoting to a more aggressive stance as price pressures have persisted. Barr noted in his prepared testimony that he would be “strongly committed” to bringing down inflation if confirmed.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Michelle Price and Leslie Adler)

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U.S. crypto lobbyists in push to contain fallout from stablecoin meltdown

By Hannah Lang

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The cryptocurrency industry is scrambling to respond to U.S. lawmakers’ concerns about stablecoins following the collapse of TerraUSD, which wiped billions off the cryptocurrency market.

The Blockchain Association and the Chamber of Digital Commerce, which represent some of the most influential crypto companies, say they have been fielding a flurry of questions from Capitol Hill since TerraUSD, known as “UST,” broke its peg last week and crashed 90%.

Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that try to maintain a constant exchange rate with fiat currencies. The $163 billion space is dominated by tokens that are pegged to the U.S. dollar, like Tether and USD Coin, by holding reserves in traditional dollar assets. Some stablecoins, like UST, however, use a complex algorithmic process to create the peg.

Capitol Hill lawmakers have been quizzing lobbyists on the structure of UST, seeking to determine whether its collapse was preventable and if other stablecoins could suffer the same fate.

Lobbyists are urging lawmakers not to crack down too hard on the gamut of stablecoins.

“The one thing we’ve been cautioning to the Hill is that we don’t want to accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater, because stablecoins we think are a really critical piece of the crypto ecosystem going forward,” said Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association.

As the cryptocurrency market has exploded, reaching $3 trillion in November, the scrutiny of policymakers has increased.

In response, the crypto industry has beefed up its presence in Washington, spending $9 million on lobbying in 2021, according to Public Citizen. The Blockchain Association and Chamber of Digital Commerce spent $900,000 and $426,663, respectively, while crypto giants Coinbase Global Inc and Ripple Labs forked out $1.5 million and $1.1 million respectively.

REGULATORY GRAY AREA

The industry’s growing influence will be tested as it tries to contain the fallout from the UST and broader crypto market crash, which shrank from $1.98 trillion to $1.3 trillion in just six weeks due to investor fears over rising interest rates.

There are currently a handful of draft stablecoin bills floating around Congress. While analysts say the chances of Congress passing any of those this year is slim with lawmakers focused on the midterm elections, recent crypto market gyrations have caused many lawmakers to take notice.

“There are a lot of people in Congress that are interested in coming up with a regulatory framework to prevent something like this from happening again,” said Smith.

Cryptocurrencies fall into a regulatory gray area.

President Joe Biden’s administration has largely focused on rules for dollar-backed stablecoins. A November Treasury Department-led report recommended Congress regulate stablecoin issuers like insured depository institutions, but it did not cover algorithmic stablecoins.

Lobbyists have had to quickly change tack and educate lawmakers on the differences, they say.

“All of the recent legislative proposals have been fiat-backed,” said Cody Carbone, policy director at the Chamber of Digital Commerce. “We thought we did pretty well in educating because we stayed within that scope, and now we’re going to have to broaden that.”

While the group’s members do not currently operate algorithmic stablecoins, the chamber is crafting talking points to explain how they work, said Carbone.

Regulators have warned that U.S.-dollar stablecoins could be susceptible to runs if users lose confidence, a fear that appeared to partially play out last week: after UST broke its peg, Tether, the largest stablecoin, briefly broke its peg too.

“This is essentially a call to action, because not all monies are created equal, and what one believes to be stable may actually not be stable,” said Jonathan Dharmapalan, CEO of eCurrency, a digital currency technology provider.

While the Blockchain Association’s Smith agreed legislation was not imminent, the UST problem “certainly heightens that need,” she said.

(Reporting by Hannah Lang in Washington; Editing by Michelle Price and Matthew Lewis)

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Crypto-loving S.Koreans bet on Luna rising from ashes, worrying regulator

By Jihoon Lee and Cynthia Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – Reckoning they have little to lose with prices so ridiculously low, South Korean speculators in recent days have piled into Luna, a cryptocurrency that lost 99.99% of its value last week after its paired stablecoin TerraUSD collapsed.

Both tokens are affiliated with Terra, a blockchain platform co-founded by Korean developer Do Kwon and, according to blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, investors in them have lost around $42 billion.

Luna had been one of the world’s most popular cryptocurrencies and its downfall, alongside TerraUSD, caused mayhem across the crypto spectrum globally, with bitcoin losing around a quarter of its value between May 9-12.

Worth nearly $100 in late April, Luna is now trading at a fraction of one cent – so low that there has been a rush of buying from speculators betting that it will stage a miraculous recovery, with some clinging to the belief that it is just too big to be allowed to fail.

“Luna was once a major coin of top-ten market capitalisation, so they will do whatever it takes to revive it,” one hopeful investor wrote in a blog on South Korea’s internet platform Naver, without saying who “they” could be.

The blogger said he had bought 300,000 Luna over the weekend at 0.33 won ($0.0003) each, using an international crypto exchange.

As the sudden resurgence of buying crossed its radar, South Korea’s Financial Services Commission warned people on Tuesday against investing in Luna.

The number of investors in the failed cryptocurrency rose more than 50% in just over two days at South Korea’s major exchanges to stand at 280,000 as of May 15, according to a source at the FSC who, as is customary for South Korean bureaucrats, declined to be named.

The buying mostly came from domestic speculators, though there were some inflows from abroad, the source said.

The window for speculation is limited as Bithumb and Upbit, two of South Korea’s largest exchanges, said they will suspend trading support for Luna on May 27 and May 20, respectively, while another, Coinone, has halted deposits in the crypto-currency ahead of a possible de-listing on May 25.

The buying has had little affect on the token’s price. It has spent the past week flopping between one-hundredth and four-hundredths of a cent.

But the propensity of South Koreans, particularly the younger ones, to invest in volatile and risky assets from stocks to cryptocurrencies has worried regulators.

Their earlier enthusiasm had helped put Luna and TerraUSD among the world’s ten largest cryptocurrencies ranked by market cap.

But things fell apart on May 10, when TerraUSD’s 1:1 peg to the dollar was shattered. On Wednesday it traded at around 10 cents.

Unlike most other major stablecoins which are backed by other assets, TerraUSD’s value is derived by complex algorithmic processes, linked to its paired token Luna, which is free floating.

Under the system, one TerraUSD token could be swapped for $1 of Luna, and vice versa, and once swapped the coins would be destroyed.

If TerraUSD fell below $1, traders were incentivised to buy the stablecoin to swap it for $1 worth of Luna, and so reduce the supply of TerraUSD’s and push its price back to $1.

That was the theory, but the market proved the premise wrong.

As the market imploded, hundreds of outraged retail investors flooded social media with tales of woe, with some of them asking Kwon to compensate their losses.

Kwon, last week, announced plans to change the system so TerraUSD will backed by reserves in future, but it is unclear whether this plan is achievable.

There is little the government can do to protect investors as cryptocurrency trading takes place outside its regulatory sphere.

($1 = 1,273.9300 won)

(Reporting by Jihoon Lee and Cynthia Kim; Editing by Alun John and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Analysis-Crypto crash leaves El Salvador with no easy exit from worsening crisis

By Nelson Renteria, Sarah Kinosian and Rodrigo Campos

SAN SALVADOR/NEW YORK (Reuters) – El Salvador’s big bet on bitcoin, which the Central American nation has been buying since September, has soured in recent weeks as a cryptocurrency rout shaved over a third of the value of the government’s holdings, Reuters calculations show.

Under populist President Nayib Bukele, a vocal cheerleader for the currency, El Salvador went all-in on bitcoin, not just becoming the world’s first country to adopt it as a legal tender but also sketching out plans for a volcano-powered crypto mining hub and plans to issue the first sovereign bond linked to the coin.

With global borrowing costs on the rise and a big debt repayment on the horizon, El Salvador has other fiscal headaches than the impact of the currency’s swoon. But the crypto slump has also closed some potential off-ramps from the crisis, including the now-postponed bitcoin bond.

“The government’s financial problems are not because of bitcoin, but they have gotten worse because of bitcoin,” said Ricardo Castaneda, senior economist and country coordinator for El Salvador and Honduras at think tank Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (ICEFI). For the government, he said, “bitcoin ceased to be a solution and has become part of the problem.”

Bitcoin has fallen 45% since El Salvador officially adopted it in early September, and 26% from its May high as crypto assets have been swept up in a risk-off investing environment.

The combined market value of all cryptocurrencies recently fell to $1.2 trillion, less than half of where it was last November, based on data from CoinMarketCap.

El Salvador’s debt stood at $24.4 billion as of December, from $19.8 billion at end-2019, after the Bukele administration allocated millions of dollars to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects over the past couple of years.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the current account deficit for its remittance and external financing-reliant economy will hover near $2 billion through 2025.

But adopting bitcoin set the country at loggerheads with multilateral lenders like the IMF, from which Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya said https://www.reuters.com/article/us-el-salvador-economy-exclusive/exclusive-el-salvador-seeks-imf-funding-sees-golden-opportunity-for-economy-says-finance-minister-idUSKBN2AW1GV last year the government was seeking $1.3 billion.

The fund has recommended that El Salvador ditch bitcoin altogether. Any deal for a credit line would have to address risks including “those related to the adoption of bitcoin as legal tender as well as risks related to economic governance,” an IMF official said on Wednesday.

Ratings agencies have warned bitcoin adoption could facilitate money laundering, and importantly, the bitcoin risk has given bond investors another reason to demand higher returns

As of Wednesday, they were seeking a record-high premium of 2,445 basis points over U.S. Treasuries.

Bukele’s moves to centralize power, from removing all the top judges on the country’s supreme court to muscling through authorization to seek immediate re-election despite constitutional term limits, have helped drive the risk premium higher.

“If there isn’t potential for bitcoin-growth dividends or innovative bitcoin-financing, then the Bukele administration will have to prioritize spending priorities and identify financing options,” according to Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America Fixed Income Strategy at Amherst Pierpont.

Reuters calculations of a $36 million paper loss in bitcoin, enough to make at least some of those coupon payments, is based on Bukele’s tweets and an estimate of prices on the purchase dates. The government has spent some $104.2 million on 2,301 coins now worth just $67.9 million using Wednesday’s volume weighted average price.

The country has to service $329 million in interest due on its international bonds this year as well as $800 million in a bond set to mature in January.

ICEFI’s Castaneda listed financing options including the Central American and Latin American development banks – CABEI and CAF, respectively – as possible patches for financing the $800 million payment due in January. Another option, he said, is to nationalize the country’s pension fund to cover the fiscal deficit – which could be done by transferring the public’s savings to a government account.

A debt restructuring for El Salvador is “inevitable” if the country continues with the “current policy mix,” said Polina Kurdyavko, head of emerging markets at BlueBay Asset Management. “Debt in El Salvador could be sustainable with the right (IMF) program. But they have to act now.”

The country’s finance minister, Zelaya, declined to comment for this story.

Salvadoran bonds trade between 43.5 cents and 34 cents on the dollar except for the January maturity at 75 cents, reflecting cautious optimism that the country could make that payment.

The cost to insure investors against a Salvadoran sovereign default over the next five years on Wednesday hit its highest level since 2020, according to S&P Global data.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, Sarah Kinosian in Mexico City and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Additional reporting by Jorgelina do Rosario in London; Editing by Christian Plumb and Matthew Lewis)

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S.African central bank eyes digital rand to cut cross-border payment costs

By Rachel Savage and Promit Mukherjee

LONDON/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A digital rand in South Africa could cut the high cost of cross-border payments for banks but its introduction is still a few years away, a senior central bank official said.

However, regulation of crypto assets is in the offing and might come into force within nine to 15 months, South African Reserve Bank (SARB) Deputy Governor Kuben Naidoo told Reuters in an interview.

It costs 13% of a transaction to remit money from South Africa to another country, more than double the average of the Group of 20 (G20) leading global economies, according to a 2021 World Bank report.

Sending money to South Africa costs 6.2%.

Some countries are planning to introduce e-versions of traditional currency, known as central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and are studying how the underlying technology could be used.

China’s digital yuan project is the most advanced among large economies, though central banks from the euro zone to the United States are in varying stages of research into CBDCs.

Last year, Nigeria’s central bank introduced an eNaira for use by ordinary citizens.

South Africa has conducted small-scale experiments with a wholesale CBDC and participated in a cross-border pilot with the central banks of Malaysia, Australia and Singapore.

The next stage is for regulators to test the digital rand at a bigger scale and develop rules for its use.

“We’re still learning, we’re still experimenting,” Naidoo said.

Meanwhile, Naidoo said the South African Reserve Bank wants regulation of crypto assets to prevent theft, money laundering and undermining of monetary policy and hopes it will be in place in the next 15 months.

“If crypto assets were to become a very ubiquitous currency, you could undermine the authority of the central bank,” he said.

(Reporting by Rachel Savage and Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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BoE’s Cunliffe warns of more tough times for crypto

LONDON (Reuters) – Investors in crypto currencies should expect more difficult times ahead as tightening financial conditions around the world stoke appetite for safer assets, Bank of England Deputy Governor Jon Cunliffe said on Tuesday.

Asked at a Wall Street Journal conference if rising interest rates would ramp up pressure on crypto currencies, Cunliffe said: “Yes, I think as this process continues, as (quantitative tightening) starts in the U.S. … I think we’ll see a move out of risky assets.”

Cunliffe added that the conflict in Ukraine also had the potential to cause a renewed flight to safer assets.

“When there’s a move out of risky assets, you would expect the most speculative assets to be the ones most affected,” Cunliffe said.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Alistair Smout)

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G7 to discuss crypto-asset regulation, says French central banker

PARIS (Reuters) – The regulation of crypto-assets is likely to be discussed at a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs this week in Germany, French central bank head Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday.

“What happened in the recent past is a wake-up call for the urgent need for global regulation,” Villeroy told an emerging markets conference in Paris, referring to recent turbulence in crypto-asset markets.

“Europe paved the way with MICA (regulatory framework for crypto-assets), we will probably … discuss these issues among many others at the G7 meeting in Germany this week,” he added.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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Cryptoverse: Stablecoins wend wobbly way into the unknown

By Medha Singh, Lisa Pauline Mattackal and Alun John

(Reuters) – Stablecoins, the safe and strait-laced cousins of crypto, are looking distinctly dicey.

Tether, USDC and others lost their prized pegs to the dollar last week in a bout of market mayhem that shook faith in these coins that were designed to sidestep crypto volatility. But was it an isolated outburst, or are they losing their soul?

Major stablecoins swung between roughly $0.95 and $1.02 last week, according to data provider Coinmarketcap, after having maintained their peg to within a cent previously in 2022.

It’s not the first time they’ve hit the wobbles, though.

Both Tether and USDC – the two largest – have experienced less publicised bouts of volatility in previous years, at times rising to as much as $1.01 in 2021 and falling to around 97 cents in 2020, according to Coinmarketcap.

Last week was nonetheless the most volatile in the history of this class of cryptocurrency, according to Morgan Stanley.

“Stablecoins are the closest that we’ll get in the crypto space to a systemically important asset and any impact on the value of one or several stablecoins is liable to impact the system as a whole,” said Hagen Rooke, a financial regulation partner at law firm Reed Smith in Singapore.

“As things stand, stablecoins are very lightly regulated, which is strange because if you break down at how a centralised stablecoin works, it is basically the same as a bank deposit.”

Stablecoins are pegged to the value of mainstream assets such as the dollar to boost confidence, and are the main medium for moving funds between cryptocurrencies or into regular cash.

“The economy is completely shifting to being internet-based and always on, but the financial system isn’t. So you need a stablecoin to have the dollars that can move at the speed of the economy, of the fastest parts of the economy,” said Chad Cascarilla, CEO of Paxos, a leading stablecoin.

The market turmoil last week was triggered by the spectacular collapse of TerraUSD, an outlier because its peg to the dollar was supposed to be maintained by a complex algorithmically driven mechanism rather than by reserves of dollars or other assets, as is typical for stablecoins.

TerraUSD’s woes contributed to a slide in crypto markets that saw over $357 billion or 21.7% of digital asset market capitalization wiped out week-on-week, according to research from crypto exchange Kraken.

Yet there may be winners and losers from such upheaval, even among stablecoins.

Tether’s market value has declined to $75.6 billion from $83 billion last Monday, before the dollar decoupling, while that of USDC has climbed to $51 billion from $48 billion, according to Coinmarketcap.

“There’s more confidence with USDC because of the likes of the institutions that are holding USDC reserves for them, like BlackRock for example,” said Marcus Sotiriou, analyst at UK-based digital asset broker GlobalBlock.

Meanwhile Rooke and others see more regulation on the way.

“Stablecoins are low-hanging fruit, and I think we’re going to see some policy for them,” said Michelle Bond, CEO of the Association for Digital Asset Markets.

“There are a number of different issues – what are the permissible reserves? Who can issue a stablecoin? How should an issuer and the reserved be audited? What kind of disclosures are made to consumers?”

(Reporting by Medha Singh, Lisa Pauline Mattackal and Alun John; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Nomura aims to nearly double core pretax income in 3 years

By Makiko Yamazaki

TOKYO (Reuters) – Nomura Holdings Inc said it is targeting an up to 90% jump in core pretax income in three years as Japan’s biggest brokerage and investment bank plans to beef up advisory services in pursuit of revenue less vulnerable to market swings.

“We will work to expand businesses with stable revenue amid extremely high market volatility,” Chief Executive Kentaro Okuda told a meeting with investors on Tuesday.

Setting out guidance in a mid-term presentation, Nomura said it would aim for annual pretax income of 350 billion yen to 390 billion yen ($2.7 billion to $3.0 billion) for its three core divisions in the year to March-end 2025.

That would compare with the 205.2 billion yen the three divisions posted for the year through March 2022.

The averages of estimates from three analysts surveyed by Refinitiv put Nomura’s company-wide pretax profit at 286.1 billion yen in the year ending March 2025 and 324.4 billion yen in the following year.

Enhancing stable revenue sources has been critical for Nomura, which has had a troubled history in attempts to expand globally with occasional major financial hits, including a $2.9 billion loss from the collapse of U.S. investment fund Archegos.

One of its growth drivers is the advisory business in global investment banking, particularly for sustainability-related deals driven by Nomura Greentech, a merger-and-acquisition advisor in clean technology. Nomura hopes to beef up advisory revenue by more than 50% over the next three years.

“We are now steering our business to focus on ESG,” Okuda said at a subsequent news conference, referring to environmental, social and governance issues.

It also plans to boost wealth management businesses in Asia.

NEW DIGITAL ASSET COMPANY

Nomura also said it will create a digital asset company this year allowing institutional investors to trade products linked to cryptocurrencies, stablecoins, decentralized finance and non-fungible tokens.

It said it wants to build a platform that can compete with crypto-native firms and operate across the crypto industry offering market-making for digital assets, providing investors with yield-generating crypto products and quantitative trading strategies, as well as operating a venture capital arm.

It will add 100 employees by 2024.

Global banks have been cautiously moving into crypto for several years, some building it within existing operations and others setting up new businesses.

Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Ltd in 2020 launched a standalone cryptocurrency trading platform offering corporate investors and accredited investors crypto trading services for several digital assets.

($1 = 128.9100 yen)

(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Additional reporting by John Alun and Anshuman Daga; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christopher Cushing)