As investors and technologists worry that the U.S. is falling behind in the race for dominance in blockchain, Beijing is trying to get ahead.
“In a bear market for crypto we make friends; in a bull market we make money,” said Rae Deng, founding partner of Du Capital, a crypto investment firm based in Singapore.
Deng said at CNBC’s East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China she sees another flourishing crypto scene coming, with more Chinese investment striding to the market after Beijing suddenly announced plans to embrace blockchain technology.
“China is eyeing for a thorough digital migration,” she said. “The policy signal will definitely bring a lot of incremental capital into the market.”
She argued that Beijing’s public support will drive “traditional money” – corporate investment in Chinese traditional sectors — to become a big player. These investors previously shied away from the crypto market due to its sensitive status. Initial coin offerings (ICO) have been banned in China since 2017.
“The magnitude and appetite of the traditional money will definitely change the status quo of the crypto community,” she added. “That’s a total game changer.”
China’s blockchain opportunity
In late October, the global crypto market surged after Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country should “seize the opportunity” blockchain technology presents.
The price of bitcoin briefly soared above $10,000 following Xi’s remarks. That pop was mirrored by similar spikes in the prices of more than a hundred Chinese stocks with blockchain exposure as well as a bunch of other cryptocurrencies.
While Beijing’s unexpected move came after Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency project in June, the policy change did not happen overnight, according Edith Yeung, managing partner at Proof of Capital, a blockchain-focused venture capital fund.
“They have been working on and studying this for the last 5 years so this is not just ‘because of Libra therefore we do this’,” Yeung told CNBC.
China is moving full speed ahead while Facebook defends the cryptocurrency project against skeptical regulators. The social media giant has also seen many key payment partners, including Mastercard, Stripe, Visa, PayPal and eBay, pull out of the project.
Industry experts predict that China could start rolling out its state-backed digital currency as early as the next two to three months. Government grants have been set up to help blockchain projects. For example, Guangzhou’s city government launched a 1 billion yuan (about $140 million) subsidy fund to support development of the blockchain industry.
What’s the rush?
China’s crypto initiatives are strategically significant, according to Xiao Wunan, executive vice-chairman of the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation (APECF).
“Blockchain is the technology field that China started to develop almost at the same time as other countries in the world,” said Xiao, who used to work in the Chinese government. “It’s hard for China to claim technological supremacy on fields like Internet Plus [China’s initiative on information technology] or artificial intelligence, but the blockchain technology would be a perfect fit for China’s technological dominance.”
“It’s called ‘corner overtaking’ strategy in Chinese,” Xiao told CNBC in Mandarin, indicating that the practice could be risky yet effective.
To be sure, China’s digital currency might be very different from bitcoin or other tokens, which emphasize anonymity and decentralization. A state-issued digital currency would help the Chinese government fight issues like counterfeiting and product safety, but it also raises privacy concerns.
Internationalization of the yuan
First, a state-backed digital coin could “further facilitate the internationalization of yuan,” Du Capital’s Deng said.
“It could run in parallel with the SWIFT [Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications] system and also the One Belt One Road initiative could be a carrier of that,” said Deng.
A digital currency would also be able to tap into China’s massive, and largely cashless, payments system.
“WeChat Pay has one billion transactions a day and footprints in 60 countries,” Deng told CNBC. “China has the digital payment infrastructure of that scale and also domestically as China is moving towards a cashless society. It only makes sense for the central bank to adapt to that digital revolution reality.”
China is the world’s largest e-commerce market, accounting for more than 50% of global transactions, according to a July report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. In 2018, third-party mobile payment transaction volume hit 190.5 trillion yuan, according to China-based analytics firm iResearch. That figure amounts to about $28.78 trillion, based off the 2018 average exchange rate from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Safer food and fewer counterfeits
A state-backed digital currency could give regulators greater abilities to track money flows and product logistics within that massive e-commerce market. That would better equip them to tackle issues like counterfeit goods and product safety concerns, APECF’s Xiao explained.
“The prime application would be in the agriculture sector because food security is one of the most crucial issues in China,” said Xiao. “Regulators would be able to track and identify origins of products. Also, if we apply the blockchain technology to Chinese e-commerce site, it would be much easier to address fake goods issues.”
His comments come as China grapples with skyrocketing pork prices as African swine fever kills millions of hogs.
“Similarly, it would be important to the healthcare sector too, as China may soon allow entry of Indian generic medicines in the country,” he added. “Traceability is best cure for fake medicine.”
Experts also see potential for a state-backed digital currency in China’s business-to-business (B2B) market. Currently, the country’s payment leaders – WeChat Pay and Alipay – focus on person-to-person or small payments, with little B2B exposure.
“Blockchains have a huge potential to reduce cycle time in business transactions,” said Paul Brody, head of blockchain at Ernst & Young.
That B2B e-commerce market totaled 20.5 trillion yuan ($3.07 trillion) in 2017, according to statistics site China Internet Watch.
“Adding B2B payment into the blockchain transaction in a strong global currency would have a big impact in accelerating B2B [activities],” Brody told CNBC. “You could have the first Chinese B2B payment infrastructure that could be very, very large.”
Concerns about fraud and a cryptobubble
But as cash floods into the latest crypto boom, concerns about fast-rising valuations and potential fraud also crop up.
“I hope we will avoid repeating some of the mistakes here in China that happened in the rest of the world,” said Brody.
Cryptocurrencies hit staggering highs toward the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, only to plunge to a fraction of those levels. Bitcoin has recently been seen trading around $8,000, far below its all-time high of nearly $20,000 in late 2017.
“Seventy-five percent of the companies in the [previous] ICO boom never produced any product. Most of them never got auditors and that’s why we got a lot of the fraud,” he told CNBC.
Valuations of Chinese crypto start-ups and projects are surging, making it harder for potential investors to negotiate.
“Some of the companies we spoke to immediately raised their valuations by more than 50% shortly after Xi’s speech,” Du Capital’s Deng said. “It has become harder for us to get deals at reasonable valuations because competition is heated.”
“I think there will be bubbles for sure,” she added.
wireless headphones, earbuds, photo manager
What to buy for the frequent-flying road warrior who sees it all in their travels? Here are creative gadgets that can make upcoming 2020 travel that much more comfortable.
Wireless earphones: Nuheara’s IQbuds Boost
Nuheara IQbuds Boost
Courtesy of Nuheara.
Eliminate the endless noise pollution of airports, planes, trains and city life with these wireless earphones. The Nuheara IQbuds Boost drown out sound without the added bulk of larger noise-canceling headphone models. They also sync via Bluetooth to enabled devices to enjoy up to eight hours of music, audiobooks or even white noise, with improved sound quality that can be customized to different environments. Those with reduced hearing will especially find the sound capabilities to be exceptional.
Summary: A travel-friendly pair of noise-reducing earbuds with solid audio quality
Portable charger: myCharge Hub Turbo
myCharge Hub Turbo portable charger.
Courtesy of myCharge
No one likes stressing over a low-power signal on their smartphone or tablet, but that’s less of a worry when packing the myCharge Hub Turbo 10,050 mAh portable charger. This is the brand’s first charger that features built-in lightning and USB-C cables for the fastest recharge. You can charge two devices directly and a third using the USB port on the side. If Murphy’s Law teaches us anything, it’s that when you need power the most, you’re least likely to have it — which is why this all-in-one portable charger can easily save the day.
Summary: A must-have power charger to quickly recharge mobile devices
Trackable charger: Nomad PowerPack
Courtesy of Nomad
If you’re looking for a portable power device — but you’re known to misplace things easily — then Nomad’s trackable PowerPack fits the bill. It can be synced via Bluetooth to Tile, an app-based tracking device that can locate everything from your wallet to your phone. This easy-to-grip power bank means it won’t slide out of your pocket or briefcase when traveling, and it delivers a whopping 9,000 mAh of power through three power ports: two USB-C ports and one USB-A port.
Summary: A compact battery pack for those with a history of losing their tech devices
Laptop charger: Mobile Edge Core Power
Mobile Edge Core Power laptop charger.
Courtesy of Mobile Edge
What is a traveler to do when the laptop battery is at the bottom of the power barrel, and there is nary an outlet in sight? Most power devices are not strong enough to juice a laptop, but the Mobile Edge Core Power laptop charger does the trick. With an AC outlet (plus numerous USB ports), it comes with an incredible 27,000 mAh capacity and can charge a laptop in about four hours.
Summary: A reliable battery for laptop users who are away from power outlets for hours at a time
Keyless lock: Friday Smart Lock
Friday Smart Lock.
Courtesy of Friday Home
The Friday Smart Lock delivers security and accessibility to your home at the touch of a mobile button. This retrofit lock allows for keyless entry via Siri or the smartphone app. Use it to allow friends to have access to your home or to let neighbors bring packages or mail inside. It’s also great for those who need help with plants or pets while away. The battery-charged device comes in multiple colors to match any style; it also keeps an electronic log of every time it is used. And, it’s easy to attach; help comes in the form of a video app, but the universal base plate makes it a cinch to install.
Summary: A convenient keyless entry system to grant access to your home via your phone
External hard drive: My Passport from Western Digital
My Passport by Western Digital.
Courtesy of Western Digital
When it comes to storing password-protected and encrypted data on a hard drive, the 5TB My Passport Portable external hard drive from Western Digital offers a lightweight solution that can easily slide into a briefcase or purse pocket. Add to that its USB 2.0 compatibility and rugged design, and you have a winner when it comes to protecting data while on the go. This is especially useful for travelers who manage sensitive information or those who frequently power up in crowded airports or office buildings. This is the brand’s slimmest 5TG storage device yet.
Summary: A portable, palm-sized device to back up and secure your data wherever you go
Price: $150 (PC version) or $160 (Mac version)
Photo manager: ibi Smart Photo Manager from SanDisk
ibi Smart Phone Manager by SanDisk.
Courtesy of Western Digital
Frequent travelers love to capture their experiences via photo, but there are limits to online and cloud storage space. Sandisk’s new ibi Smart Photo Manager tackles that problem, while also collecting all your photos and videos into one convenient place. The app stores your photos while you’re on the road (instead of you having to download them to a computer, for example), and once you’re home, ibi backs up whichever devices, social media platforms and cloud accounts you’ve synced with it. It’s got enough capacity to store more than 250,000 photos or 100 hours of video. The app also allows people to quickly edit photos on their phones and add friend and family groups for easy sharing.
Summary: A sizable device that provides peace of mind and organization to snap-happy travelers
Price: $130 (1 TB version)
RBI did the ‘wrong thing’ by not cutting rates, Mark Mobius says
Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group.
Anjali Sundara | CNBC
India’s central bank was wrong to keep its benchmark interest rates unchanged on Thursday, according to veteran emerging markets investor Mark Mobius.
The Reserve Bank of India surprised markets by keeping its repo rate — the rate at which it lends to other banks — unchanged at 5.15%. Prior to the decision, economists predicted a sixth rate cut from the central bank amid a notable slowdown in the Indian economy.
“I think they did the wrong thing,” Mobius, who is founding partner at Mobius Capital Partners, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Friday about the RBI. “I think they were reacting to the short-term situation with inflation, which is mainly caused by food prices, and, specifically, onion prices.”
In October, India’s annual retail inflation rose to 4.62% on the back of higher food prices, Reuters reported. That was a tick above the RBI’s medium-term target of 4%.
“They should have lowered rates,” Mobius said, adding it could improve business confidence in the country and may help to solve some of the debt problems in India’s financial services sector. He explained that the country is “going through a big adjustment right now because of the reforms that have taken place, particularly on the taxation side,” referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark Goods and Services Tax reforms.
The government has struggled to collect sufficient revenue since its new tax schemes went into effect in mid-2017. Recent reports said the GST structure is set to be reviewed.
“This is an adjustment that people have to be accustomed to and it takes time. But next year, I believe that this will do well — they would have made this adjustment and realize the reforms are having an impact,” Mobius said, adding he remains bullish on India. Many micro, small and medium-sized businesses have struggled as a result of the new value-added taxes.
The central bank had already cut the repo rate by 135 basis points this year to stem the economic slowdown. Last week, India reported its economy grew at the slowest pace since 2013.
That made Thursday’s move “more than surprising,” according to Jehangir Aziz, chief emerging markets economist at J.P. Morgan. “I thought it was very puzzling.” Aziz explained on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that since monetary policy is forward-looking, the RBI’s decision was confusing in terms of the “framework within which they are operating.”
For its part, the RBI said in its policy statement it felt appropriate to pause at this stage in light of the current growth-inflation dynamics.
Aziz said apart from inflation concerns, another reason that could explain the central bank’s decision Thursday is a worry over India’s growing fiscal deficit.
“I think the other reason could be, which they did not state, is that they are concerned about what happens to the fiscal deficit outturn,” he said, adding, “there’s a possibility that in February, when the (new) budget comes out, the outturn could be much worse than what people are thinking.”
The budgeted fiscal deficit target at the moment is 3.3% of GDP and if it widens too much, then investor confidence could be affected. India surprised with a $20 billion fiscal stimulus package in September, which mostly focused on a corporate tax cut that analysts agree makes the country more competitive. More fiscal measures are expected next year.
Aziz, however, pointed out that the corporate tax cut would not help to shift demand in the near term. Instead, if India had reduced its GST rates, there would have been an immediate impact on consumer demand, he said.
“There was a way in which they could have better utilized the space,” Aziz said. “Unfortunately, they did not. So, we really have to wait and see whether truly in the medium term, this corporate tax cut actually helps India or not.”
Police chief calls for peace ahead of march
Pro-democracy protesters participate in a “5 Demands” mass rally on December 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.
Anthony Kwan | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Hong Kong’s police chief has urged citizens to demonstrate peacefully ahead of what is expected to be a large-scale pro-democracy march on Sunday, an event planned amid a lull in violence in the Chinese-ruled city.
Police on Thursday gave a rare green light to the demonstration, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, the group that called the million-strong marches in the summer. Sunday’s march is a key gauge of the pro-democracy movement’s support following its sweeping victory in local elections.
Speaking to reporters before departing for a “courtesy visit” to Beijing, newly-installed police commissioner Chris Tang urged Hong Kongers to set a global example.
“We hope our citizens can show the whole world (that) Hong Kong people are capable of holding a large scale rally in an orderly and peaceful manner,” he said. “We urge the organizer to assist the police on maintaining the order.”
Tang was traveling to meet with senior officials from the ministry of public security in Beijing and is expected to return to Hong Kong on Sunday.
The unrest in Hong Kong is the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
The former British colony has been wracked by six months of pro-democracy protests sparked by a now withdrawn China extradition bill and which have broadened into calls for greater democratic freedoms.
Escalating violence last month saw a dramatic university siege that pitted protesters against the police.
Despite the increasingly violent tactics adopted by some protesters, pro-democracy candidates achieved record gains in the Nov. 24 local elections, winning almost 90 percent of the seats after the highest ever voter turnout since local polls began in 1999.
Hong Kong has enjoyed a period of relative calm since, a state the new police chief said he hoped could be maintained.
“In the last two weeks the city was relatively peaceful,” he noted, “When the citizens have a chance to take a breather, we hope the violent people will really stop engaging in illegal activities.”
Later on Friday, protesters plan a smaller rally against police use of tear gas, which they say is excessive and harming innocent bystanders. The police has said its use of force has been restrained.
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