Is this a reinvention of Bitcoin or just another passing phase?

Over the past few weeks there has been something of a rave from the grave going on in financial markets. If we look at the news then maybe John Lennon was partly right with his “About a lucky man who made the grade” if that man or indeed woman is a holder of Bitcoin. This is how @fastFT has reported it.

The price of bitcoin soared to its highest level since January 2018, as the cryptocurrency’s recent rally shows little signs of fizzling out. In Asian trading hours on Wednesday, the price of bitcoin traded on the Bitstamp exchange rose as much as 10 per cent to as high as $12,935.58, putting the digital currency on track for its biggest one-day jump in more than a month. Bitcoin’s price pulled back to just under $12,600 in afternoon trading.

So it is back at least for now and the June futures contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is doing better than that because it is at US $12,990 as I type this and peaked at US $13,172.5 overnight. If we look back we see that it did not pass US $4000 until latish in March and US $6000 on the 9th of May. If we return to @fastFT we are told this.

Bitcoin’s value has now jumped for the last eight trading sessions in a row, bringing its overall return for the year to 250 per cent. Still, the digital currency remains some way below its peak of more than $19,000 reached at the end of 2017.

The current position provokes two thoughts. Firstly as a pure chart it reminds me of the “bowl theory” taught to me some years back by a colleague. It is not complex in that you simply draw a bowl shape around such a rise and it predicts that when any fall breaks the line you will see a sharp drop which is both fast and large. Putting it another way the rally needs to keep accelerating to survive as the bowl curve gets steeper.

On the other side of the coin the mention of the US $19,000 peak reminds me of this from the 11th of December 2017.

Bitcoin is in the “mania” phase, with some people even borrowing money to get in on the action, regulator Joseph Borg said. “We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin. … People do credit cards, equity lines,” he said. Bitcoin has been soaring all year, starting out at $1,000 and rocketing above $19,000 on the Coinbase exchange last week. ( CNBC )

That “madness of crowds” phase when people borrowed to get in on the previous rise, which sadly was the time in fact to get out.

What has driven this?

One factor has been the turn in expectations for monetary policy around the world. We have seen some actual interest-rate cuts by the Reserve Banks of India, Australia and New Zealand as well as hints from the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank or ECB. The general expectation for the latter has moved to more QE being announced in September as well as a deposit rate cut. The latter may be more significant here because whilst only a small change of 0.1% is expected it will take it further into negative territory. That would be no surprise for us on here as we have been expecting another phase in the “war on cash” but I think the acceleration in Bitcoin has been affected by that view spreading. After all if we look back many “ECB Watchers” were telling us interest-rates would rise in 2019.

Whilst Bitcoin is priced in US Dollars and the explicit effect on it will be the fall in the US Treasury ten-year yield to 2% I also think that the emergence of this has had a strong impact.

GERMAN 10-YEAR BOND YIELD FALLS TO -0.330%, NEW RECORD LOW ( @DeltaOne)

For that we had to look all the way back to yesterday.

Oh and there is an odd link here because the countries which have cut interest-rates recently are the ones doing best in the cricket world cup.

The Libra Factor

The environment changed with this announcement from Facebook.

The mission for Libra is a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people. Libra is made up of three parts that will work together to create a more inclusive financial system:

  1. It is built on a secure, scalable, and reliable blockchain;
  2. It is backed by a reserve of assets designed to give it intrinsic value;
  3. It is governed by the independent Libra Association tasked with evolving the ecosystem.

This shook things up in two main ways. Firstly in terms of psychology and awareness. Secondly that a big player in the online world was giving things a push. Of course, Facebook is not what it was ( if you have never seen the millennial job interview where she defines it as something her parents look at I recommend that you do….), but nonetheless it remains a significant player.

Back to the central banks

They have been quickly on the Libra case as this from Reuters highlights.

“A wider use of new types of crypto-assets for retail payment purposes would warrant close scrutiny by authorities to ensure that they are subject to high standards of regulation,” Quarles said ahead of a summit of Group of 20 countries in Japan this week.

Governor Carney of the Bank of England raised the topic at his Mansion House speech last week also.

As designed, Libra may substantially improve financial inclusion and dramatically lower the costs of
domestic and cross border payments.The Bank of England approaches Libra with an open mind but not an open door.

Much of that is public relations flim flam as a genuinely successful cryptocurrency would be like Kryptonite is to Superman for central banks. Not only would it challenge their monopoly over money it would further challenge the business model of “the precious” and frankly there is not much of it left as it is.

So they will be sitting in an ivory tower version of Mount Doom plotting to stop any version of their ring of power being thrown into the fire.

Comment

As we observe the situation we can learn a few lessons. For example I have seen some arguing that Bitcoin is a safe haven but that is only true on the rallies it has seen. In another form that relates to one of the functions of money which is to be a store of value. That is hard to argue if we look at the money chart below.

There are clear phases where it has destroyed value.

If we move to another function which is medium of exchange then the Libra plan offers clear hope for the future. Should Facebook push this then it could easily break new ground and get the cryptocurrency world into the ordinary persons life. Maybe it will help with it being a unit of account which is the area where most ground needs to be made.

So the outlook has brightened but there are two warning signs. Firstly the chart pattern and the bowl theory logic which suggests that the only way is not up. Next is the issue of past revolutions. For example the Victorians had a great success with railways leading to all sorts of things including proper timekeeping across the UK. But it is also true that many of the companies involved went bust.

The War on Cash is exposed by yet more banking sector money laundering

Some days events almost write an update for me and so without further ado let me hand you over to a letter from the President of the ECB Mario Draghi to the Spanish MEP Ms Paloma López Bermejo.

The Governing Council of the ECB has decided to stop issuing the €500 banknote and to exclude it from the
Europa banknote series , amid concerns that this denomination could facilitate illicit activities. As of 27
January 2019, 17 of the 19 national central banks in the euro area no longer issue €500 banknotes.

As you will see in a moment if “could facilitate illicit activities” was applied consistently then Mario would be closing down bank after bank and maybe all of them. Yet we find that when we come to “the precious” that the goalposts are on wheels as they are so mobile. Oh and you may not be surprised to see which two central banks are dragging their feet.

To ensure a smooth transition and for logistical reasons, the Deutsche Bundesbank and the Oesterreichische
Nationalbank requested the right to continue issuing the notes until 26 April 2019.

I am not quite sure where Mario is going with this bit as actual withdrawal of the notes would collapse confidence in his currency.

In order to maintain public trust in euro banknotes, existing €500 banknotes will remain legal tender and can
continue to be used as a means of payment and store of value. They will also retain their value; because it
will remain possible to exchange them at the national central banks of the Eurosystem for an unlimited period
of time.

Swedbank and money laundering

This has been a fast-moving story so let us dip into Reuters from only yesterday,

Money laundering allegations against Swedbank have sparked fears that the largest lender in the Baltic region will become embroiled in a scandal engulfing rival Danske Bank, and face the threat of lawsuits, fines and other sanctions.

Swedbank Chief Executive Birgitte Bonessen said she was doing everything she could to handle the situation, adding that nobody at the bank had been charged with committing a crime.

That has moved on already as we move to @LiveSquawk.

Trading In Shares In Swedbank Halted……….Swedbank Shares Trade Halt To Remain Until Notice From AGM…….Swedbank Says Board Has Dismissed CEO Bonnesen, Started Search For Permanent Replacement

As you can see this escalated quickly and is still doing so as I type this. As to Ms. Bonnesen we see that not only are her fingers all over this but it looks like she was promoted due to her “success” in what has turned out to be money laundering on an industrial scale. Back to Reuters.

“Swedbank believes that it has been truthful and accurate in its communications with all government authorities,” said Bonnesen who oversaw the bank’s anti-money laundering policy between 2009 and 2011 before heading its Baltic operations.

As to the details of what took place there is this.

Regulators in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began a joint investigation into Swedbank after SVT in February reported allegations that at least 40 billion Swedish crowns ($4.3 billion) in suspicious transactions took place between Swedbank and Danske Bank’s Baltic accounts.

If we look at the share price we can put a time on this as the 210.8 Krona on the 19th of February was replaced by 165.1 on the 21st. It was 148.8 this morning before trading was halted.

Moving to the specific problems we see this. Johannes Borgen pointed out yesterday evening that a familiar theme of “higher and higher baby” was at play.

“Today’s initiated activity [.. refers to unlawful disclosure of inside information and aggravated swindling.” On top of the reported 135bn cash flows for high risk non resident clients in the Baltics.

Also one of the flags for this sort of thing are PEPs or Politically Exposed Persons where banks have or rather should have very strict rules for obvious reasons and yet there was this. Johannes again in the next two quotes.

SVT reported that ex-Ukraine boss Yanukovych used a Swed Baltic account to transfer money out of Ukraine in 2011 ($4m…) How on earth can that not raise a GIGANTIC red flag ??? Seriously ???? When I see all the admin nightmare that comes with being a PEP…

For those unaware all such clients are only approved after due dilligence although we are supposed to believe that someone failed to spot the new client was the President of the Ukraine. Also if we switch to the share price plunge I looked at above apparently then some being ahead of the game is just find.

But really the absolute TOP story is this: reportedly (Dagens Nyheter) the bank told its 15 largest shareholders about the SVT broadcast on AML… two days ahead !! And now the bank says it was not insider information 🤣🤣

Those having something of a sense of deja vu about all this might be thinking of February 19th last year.

The Financial and Capital Markets Commission (FCMC) has imposed a moratorium on ABLV Bank, following a request by the European Central Bank (ECB). This means that temporarily, and until further notice, a prohibition of all payments by ABLV Bank on its financial liabilities has been imposed, and is now in effect.

Another money laundering problem and yet again one where the US authorities opened up the can of worms. Also the problems went as high as the central bank itself.

Latvian authorities prepared to explain the detention of ECB Governing Council member Ilmars Rimsevics by the anti-graft bureau in a weekend of activity culminating in the early-Monday imposition of a payment moratorium on the nation’s third-largest bank.

Comment

There are a lot of strands which collide here but the “war on cash” theme is rammed home by the fact that the ECB is on its case as it “could” cause illicit activity whereas banks that have done so get overlooked for quite some time. Care is needed as such activity crosses borders by definition and many of the activities highlighted above took place before the ECB was fully in charge as the Baltic countries joined the Euro more recently. But there is supposed to be an accession programme which should be including due diligence on banking activities. After all in the case of Latvia this ended up exceeding its annual economic output or GDP! Also it is the US authorities rather than the European ones who start the policing ball rolling.

Each saga involves misrepresentation and obfuscation from the directors of the bank or banks involved followed by ever larger numbers.

Moving onto happier news for the ECB this morning’s money supply release provided a bit of relief.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 6.6% in February from 6.2% in January.

Which led straight to this as there was a minor change in M2 but essentially M1 flowed into this.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 4.3% in February 2019 from 3.8% in January.

So things did not get worse and in effect in narrow money terms we went back to December. Perhaps the better numbers from France I looked at on Tuesday helped. Thus we can expect Euro area economic growth to be slow but for there to be some overall.

The Investing Channel

What next for the War on Cash?

Yesterday we took a look at a country which seems to be happy heading for a post cash era. Sweden has seen nearly a halving of cash use in the past decade and the size of the change would be even larger if we factored in inflation and did the calculation in real terms. This is particularly significant as we remind ourselves that Sweden already has negative interest-rates, and as I pointed out yesterday there are roads ahead where it would cut them further from the current -0.5%. The reason why cash is an issue for negative interest-rates is that it offers 0%, and so there must be a “tipping point” where interest-rates go so negative that bank deposits switch to cash in enough size to create a bank run. Such a prospect has created terror in central banking halls and boardrooms and has been the main barrier to interest-rates being cut even lower than they have. In my own country the Bank of England was so terrified of the impact of lower interest-rates on the “precious” that it claimed 0.5% was a “lower bound”, even when other countries were below it. That had a different reason ( their creaking antiquated IT systems could not cope with 0%) but told us of their primary response function.

Cash in the USA

The Financial Times has taken a look at this and seems upset at the result.

Americans can’t quit cash

If we switch to the actual research which was undertaken by  the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Richmond, and San Francisco we see the following.

In October 2017, U.S. consumers each made on average 41.0 payments for the month . Thus, on average, an adult consumer made 1.3 payments per day. Notably, an average
of 40.2 percent of consumers per day reported making zero payments. Also in October 2017, U.S. consumers each made on average $3,418 worth of payments for
the month.

So after finding out how much as well as how often? We get to see via what method.

In October 2017, consumers paid mostly with cash (30.3 percent of payments), debit cards (26.2 percent), and credit cards (21.0 percent). These instruments accounted for three-quarters of the number of payments, but only about 40 percent of the total value of payments, because they tend to be used more for smaller-value payments. In contrast,
electronic payments accounted for 30.3 percent of the value of total payments but only 8.9 percent of the number
of payments. Checks, at 17.7 percent, continued to account for a relatively high percentage of the value of
payments.

As you can see cash remains king (queen) in volume terms but has faded in value terms. The bit that sticks out to me is the amount still accounted for by Checks ( cheques) as I am struggling to think of the last time that I used one. Also the comments section provides a reason as to why cash remains in use for small payments on such a large-scale in the US.

Americans carry cash for smaller transactions partly because their unstinting devotion to the $1 bill means it is much lighter.  I can carry round a bunch of 1s and 5s for coffee in the day at a fraction of the weight of the euros or pounds that would do the similar job in Europe. ( Saughton)

For those unaware UK coins are fairly heavy and the £1 and £2 coins get more use than you might expect as the Bank of England has had its struggles with getting £5 notes into general circulation. So suit and trouser pockets can take a bit of a pasting. If we continue in the same vein even the convenience of digital payments faces an apparent challenge.

Those of us still paying cash are standing in lines behind phonsters fumbling with their payment app. When it looks faster and easier I’ll switch. ( Proclone )

That may be because it does not work well.

The other main reason the US lags on electronic purchases is because the cashless infrastructure is atrocious. ( Saughton)

Also that it may be businesses rather than consumers which prefer cash.

Mom and pop stores and restaurants may require cash for any transaction, and almost all do for purchases under $10. Cheques for larger payments are also due to vendor requirement. That dynamic would be worth comparing to other markets instead of implying consumer preference. ( Pharmacy )

What about the Euro area?

I noted that the replies pointed out the way that cash remains prevalent in Germany (historical), Belgium ( tax-avoidance) and Austria ( see Germany) so let us take a look. From the European Central Bank or ECB.

The survey results show that in 2016 cash was the dominant payment instrument at POS. In terms of number, 79% of all transactions were carried out using cash,
amounting to 54% of the total value of all payments. Cards were the second most frequently used payment instrument at POS; 19% of all transactions were settled using a payment card. In terms of value, this amounts to 39% of the total value paid at POS. ( POS = Point Of Sale )

I doubt using geography as a method of analysis will surprise you much.

In terms of number of transactions, cash was most used in the southern euro area countries, as well as in Germany, Austria and Slovenia, where 80% or more of POS transactions were conducted with cash……… In
terms of value, the share of cash was highest in Greece, Cyprus and Malta (above 70%), while it was lowest in the Benelux countries, Estonia, France and Finland (at,
or below, 33%).

The ECB thinks it tells us this.

This seems to challenge the perception that
cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment.

It then goes further.

The study confirms that cash is not only used as a means of payment, but also as a store of value, with almost a quarter of consumers keeping some cash at home as a
precautionary reserve. It also shows that more people than often thought use high denomination banknotes; almost 20% of respondents reported having a €200 or
€500 banknote in their possession in the year before the survey was carried out.

This means that the ECB will find itself in opposition to more than a few of its population soon.

 It has decided to permanently stop producing the €500 banknote and to exclude it from the Europa series, taking into account concerns that this banknote could facilitate illicit activities. The issuance of the €500 will be stopped around the end of 2018, when the €100 and €200 banknotes of the Europa series are planned to be introduced,

 

Comment

Let us consider the relationship between the use of cash and financial crime. You may note that the ECB statement uses the word “could”. That as I pointed out back on the 5th of May 2016 is because the German Bundesbank thinks this.

There is scant concrete information on the extent to which cash is being used to facilitate illicit activity……… the volume of notes devoted to such transactions is unknown and would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to estimate.

So the ECB seems to be basing its policy on the rhetoric of Kenneth Rogoff who in a not entirely unrelated coincidence thinks that central banks will have to go even further into negative interest-rates next time around. Our Ken has been rather quite recently on the subject of cash equals crime. This may be because if we look above we see that Estonia has moved away from cash both relatively and absolutely and yet you will have had to have spent 2018 under a stone to have missed this.

Danske Bank Estonia has been revealed as the hub of a $234bn money laundering scheme involving Russian and Eastern European customers. ( Frances Coppola)

Perhaps the authorities were too busy checking on the 500 Euro notes and missed a crime that would have taken four of out five of the total Euro area circulation. Priorities eh?

There are levels I think where this will be come more urgent. I have suggested before that I think that around -2% would be the level where people might move away from banks on a larger scale. So far in terms of headline official rates the lowest is the -0.75% of Switzerland. Of course another problem area would be created if we saw bank bailins on any scale which may be a reason why so many bank share prices have struggled.

Me on Core Finance TV

 

 

 

How easily could the promises of an interest-rate rise from the Riksbank turn into another cut?

Today brings us to the country which on one measure has dipped into the world of negative interest-rates more than anyone else. This is the world of the Riksbank of Sweden which has this interest-rate on deposits with it.

The standing deposit facility means that the counterparty may have a positive balance on its account in RIX at the end of the day. The counterparty then receives interest calculated as the repo rate minus 0.75 percentage points. If this entails a negative interest rate, the counterparty pays interest to the Riksbank.

This is because the headline Repo rate is -0.5% meaning that the standing deposit facility is currently -1.25%.

For some time now, partly because as we will come to in a minute negative interest-rates have proved to be much longer lasting than promised or in official language been temporary, we have looked at the impact of this in cash and its availability. That has been in the news this week.

As cash use is declining rapidly, it is important that the Riksdag adopt a position on the issue of what constitutes legal tender in Sweden and its connection to the Swedish krona as a currency. Any legislation should be as technology-neutral as possible in order to also be applicable to any future means of payment issued by the Riksbank. ( Riksbank)

Sweden is a country which is in the van of those using electronic means of payment and if we look at the official figures the amount of money ( notes & coins) in circulation has been falling, at times sharply. The amount was 88 billion Kronor in 2013 and in subsequent years then has gone 80 billion, 77 billion, 65 billion and then 57 billion. The trend gets even clearer if we look back to 2008 the table suggests that the amount was around 107 billion. So we are left wondering if this year the amount will be half what it was in 2008.

However you spin it the situation is such that cash needs protection according to the Riksbank.

The Committee proposes a requirement that companies shall be able to deposit their daily cash takings in their bank accounts. The Riksbank wishes to go a step further even in this regard. Banks should also be obliged to ensure that private individuals can make deposits.

Of course some will think to quote Hamlet “”The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

The State of Play

According to the Riksbank things are going really rather well.

Economic activity in Sweden is strong and inflation is at the target of 2 per cent. Since the monetary policy decision in September, developments have for the most
part been as expected and the forecasts remain largely unchanged.

It hammers home the point even more later.

In Sweden, too, economic developments have been largely as expected and economic activity has been good for a long period of time……….. Inflation increased to
2.5 per cent in September, partly as a result of rapidly rising energy prices. Different measures of underlying inflation are lower and inflationary pressures are still assessed to be moderate. However, there are signs that inflationary pressures are rising and the conditions are good for inflation to remain close to the target of 2 per cent in the coming years.

I have given the full detail on the inflation situation because it highlights the mess that the Riksbank has put itself in. Inflation has gone above target and like so many central banks it is then keen to find any measure which gives a different but then trips over its own feet by telling us “inflationary pressures are rising”. So we have a tick in the box for an interest-rate rise.

Let us now look at the economic performance.

The labour market situation is expected to remain strong, even if GDP growth slows down going forward.

This is based on this from Sweden Statistics.

Sweden’s GDP increased by 0.8 percent in the second quarter of 2018, seasonally adjusted and compared with the first quarter of 2018. GDP increased by 2.5 percent, working-day adjusted and compared to the second quarter of 2017.

If we look back we see that GDP growth was 2.6% in 2014 then 4.5% in 2015 and then 2.7% in 2016. So the position has been strong for a while although the per capita (person) situation is not as strong as the population has risen by 2.3% over the same period.

Monetary Policy

If we note that the economy has been doing well and inflation is above target you would not expect this.

 the Executive Board has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at -0.50 per cent.

There are two issues here the first is how it has arrived at a strong economy and inflation above target with interest-rates negative and the next is how doing something about this remains just around the corner.

the Executive Board assesses that it will soon be appropriate to start raising the repo rate at a slow pace. The forecast for the repo rate is unchanged since the monetary policy meeting in September and indicates that the repo rate will be raised by 0.25 percentage points either in December or February.

As an aside it used to be the case that central banks used to think that what is now called Forward Guidance was a bad idea. The Bundesbank of Germany was particularly enthusiastic about trying to act in an unexpected fashion. There is however a catch.

As you can see it has a 0% success rate with its interest-rate forecasts so whilst in theory it has a policy opposite to that of the Bundesbank in practice it has turned out to have even more surprises. Well unless you possess enough brains to figure out the game. Even more than the Bank of England it has attempted to get the changes provided by an interest-rate rise from promising it rather than delivering it. If there is a clearer case of the central banking boy (girl) who cried wold I do not know it.

Money Supply

You may not be surprised to read that money supply growth soared in response to  the negative interest-rates and QE of the Riksbank. In fact narrow money growth rate 15% at the opening of 2016 and broad money just failed to make double digit growth as it peaked at 9.9%. You might think if you look at the GDP growth data for the year that it was time to raise interest-rates but like the Bank of England when it had the chance the Riksbank apparently knew better.

Now we find something awkward for the recycled promise of an interest-rate rise. This is that in 2018 narrow money growth has fallen from 8.4% to 6.8% and broad money growth has fallen from 5.4% to 4.5% and as the 5.4% was a freak number if you look at the series as we had 6.4% through the spring. So looking at them in isolation you might be thinking of an easing. Oh hang on…..

Comment

The Riksbank changed course around 5 years ago and since then has mostly run a pro-cyclical monetary policy and reversed the conventional view on how to operate it. Regular readers will recall that was partly driven by Paul Krugman calling them “sado-monetarists” and they may also note that mentions of Mr. Krugman have noticeably faded. But they will also be aware that I have argued that negative interest-rates were described pretty accurately by Elvis Presley.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

But as even supporters of the guidance are suggesting that there may only be one interest-rate rise I see trouble ahead. Monetary growth is plainly slowing and this week has brought news that such slowing in the Euro area is having an effect. The Bundesbank is worried about economic growth in Germany and this morning’s Markit business survey told us this.

The pace of Eurozone economic growth slipped
markedly lower in October, with the PMI setting the
scene for a disappointing end to the year.

So whilst two members of the Riksbank did vote for an interest-rate increase today I can see two scenarios increasing in probability. One is that they eventually do raise but then reverse quite quickly. Or more darkly that the next move is either another cut or easing in another form such as QE which would be the final confession that they are in as Coldplay put it.

And I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said
Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle

 

 

What next from the war on cash?

This morning the BBC has posted an article on a subject I was mulling last Wednesday.  As I walked into an appointment for some treatment for my knee the person before me was paying for his appointment by using his phone and transferring the money directly. I by contrast had put some cash in my pocket so I could pay in that fashion. If we move on from me suddenly feeling rather stone age and he being much more cutting edge there was one work related issue on my mind. What does paying by phone do to the money supply? It reminds us that the money supply also includes the ability to borrow and whilst everyone obsesses about banks also reminds us that it can now come from other sources. Or perhaps I should correct that to their being more potential routes these days.

Paying by phone

Here is an example quoted by the BBC.

Nikki Hesford, 32, is a convert to person-to-person payment (P2P) apps, using PayPal to pay for services and Venmo to pay back friends.

“The only time in the last year I’ve drawn out cash is for the school fete cake stall and to pay my manicurist,” says Ms Hesford, who runs her own marketing support company for small businesses.

“If I go for a meal with friends I can’t be bothered messing about with two, three or four cards,” she says.

“One person will pay on a card and the others will transfer through an app. It takes seconds rather than minutes fussing around with who owes what.”

PayPal has been around for some time but the likes of Venmo seems a real change and I can see the attraction. Who has not been out to eat with a group and been in a situation where the money collected in is short but everyone claims to have paid? For all our thoughts that millennials and Generation Z have it tough they may have stolen a bit of a march on the rest of us here. Venmo will by its very nature record each transfer and provide a type of audit trail.

In terms of scale then the position is building.

Zelle, one of the most popular payment apps in the US backed by 150 banks, launched in June 2017, but has already processed more than 320 million transactions valued at $94bn (£72bn).

A recent report by Zion market research suggested that the global mobile-wallet market in general is expected to top $3bn by 2022, up from nearly $600m in 2016.

The argument in favour is that it is quick and convenient,

Rachna Ahlawat, co-founder of Ondot Systems, a payment services platform, perceives a marked change in consumer behaviour.

“We want transactions to happen in an instant and at the click of a button,” she says. “Consumers not only want to operate in real-time, but they are looking for technology that allows them to play a more active role in how they control their payments, and are finding new ways of managing their financial lives.”

Financial Crime

The official and establishment view is that cash is a curse and the high priest of such thoughts Kenneth Rogoff wants this.

Why not just get rid of paper currency?

His opening argument is that cash is a source of crime.

First, making it more difficult to engage in recurrent, large, and anonymous payments would likely have a significant
impact on discouraging tax evasion and crime; even a relatively modest impact could potentially justify getting rid of most paper currency.

Yet we discover that even the new white heat world of person to person payments has you guessed it found that the criminal fraternity are very inventive.

“Malware injections and reverse engineering attacks can be used by hackers to understand the app’s code and silently trick you, going undetected by the typical security measures.”  ( Pedro Fortuna from JScrambler )

The truth is that whatever financial area we move into we take the criminals with us and sometimes there are already there waiting for us to make a mistake.

“With the increasing number of apps all requiring some form of authentication, it’s all too tempting to reuse passwords across multiple services. This increases the risk of your data being hacked.”  ( Sam Devaney from CGI UK ).

The banks

There is a very inconvenient reality for the likes of Kenneth Rogoff which is that so much financial crime is to be found at the heart of the system “the precious”.

Banks in Denmark, the Netherlands, Latvia and Malta have all been linked to criminal inflows from countries including Russia and North Korea. The EU has moved to centralize banking supervision, but money laundering has remained a national responsibility.

At the moment the European Union seems to be the weakest link in this area although of course it is far from unique. As an example the situation at Danske bank was so bad it even found itself being trolled by Deutsche Bank which claimed it was only accepting one in ten of past Danske bank clients. According to the Wall Street Journal around US $150 billion of transactions are being investigated according to Reuters the bank itself is discovering large problems.

the Financial Times cited the bank’s own investigation as saying the Danish bank handled up to $30 billion of Russian and ex-Soviet money through non-resident accounts via its Estonian branch in 2013 alone.

The European Union seems to be particularly in the firing zone in this area right now and much of it seems centred in the Baltic nations. That reminds me that back on the 19th of February I looked at the issues facing ABLV in Latvia which developed into a situation where the central bank Governor Ilmārs Rimšēvičs has been charged with taking a bribe.

Whilst the European Union is presently in the firing line we know that banking scandals of this sort occur regularly in most places. Yet the establishment ignore the way that the banks are the major source of financial crime in their rush to implicate cash.

Some new notes

A sign that there is indeed counterfeiting happen was provided yesterday by the European Central Bank or ECB although it chose to present it another way.

New €100 and €200 banknotes unveiled!

Sadly the excitement captured only a couple of journalists attention but the press release did hint at “trouble,trouble,trouble.”

The new €100 and €200 banknotes make use of new and innovative security features.

I think we know why! But there was another sign.

In addition to the security features that can be seen with the naked eye, euro banknotes also contain machine-readable security features. On the new €100 and €200 banknotes these features have been enhanced, and new ones have been added to enable the notes to be processed and authenticated swiftly.

It makes me wonder how many counterfeit ones are in existence. This seems likely to get Kenneth Rogoff to add those note to the 500 Euro ones he wants banned.

Comment

This is a situation which has a paradox within it. We see that technology is providing plenty of ways which provide alternatives to cash and in spite of presenting myself as something of a cash luddite earlier I find them convenient too. Yet we want more cash in the UK the £40 billion mark was passed in 2008 and now we have according to the Bank of England.

There are over 3.6 billion Bank of England notes in circulation worth about 70 billion pounds.

We are far from alone as for example in 2017 the growth rate was 7% for the US and Canada and 4% for the Euro area and Japan. Yet the Bank of England confirms that the medium of exchange case has indeed weakened over time.

Cash accounted for 40% of all payments in 2016, compared to 62% in 2006

The Bank will have something of an itchy collar as it notes that the increased demand for cash will be as a store of value and the rise accompanies its era of QE and low interest-rates. Kenneth Rogoff is much more transparent though.

Although in principle, phasing out cash and invoking negative interest rates are topics that can be studied separately, in reality the two issues are deeply linked. To be precise, it is virtually impossible to think about drastically phasing out currency without recognizing that it opens a door to unrestricted negative rates that central
banks may someday be tempted to walk through.

As Turkish points out in the film Snatch “Who da thunk it?”

 

 

India gives us an update on the war on cash

A feature of these times is what has been called the “war on cash” It’s proponents argue for it on two main grounds. The first is that cash and in particular large denomination banks notes are used by criminals (especially by organised crime) and terrorists and so eliminating such notes would be part of the various wars against them. Others make the case that we may need to cut interest-rates even further when the next recession arrives which means that even more countries will experience negative interest-rates and that they will go even more negative for those that already have them. Cash is a barrier to this because it provides 0%. Who would have thought that 0% would be attractive? It is of course as Prince would say A Sign O’ The Times.

Of course interest-rates were supposed to go up in a recovery but Michael Saunders of the Bank of England has opened more than one can of worms with this in his speech this morning.

It is fully 10 years since the MPC last tightened monetary policy

India

If we go back to early November last year this happened.

Government of India vide their Notification no. 2652 dated November 8, 2016 have withdrawn the Legal Tender status of ` 500 and ` 1,000 denominations of banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series issued by the Reserve Bank of India till November 8, 2016.

What was called Demonetisation was publicised as an effort to cut corruption. crime and also terrorism and there was a day to consider it as November 9th was a bank holiday. Also as I pointed out on November 11th it was suggested that it would provide an economic boost.

I hope that they have success in that and also that the official claims of a 1.5% increase in GDP as a result turn out to be true.

There were official claims that around 3 lakh crore or 20% of the currency would not come back and therefore a significant cost would be imposed on the criminal and terrorist worlds.Actually I note that the Financial Times is reporting that there were even more inflated claims.

 

At the time, government officials had suggested that as much as one-third of India’s outstanding currency would be purged from the economy — as the wealthy abandoned or destroyed it, rather than admit to their hoardings — reducing central bank liabilities and creating a government windfall.

 

Not everyone was convinced that it would be that easy including The Times of India.

Firstly, gone are the days when people hoarded wealth in gunny bags full of banknotes. In today’s world, there are refined ways of laundering money or stashing it away in benami properties, offshore bank accounts and foreign currency. Only the small fish keep their ill-gotten wealth in currency and the impact on black money will therefore be very limited in this exercise.

What happened next?

As I pointed out on the 26th of November the initial economic effects were negative and some of them were quite strong.

The automobile industry, which accounts for 7.1% of the GDP, is witnessing a fall in stock prices of up to 12% since the demonetisation. Himanshu Sharma, auto analyst at Centrum Broking, said two-wheeler sales can get affected by 40- 45%. The impact on cars is less, since most of them are bought on loan, but it could still be 10-12%……..Things aren’t any better with pharmaceutical companies, as sales of medicines have plunged almost 15%.

If we move to overall economic output we see that it in fact slowed. The annual rate of economic growth fell to 6.1% in the first quarter of this year so we can say that it showed no signs of the economic boost promised. As to how much demonetisation contributed to the fall we can say that there were downward effects but as ever it is hard to be precise.

What happened to the cash?

Yesterday the Reserve Bank of India gave its annual report and here is The Times of India on the subject.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday said that Rs 15.28 lakh crore –or 99% of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore demonetised by withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, 2016 –has been deposited with banks.

So the promises and suggestions of a large windfall gain for the government via the central bank have turned out not to be true. Seignorage is usually a theoretical number but in this instance it became reality except as we looked at above it was expected to be much more than this. Also according to the RBI there were costs in doing this.

Expenditure on Security Printing and Distribution
VIII.12 The total expenditure incurred on security printing stood at `79.65 billion for the current year (July 2016 – June 2017) as against `34.2 billion
during 2015-16.

More fake notes were uncovered than usual ( 345% up on the previous year) but considering what was taking place the number remained low especially if the rumours about how many fake bank notes there are in India have any basis in fact. As some of the returned bank notes have not been counted yet could we see the number of notes climb to say 101%?

According to The Times of India the official response is as follows.

The finance ministry said the five main objects of demonetisation were: -Flushing out black money -Eliminating fake currency – Ending financing of terrorism and left-wing extremism – Converting the non-formal economy into a formal economy to expand the tax base and employment — Giving a big boost to digitisation of payments to make India a less cash economy

Well I suppose the last bit is probably true but this bit is pretty woeful if we note the government’s previous rhetoric.

The finance ministry said in a statement that the government had in fact expected the bulk of the cash to be returned to become effectively usable currency.

Although no doubt you can define “bulk” in a variety of ways.

Comment

Let me completely support efforts to reduce organised crime and terrorism with the only caveat being that care is needed how you define that. After all an area pretty much ignored by Demonetisation is that a clear example of what many would consider organised crime in recent times has involved the banks. For obvious reasons it is hard to get accurate estimates but it seems likely that “banking crime” exceeds “cash crime”.

Returning to the Indian experience there were clear stoppages in the economy and I speculated on the 11th of November last year on who it would hit the most.

I remember watching the excellent BBC 4 documentaries on the Indian railway system and the ( often poor) black market sellers on the trains saw arrest as simply a cost of business. Will this be the same? Also there is the issue of whether it will all just start up again with the new 2000 Rupee notes.

Also let us remind ourselves that India now has more 2000 Rupee notes which surely will only make the stated objectives harder to achieve. The timeline we now know also perhaps provides insight into the resignation of the previous RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan..

On the other side of the balance sheet then if this claim from the Finance Ministry is true maybe there will be a gain going forwards.

Advance collections of personal income tax showed a growth of 41.79% on August 5 over the corresponding year-earlier period. Personal income tax under self-assessment grew 34.25%.

Having mentioned the Indian railways it reminds me of the impact the Monsoon season has on the ( Monsoon Railway if you have not seen it) and that it has been severe this year. My sympathies to those affected.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/unsecured-credit-boom-j-curve-effect-uk-not-yes-man-economics/

 

 

 

 

The Brexit Breakfast saga

Yesterday saw quite an extraordinary missive from the offices of KPMG that combined economics and an insight into the apparent habits of staff at that organisation. It led to some debate and indeed some humour so let us take a look. From the Guardian.

Brexit breaks breakfast? Hard Brexit could mean hard luck for fry-up fans…….Shoppers would be forced to pay £3 more for a traditional British fry-up if the government fails to secure a trade deal with the EU, piling more pressure on already cash-strapped consumers.

That is a bit of a shock is it not as it implies such a breakfast would be £3 more each which seems rather extreme. Of course some products have risen in price already due to the lower value for the UK Pound £ as the UK imports quite a bit of the food it consumes.

Here is how Bloomberg released this.

The price attracted my attention so I enquired if they only ate in five-star hotels? It quickly turned out that I wasn’t the only one.

let’s just say I enjoyed a full English last week £7.50. Same price as a year ago at my same local coastal cafe. ( @mhewson_CMC )

 

Read this (and its comments) with your breakfast. £5 here at Totnes Waterside (  @RSR108 )

 

Tesco all you can eat £4,95 KPMG making a real dogs dinner of their analysis. No doubt you can get cheaper elsewhere ( @BarrattPeter )

The analysis stated that the ingredients came from the mid-range of a UK supermarket although some were not convinced.

“KPMG UK analysed the cost of mid-range ingredients of a fry-up from a leading UK supermarket” where…Fortnum and Mason??! ( @maximbroking )

I am not sure if the Guardian re wrote their article but anyway it now states that this was for a family breakfast, something missing from the original Bloomberg article. The debate then shifted to the choice of ingredients with the choice of olive oil to the fore.

Somewhere that cooks its breakfasts in a litre of olive oil? ( @dsquaredigest)

I have to confess I was beginning to feel a little queasy especially as it turned out that some might do this albeit if course we do not know what oil was used here.

I used to have a friend who did their fryups in about two inches depth of fat…utterly inedible! ( @MattBrookes3 )

There were some alternative suggestions for the use of olive oil.

You don’t cook in it, you barbarian. You wash down your meal with a couple of pints of it. ( @Birdyworld)

One Bloomberg journalist did appear willing to give it a go.

As I mulled the list I was curious about the addition of French butter to the list for two reasons as what I buy is mostly UK butter and of course French butter is usually unsalted giving a very different taste. I wasn’t the only one it would seem.

Welsh butter with mine please boyo ( @putt1ck )

 

I’m remain/internationalist but I always buy UK for my fry up, I don’t think these calcs will effect me? PS toss the oil, use butter! ( @LukeMcElligott )

Some took this a stage further.

I find Swiss organic grass-fed butter goes better with baked beans………but only ever fair-trade Himalayan Yak butter with my Japanese Kotoka Strawberry jam. Obviously, ( @WEAYL )

The issue of strawberry jam got a mention.

and who puts strawberry jam on their fry-up!? ( @ChrisB_IG )

Although hope springs eternal for one Bloomberg customer.

Bacon=NL,bread=local,Cherry vine tomato=Spain/NL/or Kent UK 😉 Strawberry jam= free with Bloomburg subscription (I would hope) ( @Svedenmacher )

We did discover someone keen on French butter albeit for a modern reason.

I often buy President butter, especially lately … to piss off the Brexiteers ;). ( @ClausVistensen )

Thus we found quite a bit of debate over the ingredients which then seemed to be reflected off Bloomberg Towers.

Also there’s no ketchup or hash browns. The moral of this story is don’t go for breakfast at KPMG ( @Lucy_meakin )

Considering the cost some were unhappy with the quality.

Funny looking sausage anyway. I think I’ll give it a miss. ( @PaulKingsley16 )

As ever some were hoping for a bright side to the issue.

Does anyone know if KPMG have vacancies for analysts economists researchers -will come out of retirement for their hourly Breakfast rates. ( @BarrattPeter)

Whereas the other side of the atlantic felt we needed to widen our perspective somewhat.

You Europeans are so dense. It’s the labor cost component of the typical Chinese household cook that’s driving up breakfast costs. ( @EquityTrader44 ).

Still it could all have been much worse. Imagine this for breakfast or anything really.

Another salvo in the war on cash

There is much to consider in the report on the gig economy by Matthew Taylor today but one bit in particular caught my eye.

The author of a government review into work practices would like to see an end to the “cash-in-hand economy”.

Matthew Taylor, whose report is out on Tuesday, said cash jobs such as window cleaning and decorating were worth up to £6bn a year, much of it untaxed.

Although he wants to present it as progress.

Mr Taylor also said he did not want to ban cash payments outright, but hoped, over time, the increasing popularity of transaction platforms such as PayPal and Worldpay would see a shift from cash-in-hand work.

“In a few years time as we move to a more cashless economy, self-employed people would be paid cashlessly – like your window cleaner. At the same time they can pay taxes and save for their pension,” he said.

This has many of the features of so-called blue sky thinking reports. In itself the cash in hand economy is hard to defend because tax is not paid and it is therefore unfair on those who pay taxes on income. However his effort to claim it would benefit the workers is risible “they can pay taxes and save for their pension.” From a magic money tree? Also it is hard not to think that the establishment wanted this review as part of an effort to raise more tax like the Chancellor’s attempt to increase National Insurance on the self-employed of a fee months ago. If they cannot make a relatively minor change without a fast U-Turn how exactly will they tax these workers?

But we have a theme of more tax being paid which will please the establishment and another feature these days which is of things being leaked before they are announced properly. Why not wait a few hours? It is all about expectations management which moves me to my  main point which is that the establishment seems ever more desperate to get rid of cash.

You would think that it is one of the barriers to them introducing negative interest-rates in the future……Oh hang on!

Comment

Economic life is often much more complicated than it first appears as for example we are on the road to more electronic payments. Over the past few years I have found myself paying for things with a card that would have been unthinkable before. Yet this is also true . From the Bank of England.

Despite speculation to the contrary, the number of banknotes in circulation is increasing. During 2016, growth in the value of Bank of England notes was 10%, double its average growth rate over the past decade.

Evidence of stockpiling?

As to the breakfast saga there are a few bits to consider. The first is the British obsession with a fry-up which goes in hot pursuit of our obsession with tea. Although apparently not the latter at KPMG who drink coffee. Next we have the click bait effort of claiming breakfast would cost £26.61 where even the family addition from the Guardian does not work unless you use all of the olive oil ( I am getting queasy again) and drink several gallons of coffee with slabs of butter.

Meanwhile there are issues one of which is a regular theme of mine which is that we import so much food in the UK and could do much better on that front. Some things we cannot grow (oranges) but some we can. Actually KPMG seems unaware of what we do produce as apparently we grow a lot of mushrooms. Of course we could end up paying higher tariffs for some products as we seem to have become rather dependent on Danish bacon. But for other products such as olive oil ( assuming you use it) Europe is not the only source and transport costs are often low.

Could the Bank of England step in with some Sledgehammer Breakfast QE?