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Virtual currencies need firm global regulation: ECB’s Mersch

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, February 9th, 2018

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an electric board showing exchange rates of various cryptocurrencies at Bithumb cryptocurrencies exchange in Seoul, South Korea, January 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and the banks and financial firms that trade them need to be more closely regulated, one of the ECB’s top policymakers said on Thursday.

Officials from the world’s top economies are set to discuss the impact of digital currencies at next month’s G20 meeting in Argentina and are expected to signal a more coordinated approach to their regulation.

“Any virtual currency business of credit institutions needs to be rigorously supervised to ensure that risks emerging from such activities are contained,” ECB Executive Board member Yves Mersch said at an event in London.

Mersch said that proper protocols were needed to meet anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing regulations.

“Furthermore, given the risks posed by leverage, credit institutions should not accept virtual currencies as collateral (by banks),” he added.

Mersch is the latest of a slew of global policymakers to speak out against digital currencies after their meteoric rise last year. Bitcoin, the best-known crypto asset, rose more than 1,000 percent in 2017 BTC=BTSP.

This year, however, the threat of regulatory clampdowns and bans from credit card firms to social media sites, has already caused it to tumble about 50 percent.

In the same vein, relevant market authorities should also monitor, analyse and regulate Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) – where companies or projects issue their own digital coins or ‘tokens’ as a way of raising real world money from the public.

In 2016, the total amount of funds raised through ICOs was less than 82 million euros. This number dramatically increased to over three billion euros in 2017.

Mersch added somewhat reticently that he had had “heated” discussions with his own son who was “seriously considering” an ICO for a new firm he was looking to start up.

Despite the concerns he raised, Mersch said that the ECB was looking at its own virtual currency, although he stressed it would be more of a digital version of cash rather than a bitcoin-styled revolution.

Central banks already create money digitally via the reserves that banks either park or borrow, but that is not technically the same as the money that comes out of cash machines and used for everyday payments.

Any new digital currency would be like that though. At the same time however its use would depend on its popularity.

“One could imagine a digital representation of cash that replicates the features of cash in the reasonably distant future, if citizens demanded it.”

Mersch acknowledged that negative interest rates, like those currently at the ECB, were part of the virtual currency debate.

Economists argue having these currencies would allow central banks to slash rates even further as people and firms would then not be able to withdraw and stash away physical cash to avoid the hit of sub-zero rates to their savings.

However “deeply negative” rates would not become a standard instrument in the central bank’s toolbox, Mersch said.

Reporting by Marc Jones, Editing by William Maclean

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EXCLUSIVE: G20 financial heads to urge crypto-asset monitoring to safeguard financial stability

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Cryptocurrencies are seen on a website that tracks the value of initial coin offerings (ICO) in this illustration photo taken September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The world’s financial leaders will call on international standard-setting bodies on March 20 for stronger monitoring of crypto-assets and to assess the need for a multilateral response as such assets could at some point threaten financial stability.

The call appears in a draft communique prepared for the meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 biggest economies in Buenos Aires on March 19-20, seen by Reuters.

The financial leaders will say the technological innovation behind crypto-currencies has the potential to improve the efficiency and inclusiveness of the financial system.

“Crypto currencies, however, raise issues with respect to consumer and investor protection, tax evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing. At some point they could have financial stability implications,” the draft communique adds.

“We agree that international standard setting bodies strengthen their monitoring of crypto-assets and their risks… and assess whether multilateral responses may be needed.”

Regulators globally have raised the alarm over cryptocurrencies, saying they may aid money laundering and terrorist financing, hurt consumers and undermine trust in the global financial system.

Japan was the first country to adopt a national system to oversee cryptocurrency trading. It carried out checks on several exchanges this year after the theft of $530 million from one exchange, Coincheck Inc, in January.

France and Germany have said they will make joint proposals to regulate the bitcoin cryptocurrency market.

The head of the European Union’s watchdog said a short-term strategy could be to focus on applying anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules, warning consumers of the risk of trading in cryptocurrencies and preventing banks from holding them.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said last week that many online trading platforms for cryptocurrencies should be registered with the regulator and subject to additional rules, in a further sign regulators are cracking down on the digital currency sector.

In a statement, the SEC said these “potentially unlawful” platforms may be giving investors an unearned sense of safety by labeling themselves as “exchanges.” The regulator said these platforms need to register with the SEC as a regulated national securities exchange or as an alternate trading system, or ATS.

Virtual currencies have existed for years but speculation in them has recently ballooned – along with scams promising investors returns of over 1,000 percent in weeks.

In a time of volatile markets, hackers are also active in the sector.

Bitcoin, the best known virtual currency, lost over half its value earlier this year after surging more than 1,300 percent last year.

Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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Singapore explores rules to protect investors in cryptocurrencies

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Representations of the Ripple, Bitcoin, Etherum and Litecoin virtual currencies are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s central bank is assessing whether additional regulations are required to protect investors in cryptocurrencies, an official said in a speech released on Thursday.

The city-state – which is aiming to be a hub for financial technology and so-called initial coin offerings in Asia – does not regulate virtual currencies and last year called for the public to exercise“extreme caution” over investment in cryptocurrencies.

Its central bank does regulate activities involving virtual currencies if they pose specific risks. For example, it imposes anti-money laundering requirements on intermediaries providing virtual currency services.

“We are assessing if additional regulations are required for investor protection,” Ong Chong Tee, deputy managing director (Financial Supervision), Monetary Authority of Singapore said.

Other countries such as South Korea, where trading in cryptocurrencies is more popular, are looking at ways to regulate that activity.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie; Editing by Kim Coghill

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Cryptocurrency traders to launch lawsuit against Coincheck on Thursday – lawyer

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck’s signboard is pictured in front of a building where their office is located in Tokyo, Japan February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – A group of cryptocurrency traders will file a lawsuit against Coincheck Inc on Thursday over last month’s theft of $530 million (£382 million) in digital money from the Tokyo-based exchange, a lawyer representing the claimants said.

The ten traders will file the claim at the Tokyo District Court over Coincheck’s freezing of cryptocurrency withdrawals, Hiromu Mochizuki, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told Reuters.

The traders will request that Coincheck allows them to withdraw cryptocurrencies to “wallets” – folders used for storing digital money – outside the exchange, Mochizuki said. The group may launch a second lawsuit at the end of the month to claim for damages over the heist, he added.

Coincheck representatives did not immediately respond to phone and emailed requests for comment.

The Coincheck incident highlighted the risks in trading an asset that policymakers are struggling to regulate, and has renewed the focus on Japan’s framework for overseeing these exchanges.

The Tokyo-based exchange, which froze all withdrawals of yen and digital currencies following the theft, resumed yen-withdrawals from Tuesday, according to posts on Twitter.

Coincheck said on Friday it would allow customers to withdraw yen after confirming the integrity of its system security. It added it would keep restrictions on cryptocurrency withdrawals until it could guarantee the secure resumption of its operations.

Coincheck is set to file on Tuesday a report with regulators on the heist, the safety of its systems, and measures it will take to prevent a repeat.

Reporting by Thomas WilsonEditing by Shri Navaratnam

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