Friday, June 28, 2019

Will it Be Facebook Vs. The Central Banks?

The news that Facebook will launch its own version of a coin called Libra has prompted a lot of press coverage and created a lot of "buzz" in the crypto currency community. Perhaps there are two levels to cover related to this news. 

On one level, you have all the technophiles trying assess exactly what the technology behind this new project is and will end up being over time. Also, you wonder how this business plan will turn out given the credibility hurdles Facebook is challenged with at this time. So plenty of people will be watching to see how those things turn out.

Here, our focus is more on a different level. We might call it the macro level. The big question for us is: Will this project actually grow big enough in user adoption to actually impact the existing global monetary system that is currently heavily based on the US dollar? On this level it's not just curious techies and the typical Facebook users who will be watching this closely. On this level governments and central banks will be involved. 

With that focus in mind, below are some excerpts from an interesting article that appeared recently in This article does take a dive into the macro picture and offers up some interesting observations. Following the excerpts below are some added comments.


"Facebook finally took the wraps off their long-awaited digital currency platform, called Libra."

. . . .

"Nearly every luminary in the crypto community chimed in right after the announcement. The initial reactions were cautiously optimistic."

. . . .

"But now that the knee-jerk reactions are in, more detailed and nuanced analysis is starting to appear. At first, I thought I might stay above the fray. With everyone commenting, what else was there to say? There was plenty of press out there. I was too late.

But the more I dug into the write-ups and hot-takes, the more I realized how many folks were missing the real threats and possibilities of this big announcement. People had the tech details down but they missed the grand picture."

. . . .

"A few years ago the idea that a major corporation would release a cryptocurrency was laughable, much less a consortium of gigantic multinationals releasing one, including stalwarts of the old world financial system like Visa and MasterCard.

But it’s bigger than that. It’s a turning point in monetary history.

It’s an ELE, an Extinction Level Event for the old financial world order. When historians look back they may just point to this moment as the catalyst. But what does the future look like? How does it all play out?"
. . . .

"Come with me as I show you a brave new world of digital currencies and an all-out war between the titans of industry and the massive nation-states of the modern world."

Expert reaction to this article

One of the experts I hear from that has worked directly in this arena with both central banks and major private corportations offered me these comments after reading the article posted above:

"They don't know what they're talking about when they talk of Extinction Level Events.

The real work, moves awfully slower than this..... I suppose they look at Kodak, the British Empire, Roman Empire, etc, and all the things that fail slowly, until they fail quickly... 

The thing to look for, is if BASEL agrees to recognise Libra as a reserve asset. If that happens, then it's like China being promoted to SDR...  it won't really make a big impact.

Or like American Treasury Bills being downgraded from AAA to AA+ or so.  Remember the fuss they made about EU bond rates going negative, or the Y2K bug, or when the UK's intervention in Suez got vetoed... Nothing really, but a milestone..."


My added comments: This article is looking at this launch by Facebook from the point of view of those who believe that cryptocurrencies should challenge the status quo system run by the central banks issuing state sponsored fiat currencies. The article suggests that Project Libra really does have the potential to disrupt the present monetary system and to challenge the institutions that preside over the current system. However, the author does not view Libra as a victory for those looking for alternatives to the present state sponsored system. I recommend reading the full article to see why the author believes this to be true.

The article presents Project Libra as a future war zone between this private sector funded project and the governments and central banks that run things now. We know that there have been all kinds of similar projects in the last few years with this same ambition, but so far none have gained enough public adoption to become serious threats to the existing system. So what might make Project Libra any different? The obvious answer is the enormous user base Facebook starts out with and then also the huge capital investment that is coming in behind this project. That alone is reason enough to view this as potentially different and why we need to cover it here over time.

So, will Project Libra emerge as a genuine threat to the existing system and the institutions that run it? Our view here is that it is too early to tell. Project Libra is not even projected to go live until 2020. The release of the white paper instantly triggered all kinds of reaction from various nations and central banks, mostly talking about the need to regulate this and for Facebook to explain its intentions for this project before various governmental bodiesThe expert I quoted above thinks this project will be much more complicated than Facebook would realize at this stage of its progression.

A lot can happen by the time this project attempts to go live assuming the technology to make it work is actually in place and has been real world tested. We'll assume that as a given and then list these issues to keep an eye to get a feel for how much impact this is going to have.

- How do governments react? Do they signal the intent to massively regulate this and put all kinds of hoops to jump through in place?

- How do banks react? Do they lobby for protection from governments? Do they "switch sides" and try to become members of the Libra Foundation? (If you can't beat em, join em?). Right now, no banks are on board with Libra as far as we know.

- How do central banks react? Do they push for tight regulation? Do they speed up their own efforts to try and offer central bank digital currencies?  (right now there is no sense of urgency for CBDC's)

I suspect the answers to these kinds of questions will depend a lot on whether governments and central banks view the Libra as a serious threat to their own power structure or not. If they don't, perhaps they just ignore it as they have mostly done with similar less well supported projects that would attempt to create monetary alternatives to state sponsored money. If they do view it as a threat, watch for some fireworks. If there is one thing we know from watching these kinds of issues over the years, it is that the US takes attacks on the US dollar very seriously if they view them as legitimate threats (Is Libra a potential attack on the US dollar?). Russia and China would likely do the same in their spheres of influence. How India may react is unknown at this time.

On the other hand, will some of these institutions see this as an opportunity to partner up with Project Libra? Will the Libra Foundation attempt to avoid confrontation and offer incentives to governments and central banks to join with them? What incentives you ask? Well, perhaps Project Libra will be in a position to offer all kinds of interesting user data and information that governments and central banks might love to get their hands on? So perhaps instead of fighting, they reach some kind of mutual agreement viewed as beneficial to both parties? 

One thing we know for sure. The Libra will face the same challenge as anything that wants to be viewed as money. It will have to gain the trust of a broad base of the population to become a significant factor at the macro level. If Facebook gets 50 million people globally to adopt the Libra, that may be enough for it to be a successful business venture. However, it's not near enough adoption to significantly impact the present monetary system. However, if they get 500 million people to adopt it, then we have something to talk about.

As with all these proposed money projects, time will give us the answers and we will keep an eye on it to see what actually happens.

Added notes: The Bank for International Settlements releases it's new report on "Big Tech and Finance" on 6-23-19. Readers who want a really detailed dive into how the BIS views things like Facebook Libra may want to take a look at the detailed report. Here is an extract from the intro to the paper:

"Technology firms such as Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Tencent have grown rapidly over the last two decades. The business model of these "big techs" rests on enabling direct interactions among a large number of users. An essential by-product of their business is the large stock of user data which are utilised as input to offer a range of services that exploit natural network effects, generating further user activity. Increased user activity then completes the circle, as it generates yet more data."

"Building on the advantages of the reinforcing nature of the data-network-activities loop, some big techs have ventured into financial services, including payments, money management, insurance and lending. As yet, financial services are only a small part of their business globally. But given their size and customer reach, big techs' entry into finance has the potential to spark rapid change in the industry."

One expert we hear from now and then sent this Letter to the Editor to The Washington Post in regards to the Facebook and Libra Project. He suggested they should model the currency basket for the Libra after the SDR basket used by the IMF.


Additional added note: Former Fed nominee Stephen Moore is now plunging into cryptocurrencies per this article in Fox Business. Here is an extract from that article:

"Moore has joined a group of entrepreneurs who are starting what they describe as a new type of central bank they believe will stabilize cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and its myriad of imitators, according to an investor pitch deck obtained by FOX Business and interviews with people associated with the effort."

Additional article links related to this topic sent to me by readers:

Rabaobank article (requires registration to read)  - (review of this artice in Zero Hedge)

Wall Street Journal  (requires subscription to read)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Jim Rickards Talks About the Potential for a "Perfect Storm"

In my recent interview with Jim Rickards to discuss his upcoming new book Aftermath, I asked him if he still predicts a new major crisis that will provide an impetus for major changes to our present monetary system. Jim offered this reply:

Q: For many years you have consistently forecast that we will some day another major crisis worse than the 2008-2009 crisis and that this could lead to major changes in the global monetary system. While working on "Aftermath", have you seen anything that would cause you to change that forecast?

A: "No. All of the trends not only confirm a coming crisis, but suggest it may be worse than I expected. Reaction functions not only include closed banks and exchanges and frozen accounts, but also social unrest possibly requiring martial law. There are also serious infrastructure threats that could involve a collapsed power grid or internet. On top of that, cyber threats are real and cyber wars have already begun. We cover all of these developments in Aftermath." (Amazon link to Aftermath)

Jim has now written some new articles that take a deeper dive into some of the events he says have the potential to come together ahead of the next US Presidential election and create a " Perfect Storm". Below are links to the articles with an excerpt from each for those who want to see what Jim has to say about this.

The Perfect Storm is Coming

"Do metaphorical perfect storms happen in politics and capital markets?

The answer is yes, provided the conditions of the perfect storm definition are satisfied. The multiple events that make up the true perfect storm must be independent and rare and come to converge in an almost impossible way.

. . . .

Today I’ll be discussing the components making up this perfect storm, and how I see them all coming together at the same time.  . . . . . 

. . . .

What are the three specific elements of the new perfect storm I see coming for markets? Read on  . . . ."            

  The Perfect Storm - Part II

"What are the three elements of the perfect political and market storm I see coming together this fall?

The first storm is impeachment.  ...

. . . .

The second storm is the 2020 election. ...

. . . 

But the third storm is the most dangerous and unpredictable storm of all: Spygate.

How do these three storms — impeachment, the 2020 election and Spygate — converge to create the perfect storm?"   . . . .   click here to read

Jim says these events in the political arena leading up to the 2020 Presidential election are important to follow and could have significant impact on the markets:

"The next six months will present unprecedented challenges for investors. Markets will have to wrestle with fights over impeachment, election attacks and Spygate. Trump will be trying to improve his odds with Fed appointments and an end to the trade wars. Democrats will be trying to derail Trump with investigations, accusations and leaks."

It does seem like if we are going to see anything arise that could disrupt the current system and prompt some kind of major change, it is more likely to come from the political arena. That is where most of the energy for change seems to reside these days.

A quick review of the situation suggests that there are two large groups (that combined comprise a majority of the public) that want to see major changes take place. 

One large group supports President Trump. They see him as the disrupter of the status quo that they feel has ignored their interests for a long time. Even though he represents the incumbent in the upcoming election, people still view him as a change agent trying to reshape the system they see as controlled by an elite establishment that looks down on them as inferior in various ways.

The other large group (now ascending in influence in the Democratic Party) also wants major change from the existing system. But the changes they want are almost exactly the opposite to the kind of change President Trump and his supporters want. 

From our perspective here, we watch for any kind of new major financial crisis that might arise in this highly combative political environment. While we don't make too many predictions here, it is possible to reasonably predict how each side might react to a new major financial crisis to try and gain leverage politically.

If we got a crisis of the magnitude Jim Rickards talks about:

We can be pretty sure President Trump will blame the Federal Reserve and say that it's policies were ill advised and created the crisis. His supporters will certainly buy into that as many of them are already skeptical of institutions like central banks. President Trump could use any crisis to call for major changes that would decrease the power of the Fed and "reset" the monetary system. Potential Fed nominee Dr. Judy Shelton has talked about the idea of a new Bretton Woods Conference at Mar a Lago in media interviews like this one at the Financial Times (here is a new Wasington Post interview that also mentions a Mar a Lago monetary conference).

On the flip side, we can be pretty sure the other major political group that opposes President Trump will fully blame his policies for the crisis. They will say that his tariffs, sanctions, and trade wars crippled the global and US economy and brought on the crisis. They will call on the public to get rid of President Trump and offer major change initiatives like Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and other policies that return "power to the people" and disrupt a system they also see as controlled by an establishment that puts "profits over people".

Interestingly, both of these large groups see the present system as needing major reform and putting the interests of elites or "the 1%" over the interests of regular people. They just have completely opposite views of what to do about that. In this environment, a new major crisis would probably elevate this already heated political conflict into all out war to gain political power and push through major changes for their side. 

So, our analysis here remains unchanged. Without such a major crisis, the status quo in our monetary system and monetary policies likely prevails and change takes place gradually over time. In a new major crisis, the odds of more rapid major change increase and are most likely to come from the political arena. We'll continue to monitor things and report what actually happens.

Added note 6-24-19: Regarding Jim's 3rd "storm" (Spygate), Fox News releases this tonight quoting two members of Congress saying there will be significant news coming out soon. The article states that part of the current ongoing investigation will look "into the involvement of foreign intelligence services". If very high ranking former US intelligence officials are charged with crimes, we need to watch how the global markets react to that very closely. And if foreign intelligence services actions are called into question, it is all the more reason to monitor markets closely. As an example, it is possible the sharp rise in gold may be trying to tell us its possible something potentially unsettling is on the horizon. 

Added news note 6-25-19: The US Dept. of Justice issues this news release that Merrill Lynch Commodities, Inc. agreed to pay $25 million "to resolve the government's investigation into a multi year scheme to mislead the market for precious metals futures contracts" traded on the Comex. Things like this don't increase people's confidence that the markets are a fair and level playing field. Also, many in the precious metals community have alleged this kind of activity was taking place in those markets for a long time. Just before he passed away in April 2019, former CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton gave this final interview where he talked about his efforts to expose market manipulation in the silver market back in the 2008-2012 time period. He does reveal some information in this interview that had not been made public before. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

News Notes - Gold, Dollar, Facebook

There is quite a bit going on all of a sudden that touches on things we watch for here. This post is just a news note update to provide links to some of that news. We see that gold has broken out of a years long range bound pattern and has shot quickly over $1400 as of this post. We see that the US dollar has had some weakness alongside the move in gold. We need to keep an eye on these markets to see if this is the start of new major trends in gold and the dollar or just short term reaction to increased geo political tensions and recent Fed news.

The release of the Facebook white paper set off an intense storm of debate as to what impact their proposed Libra coin will or will not have on our present monetary system. The group of experts I hear from have been engaged in a similar discussion. They are as interested as everyone else to see what happens with this over time and how much traction it gains. I don't detect any consensus view yet other than all seemed to agree that there are a lot of hoops for the Libra coin to jump through to achieve its goals.

Below are some links to a variety of reaction articles out there and some that were part of the discussion from my panel of experts.


Gold Breaks out over $1400   (see current price here - $1406 at time of this post)

CNBC on Impact of the Fed on Gold

Yahoo Finance


Gold Bulls React to the Sharp Move Up

Dollar Pulls Back

Facebook Reaction Articles

Bloomberg - France Reacts

Scoop.Co - New Zealand

CNBC - US Congress Reacts  (letter requesting a Congressional hearing)

Financial Times Series of Articles

NY Times 
(Professor Lawrence White responds to NYT article here)

My added comments: Even though a white paper is now released, there are still many unknowns related to the Libra Coin Facebook intends to launch sometime in 2020. These are a few points I noted in the white paper:

- actual testing of whatever technology will be used for this project has not been done yet

- there is only a partial list of members for the Libra Foundation at this time who will govern the coin and manage it. The stated goal is to have 100 members.

- the system begins as a more centralized permissioned system with a goal to transition into a more decentralized "permissionless" system sometime in the future (5 years is noted as a goal)

- the regulatory status of the coin is still unknown in many jurisdictions

- the coin will be tied to a basket of major national currencies (not specified yet)

- the coin will have a floating exchange rate with the national curencies that is intended to be non volatile

- a reserve fund to fully back every coin is to be set up allowing Libra coin owners to convert to national fiat currencies at any time. Example, if you exchange 50 US dollars for 50 Libras, the fund will hold 50 US dollars in assets to fully back your Libras.

In some respects, this coin seems a little like a private sector version of the SDR used by the IMF since it will be tied to a basket of currencies and will have floating exchange rates with the national currencies daily. Of course it will not be a state sponsored coin or have any ties to the IMF. 

As we can see, this is still an early stage concept with a lot that has to happen before the coin can go live for public use. We will monitor this project over time to see how things go with it. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Facebook To Launch a Global Currency Token - Project Libra

A thank you to a friend and reader who forwarded me this news regarding Facebook's plan to launch a new global currency token. I am not sure if this is something that might impact the present monetary system if successfully implemented, but Facebook has a huge user base so it is worth noting. Below are a couple of excerpts and then a few added comments.


Markets Insider - Facebook Working on Project Libra

"Facebook has been working for more than a year on a secret initiative code-named "Project Libra" to build a cryptocurrency-based payments system, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The social-media giant plans to introduce a digital coin that its more than 1.5 billion users can transfer to one another and spend on Facebook and other websites, the newspaper reported.   . . . .   click here to read the full article on Markets Insider

Markets Insider - Facebook Partnership for New Cryptocurrency

"Facebook has been working for more than a year to create a currency that its two billion users can use to transfer money and make virtual and real purchases, the FT reported. The company has discussed the secretive initiative, code-named "Project Libra," with "dozens of financial firms and online merchants" including Visa, Mastercard, and payment-processor First Data, according to the Wall Street Journal."

My added comments: It will be interesting to see if the project is successful over time. I tried to get some input from a variety of sources to see how much interest there might be for something like this from Facebook. The limited input I got back indicated there was not major interest in this for a variety of reasons at this time. Below are some quotes from some who were willing to comment on it anonymously on a community message board for college sports. This community is pretty diverse in it's thinking. I also included the option for people to vote in a poll on this. The results of that poll were as follows:

Would you have interest in using a "stablecoin" cryptocurrency issued by Facebook tied to US dollars?

Yes  -  9 votes 6%
No  -  115 votes 82%
Need More Information  - 17 votes 12%

This poll was viewed by over 650 people so a pretty diverse group of people saw it and over 140 actually voted. The poll is not scientific of course.

Now here are the comments posted in the discussion thread by various poll participants:

"I need to see more details on how it's different/better than the 1000's of cryptocurrencies already out there. If it's just a copy cat Bitcoin or Ethereum with the FB logo on it, shrug. If they're patenting a new more secure blockchain that can do 5,000+ transactions per second, interested."

"No, I’m tired of technology trying to take over very facet of life. I would avoid for as long as possible if it happens. Full disclosure I am 30 years old, and don’t mind technology, but the Facebooks, Twitters, Googles don’t need to be running the world and becoming a sidebar to traditional government."

"Facebook is going away in the next 10 years so who cares what they do. the younger generation doesn't use Facebook and at the rate they are banning conservatives will only expedite their demise."

"Facebook is dying. They put my buddy in time out for the last week. Since I pretty much only enjoy his posts, I haven't been on in a week. The banning of people will slaughter this company."

"I’m bored with Facebook. I’m certainly not going to use Facebook bucks."

"No. Not Interested"

"I would be interested in investing. Facebook just has a tremendous reach for sales opportunities. This is coming from someone who has never used Facebook."

"No. It may have some utility for a few years but it's not going to be significant in the long run. The public's lack of trust in Facebook may doom it before it ever gets traction."

"Why would anyone invest in anything Facebook has to offer? The whole lack of privacy they want people to invest in currency that they would control?!?!"

"Dont have a FB account and I sure as hell wouldnt use a currency created by that thief. He stole FB and he sells your info for profit. Hard pass."

"So what is the hot social media outlet these days? 1.5B daily active users still seems like a lot of traffic for a platform that is no longer popular."

"a ton of those accounts are fake, they have to purge fake accounts regularly. not to mention probably 9/10th of my friends on it including myself never use it.  no clue what kids use these days, i'm too old."

"that'd be awesome to have 1k in facebook money and then they seize it because you are a conservative and a "danger" to society."

"I'll take a crypocurrency by a major bank or nation..Thats about it."

"Facebook is terrible. Feels like spam mail from the 90s"

"Would they be able to ban people from their wallet similar to the way they ban people for speech they disagree with?"

"Wouldn’t it make more sense to be backed by the ruble?"

"Their whitepaper drops in a few days but based on leaks, I have no reason to believe it's better than Bitcoin in any tangible way."

"No. Facebook can’t effectively manage its existing businesses and folks want to allow them to create a crypto-currency? Good grief, some people are really stupid some of the time."

"LOL at people saying "investing". You obviously don't know what "stablecoin" tied to USD means."

"FB, no thanks"

I also asked a number of economics experts from around the world about their take on it. I did get some response from a couple of experts I hear from who are very plugged in to what is going on with payments technology. In this case, they prefer to offer their comments without attribution by name:

"If Facebook implemented this on a blockchain, in a few weeks or months, they'd realise they would have to shut it down, because it doesn't scale. If they figured out how to make it scale, then when google or whoever launched a competing one, not on a blockchain, then it would be even cheaper." -- one expert on global payments system technology  

" . . the laws have not changed, so this "currency" will still be in law, a taxable "digital commodity" not a "money". And all the AML (anti money laundering), KYC (know your client) and PEP (politically exposed person) controls will still apply. Those are the complications that keep the incumbents from driving down transactions fees in competition with each other.  - another expert on global payments regulations

The email discussion on this between the experts involved was interesting. They basically discussed the pros and cons of Facebook trying to do something like this. Among the issues discussed were the technology to make it work, the regulatory hurdles involved, and the economic feasibility for Facebook to sustain this over the long term if it does launch next year which is the stated goal. Another issue might be how central banks would react if this were to gain substantial public adoption. Also, how the IRS would view the token for tax purposes will be interesting.

Some articles indicated that early stage talks between Facebook and the CFTC have taken place to get a feel for how this token might be regulated in the US. It's too early to tell how the CFTC might or might not be involved. They did produce a brief primer on Virtual Currencies that you can read here

It will probably be some time before we can get the full answers to these questions since launch of the actual token to the public is not planned until 2020 based on some of the early articles reporting on it. 

My initial feedback did not indicate a high % of interest in this from those surveyed, although the sample size was fairly small. It's obvious from the above though, that as with anything that wants to be a currency, the trust people have in it and in who issues it is extremely important. We see that principle over and over again when we examine what people will accept as money. I should add that one participant pointed out to me that on a college sports message board, there is not a lot of diversity by gender as most participants are likely male. That is a good point, but it is true that in this online community, there is a good bit of diversity within the group in terms of age, income level, political views, etc. Also, I do know that many people in that online community have some interest in cryptocurrencies in general.

Despite the poll results above, if Facebook eventually implements this with a big global marketing push and can actually develop the technology to do this profitably, we can assume that some portion of their user base will have interest in it. While only around 18% of this poll indicated interest, 18% of the total Facebook user population is still a lot of people if that percentage held up on a global basis. Also, the articles linked below say that Facebook could initially target certain countries where they may see more need for financial inclusion and lower remittance fees for money transfers.

We will watch to see how things go with it over the next year.

Links for additional information:

Libra White Paper (added 6-18-19) 

CNBC - Congress asks Facebook to slow down (6-18-19)

PC Mag

Tech Crunch (extracted quote below)

"The cryptocurrency will be a stablecoin — a token designed to have a stable price to prevent discrepancies and complications due to price fluctuations during a payment or negotiation process. Facebook has spoken with financial institutions regarding contributing capital to form a $1 billion basket of multiple international fiat currencies and low-risk securities that will serve as collateral to stabilize the price of the coin, The Information reports. Facebook is working with various countries to pre-approve the rollout of the stablecoin." (extract below)

"With regard to its cryptocurrency, Facebook also seems to be aware of its less than stellar public reputation. It’s in talks to create an independent oversight foundation, according to the Information. It’s also reportedly offering third-party organizations to help manage the cryptocurrency, provided they cough up $10 million for the honor of running a node. This will theoretically decentralize Facebook’s power over the Facebook Bucks and is expected to net the social media giant up to $1 billion in swift fashion."

The Block (extract below)

"Visa, Mastercard and PayPal are set to be backers of Facebook's cryptocurrency along with a number of other companies, including Uber. Each will invest approximately $10 million into a foundation that will govern the coin, the Journal (Wall Street Journal) said citing anonymous sources. 

Neither the governing body, called the Libra Association, nor Facebook will directly control the coin, according to the Journal (WSJ). Sources also told the Journal that some members don't fully understand how the coin will work or their role in the project."

CoinDesk (extract below)

"Despite reports that Facebook is gearing up to reveal its new cryptocurrency as early as next week, a source with knowledge of Facebook’s operations said the project’s software has a long way to go until it can be used. Sources attribute the delay to blockchain industry incumbents being reluctant to work on a project that doesn’t appear to have the hallmarks of a true cryptocurrency."