As much as institutions, risk-averse, or simply skeptical people have downplayed the new digital currency revolution – it still, a decade after coming to public light, remained resilient.
Bitcoin now gets a regular mention in daily news and stock market reports. It is also being traded by several established investors and even included by fund managers as (naturally) high-risk portfolio instruments.
We all by now, have heard the old rhetoric of high volatility and use for criminal activity when it comes to Bitcoin and its crypto-family.
Billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill Gates were two of the most recent financial ‘institutions’ to weigh-into this by publicly lambasting Bitcoin – with Buffet equating the cryptocurrency to rat poison!
Such views back the ‘rationale’ for crypto’s inability to take over fiat money or become a major form of currency.
Be it may, the digital currency, however, does have its unbeatable benefits and functions: ones that are difficult for even the most hardcore anti-crypto audience to ignore.
Here are three functional attributes and trends that the digital revolution has created since coming to the mainstream:
1. Financial emancipation.
Bitcoin and ‘altcoin’ investing have created a new wave of financial investors.
These are retired bankers; naturally the ‘millennials’ – who instinctively jump on-board a new discovery that has creative destruction-like tendencies; and then the plumber, bartender and the average man on the street.
Its ease of access, use and potential to turn a few dollars, euros or local currency into hundreds, thousands or millions more, makes it a high appeal for those who typically would be excluded from owning an investment portfolio.
Based on their returns many have taken to social media (via groups, profiles and communities) to share their success stories. But this is also a reason to heed caution when taking counsel from anyone claiming to be an expert in cryptocurrency investment.
It is new and while volatility is not new to trading – it is constantly on a rollercoaster ride making it hard for even seasoned trading experts to predict using traditional market analysis tools.
New analysis tools
A recent development termed Hodl Waves attempts to track and predict Bitcoin movements via complex usage history – comparing behavioural patterns of what people do when they have the coins and when they choose to reinvest them.
Cryptocurrencies have nevertheless, got more people thinking about making profits, looking into tax implications and anything financial for that matter!
Crypto investors are now constantly planning for their future while matching their ‘block’folio performance to capital gains not only from rival coins but also against traditional (lower yielding) investment instruments.
Blockchain technology has also spurred a new path of careers and industries as more companies globally, for instance, look to acquire the lucrative Crypto exchange license to operate.
From account managers, technical advisors, software programmers, to customer service agents and the accompanying social media marketers needed to promote the various exchanges.
Governments as well will benefit from their operations and while there are still discrepancies in most countries about how to tax individuals, fiscal authorities will get a lion’s share of income from taxing these exchanges.
2. The way money is transferred.
We all have undergone the painful stress of waiting for funds to clear so your rent gets paid or waiting to receive money from abroad for an emergency.
But the standard “3 to 5 working days” in which most (if not all) banks guarantee for something as simple as an inter-bank transfer is simply not good enough especially when there are public holidays involved.
With cryptocurrency, the aim is to be not only the most secure form of funds transfer – but the fastest.
Converting cryptocurrency back to fiat money, however, remains the only potential bottleneck as it would require institutions to adopt or directly accept payments in the cryptocurrency to avoid one going through another step to receive goods and services.
Cryptocurrencies nevertheless still cut down transfer time significantly compared to traditional electronic fund transfers of fiat monies – which becomes even more of a logistical quagmire of time wasting and high costs if you must switch currencies before the transfer can be made.
To reiterate, all of this can and be avoided once more and more companies accept payment in one or more types of cryptocurrency.
The onus is thus on the creators of the digital coin or token to prove that their digital currency is reliable enough and readily available to be used as a form of legal tender.
There are several reports nevertheless of known, well-established financial institutions and companies using currencies like Bitcoin, Ripple, Verge for fund transfers or even direct exchange for services.
One that cannot be omitted, is the reduced costs associated with dealing with money you have (hopefully) earned form hard work.
Even inheritances are gained because of the toils of the giver’s hard work. So, it wouldn’t be fair for a group of a few companies headed by executives to siphon it from you all in the name of ‘providing you with a service’.
We all pay for Internet use (and the security software associated), for smartphones and computers.
We, therefore, have the technology to make transactions ourselves without having to rely on others to charge us for things we can do ourselves.
The financial institutions have long preyed on people’s ignorance, obedience, and unquestioning trust while they brazenly burn cash dabbling in equally questionable high-risk investments like derivatives and futures.
A new wave arises
It is only a matter a time before the banking institutions and big companies get on board to benefit from the high-level encryption and speed provided by digital currency.
They would even if it meant creating their own blockchain and not bowing down to the pressures and potential competition that these altcoins pose to their modus operandi.
To conclude, the ‘wait and see’ mantra all that we can exercise when predicting the future of digital currency.
But for now, it is a bright one considering the three points mentioned above.
There are, however, concerns on how secure the encryption can remain with the advent of quantum computing. This ground-breaking tech has the potential to make calculations at millions of speeds faster and thus able to crack the toughest data encryption.
Regulation, however, while feared by hardcore decentralization pushers, would be required in some form to keep Crypto prices stable. This is in addition of helping to manage the daunting task of keeping cryptocurrencies away from criminal exploitation.
What does a small-scale farm-holding, two presidents, some tech companies and their respective local currencies all have in common?
The answer might be obvious if you have been paying attention to the so-called trade war between China and the US in the news lately.
But why is it of concern and what are the far-reaching implications for the rest of the world?
Well, active involvement in international trade is a vital sign of a country’s financial health and a significant input to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in a country from raw materials (input costs), to value added (assembly and skilled labour costs) to come up with final goods or services.
And though “domestic” implies that this refers to a country’s internal economy as a whole, the contributions can be extended from a services perspective.
This occurs when the country places emphasis on or relies on income from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to help boost its economy via its GNP. GNP is a similar measurement but slightly different from GDP as it incorporates.
Importance of trade
Fact is, all goods and services come from the price or costs starting with that of the initial extraction/acquiring of raw materials.
These then undergo the production and assembling process leading to the product or service of intrinsic value for both local and international (via exports) consumption.
An ideal situation for a country is to export more then it imports to maintain a positive balance of trade. So basically more money flowing in than out.
The extra surplus can be ploughed into the economy via the fiscal budget and can supplement a shortage of funds raised from domestic taxes.
The opposite, which isn’t always a bad thing, (called a trade deficit) would have to be managed and nursed like any other loan.
The US has often criticized Germany for exporting a lot (of its cars, trains and machinery) and not importing much and thus not being ‘fair’ in trade practice. But trade itself, arises from market forces, priorities and consumer demand.
Everyone loves a BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz so these German-made products will always be in demand compared to US car makes.
Who you chose to trade with will often give rise to favourable balance of trade if you are engaged in a trade agreement or part of a trading bloc.
Why this is also a big deal
The demand for your country’s goods and service will directly impact the strength of its local currency – more trade means more of your currency is required to pay for goods and thus the value of the Dollar, Euro, Yen or Naira etc., goes up.
A strong local currency leads to stronger purchasing power for its citizens and residents. This comes in handy when you plan things like holidays, purchase goods online, invest or just send cash abroad as gifts.
So, you can see why a strong Dollar or Euro is always favoured and why sometimes drastic measures are taken to keep it that way.
“A higher demand for a country’s goods and services has a direct positive impact on its currency and exchange rate”
A quick glimpse of the world in terms of the input costs for goods and services that gives countries a competitive edge when it comes to trade.
China then reciprocated by hitting the US with tariffs (mainly on agriculture produce) causing the trade war that drives each country to protect its own economy.
The higher input costs naturally, lead to the price of the product going up and reducing its competitive advantage and demand. Higher input costs can also affect the local labour force for the worse too.
Factories, multinational corporations and industries such as farms (both commercial and subsistence) will have to cut the cost of labour. In worse cases which we have seen, workers are laid-off in a heartbeat to stop or prevent accounting losses.
These factors would have hopefully been taken into consideration by the respective leaders before pulling the tariff triggers. Acting with emotions rather than looking at the far-reaching implications is irresponsible and affects all recipients of the goods and services.
Have the talks of the trade war impacted productivity and the global trade economy? So far its just the stock markets (securities and commodities) reacting.
Only time will tell.
The ramifications will also depend on the price elasticity of demand of the commodities under the tariffs. That is, how markets and respective industries affected react to the sentiment versus the actual economic activity they engage in.
We can change our dependence on certain goods and services so that we don’t take too high a knock when their prices fluctuate.
Life is about making choices. As rational beings, we tend to make the choices that benefit our wealth and well-being.
But some options and choices have to be made on our behalf — especially when it comes to the provision and regulation of commonly used goods and services in an economy.
The prices of government-regulated products such as fuel, alcohol, and cigarettes are examples.
How we react to the price change (whether an increase or decrease) is referred to in economics as elasticity.
It is a general term for a ratio of change and scientifically attempts to capture people’s sensitivity to price movements. It is the percentage change in the quantity demanded (or supplied) of a good or service brought about by a percentage change in the price of that good or service.
A 10% increase in the price of bread, for example, resulting in a decrease in the quantity demanded by 8%, means that the price elasticity of demand for bread is 0,8.
The ratio is expressed as a number between negative infinity and infinity, with one being the midpoint. The number has no unit — it is not expressed in centimetres, litres or as a percentage.
But that number tells us a great deal. If it is higher than one, the product is said to be elastic: quantity demanded responds strongly to price changes.
Anything under one is inelastic: a price change doesn’t affect quantity demanded much.
When a product is said to be unit elastic, it means the change in quantity demanded is equal to the change in price.
On the commercial side, the concept becomes more useful and relevant when formulating and studying consumer trends.
It is especially useful to product brand managers who (like any profit-maximizing firm) have to set prices of their goods and service but at the same time watch the level of consumption or sales.
Income elasticity of demand measures the responsiveness of the quantity demanded of a good to the change in the income of the people demanding the good.
The degree of elasticity is essential in assessing the impact of price changes on the level of demand or supply and in particular, estimating the effect on the total revenue of the good or service.
Generally, the more inelastic the product, the easier it is for firms to maximize profit by increasing its price.
So if you’ve ever wondered why the price of alcohol and cigarettes — what governments refer to as “sin taxes” — always tends to rise, it is merely because they are inelastic products.
A person addicted to nicotine will rather cut down on movies so that he or she can still afford a box of smokes, even when the price increases.
Likewise more and more countries, as they industrialize, are becoming heavily reliant on oil. The global dependence on oil was reiterated in the latest Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) oil outlook, which paints a gloomy picture as the West’s demand for oil is predicted to surpass the available supply in the coming years.
Globally, over the decade 1994-2004, about five times more passenger cars appeared on the road than did commercial vehicles.
In South Africa, for instance, commercial vehicle sales for July was up 13% on the same period.
Concurrently, increases in lorry volumes worldwide have been observed.
The more inelastic the product is, the easier it is for suppliers — who naturally want to make bigger and bigger profits — to slap consumers with high price increases.
At the time of writing in 2007, the oil price once hovered around $73/barrel and threatened to reach a record high of $80*
By using other means of energy (such as oil substitutes, wind, electricity and solar) we could reduce our reliance on the oil – and make it less inelastic.
In a country like South Africa, for example, the use of trains for cargo transport would ease the dependence on petrol and diesel-powered commercial vehicles.
*The shift in reliance on oil-based resources has changed since this piece was originally written as the oil price is now at 56.41per barrel. This is partly due to apparent diminishing reserves andthe advent of emerging alternative sources of energy and technology to power motor vehicles and trucks. Tesla recently launched its future truck and alleged fastest production car and has been making grounds to introduce its electric cars and have surpassed the net worth of Ford.
This blog is extracted from a column written as far back as in 2007 for a special project for the Financial Mail (South African finance magazine).