With over $20 million in Bitcoin, the El Salvadorian government is set to put the basis of their already crumbling economy on the back of the world’s most sought-after cryptocurrency. President Naykib Bukele took to Twitter over the weekend to boast about his country’s unprecedented economic shift in a time when 70% of residents lack access to traditional financial services.
In a country where roughly half of its population has no internet access, the government has released a state-sponsored app (called Chivo Wallet) that will allow its citizens to buy goods using Bitcoin the government owns. Mostly dominated by the US Dollar, the local economies of El Salvador will now be forced to accept Bitcoin as legal currency.
Each citizen who uses Chivo will be given $30 worth of Bitcoin to jumpstart the spending.
Buying the dip 😉
— Nayib Bukele 🇸🇻 (@nayibbukele) September 7, 2021
The move has faced backlash from all different types of groups including economists, politicians, and investors. The world is watching to see if this shift in currency will help pull the country out of its troubles, or if it is more public relations posturing — at the expense of the El Salvadorian economy.
The United States top official in El Salvador, Jean Manes, referred to the nation at a press conference Saturday as “a democracy in decline” as the move is just one of a handful of that technically increase the power of the federal government in the small country. Manes compared Bukele to the likes of Hugo Chávez, using his notoriety with the population to cover up a strategic economic collapse and dismantling of democracy.
The El Salvadorian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The value of Bitcoin dropped by 15% against the US dollar on the day of its debut.
Both Tether’s CTO and General Counsel went live on CNBC earlier this week in an attempt to push back against critics challenging their business model. The company recently revealed that less than 3% of its digital currency was backed by US dollars after a settlement with the NY Attorney General compelled some disclosures.
The US government has since been sounding the alarms that its collapse could disrupt the short term credit markets.
Tether is no small player, having issued nearly $62 billion worth of its digital currency, an amount so large that it’s widely thought to have played a role in previous Bitcoin bull runs.
The Tether interview can be watched below:
More than $62.5 billion worth of Tethers have been printed in the last few years to facilitate liquidity in the crypto markets. The system has worked because the company behind Tether had long claimed that each unit of the digital currency was backed somewhere by a real dollar in a bank account.
That was determined false. “Tether’s claims that its virtual currency was fully backed by U.S. dollars at all times was a lie,” wrote the New York State Attorney General in February after the regulator announced a settlement with the company. “These companies obscured the true risk investors faced and were operated by unlicensed and unregulated individuals and entities dealing in the darkest corners of the financial system.”
Despite the characterization, Tether has continued to be the glue that makes the global crypto market hum. And their size is now so big, that it’s no longer just a crypto problem.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Tether now poses a risk to all short-term credit markets. The central bank listed it as an example of “new disruptors” that pose financial stability challenges.
Eric S. Rosengren, the CEO of the Boston Fed, said “There are many reasons to think that stable coins, at least many of the stable coins are not actually particularly stable and actually have some of the same features as money market funds. The difference is prime money market funds have been losing market share but these stable coins have been growing very rapidly in part because of their use along with the cryptocurrency market.”
On Tether in particular, he said, “While [Tether talks] about being stable, if you look at the set of assets that are there, it includes corporate bonds, secured loans, commercial paper, in effect this is a very risky prime fund. Prime funds would not be able to hold all these assets.”
Tether has drawn enhanced public scrutiny in recent months after releasing the following breakdown of its assets. The digital asset company that once claimed all Tethers were backed by dollars, revealed that less than 3% of them were actually backed by dollars.
Tether’s riskiness was also the subject of a recent segment on Jim Cramer’s Mad Money show on CNBC:
deBanked first shed light on the Tether mystery more than two years ago in a story that questioned what drove the cryptocurrency bull market of 2017.
A month after hackers shut down the Colonial Pipeline for a ransom of $4 million in bitcoin, the FBI got the majority of the money back.
Bitcoin, the digital currency idolized as free and far from the reaches of the government, was confiscated (some theorized “hacked”) this past week. The FBI took back $2.3M: half of the pipeline ransom. The Bureau followed the 75 bitcoins via the blockchain and, according to an affidavit uploaded by ABC News, seized the private key to the bitcoin account and took 63.7 bitcoin. Though the FBI secured 84.9% of the ransom in BTC, the crypto’s price is down to nearly half last month’s value.
Now, bitcoin enthusiasts like the editors at Decrypt will swear that there is no way the FBI could hack a private account that without the private key and account number, both long strings of numbers, the encryption makes it impossible to get in. But law enforcement could confiscate Bitcoin through other methods.
The blockchain is a ledger going back to the first block mined with all transactions perfectly traceable. With enough computer power, an agency can retrace steps hackers take and force the address owner to comply.
April Falcon Doss, executive director of the Institute for Technology Law and Policy at Georgetown Law, told NPR that while unlikely, there is even a theoretical possibility that the FBI outright hacked the private key.
But “The idea that the FBI would have, through some brute-force decryption activity, figured out the private key seems to be the least likely scenario,” She said. Still, a currency that is supposed to be “the future of finance” dropped more than 8% after the news that digital terrorists couldn’t rely on bitcoin for illegal activity.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has embraced crypto so completely that he’s hosting his own crypto conference on Wednesday, June 2.
Tomorrow I’m hosting my very own Crypto Conference with some of the top players in the DeFi space.
— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) June 1, 2021
The mayor regularly shares photos with crypto executives on social media and his own city government website biography includes a section dedicated to the Bitcoin White paper. The Miami Heat’s home stadium is even being rebraned to the FTX Arena, named after a cryptocurrency exchange (which oddly cannot be accessed by US residents).
Suarez’s June 2nd conference will be 100% virtual and FREE.
In the three days that follow, the largest ever in-person Bitcoin conference will take place at the Mana Convention Center in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
It’s not just crypto. Suarez has been heavily accommodating to the tech and finance industries with the hope that they might relocate their businesses to Miami.
In that vein, deBanked sat down with the mayor in person back in March.
PayPal launched Checkout with Crypto, allowing users to use Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, or Bitcoin Cash to checkout at more than 29 million PayPal merchants.
“As the use of digital payments and digital currencies accelerates, the introduction of Checkout with Crypto continues our focus on driving mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies,” CEO and President Dan Schulman said. “Enabling cryptocurrencies to make purchases at businesses around the world is the next chapter in driving the ubiquity and mass acceptance of digital currencies.”
The transactions will be settled in cash by PayPal automatically, and the firm said it does not plan on holding the coins and will likely sell the balance off. PayPal had previously offered to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies on their platform through a partnership with Paxos Trust Company.
PayPal said it added crypto purchasing to engage more customers with online merchants and make their purchasing platform more accessible.
How will the transactions be taxed? The terms and conditions state that PayPal will provide 1099 forms and report to the IRS, but “it is your responsibility to determine what taxes, if any, apply to transactions you make.”
A lot of Crypto news happened at once. Yesterday, Visa announced a USD Coin program, aiming to allow transactions to be settled through a stable coin backed by the USD.
Mr. Wonderful, the Shark Tank multimillionaire, recently said that while Bitcoin may be going through an exciting price discovery phase, it is not liquid enough to garner genuine institutional interest.
“If I want to buy a million dollars’ worth of Bitcoin right now, I’ve gotta do a fair amount of work to pull that off,” he said. “I can’t get consistency with any single regulator on endorsing bitcoin for me to actually do a significant transaction.”
The price of Bitcoin grew significantly at the end of 2020, in three months quadrupling to reach $41k at it’s height. Still, as O’Leary explained on the popular finance podcast “The Pomp” and shared on the O’Leary youtube channel: cryptocurrency is nothing compared to other asset classes.
“Bitcoin is still a nothing-burger,” he said, “a giant nothing-burger.”
Before the asset class becomes big enough for the largest whales to sink billions into as an asset class, cryptocurrencies will have to change. It is simply too challenging to put money in and take money out, and unclear how that will be taxed or regulated in a personal or institutional portfolio.
In the future, O’Leary expects major regulation to approach the crypto space, as evident recently with the SEC charging U.S.-based Ripple over its XRP token.
“Give me the top seven cryptocurrencies, put them into an ETF wrapper, and let me invest in it with liquidity,” O’Leary said. “So that if I want to buy a million dollars of it in the morning and sell a million dollars in the afternoon, I can do that in an ETF format.”
But one thing that cryptocurrency proves, O’Leary said, is that traditional asset classes can be sold 24/7 just like digital currencies.
“Maybe what Bitcoin is telling us is we should have liquidy perpetually, pure price discovery because its always breakfast somewhere in the world,” O’Leary said. “It may be the way of the future, and in a way, if that happens, there would be less demand for something like Bitcoin.”
In early 2015, deBanked signed up a customer that was interested in paying with Bitcoin. So we priced it out and we agreed that about one month of advertising on our website combined with an ad in a single magazine issue would cost about 14 bitcoins.
I submitted an invoice via Coinbase and they paid. Pretty soon thereafter, we sold the bitcoins for cash. I thought nothing of it because I’ve never seen Bitcoin as an investment.
We continued to do other advertising deals in Bitcoin in which the contracts were priced in Bitcoin instead of dollars but that was the largest single Bitcoin transaction we ever did. I’ve also done things like pay for hotel rooms for industry conferences in Bitcoin, because you know…that’s how I roll.
As you probably heard over the New Year’s weekend, the price of bitcoin shot up to $34,000. It got me thinking about how I failed to become a Bitcoin millionaire years earlier, but now with this incredible new high, it reminded me of that one deal in particular
Fourteen bitcoins in 2021 is worth approximately $476,000. Almost a half million dollars. That was for just 1 month of advertising on deBanked.
I guess I should’ve held on to them.
Happy New Year.