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It’s Actually Okay To Completely Ignore Bitcoin’s 1,400% Rally

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Forgive me for sounding like a crank, but it’s okay to totally ignore the Bitcoin rally.

Sure Bitcoin’s up over 1,400% this year (that’s as of the time I started typing) and its market capitalization now significantly exceeds that of Procter & Gamble, the best performing stock in Forbes’ first 100 years of existence. Despite Bitcoin’s boom, the digital currency just doesn’t seem to have any impact on the important financial issues of the day, whether that’s saving, borrowing, or conducting everyday transactions.

If Bitcoin doesn’t influence how you save, how you borrow, or how you transact, then maybe there’s no point paying attention to its staggering rise in 2017. Now might be a good time to push against fears of missing out (FOMO) on the rally, with good reason.

Does Bitcoin really impact your portfolio or your financial plans? When it comes to retirement there are two major, trillion-dollar themes for savers. Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, Americans are returning to the stock market in droves, having been generally underinvested since the 2008 carnage and the market’s bottoming a year later. As people return to the market, they’re doing so using low-cost index mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, instead of high-priced managers. Broadly speaking, this a big positive.

After all, the stock market’s 10%-plus annualized total return over the past 100-years, and a less impressive 7% annual return since December 1997, is the growing bedrock of America’s retirement system. Big-data tools now show savers how they can plan their finances to meet retirement and other financial goals with a few mouse clicks. Innovations like target-date funds and ETFs are creating new levels of precision when building these plans. All the while, fees are falling fast and Wall Street’s take is mired a steep decline. These trends are being driven by the BlackRocks, Vanguards and Fidelitys of the world, in addition to robo advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront.

To all of this, Bitcoin is utterly non existent: It has no influence on stock market returns, it isn’t part of the fee-disruption equation, 401k plans tracking the S&P 500 are doing just fine this year despite missing on “crypto”.

There’s talk of a stock market bubble with each new record high, but some of the fastest-rising companies on the S&P 500, from Apple to Facebook and Amazon, are luring the most careful investors like Warren Buffett to Glen Kacher (read our exclusive profile) and Stanley Druckenmiller due to their fundamentals. We’ll hear from time-to-time about some hedge fund guy buying Bitcoin, and I’ve even written a story or two about the newest Bitcoin bull, but generally the smart money remains in non-crypto assets.

The S&P 500 trades at a price of 25-times earnings and it carries a dividend yield of about 2%; it’s not cheap by historical standards but anyone who entered the market in the early 1960s at a similarly expensive valuation and stuck with their plans through good and bad times would likely be enjoying a bountiful retirement. At Forbes’ 100th birthday party, Buffett predicted the Dow will exceed $1,000,000 by the time we turn 200, and that’s possibly the safest prediction he’s ever offered.

READ MORE: Bitcoin, Blockchain And Billions

The same theme emerges in the big-short and long-term financial moves people have to make in their lives, for instance borrowing to buy a home, finance an education, or in making slightly smaller auto and big-ticket consumer purchases.

These can be major decisions and the current landscape is marked by plenty of “disruption”. Virtually all of it is coming from fintech startups, not cryptocurrencies and their attendant networks. Digital-first companies are becoming mainstays in America’s largest lending markets; competition is increasing, risk assessments are improving, transparency and seamlessness is rising, consumer costs are broadly plunging.

After all, it’s a new crop of companies like  Quicken Loans, SoFi, GreenSky, Credit Karma, LendingClub that are transforming the way everything from a home loan to a college education or pile of credit card debt is handled. Improving credit access is still one of the big non partisan topics of discussion in America and waves of novel solutions are emerging. Entire financing markets, from clean software interfaces originating loans all the way to new securitization markets to distribute debt to institutional investors have emerged in recent years. Bitcoin is nowhere to be found.

Even in payments and other basic transactions, there’s a growing menu of digital-first options that casts into question whether cryptocurrencies and their associated networks are actually that relevant.

When it comes to electronic payments, it is still Visa and MasterCard who are winning on a dollar basis. Payment volumes at Visa increased 41% in 2017 to $7.3 trillion, at MasterCard volumes rose 10% to $1.4 trillion last quarter. Cryptocurrencies seek to disrupt these networks, offering no-cost transactions, but the day-to-day flow of money seems to be falling to the incumbents and it is disrupting the use of cash.

READ MORE: Will This Battle For The Soul Of Bitcoin Destroy It?

Meanwhile, the market isn’t static. PayPal’s Venmo has made person-to-person payments cost free and utterly seamless, like a social network of money. Small businesses are gaining new options; Square recently reported a 31% quarterly increase in payment volumes as it offers merchant sellers access to better and lower cost transaction networks. The world’s most valuable private financial technology company is Stripe , another distruptor in e-commerce and payments.

Behind all of this, it must be said, is the rule of law.

If you get screwed you may have your day in court. Some entities are bound by investor protections and fiduciary standards. Depending on what’s being done, there’s also careful assessments of credit risk, identity, and the like. Yes these entrenched systems are the establishment, but that’s a major advantage.

Of course, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and their associated networks promise to disrupt it all. It is presented as potentially a new way to raise capital (goodbye Goldman bankers), a new peer-to-peer sharing tool for everything from data to real estate deals, a cheap alternative to transactions (sorry, greedy MasterCard), and even a novel take on the concept of currency itself. Some view Bitcoin as a store of value like gold, or a slightly damaged and possibly fake Leonardo Da Vinci painting. Others view it as part a sort of new world order liberated from tax authorities, governments, and money-printing central banks. Maybe it is the 2017 fear and volatility trade since the Cboe VIX index remains in single digits despite a profusion of global risk?

Everyday, price graphs that resemble the textbook definition of every bubble ever in history are bandied about as evidence of Bitcoin’s validity. Judging by the relentless and inexplicable gains, there are likely new converts to Bitcoin by the minute, or hour. The price rise may also cause skeptics to dig their heels further, increasing their bubble talk.

There’s another, possibly better option: You can simply stick to your plans and ignore Bitcoin. – Written by 

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Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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Op-Ed: These Are The Six Stages Of Changes In Consumer Behaviour Led By The Coronavirus Pandemic

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With a possible call for a lockdown looming in South Africa, people are stockpiling for the worst case scenario. Although some may think it’s too early to be taking such panic-driven action, it seems this behaviour is perfectly aligned with global consumer behaviour trends caused by the different stages of the Coronavirus outbreak.

A recent Nielson’s report highlights that there are key consumer behavioural changes that occur parallel to each stage of the virus’s evolution. Nielson identifies that these consumer changes are being mirrored by every country that is currently trying to flatten the curve. Nielson identified the following stages together with changes in consumer behaviour at each stage:

Stage Coronavirus Event Markers Consumer Behaviour Change
Stage 1 Health-minded Buying Minimal localised cases of Covid-19 generally linked to arrival from another country. Consumer’s interest rises in products that support overall maintenance of health and wellness. 
Stage 2 Reactive Health Management First local transmission with no link to other location and first Covid-19 related death/s.  Prioritise products essential to virus containment, health and public safety. E.g., face masks
Stage 3 Pantry Preparation Multiple cases of local transmission and multiple deaths linked to Covid-19 Pantry stockpiling and shelf-stable foods and a broader assortment of health-safety products; spike in-store visits; growing basket sizes. 
Stage 4  Quarantined Living Preparation Localised Covid-19 emergency actions, percentage of people diagnosed positive continues to increase. Increased online shopping, a decline in-store visits, rising out-of-stocks, strains on the supply chain.
Stage 5 Restricted Living Mass cases of Covid-19. Communities ordered a lockdown. Severely restricted shopping trips, online fulfilment is limited, price concerns rise as limited stock availability impacts pricing in some cases. 
Stage 6 Living a New Normal Covid-19 quarantines lift beyond region/country’s most-affected hotspots and life starts to return to normal.  People return to daily routines (work, school, etc.) but operate with a renewed cautiousness about health. Permanent shifts in the supply chain, the use of e-commerce and hygiene practices. 

(table source)

Although South Africa has yet to have any deaths, our own consumer behaviour is following this trend almost exactly. Derek Cikes, COO of online payment solution Payflex has been following the effects of Coronavirus on retail closely since the outbreak and says that South Africa is somewhere between stages 4 (Quarantined Living Preparation) and 5 (Restricted Living).

“We’ve seen a significant increase in online shopping both in our own data and at our merchants. South Africans are looking to online stores to keep goods flowing while we all prepare for a possible lockdown. But we’re also seeing the limitations and strain put on online retail because of this surge in users,” says Cikes. 

In line with Nielson’s stage 5 attributes, South Africa is clearly seeing the strain put on online grocers and their supply chain due to the demand of social distancing and self-quarantine. Checkers launched their app sixty60 to major SA cities promising to deliver your groceries within 60 minutes only to have to adjust that promise due to increased demand for the home deliveries. Pick ‘n Pay’s online store is also showing signs of a supply chain disruption as a large percentage of goods are unavailable or sold out. 

In order to ease the strain on the supply chain caused by panic buying, both Checkers and Pick ‘n Pay have implemented rationing, meaning that consumers are only allowed a certain number of each product per purchase. This action hopes to ensure that all South Africans are able to get what they need for the weeks ahead. Other online grocery apps such as OneCart are seeing an unprecedented increase in users. For example, OneCart is usually able to deliver groceries within an hour, but because of increased demand, now have a 2 to 3 day delivery time.

In its Situational Threat Report Index, Bain & Company states that the concept of the shopping journey in physical stores is taking on a new meaning and importance, given the potential for transmitting the virus at each interaction. 

According to Bain & Company’s index, the world is currently sitting at a level 6 global threat which is called Markets and Public in Multiple Major Nations Reacting Strongly. The index combines official data with Bain’s own modelling. It evaluates Coronovirus’s effect on global business, grading it from 0 (a negligible threat) to 10 (severe global recessionary conditions). 

South Africa is no different, with stores and businesses scrambling to find innovative solutions to keep customers safe and secure. For example, a Spar franchise in the north eastern suburbs of Johannesburg recently put up perspex glass panes at each till to create a physical divide between shopper and cashier while delivery services such as Woolworths allow the drivers to drop the goods in a safe area outside the house without coming into contact with customers. Uber Eats and Mr D have implemented similar regulations.

Bain & Company also note that in most segments, the outbreak will probably reduce traffic and revenue. They say that retailers of all types must be prepared to act quickly to mitigate the impact of such turbulence, while also learning from the experience of their counterparts in China and other hard-hit countries. And even as they strain every sinew to address short-term disruption, retail executives also need to begin medium-term planning for an eventual recovery.

Falling in line with Nielson’s stage 6 “A New Normal”, Cikes believes that there will be a permanent change in the way South Africans use e-commerce. 

“If there was anyone who was reluctant to use online shopping as a viable way to get both necessities and luxury goods, Coronavirus is sure to change this. It’s forcing people to get online and this may change the way South Africans shop forever. This will also push retail to think about bringing their own stores online if they haven’t already,” says Cikes.

Content provided by Nielson

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