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Egypt Unveils Ancient Burial Site, Home To 50 Mummies

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Egyptian archaeologists uncovered a tomb containing 50 mummies dating back to the Ptolemaic era, in Minya, south of Cairo, the ministry of antiquities said on Saturday.

The mummies, 12 of which were of children, were discovered inside four, nine-meter deep burial chambers in the Tuna El-Gebel archaeological site.

The identities of the mummies were still unknown, said Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

“We have not found names written in hieroglyphics,” he said, adding it was obvious from the mummification method that the individuals whose remains were found had to some extent held important or prestigious positions.

Visitors, including ambassadors from several countries, gathered at the discovery site where 40 of the mummies were exhibited during the announcement ceremony.

Some of the mummies were found wrapped in linen while others were placed in stone coffins or wooden sarcophagi.

The archaeological finding was the first of 2019 and was unearthed through a joint mission with the Research Center for Archaeological Studies of Minya University. -Reuters

-Nadeen Ebrahim

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Economy

A Bad Omen? Emerging Markets ‘Most Crowded Trade’ For First Time

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Investors made a U-turn on emerging markets, naming them the most crowded trade, in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s survey for the first time in its history.

This marked a big reversal from last month, when fund managers said “short EM” was the third most-crowded trade – showing how fast the mood can shift in an uncertain market.

It could prove to be a bad omen for emerging markets, though, as assets named “most crowded” usually sink soon afterwards.

Previous “most crowded” trades have included Bitcoin, and the U.S. FAANG tech stocks, which led the selloff in December.

Emerging-market stocks .MSCIEF are up 7.8 percent so far this year, and flow data on Friday showed investors pumped record amounts of money into emerging stocks and bonds.

Emerging-market assets had a torrid 2018. Crises in Turkey and Argentina ripped through developing countries already suffering from a strong dollar and rising U.S. yields pushing up borrowing costs.

But a dovish turn by the Fed at the start of the year, indicating the world’s top central bank would not raise interest rates as quickly as previously expected, sparked fresh enthusiasm among investors.

Major asset managers and investment banks such as JPMorgan, Citi and BlueBay Asset Management ramped up their exposure to emerging markets in recent weeks..

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) predicted a “wall of money” was set to flood into emerging market assets.

However, there are some indications momentum may be waning. Analyzing flows of its own clients, investment bank Citi noted they had turned cautious on emerging-market assets over the last week, with both real money and leveraged investors pulling out funds following four weeks of inflows.

BAML did not specify whether the “long EM” crowded trade referred to bonds, equities or both.

Outside emerging markets, investors’ main concern remained the possibility of a global trade war. It topped the list of biggest tail risks for the ninth straight month, followed by a slowdown in China, the world’s second-largest economy, and a corporate credit crunch.

Overall, BAML’s February survey – conducted between Feb. 1 and 7, with 218 panelists managing $625 billion in total – showed investor sentiment had hardly improved. Global equity allocations fell to their lowest levels since September, 2016.

“Despite the recent rally, investor sentiment remains bearish,” said Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BAML.

SECULAR STAGNATION

Investors remained worried about the global economy, with 55 percent of those surveyed bearish on both the growth and inflation outlook for the next year.

“Secular stagnation is the consensus view,” BAML strategists wrote.

Following this theme, investors were most positive on cash and, within equities, preferred high-dividend-yielding sectors like pharmaceuticals, consumer discretionary, and real estate investment trusts.

As investors added to their cash allocations, the number of fund managers overweight cash hit its highest level since January, 2009.

The least preferred sectors were those sensitive to the cycle, like energy and industrials – which BAML strategists see as good contrarian investments if “green shoots” appear in the global economy.

Worries about corporate debt were still running high, with this month’s survey showing a new high in the number of investors demanding companies reduce leverage.

Some 46 percent of fund managers find corporate balance sheets to be over-leveraged, the survey found, and 51 percent of investors want companies to use cash flow to improve their balance sheets. That’s the highest percentage since July 2009.

Europe, one of investors’ least-favored regions, showed a slight improvement. A net 5 percent reported being overweight euro zone stocks, from 11 percent underweight last month.

But investors’ reported intention to own European stocks in the next year dropped to six-year lows as the profit outlook for the region continued to lag.

Allocations to UK stocks increased slightly from last month but the UK remained investors’ “consensus underweight”, BAML said. It has been so since February 2016. -Reuters

-Josephine Mason, Helen Reid, and Karin Strohecker

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Current Affairs

Why Genesis Made Over $1 Billion In Bitcoin, Ethereum And XRP Loans

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As the price of bitcoin cratered last year, falling 83% and erasing $250 billion in market value, one company has secretly been making a killing with some rather unusual business transactions.

Selling to a paradoxical mixture of bitcoin-believing crypto entrepreneurs and hedge funders out to profit off what they hope is the demise of cryptocurrency, bitcoin lending firm Genesis Global Capital originated $1.1 billion in cryptocurrency loans last year, according to a report released today.

Charging interest rates that ensure that its pockets get lined regardless of whether a customer loves or hates crypto, the company is leading the way as a rising tide of crypto startups compete to stay cash positive in this epic bear market.

“It should be possible for people to go long and short bitcoin,” says Michael Moro, the CEO of Genesis Global Capital. “It can’t just be a long-only market. It should be perfectly okay to take the other side, to think that prices are going to fall, and to make that short bet.”

Genesis passed the billion dollars in bitcoin loans milestone on December 14, 2018, less than three months after announcing it had made $500 million in loans since its launch in March 2018. To put that another way, Genesis made another $500 million in bitcoin loans during the last quarter of 2018.

As the price of bitcoin fell 39% over the last two months of the year, Genesis experienced its busiest period so far. New hedge funds and trading firms utilizing “spot” borrowing, combined with new business including crypto collateral—and even the occasional traditional cash loan in exchange for crypto collateral—increased Genesis’ active loans outstanding to $153 million, up from $23M in Q3 2018.

Interest rates on the cryptocurrency loans range from about 10% to 12% for highly liquid cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, depending on how risky Genesis deems the way the customer plans to use the loan. The less liquid the cryptocurrency, the higher the starting interest rate.

The massive increase in loan originations was jump-started by a 16% drop in the price of bitcoin on November 14, as a result of interest from short sellers looking to profit from the drop. Brian Kelly, a cryptocurrency investor who’s been a Genesis customer for five years, sees this kind of transaction activity as crucial to the health of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. “Having an active two-sided market should help liquidity improve overall,” he says.

But not everyone shorted crypto. In fact, Moro says that only about 11% of bitcoin loans were used to bet against bitcoin’s rising price. Instead, he says, the most popular use of bitcoin was for companies like bitcoin ATM firms that need to take short-term possession of bitcoin, accounting for 50% of all loans, followed by those buying cryptocurrency on one exchange and then selling on another at a higher rate, a process call arbitrage.

Bitcoin was the most frequently borrowed cryptocurrency, comprising 75% of all the originated loans. Ether (ETH) and XRP were the second and third most frequently borrowed cryptocurrencies, with ETH borrowing more than doubling since Q3 but still comprising less than 10% of the total loan book. XRP composition since Q3 is down 50%, which Moro attributes to the cryptocurrency’s relative strength over that period. The concentration of loans outside the top three decreased as a result of bitcoin jumping nearly 10% in one month.

Heading into Q4, Genesis’ loan portfolio was about 60% BTC and 40% alt-coins, with XRP constituting nearly 50% of altcoins, according to the report. Prior to Q4, 98% of bitcoin on loan was used exclusively for hedged use cases such as arbitrage, basis capture, and remittance.

Genesis is in the unusual position of being run by a parent company, Digital Currency Group, that has invested in more than 125 cryptocurrency startups globally. That company is headed up by Barry Silbert, the founder of SecondMarket, which was acquired by Nasdaq in 2015 to help startups sell shares before they go public.

As a result of having direct access to this pipeline of venture-backed and, more importantly, venture-vetted crypto startups, Moro’s other company, SEC registered Genesis Global Trading, started unofficially lending crypto as far back as 2014 to what he calls the company’s “friends and family” clients. “We didn’t think about too much of it at the time,” he says.  

But by the end of 2017, at the peak of a crypto-frenzy that saw the overall cryptocurrency market reach $800 billion, Moro joined a fleet of other companies looking to profit even in a down market and spun off the trading company’s lending operations into a stand-alone entity.

As a result of this rising interest, Genesis is far from the only company in the space. Last year hedge fund manager Michael Novogratz’ company, Galaxy Digital, invested $52.5 million in crypto lending startup BlockFi. Other competitors include crypto startup Aave, which raised $16.5 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) in part to power its EthLend lending product, and early entrant Salt Lending, which was founded as far back as 2016.

Facing this rising tide of competitors, Genesis is looking to even further diversify its revenue streams. Moro says that while 75% of the $153 million he has in the portfolio is denominated in bitcoin, 13%, or about $20 million, is for lenders who don’t want to sell their bitcoin at today’s low price of $3,381, down from its all-time high of $19,000 in 2017, but want to generate a bit of revenue by using it as collateral for cold hard cash.

“We wanted to see if there was a demand for that, and there was,” he says.

-Michael del Castillo Forbes Staff

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Human trafficking worsens in conflict zones as militants deploy slaves – UN

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Human trafficking is becoming more “horrific” in conflict zones, where armed groups keep women as sex slaves and use child soldiers to spread fear, the United Nations said on Monday, warning of widespread impunity.

From girls forced to wed to boys made to cook and clean, militants are using trafficking as a tool to boost their control in areas where the rule of law is weak, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report.

The use of children as soldiers and suicide bombers in nations such as Colombia and Nigeria, and the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, have grabbed headlines and sparked global anger in recent years.

Yet police and prosecutors are often not equipped to deal with the recruitment and exploitation of children by extremist groups – while global convictions of traffickers remain very low – according to the UNODC’s annual report on human trafficking.

“Trafficking is found in connection with most armed conflicts,” said Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC. “In situations characterized by violence, brutality and coercion, traffickers can operate with even greater impunity.”

“Child soldiers, forced labor, sexual slavery – human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions as armed groups and terrorists use it to spread fear and gain victims to offer as incentives to recruit new fighters,” he said in a statement.

Fedotov said the award of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to Nadia Murad – a former Islamic State sex slave turned Yazidi activist and U.N. ambassador – was an “important recognition” and urged the world to stop the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The UNODC’s report said that while countries are finding more victims – mostly women trafficked for sex – and convicting more traffickers, the total number of convictions remained very low in many nations – especially in Africa and the Middle East.

“In some countries … there appears to be hardly any risk for traffickers to face justice,” the report said.

About 40 million people worldwide are living as slaves – trapped in forced labor or forced marriages – according to a landmark estimate by Australian rights group the Walk Free Foundation and the U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO).

Yet campaigners say more and better data is needed to track progress in pursuit of a U.N. target of ending modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030 as many victims around the world – including child soldiers – are going uncounted.

Saudi woman fleeing family to remain in Thailand

“Sound information and a solid base of evidence for our policies are two of the most important things to fight this disgusting crime in the most efficient way possible,” Karin Kneissl, Austria’s foreign minister, said at the report launch.

“We simply need to know what it actually is we are dealing with,” she added. -Reuters

– Kieran Guilbert

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