Bitcoin’s Plunge Sparks Wider Selloff
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Bitcoin’s Plunge Sparks Wider Selloff

What to know about the fallout.

By Avi Salzman
Thu, May 20, 2021 2:24pmGrey Clock 3 min

Bitcoin plunged to its lowest level since February on Wednesday, hitting a low of $30,200, down by more than half from an all-time high of $64,829 it reached just last month.

Ether, the second most valuable cryptocurrency, was down 21% as well on Wednesday.

The fallout was hitting stocks that have ridden the crypto boom. Square (ticker: SQ) dropped 4% and PayPal Holdings (PYPL) was off 1.5%. Companies with even more of their business models tied to the price of cryptocurrencies dropped even more precipitously, with crypto exchange Coinbase Global (COIN) falling 8% and business software firm MicroStrategy (MSTR), which has bought billions worth of Bitcoin, down 11%.

MicroStrategy’s CEO MIchael Saylor, among the most important evangelists for crypto had a short message on Twitter: “I’m not selling.”

Some crypto users couldn’t sell even if they wanted to. Coinbase users complained about trouble accessing the app. The company said “some features may not be functioning completely normal” and it is investigating.

Bitcoin had recovered to about $36,000 by 10:45 a.m. Eastern time, still down 19% in the past 24 hours. But even getting a definitive price was tricky. CoinDesk, among the most popular sites for crypto information, was down for part of the morning, and was showing different prices than coinmarketcap.com, another hub for data, and Coinbase. At about the same time, Coinbase was showing $36,998, while coinmarketcap showed $36,429—the kind of spread that used to happen in crypto but that had diminished in the past couple of years as the market became more liquid.

All of the gains Bitcoin accrued since Tesla (TSLA) got involved with the cryptocurrency have now been erased. And as with many things in crypto, it’s difficult to pinpoint the catalyst for the selloff.

Matt Hougan, chief investment officer of crypto fund provider Bitwise Asset Management, told Barron’s that the drop was caused by “short-term forced and panicked selling by retail investors who entered the market in the past year, spooked by a mix of bad news and misinformation, and turbocharged by the procyclical leverage that’s an inherent feature of the crypto market.”

Looking at patterns on the Bitcoin blockchain itself, he said he sees funds moving from overseas retail investors to institutions in the United States, “which is a good thing for the long-term. But in the short-term, volatility is a part of the market.”

The market has been dropping since Elon Musk began questioning Bitcoin’s negative environmental impacts about a week ago. One more recent catalyst may have been China’s decision to reiterate its ban on financial institutions facilitating crypto transactions.

In the crypto market, momentum can turn quickly and selloffs can accelerate as people try to lock in gains made in the latest bull market. Anyone who bought cryptocurrencies in 2020 is still showing a large paper profit, but maybe getting anxious that those gains won’t hold for long.

This “no doubt this will scare investors just as all pullbacks in all markets scare investors” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at The Leuthold Group, wrote in an email to Barron’s. Paulsen is a more traditional investor who has warmed to Bitcoin in the past year. The selloff isn’t shaking his interest in crypto — he still thinks it’s worth allocating 1% or 2% of a portfolio into it. And he likes that the volatility makes it possible to rebalance frequently when prices go up and down.

One thing Paulsen is watching for is whether the selloff bleeds into the larger market. The S&P 500 was down 1.3% on Wednesday morning. “Note that the other 3 times crypto did this, the stock market suffered a correction or a bear market,” he wrote. “So part of the crypto story may depend on what the stock market does from here? Does it recover soon or is this a full-blown, longer-lasting correction for stocks?”

Saylor and other Bitcoin bulls have said that Bitcoin is an effective hedge against inflation, because the number of Bitcoins is capped at 21 million, theoretically making it impervious to the “money-printing” common with fiat currencies. Prominent hedge-fund managers like Stanley Druckenmiller have bought Bitcoin under that premise, and some analysts have found that Bitcoin has been stealing gold’s thunder.

But as inflation fears grow in the United States, there is evidence that institutional investors are returning to their familiar inflation hedge.

Investors have been pulling money out of Bitcoin futures and funds and putting more of it into gold, according to a new analysis by J.P. Morgan strategist Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou. That’s a shift from the prior two quarters, he wrote. On Wednesday, the spot price of gold was up 0.8% to $1,883.20 per ounce.

Reprinted by permission of Barron’s. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 19, 2021.



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How the Middle East Became the Latest ‘Gold Rush’ in Marketing

The Middle East is set to be the fastest-growing marketing region in the world, driven by momentum in countries such as Saudi Arabia

By MEGAN GRAHAM
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 5 min

Saudi Arabia’s fledgling advertising industry and continued growth in the sector in the United Arab Emirates are helping to make the marketing business in the Middle East the fastest-growing in the world.

Ad spending in the Middle East is projected to increase 8.1% to $6.6 billion this year, up from 3.5% last year, according to advertising research firm WARC.

That expansion is building from a much smaller base than in many other ad markets. The Netherlands alone will generate $6 billion in ad spending in 2024, up about 2.3%, WARC said. But it is also enough to outpace every other region in 2024, the firm said.

“It reminds me almost of the gold rush,” said Reda Raad , chief executive of TBWA\Raad Group, an ad agency based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, that is part of the U.S.-based ad holding company Omnicom Group . “I don’t think we’re going to see this type of growth again in our lifetime.” TBWA\Raad has won eight new clients over the past year, with an increase in head count of 17% to accommodate the new work, Raad said.

Some international brands have long maintained a presence in the region. PepsiCo has considered the area a strategic market for decades, said Karim Elfiqi , senior vice president and chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Sponsorship deals with local stars such as Mohamed Salah , a soccer player from Egypt, “are a testimony of how over time, we have been part of the cultural fabric of the region,” Elfiqi said.

Other major brands have formed a more recent focus on the Middle East. The Lego Group opened a Middle East and Africa headquarters in Dubai in 2019, citing the size of the region’s young population. That office has developed work such as a Ramadan-themed campaign that ran in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

‘Massive growth’

The Middle East’s ad market has lagged behind regions such as North America and Europe partly because of stricter cultural norms and regulations that affected business, as did a more limited media landscape and economic instability, according to Raad.

But marketing growth in the region is now being driven in part by newfound marketing interest in Saudi Arabia, where ad spending this year is expected to reach $2.1 billion, nearly double its level in 2019, according to WARC. Growth is also coming from the U.A.E., whose ad market is expected to reach $1.7 billion in 2024. Smaller contributors include Qatar and Kuwait.

The landscape has changed now because of economic diversification, increased connectivity and a move into the digital world, leading international brands to enter and invest in campaigns tailored to the region, Raad said.

Four years ago, Saudi Arabia made up a small proportion of business at Lightblue, a creative experience and tech agency based in Dubai. These days, 40% of its business comes from the country, says co-founder David Balfour , who opened an office in Riyadh last month as a result.

“The conversation used to be, ‘We’re going to do this in Dubai.’ Now, it’s ‘We’re going to do this in Dubai—and in Saudi.’” Balfour said. “We’re seeing massive growth in that region.”

There have been speed bumps. As government spending reaches huge levels , Saudi Arabia experienced a rare economic contraction in 2023.

But the country’s efforts to expand its economic pursuits beyond oil have led to the creation of new brands, which are seeking the help of marketing agencies to get the word out.

Marketers in the region are seeking help to stay on-trend in areas such as generative artificial intelligence and social media, said Greg Paull , principal of R3, a consulting firm that helps match advertisers with agencies.

“U.A.E. has been a magnet for the region for 20 years as more investment has come in—but with the new leadership in Saudi since 2017 [when Mohammed bin Salman was named crown prince ], this market has gone through remarkable growth,” Paull said.

Saudi Arabia has faced criticism for its human-rights record under the crown prince, the day-to-day ruler of the kingdom, especially over the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the more recent jailing of women’s rights activists.

Mohammed has outlasted the international isolation that followed Khashoggi’s killing, however, and continues to pursue an economic diversification plan dubbed Vision 2030. The country last year unveiled plans for a new international airline called Riyadh Air, is investing billions of dollars to build its tourism and videogame industries, and in March hosted a golf tournament in Jeddah under the auspices of LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed league that has both challenged the PGA Tour and struck a deal to unify with it.

Changing tides

Vision 2030 also calls women’s empowerment a top social priority and seeks to increase the country’s employment rate of women.

Nada Hakeem , CEO and co-founder of Saudi creative agency Wetheloft, said the perceptions of hardships for women in the marketing and advertising industry are outdated and inaccurate.

“As a Saudi woman who founded my company in 2012, I’ve always felt supported by the creative community and the industry as a whole,” Hakeem said. “While every society may have its challenges, I can confidently say that these challenges have not hindered our growth.”

A progression of new laws, policies and incentives are making the industry in Saudi Arabia more inclusive and supportive for women, she added.

In certain parts of the Middle East, “absolutely, it’s still challenging, but they are making the right strides, and they have the right quotas and ambitions in place,” said Rebecca Bezzina , CEO for the EMEA region at R/GA, an agency owned by Interpublic Group of Cos.

“They’ve got wealth, they’ve got world-class ambition, world-class budget. They’re not shy of doing things in the right way,” Bezzina added, speaking of the region overall. “But they still have a talent shortage, especially from a creative and design and product point of view. So often what we’ve found our success has been that they’ve come to us and said, ‘Oh, we want a world-class agency to help us launch this new venture or do this new brand.’”

R/GA said it sees 69% more requests for agency work from marketers in the region today than it did five years ago. It recently handled a brand redesign for Banque Saudi Fransi, which wanted to reaffirm its Saudi roots with a modern identity, and created Weyay, the brand for a new digital bank from the National Bank of Kuwait.

The agency hasn’t notably increased its regional workforce, but it has made changes to facilitate working across Europe and the Middle East.

Other Western players are making moves to capture a piece of the growth. Advertising giant WPP has long worked in Saudi Arabia through units such as Ogilvy and GroupM, but in 2021 established a joint venture with a local company to create ICG Saudi Arabia, a communications and media company based in Saudi Arabia. Ad holding company Stagwell opened new offices for its media agency Assembly in Riyadh in 2021 and in Cairo in 2022.

Regional hospitality

Some executives said certain facets of business dealings in the Middle East are different than in other parts of the world.

Bertrand Morin, a group account director for R/GA who is based in London and works often with Middle Eastern clients, said he spends much more time speaking about personal lives and families with those clients than those in the U.K. or U.S. He has been invited to Middle Eastern clients’ homes to join their families for dinner, something that has never happened with clients elsewhere.

But others say it can feel surprisingly familiar.

Balfour, the Lightblue co-founder, said he was struck by the number of ad-agency workers recently having dinner at the Riyadh location of steakhouse chain Beefbar, and the scene’s similarity to far-off locations.

“The staff are from everywhere in the world. The service and the food is unbelievable. There’s a DJ playing,” Balfour said. “Apart from not having alcohol, you could be anywhere in the world.”

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