China’s Ban on Crypto Isn’t Hurting Bitcoin. Here’s Why.
The world’s most infamous crypto is taking the crackdown in stride.
The world’s most infamous crypto is taking the crackdown in stride.
China’s latest moves to ban cryptocurrency transactions are causing exchanges to shut down in the country, but Bitcoin and its counterparts appear to be taking the crackdown in stride.
Prices for Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two largest cryptos, have risen more than 7% and 15%, respectively, from their low points on Friday, when China’s new ban was published, according to Fundstrat Global Advisors.
Bitcoin was trading around $43,600 Monday morning, down slightly from before China’s announcement. Ethereum, at around $3,090, has also recouped losses since Friday’s sell-off took the coin down to $2,750.
Other cryptos fared even better over the weekend—notably the tokens used to process trades on decentralized exchanges, known as DEXes. Uniswap, Sushiswap, and dYdx, the tokens associated with those three venues, have surged more than 30% since Friday as activity on those platforms took off.
Trading on the dYdX DEX topped that on Coinbase Global (ticker: COIN) over the weekend, according to Fundstat, pushing the token’s price up 80%.
DEXes allow users to swap tokens with far more privacy and anonymity than a standard brokerage. Users may be able to set up accounts without providing their names or addresses, simply by registering a digital wallet that is associated with an IP address and security keys. Trading occurs automatically using software code and “smart contracts” between buyers and sellers, or lenders and borrowers.
China appears intent on shutting down commercial crypto transactions and trading in the country. The People’s Bank of China and other regulatory agencies warned citizens of stiff penalties if they were caught trading cryptos or related products.
One of the largest exchanges in China, Huobi Global, has stopped opening accounts for new customers in mainland China, effective this past Friday. It said on Sunday that it would “gradually retire” existing accounts by the end of the year.
Binance, another major exchange, has also suspended new accounts in China. It said Monday that users in Singapore wouldn’t be able to access its site for deposits or trading of cryptos, starting Oct 26., and that users in the country were advised to “cease all related trades, withdraw fiat assets and redeem tokens by Wednesday.”
Singapore’s central bank warned in early September that Binance may be violating payment regulations in the country.
Yet the crypto markets aren’t tanking, even as China and other countries in Asia move to restrict commercial transactions.
One explanation is that traders can migrate to DEXes where it may be harder for regulators to track transactions. Uniswap and other exchanges could be beneficiaries if trading volume moves to their platforms long-term.
As Fundstrat noted, moreover, much of the Bitcoin that has been mined, or produced, doesn’t circulate, and more of it may be kept offline. About 70% of all circulating Bitcoins is now held by long-term holders, up from 59% in May. “This indicates that ‘whales’ have continued buying into recent volatility,” Fundstrat said.
China has periodically tried to restrict crypto activity and Bitcoin has shrugged it off. Not including the latest crackdown, China has announced tough new measures on crypto six times since 2013. Bitcoin fell an average 4% in the week after the announcements but was up an average 46% a year later.
“The lesson here is that if you invest in crypto long enough, you start to develop a circadian-like rhythm in which you find yourself unsurprised by panic-selling initiated by seemingly routine ‘FUD’ released by the Chinese government,” Fundstrat wrote, referring to fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Nonetheless, trading on DEX platforms isn’t as easy as it is on the major sites. It takes more technical skill than simply opening an account with a brokerage service and funding it through a bank account. Active crypto traders may not be deterred, but the casual investor may find it too cumbersome–and hardly worth the potential penalties in an authoritarian country like China.
The message from crypto markets now is that they don’t need China or its vast market of investors. Whether that lasts remains to be seen, especially if other countries follow in China’s path.
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Food prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, surprising central banks and pressuring debt-laden governments
LONDON—Fresh out of an energy crisis, Europeans are facing a food-price explosion that is changing diets and forcing consumers across the region to tighten their belts—literally.
This is happening even though inflation as a whole is falling thanks to lower energy prices, presenting a new policy challenge for governments that deployed billions in aid last year to keep businesses and households afloat through the worst energy crisis in decades.
New data on Wednesday showed inflation in the U.K. fell sharply in April as energy prices cooled, following a similar pattern around Europe and in the U.S. But food prices were 19.3% higher than a year earlier.
The continued surge in food prices has caught central bankers off guard and pressured governments that are still reeling from the cost of last year’s emergency support to come to the rescue. And it is pressuring household budgets that are also under strain from rising borrowing costs.
In France, households have cut their food purchases by more than 10% since the invasion of Ukraine, while their purchases of energy have fallen by 4.8%.
In Germany, sales of food fell 1.1% in March from the previous month, and were down 10.3% from a year earlier, the largest drop since records began in 1994. According to the Federal Information Centre for Agriculture, meat consumption was lower in 2022 than at any time since records began in 1989, although it said that might partly reflect a continuing shift toward more plant-based diets.
Food retailers’ profit margins have contracted because they can’t pass on the entire price increases from their suppliers to their customers. Markus Mosa, chief executive of the Edeka supermarket chain, told German media that the company had stopped ordering products from several large suppliers because of rocketing prices.
A survey by the U.K.’s statistics agency earlier this month found that almost three-fifths of the poorest 20% of households were cutting back on food purchases.
“This is an access problem,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at insurer Allianz, who previously worked at the United Nations World Food Program. “Total food production has not plummeted. This is an entitlement crisis.”
Food accounts for a much larger share of consumer spending than energy, so a smaller rise in prices has a greater impact on budgets. The U.K.’s Resolution Foundation estimates that by the summer, the cumulative rise in food bills since 2020 will have amounted to 28 billion pounds, equivalent to $34.76 billion, outstripping the rise in energy bills, estimated at £25 billion.
“The cost of living crisis isn’t ending, it is just entering a new phase,” Torsten Bell, the research group’s chief executive, wrote in a recent report.
Food isn’t the only driver of inflation. In the U.K., the core rate of inflation—which excludes food and energy—rose to 6.8% in April from 6.2% in March, its highest level since 1992. Core inflation was close to its record high in the eurozone during the same month.
Still, Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Tuesday that food prices now constitute a “fourth shock” to inflation after the bottlenecks that jammed supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in energy prices that accompanied Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surprisingly tight labor markets.
Europe’s governments spent heavily on supporting households as energy prices soared. Now they have less room to borrow given the surge in debt since the pandemic struck in 2020.
Some governments—including those of Italy, Spain and Portugal—have cut sales taxes on food products to ease the burden on consumers. Others are leaning on food retailers to keep their prices in check. In March, the French government negotiated an agreement with leading retailers to refrain from price rises if it is possible to do so.
Retailers have also come under scrutiny in Ireland and a number of other European countries. In the U.K., lawmakers have launched an investigation into the entire food supply chain “from farm to fork.”
“Yesterday I had the food producers into Downing Street, and we’ve also been talking to the supermarkets, to the farmers, looking at every element of the supply chain and what we can do to pass on some of the reduction in costs that are coming through to consumers as fast as possible,” U.K. Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt said during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.
The government’s Competition and Markets Authority last week said it would take a closer look at retailers.
“Given ongoing concerns about high prices, we are stepping up our work in the grocery sector to help ensure competition is working well,” said Sarah Cardell, who heads the CMA.
Some economists expect that added scrutiny to yield concrete results, assuming retailers won’t want to tarnish their image and will lean on their suppliers to keep prices down.
“With supermarkets now more heavily under the political spotlight, we think it more likely that price momentum in the food basket slows,” said Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank.
It isn’t entirely clear why food prices have risen so fast for so long. In world commodity markets, which set the prices received by farmers, food prices have been falling since April 2022. But raw commodity costs are just one part of the final price. Consumers are also paying for processing, packaging, transport and distribution, and the size of the gap between the farm and the dining table is unusually wide.
The BOE’s Bailey thinks one reason for the bank having misjudged food prices is that food producers entered into longer-term but relatively expensive contracts with fertilizer, energy and other suppliers around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their eagerness to guarantee availability at a time of uncertainty.
But as the pressures being placed on retailers suggest, some policy makers suspect that an increase in profit margins may also have played a role. Speaking to lawmakers, Bailey was wary of placing any blame on food suppliers.
“It’s a story about rebuilding margins that were squeezed in the early part of last year,” he said.
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