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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Target, America’s Third-Largest Retailer, Accepts Bitcoin via Gyft, China Drops The U.S. Dollar In Favor of Bitcoin, Bitcoin Fund Reports YTD Performance of 4,847%

Target, America’s Third-Largest Retailer, Accepts Bitcoin via Gyft,
China Drops The U.S. Dollar In Favor of Bitcoin,
Bitcoin Fund Reports YTD Performance of 4,847%

Bitcoin’s real-world use cases in the US and Canada expanded on 21st November, when San Franciscan mobile gift card startup Gyft announced via its official blog that Target GiftCards could now be offered on its platform.

Target GiftCards can be purchased in denominations from $25 to $500 on Gyft’s website. Cards cannot yet be bought using the company’s mobile app, though Gyft spokesperson Jen Rhee indicated this functionality would be available soon.

Gyft’s cards can be redeemed for any items in Target stores or on Target’s website, with the exception of American Express and Visa gift cards, which cannot be purchased. CEO Vinny Lingham would not comment on the terms of the deal, but he did speak to CoinDesk about the importance of Target and the bitcoin community to his platform, he said:

“We love the fact that we have some of the top brands out there, Target is obviously a huge brand.”

While influential, Lingham notes that bitcoin users represent a very small percentage of the population. He also cites a lack of retailer awareness regarding mobile gift cards as potential roadblock to adding more stores to the platform. However, Lingham noted that Gyft’s choice of payment methods, including bitcoin, has been key to its growth.

The announcement follows an open letter to reddit’s bitcoin community penned by Lingham on 10th November. In the letter, Lingham appealed to bitcoin users to help the company broaden its network.

The message spawned a discussion on reddit about which retailers would be best suited toward expanding the network, and by extension, bitcoin’s acceptance at major retailers. Unsurprisingly, given its top-tier status in the US, Target was suggested, with reddit user J-MRP even going so far as to predict that Target would add its gift cards to the platform soon.

Target, a Minnesota-based discount retailer, was founded in 1962 and has since expanded to more than 1790 locations in the US and more than 100 stores in Canada. Target stocks a wide range of items, from furniture and kitchen supplies to electronics and video games. The company is the third largest retailer in the US, trailing only Walmart and Kroger with $71.9bn in annual revenue.

China Drops The U.S. Dollar In Favor of Bitcoin    

Connection to Bitcoin

Within China, the high savings rate seen among its citizens has been attributed to the peer pressure of other citizens saving, and the long term consequences of the security measures taken while living under one child rule. Anyone who doesn’t want all their securities denominated in RMB has diversified assets in several ways.

Most likely China’s budding interest in Bitcoin is testing new waters to see how their savings fare with a virtual currency. While the exchange rate is expected to fluctuate with Bitcoin’s current small market size, Bitcoins attributes of being a fixed quantity, and impossible to steal without private keys, make it an attractive way to store savings.

China’s Announcement

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) recently announced they will stop stockpiling US dollars, described as a time bomb without a timer. This dollar departure was also a recommendation from Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz posted on the Wall Street Journal 3 years before this announcement.

Yi Gang, a deputy governor at the PBOC, stated that it isn’t in China’s favor to stockpile foreign exchange reserves which is reported to total just over 3 trillion dollars.

As Renminbi (RMB) SWIFT payments have grown 17 fold over the past 2 years and anyone not  native to China has the freedom to open bank accounts that handle RMB, this move may not be a direct attack on the dollar. But it is more likely a part of China’s strategy to make the RMB the world reserve currency.

China’s  General USD Economic Coverage Leading Up To This Announcement

At this point, an announcement of this magnitude should be taken in context with previous economic stories leading up to this decision.


- South China Morning Post, “PBOC Announcement to stop stockpiling the US dollar


- Tapei Times posts: “Asian Currencies On the Rise…

- Slate (Matthew Yglesias) posts: “Stop Being Wrong About Chinese Bond Purchases

In “Yglesias is Wrong About China’s US bond Purchases” Robert Murphy argues that China’s US bond purchases give them significant leverage over the US government.  He continues in his post, written on October 24th, by saying, “Chinese constitute some 23 percent of the entire foreign holdings of U.S. Treasuries. Furthermore, the CRS report also indicates that between 2003 and 2012, the Chinese covered at least $40 billion of the U.S. budget deficit in a given year, with the exception of 2011 when China’s holdings of Treasuries slightly declined. In this light, it’s understandable why so many analysts are alarmed. If for some reason the Chinese government should decide to halt its purchases — let alone dump its accumulated holdings — of Treasuries, surely this would have serious ramifications.”

The ramifications could include the further devaluing of the dollar so interest rates rise and more money is required to purchase fuel, food, and other goods.

An interest rate increase already has US banks threatening to charge for holding bank deposits.

Other Countries View of the US Dollar

Disenchantment towards the dollar expands beyond China’s borders and shows up in Russia as Mikhail Degtyaryov, member of Russia’s controversial nationalist LDPR party, is actively trying to get a bill passed to ban the US dollar from Russia and predicts a dollar collapse could in 3 to 4 years or around 2017.

The US government’s list of the countries holding it’s Treasury Securities provides a different perspective on China’s announcement revealing all the countries and groups around the world who have purchased US securities. This table’s data is from September 2012-2013.

This Economist’s debt clock is a reminder that all governments in the world have some level of debt and near the bottom of the debt clock tool, is a paragraph that says:

“Does it matter? After all, world governments owe the money to their own citizens, not to the Martians. But the rising total is important… when debt rises faster than economic output (as it has been doing in recent years), higher government debt implies more state interference in the economy and higher taxes in the future…”

Coverage From Major American Media

What is equally troubling is the lack of coverage from major media outlets discussing China’s announcement. This news seems to be absent from all major news publications as discussed in the Wall St Sector Selector.

For the US, this story shows there are several factors continuing to eat away at the value of the dollar including the perception of endless quantitative easing. Since there is nothing preventing the other countries from removing or reducing their holdings in US securities, Bitcoin can be used to store wealth as a hedge against a future where holding the dollar may cost more than it’s worth.

China just dropped an absolute bombshell, but it was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the United States. The central bank of China has decided that it is "no longer in China’s favor to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves". During the third quarter of 2013, China's foreign-exchange reserves were valued at approximately $3.66 trillion. And of course the biggest chunk of that was made up of U.S. dollars.

For years, China has been accumulating dollars and working hard to keep the value of the dollar up and the value of the yuan down. One of the goals has been to make Chinese products less expensive in the international marketplace. But now China has announced that the time has come for it to stop stockpiling U.S. dollars. And if that does indeed turn out to be the case, than many U.S. analysts are suggesting that China could also soon stop buying any more U.S. debt. Needless to say, all of this would be very bad for the United States.

For years, China has been systematically propping up the value of the U.S. dollar and keeping the value of the yuan artificially low. This has resulted in a massive flood of super cheap products from across the Pacific that U.S. consumers have been eagerly gobbling up.

For example, have you ever gone into a dollar store and wondered how anyone could possibly make a profit by making those products and selling them for just one dollar?

Well, the truth is that when you flip those products over you will find that almost all of them have been made outside of the United States. In fact, the words "made in China" are probably the most common words in your entire household if you are anything like the typical American.

Thanks to the massively unbalanced trade that we have had with China, tens of thousands of our businesses, millions of our jobs and trillions of our dollars have left this country and gone over to China.

And now China has apparently decided that there is not much gutting of our economy left to do and that it is time to let the dollar collapse. As I mentioned above, China has announced that it is going to stop stockpiling foreign-exchange reserves...

The People’s Bank of China said the country does not benefit any more from increases in its foreign-currency holdings, adding to signs policy makers will rein in dollar purchases that limit the yuan’s appreciation.

“It’s no longer in China’s favor to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves,” Yi Gang, a deputy governor at the central bank, said in a speech organized by China Economists 50 Forum at Tsinghua University yesterday. The monetary authority will “basically” end normal intervention in the currency market and broaden the yuan’s daily trading range, Governor Zhou Xiaochuan wrote in an article in a guidebook explaining reforms outlined last week following a Communist Party meeting. Neither Yi nor Zhou gave a timeframe for any changes.

It isn't going to happen overnight, but the value of the U.S. dollar is going to start to go down, and all of that cheap stuff that you are used to buying at Wal-Mart and the dollar store is going to become a lot more expensive.
But of even more importance is what this latest move by China could mean for U.S. government debt. As most Americans have heard, we are heavily dependent on foreign nations such as China lending us money. Right now, China owns nearly 1.3 trillion dollars of our debt. Unfortunately, as CNBC is noting, if China is going to quit stockpiling our dollars than it is likely that they will stop stockpiling our debt as well...

Analysts see this as the PBoC hinting that it will let its currency fluctuate, without intervention, thus negating the need for holding large reserves of the dollar. And if the dollar is no longer needed, then it could look to curb its purchases of dollar-denominated assets like U.S. Treasurys.

"If they are looking to reduce these purchases going forward then, yes, you'd have to look at who the marginal buyer would be," Richard McGuire, a senior rate strategist at Rabobank told CNBC in an interview.

"Together, with the Federal Reserve tapering its bond purchases, it has the potential to add to the bearish long-term outlook on U.S. Treasurys."
So who is going to buy all of our debt?

That is a very good question.

If the Federal Reserve starts tapering bond purchases and China quits buying our debt, who is going to fill the void?

If there is significantly less demand for government bonds, that will cause interest rates to rise dramatically. And if interest rates rise dramatically from where they are now, that will set off the kind of nightmare scenario that I keep talking about.
In a previous article entitled "How China Can Cause The Death Of The Dollar And The Entire U.S. Financial System", I described how China could single-handedly cause immense devastation to the U.S. economy.

China accounts for more global trade that anyone else does, and they also own more of our debt than any other nation does. If China starts dumping our dollars and our debt, much of the rest of the planet would likely follow suit and we would be in for a world of hurt.

And just this week there was another major announcement which indicates that China is getting ready to make a major move against the U.S. dollar. According to Reuters, crude oil futures may soon be priced in yuan on the Shanghai Futures Exchange...
The Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) may price its crude oil futures contract in yuan and use medium sour crude as its benchmark, its chairman said on Thursday, adding that the bourse is speeding up preparatory work to secure regulatory approvals.

China, which overtook the United States as the world's top oil importer in September, hopes the contract will become a benchmark in Asia and has said it would allow foreign investors to trade in the contract without setting up a local subsidiary.

If that actually happens, that will be absolutely huge.

China is the number one importer of oil in the world, and it was only a matter of 
time before they started to openly challenge the petrodollar.

But even I didn't think that we would see anything like this so quickly.
The world is changing, and most Americans have absolutely no idea what this is going to mean for them. As demand for the U.S. dollar and U.S. debt goes down, the things that we buy at the store will cost a lot more, our standard of living will go down and it will become a lot more expensive for everyone (including the U.S. government) to borrow money.

Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done about any of this at this point. When it comes to economics, China has been playing chess while the United States has been playing checkers. And now decades of very, very foolish decisions are starting to catch up with us.

The false prosperity that most Americans are enjoying today will soon start disappearing, and most of them will have no idea why it is happening.
The years ahead are going to be very challenging, and so I hope that you are getting ready for them.

Exante’s Bitcoin Fund Reports YTD Performance of 4,847%

Although technically launched in late 2012, Malta-based brokerage Exante released their 2013 year-to-date (YTD) performance statistics for The Bitcoin Fund last week. Listed in Bloomberg’s Comparative Fund Analysis section, The Bitcoin Fund came in with a 4,847% return, leading its peer group by a wide margin.

The closest funds in the comparative analysis registered a year-to-date performance of 33.7% and 25.4% respectively. The Bitcoin Fund gives institutions and high-net worth individuals easy, secure and rapid access to the vibrant bitcoin market with a unique licensed product.

The company also offers a reliable secondary market for the trading of fund shares on both a long and short position basis. Recognising that speculative bitcoin trades exceeded transactions for goods and services by 20 to 25 times in the latest quarter, Exante co-founder Vladimir Maslyakov told Bloomberg that:

“The real economy is not growing as fast as the price, speculators are usually much faster.”

It is impossible to know with certainty the motives behind a trade (or if liquidity-enhancing speculation is even detrimental), but this new chart from Blockchain.info attempts to measure the ratio of trade volume to transaction volume, as explained by David Perry.

However, this imbalance is expected to adjust as Bitcoin has now surpassed PayPal and Discover to become the world’s fifth largest payment network by daily transaction volume, as measured by Coinometrics.

Lately, increasing demand for bitcoin has been driven by China which recently eclipsed the US in active bitcoin nodes on the network. This rapid price appreciation tends to put pressure on bitcoin-related startups because entrepreneurs must increasingly justify how a placement into their company will yield a higher rate of return than simply investing straight into the digital currency. Building out the ecosystem benefits everyone.

Arguably, bitcoin represents a binary investment: either ultimate success as a world reserve currency, or capitulation to a zero price point.

The key challenge for venture capitalists and startup investors will be to leverage any investment into a scalable infrastructure company for dual participation by maintaining asset balances denominated in bitcoin. It would be counter-productive to financially support a bitcoin ecosystem company without also supporting the underlying base currency.

Bloomberg Stats:

Year-to-date performance statistics, courtesy of Bloomberg.
Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson seems to miss this point when he declares that his primary interest in Bitcoin is its ability to become the “financial and transactional protocol” for the global Internet, and that he and his firm own very little bitcoin. Wilson makes this statement as if Bitcoin can achieve the lofty protocol role without any impact on the monetary value of the underlying base currency unit.

It is almost as if he believes that USV’s portfolio company Coinbase will be better off by converting bitcoin-operational proceeds into US dollars and keeping balance sheet assets in US dollars. Unfortunately, I suspect this is the case at Coinbase.

Meanwhile, the Exante Bitcoin Fund’s assets under management currently total over $35m and the fund does not charge a performance-based fee because there is no discretionary management or use of leverage. However, there is an annual management fee of 1.75% as well as a 0.5% transaction fee.

Exante is regulated by the Malta Financial Authority and, as of 18th November, the value per unit of the Bitcoin Fund was $658 where one unit equals one bitcoin. Exante is not alone in the bitcoin fund business, since SecondMarket launched the private, open-ended Bitcoin Investment Trust (BIT) in September 2013.

The private investment vehicle is based in the US and open to institutional and accredited individual investors. SecondMarket also intends to facilitate two-way trading of the trust shares on its proprietary platform to enable both long and short positions. Barry Silbert, CEO, said:

 ”US investors, including wealthy families, are allocating more of their investments into Bitcoins in order to diversify portfolios.”

Silbert also confirmed that he’s working with Pensco Trust Co, Entrust Group Inc and Equity Trust Co to offer investors the ability to purchase bitcoin for individual retirement accounts. In a little under two months, SecondMarket’s Bitcoin Investment Trust has already attracted $46.8m under management.

Monty Henry, Owner

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