Cryptocurrencies are taking the developing world by storm, with more users now in Nigeria than in the US – 2 experts lay out how bitcoin is changing emerging-market finance

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  • Insider spoke to James Butterfill from CoinShares and Marius Reitz from Luno in Africa about bitcoin in the developing world.
  • El Salvador recently made bitcoin legal tender and other governments may follow suit.
  • Cryptocurrencies can bring finance to the “unbanked” and help counter volatile domestic currencies, the two experts said.
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Cryptocurrencies have made it into the mainstream this year, with crypto-backed bank cards, investment products and traders, both big and small, have got in on the action, driving the likes of bitcoin, ether and dogecoin to record highs.

In the developing world, crypto adoption is growing at breakneck speed. Young, fast-growing populations that lack access to traditional finance, but have smartphones, from Brazil to Botswana, are driving the surge in the use of cryptocurrencies.

James Butterfill, who is an investment strategist at CoinShares, the largest crypto exchange traded product provider in Europe, and Marius Reitz, the general manager in Africa of crypto exchange Luno discussed the social benefits of bitcoin for the developing world.

“In third-world countries, we are seeing the take-up of bitcoin. If you look at bitcoin volume growth, it’s massive,” Butterfill told Insider.

For example, according to a Statista survey of global consumers in February, nearly one in three of those polled in Nigeria said they owned, or used, cryptocurrencies, versus just 6 out of every 100 in the United States, in 2020.

El Salvador’s recent decision to make bitcoin legal tender is an example of how developing countries are using crypto. The World Bank recently said it would not work with the country on its cryptocurrency plans because of how volatile it believes these assets are.

The amount of bitcoin that changes hands in emerging economies is exploding. Trading volumes in Brazil have risen 2,247% year-on-year in 2021, while in Venezuela, where political turmoil has created hyperinflation and economic crisis, crypto trading volumes have risen 833% in the last 12 months, according to data provider Kaiko.

In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, trading volumes have risen 128% year on year, and in Turkey, where inflation and economic decline have hit the lira, they’re up 143%, based on Kaiko’s data.

Bitcoin has been trading between $40,000 and $31,900 over the last month, but has moved between lows of $30,000 and to highs of as much as $63,500 over the course of 2021. Despite its volatility, consumers in developing countries love it.

There are about 1.7 billion people that are considered “unbanked”. However, around 48% of the global population has a smartphone and that percentage, in theory, have access to the internet, and therefore, cryptocurrencies, Butterfill said.

In Latin America, only 30% of the population over the age of 15 have a bank account, according to 2019 data by consultant Mckinsey.

“I think that really is a positive thing that bitcoin’s helping the unbanked be bankable,” Butterfill said.

A closer look at Africa

Crypto use has also grown in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

“One region that may go unnoticed in the development and usage of cryptocurrencies, is Africa. The continent is one of, if not the most promising, regions for the adoption of cryptocurrencies due to its unique combination of economic and demographic trends,” Luno’s Reitz said.

One of the key factors that is encouraging people in Africa to use cryptocurrency is the cost of transferring money. The World Bank reported in 2020 that sending money to Africa via traditional bank transfer cost an average fee of 8.9% compared to the global average of 6.8%.

Sending money abroad, or even receiving funds from overseas, is littered with additional costs, including exchange rates and this is where crypto is helping fill that gap.

“It’s either really expensive, or really difficult to do. So, with something like bitcoin, you can have an international bank account and it costs you virtually nothing, that’s what’s really powerful about it,” CoinShares’ Butterfill said.

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Emerging markets could be the next big frontier for crypto. A slew of politicians want to follow El Salvador and adopt bitcoin as legal tender.

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  • Emerging markets are pioneering digital and crypto currency usage, trading and mining.
  • Since El Salvador voted to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, a slew of politicians have said they want to follow suit.
  • Many showed their support through tweets or by adding the symbolic laser eyes to their Twitter pictures.
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Cryptocurrencies can often stir up concern among conservative investors and few are as conservative as central banks, and regulators are definitely skeptical. But this does not appear to be the case in emerging markets.

Politicians, central bankers and regulators across the developed world might be a little wary, but those in the emerging world are pushing the boundaries of crypto adoption, by pioneering how digital tokens are used, traded and mined.

In fact, they could become crypto’s next big frontier, as a slew of politicians from Brazil, and Argentina and even Tonga have publicly stated that they want their countries to follow the example of El Salvador in making cryptocurrencies legal tender.

El Salvador’s Congress approved a law last week that made the small Central American country the first to accept bitcoin as legal tender, giving it equal status to the US dollar in El Salvador.

“Other countries will follow El Salvador’s lead for two main reasons, making bitcoin legal tender will attract Bitcoin entrepreneurs and ease the burden of sending money internationally.” Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA told Insider.

Indeed, since El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele first announced the bitcoin bill, a slew of other emerging markets politicians have said that their own countries should follow suit.

Paraguayan congressman Carlitos Rejala tweeted “This week we start with an important project to innovate Paraguay in front of the world! The real one to the moon #btc & #paypal”.

Gabriel Silva, a congressman from Panama said his country could not afford to be left behind and a broader adoption of crypto was necessary for the country to attract technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

Brazilian politician Gilson Marques and the Argentinian Francisco Sánchez were among those who added laser eyes, a symbol used by bitcoin bulls, to their public profile pictures.

Central banks around the world are considering launching their own digital currencies that would be centrally managed and regulated – a key difference to existing cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

The Federal Reserve and European Central Bank are still in the very early stages of looking into a digital currencies, while many emerging-market central banks are making fast progress in the area.

“Their use in small-scale trading and remittance transfers from workers abroad are among the main reasons for the popularity of crypto currencies in EM. Central bank digital currencies (CBDC) could also facilitate getting social transfers to the poor and improve transparency of the large informal economy. These channels could be positive for economic growth in EM.” a recent Bank of America research note said.

The popularity and value of crypto currencies like bitcoin and ether has boomed over the past year. They’re both an asset class in their own right, as well as a means of payment for goods and services. Various sports teams like the Dallas Mavericks or Oakland A’s for example accept cryptocurrencies as payments for tickets or merchandise.

In El Salvador, a whole town was already running on crypto – El Zonte, also known as ‘Bitcoin Beach’. Soon the whole country could now be working in similar ways and, if some politicians get their will, other emerging markets countries could as well.

El Salvador’s decision has however been received cautiously by regulators and politicians in developed markets. Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said just this week that cryptocurrencies are too volatile to be used as a payment form.

And the World Bank rejected El Salvador’s request to help with the implementation of bitcoin over environmental concerns linked to crypto mining. Further, regulators have shown concern about the use of crypto to fund illicit activities.

Bitcoin is already up by 300% in the last 12 months and, if more countries adopt it, it should stand to gain even more, even though regulators are tightening their scrutiny of the market, analysts said.

“Bitcoin becoming legal tender in other countries should support the bull case for bitcoin,” OANDA’s Moya said.

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India’s surging Covid-19 cases shouldn’t dissuade investors from buying emerging markets equities, UBS Wealth Management says

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A relative of a person who died of COVID-19 is consoled by another during cremation in Jammu, India, Sunday, April 25, 2021.

  • India reported more than 300,000 cases of COVID-19 for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday.
  • Despite COVID-19 risks, UBS says investors should maintain a risk-on stance to emerging markets.
  • India is geared to global trends and long-term growth, according to Mark Haefele, the CIO of UBS global wealth management.
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In a note to clients on Tuesday, UBS Global Wealth Management’s chief investment officer Mark Haefele said that despite a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in India, emerging markets are still attractive for investors.

On Tuesday, India reported more than 300,000 cases of COVID-19 for the sixth consecutive day.

While case figures in Europe and North America continue to fall, South East Asia has seen a dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections over the past three weeks, according to data from the World Health Organization.

The situation is so dire in India that President Biden has said he will send vaccine supplies, masks, oxygen, and therapeutics to help the country battle the virus.

While Haefele did say rising case figures will be a headwind for the region, the chief investment officer also believes there are “several reasons for a continued positive stance on EM (Emerging Markets) equities.”

Here are the three main reasons why Haefele says investors should be “risk-on” when it comes to emerging markets.

“India’s equity market is geared to global trends and long-term structural growth.”

According to UBS, India now has a nearly 10% weighting within emerging market equity indexes, but that weighting is largely tied to IT companies that do business with the US, so much of it could be shielded from the worst effects of COVID-19.

Additionally, UBS says Indian companies are focused on the long-term growth story and don’t actively trade shares in speculative moves, which bodes well for long-term investors.

Haefele also said that precedence shows COVID-19 surges can be “reined in” within a few months. The firm remains overweight Indian equities.

“China tech regulatory risk appears to be clearing.”

China has a near 40% weighting in emerging market equities, making it one of the most important regions for investors.

UBS believes Chinese tech companies have surpassed recent government regulation hurdles and are poised to post “above-average, double-digit earnings growth” over the medium to long term as investors focus more on fundamentals.

“We see tech regulatory risks receding, with policymakers aiming to constrain monopolistic practices, not curb tech growth,” Haefele said.

“A stronger dollar, higher Treasuries won’t upend EM risk assets.”

Emerging market equities usually struggle when the dollar is strong, but according to Haefele and UBS, the dollar is set to continue on a depreciation trend as the global economic recovery favors “pro-risk” currencies like the Euro.

Haefele also believes the fed will maintain dovish policies and Treasury yields won’t rise above 2% this year, which should help stocks around the world outperform.

Haefele advised positioning for reopening and reflation through value and cyclical stocks in Asia, with a focus on capital goods, construction materials, consumer services, transportation, banks, and metals & mining.

“EM value stocks have traded at a heavy discount over the past decade, leaving room for a recovery rally,” Haefele said.

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The Turkish lira is facing an inflation spiral and its central bank may need ‘outside help’ to fight the crisis and regain foreign investors’ trust, Commerzbank says

Person counts Turkish lira bills
  • Markets are seeing a repeat of the 2018 crisis, which was also triggered by presidential policy, Commerzbank said.
  • The Turkish lira is facing the risk of a damaging inflation spiral, according to the bank.
  • Turkey’s central bank may need ‘outside help’ to fight the crisis and regain investors’ trust, the bank said.
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The Turkish lira has hit record lows this week, domestic markets are in turmoil after the surprise sacking of the head of the central bank and the currency is facing a crisis and a damaging inflation spiral, according to analysts at Commerzbank.

“The next lira crisis is upon us,” Tatha Ghose, a foreign exchange and emerging markets analyst, at Commerzbank said in a note on Tuesday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan installed the third central bank chief in just two years earlier in the week, firing incumbent Naci Agbal, whose approach to monetary policy had won the confidence of domestic and foreign investors alike. Agbal last week raised interest rates to 19% from 17% to head off a pickup in inflation, angering Erdogan, who has made clear he believes higher interest rates boost inflation. This contradicts traditional economic theory, which argues the reverse.

Inflation could now spiral to over 20% by the end of the year as a result, Commerzbank’s Ghose said.

“…He must truly believe that lower interest rates will solve Turkey’s current macroeconomic problems even in the short-term; otherwise it is difficult to believe that the president would risk another lira crisis already, when private sector balance sheets are reeling from a massive FX liability burden,” he said, referring to Erdogan’s macroeconomic beliefs.

“We saw similar presidential involvement in monetary policy right before the last lira crisis in 2018,” Ghose said. “This particular experiment risks ending in an FX-inflation spiral,” he added.

Whilst it is impossible to predict what form the new Turkish monetary policy will take, it is highly likely that interest rates will be cut back to around 13%, which will cause inflation to strongly accelerate in the next nine months, the Commerzbank report said.

The value of the lira against the US dollar is likely to depreciate and risks going exponential, but medium-term policies and developments are impossible to predict, Ghose wrote.

Following the firing of Agbal, investors fled the Turkish market on Monday. The benchmark Borsa Istanbul 100 index had fallen over 5% at close, but turned positive on Tuesday, similarly the lira recovered slightly. It is however still at record lows against the dollar and investors are continuing to pull funds from the Turkish market. The yield on the benchmark 10-year sovereign bond was up by more than 1 whole percentage point on the day at 19.24%, the highest since the last lira crisis in 2018.

By starting yet another cycle of unstable monetary policy, Erdogan “has thrown monetary policy credibility out of the window,” Ghose said. Even policies designed to stabilize the central bank, or rate hikes would not be enough to calm investor worries, as this cycle has repeated itself too often by now, he said.

“For the lira to stabilize, some sort of regime change, or institutional hand-over may be necessary – for example, under IMF supervision – which will restore credibility,” Ghose said.

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Turkish lira crashes as much as 14% after the firing of the head of the central bank sparks market turmoil

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A foreign exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey.

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired the head of the central bank after he raised interest rates last week.

  • The lira fell by as much as 14% against the dollar as foreign investors fled Turkish assets
  • The government says it will continue to follow a free-market and liberal foreign exchange regime.
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The Turkish lira fell as much as 14% on Monday, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked the head of the central bank, Naci Agbal. Investors fled Turkish assets after Agbal’s departure, whose appointment had increased confidence and trust in the country’s monetary and macroeconomic policies.

Since Agbal’s appointment in November 2020, the lira had regained some strength and stability, as domestic and foreign investors responded well to his more traditional macroeconomic policies. Previously, Turkey’s unconventional approach to monetary policy had made many investors cautious and the lira suffered as a result.

Agbal raised interest rates to 19% from 17% on Thursday. The rate hike boosted the currency, but went against Erdogan’s belief that higher interest rates raise inflation. Agbal’s replacement, Sahap Kavioglu, shares this opinion.

“Mr Agbal’s replacement, Sahap Kavcioglu, is a little-known business school professor who shares President Erdogan’s economics theories and is, unsurprisingly, associated with the ruling party. Turkey will be an interesting example of what EM can expect if inflation fears rise markedly, with markets nervous about inflation in developed countries and punishing asset classes accordingly,” Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said on Monday.

Turkish finance minister Lütfi Elvan has however stated the country will continue to follow a policy of free markets and a liberal foreign-exchange regime. A statement by Kavioglu also said the Turkish central bank “will continue to use the monetary policy tools effectively in line with its main objective of achieving a permanent fall in inflation”.

The falling lira dragged on the benchmark Borsa Istanbul 100 index, which tumbled by as much as 9% on Monday, as investors fled the domestic market.

The heightened nervousness of fixed income investors was also reflected in the stark price fall of the benchmark Turkish 10-year bond. Its yield rose by as much as 300 basis points to around 16%, on Monday, its highest since August 2019. Yields move inversely to prices.

Growing concerns over economic and currency instability following Agbal’s dismissal, especially relating to shifts in interest rates and inflation, have raised the risk associated with Turkish assets and led investors to pull out of Turkish markets across the board on Monday.

The long-term strength of the Turkish economy and the lira are now in jeopardy, Rabobank senior emerging-market strategist Piotr Matys said.

“Essentially, the risk that the CBRT could make the same policy mistake as in 2019/2020 is high. To reiterate the point we have made on numerous previous occasions, Turkey cannot afford to have negative real interest rates when inflation is substantially above the official 5% target,” Matys said.

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