Regulation

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How to Safely Deflate the Housing Bubble

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 12:17pm in

[Sent to my one remaining plausible outlet 3 May.]

The main reason for stratospheric housing prices is that the commercial banks are allowed to create too much credit. The failure to understand and remedy this structural defect poses a serious threat to Australia’s economic stability and social cohesion.

Housing prices are an election issue. They are also a prime driver of severe inequality and a serious threat to the stability of the Australian economy. Foreshadowed rises in interest rates threaten to collapse the very high levels of household mortgage debt and bring on a serious recession. The dream of home ownership is disappearing for many. Homelessness is a rapidly increasing problem. Such inequality will further undermine our once-liberal society.

The un-affordability of housing has undone most of the gains of the postwar decades. Why should home ownership be more out of reach now than it was in 1960? The cost of building a house can’t be much greater, relative to average income. It is the cost of the land that has inflated. There is a speculative bubble in land prices.

The reason for the housing bubble is commonly attributed to tax breaks on capital gains and negative gearing. It is true these encourage more existing money to be channelled into investment properties, but they are not the biggest factor.

The biggest driver is unrestricted bank credit, which pumps new money into the economy. Private banks can keep granting bigger and bigger mortgage loans as market prices climb. An inflationary spiral has been operating for decades: higher market prices induce bigger loans, then bigger loans push prices up further.

The difference between now and 1960 is that bank loans were directly regulated back then. If the economy was ‘overheating’ there would be a credit squeeze. The rate at which banks could issue loans was restricted. This market intervention was overseen by that wicked old socialist Bob Menzies.

The present practice of using only interest rates to influence bank lending is indirect, only marginally effective and prone to triggering a collapse into recession, as Paul Keating found out in 1990.

Debt levels are now so high that limiting bank loans might also trigger a recession. Our economic managers, led astray by the deregulation ideology, have steered the economy into a precariously unstable state. It is hard to see how to fix the problem without triggering a crash.

Economist Steve Keen has proposed an escape route that would bring prices down while preserving the equity of present home owners. There are two parts. First, a reversion to regulating bank credit, Menzies-style. Second, a monetary reset to deflate the debt bubble.

Part One: regulate bank lending. This could be done by squeezing credit until prices stabilise. Alternatively or as well, Keen proposes that mortgage loans be capped at a multiple of what the property could be rented for, though rents are now also increasing.

Part Two: a monetary reset. The essence of Keen’s proposal is to convert around half of housing equity into bond equity, so house prices could drop by half but present owners would not lose the equity they have. At the same time mortgage holders can pay down their debt to something more manageable.

The government, through the Reserve Bank, creates fiat money to pay into the bank accounts of every adult resident. Anyone who has a mortgage loan must use the money to pay down their debt, so their debt might come down by half or more. Anyone who already owns their home must use the money to buy government bonds; the equity in government bonds will replace the equity their house loses as prices come down (because of Part One). Those who have fiat money left over from paying down their mortgage will use the balance of the money in the same way as home owners, which they now are, i.e. to buy bonds. Renters and others who do not own a house must also buy government bonds: they end up with an asset they did not have before, and this (partly) compensates for them having been effectively shut out of the housing market.

These are delicate operations that would need to be carefully thought through. Keen has done the first pass. Those inclined to dismiss it out of hand might explain how else to escape from the precarious state our economy is in, other than to let the poor suffer as usual.

Anyway, requiring all the fiat money to be used to buy government bonds ensures that none of the extra money ends up circulating in the economy, so inflation will not be triggered. The payment of loans and the conversion of fiat money to bonds could be done automatically by the banks, so most people would not have to do anything. You would be able to sell your bonds if you wanted, but that would require a buyer who already has money, so again no new money would be added to the economy. The private banks would return more to facilitating useful investment, as they used to, instead of facilitating property speculation.

The end result of this scheme is that present home owners would have some of their home equity converted into government bonds and they would be no worse off. Holders of large mortgages would have their debt reduced by half or more. Renters and others would have an asset they did not have before.

Would the latter be a handout? Yes. Is that a problem? Well, big businesses get handouts all the time (tax cuts and billion-dollar gas pipelines anyone?), the wealthy have been benefitting from a highly skewed economy and the poor have been screwed.

Remember, the Rudd Government put money in the accounts of pensioners as part of its successful counter to the GFC in 2008, so Granny and Gramps could go on a shopping spree to help to save the economy. The Morrison Government put rather more money into private accounts to tide (some of) us through (some of) the pandemic disruption.

This scheme seems to be an ingenious way out of the trap we’ve been steered into by ideologically misguided economic management. It certainly needs to be carefully examined and debated, but that debate needs to involve people who properly understand the money system, as well-explained by Stephanie Kelton in The Deficit Myth and by Keen in Debunking Economics and The New Economics: A Manifesto.

The post How to Safely Deflate the Housing Bubble first appeared on BetterNature Books.

Why stablecoins should not be regulated like Western Union

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/02/2022 - 11:52pm in

Tags 

Regulation

Here's an interesting bit of stablecoin trivia. Half of all Paxos stablecoins are currently lying inert in MakerDAO, a decentralized finance protocol. Half!

Founded in 2018, Paxos Standard, or USDP, is one of the elder stablecoins. Overseen by the New York Department of Financial Services, and backed by dollars held in insured banks and Treasury bills, Paxos Trust has issued $1.03 billion worth of its USDP stablecoins into circulation (according to its last attestation report). Of that, $499,996,054 currently sits in MakerDAO (see below).

$499 million USDP in MakerDAO

This data point is useful for illustrating how stablecoin issuers like Paxos Trust should be regulated.

We should be regulating financial products on a functional basis. That is, if a financial instrument or financial venue functions in a certain way, we should have a regulatory framework that oversees that function, and everything that functions similarly should fall under that framework, and everything that doesn't should be caught by a more appropriate framework.

Common sense, right?

So how are stablecoins being regulated in the U.S? One of the many frameworks that has been adopted is existing state-based money transmitter law. The biggest stablecoin – USD Coin – is issued by Circle Internet, a company that is licensed by around 40 different states to transmit money. Oddly, this is the same regulatory framework that applies to old-school remittance companies like Western Union. If you've never made a remittance before, here's how it works. A retail customers temporarily hand over a small amount of money, say $200, to a Western Union agent. The agent contacts a foreign Western Union office and tells them to provide cash to the customer's friend or relative.

In the early 2000s this money transmitter framework was expanded to cover the likes of PayPal. Whereas Western Union keeps customer funds for an hour or two, tops overnight, customers of PayPal keep balances in their wallet for months, even years. 

This storage function means that PayPal is doing something quite different than Western Union. And so the subsuming of PayPal (and other wallet providers like Venmo and Square Cash) under state money transmittal law in the early 2000s was probably a failure of functional regulation. A wallet business and a remittance business should be differently regulated. 

This mistake was unfortunate. Zooming forward to the 2020s and the dawning era of stablecoins, one hopes the same mistake is not made again. What function is being performed by the $500 million Paxos stablecoins locked inside MakerDAO? Not Western Union-style remittances. Not PayPal-style personal wallet services. Paxos stablecoins are serving as the building blocks for core decentralized financial infrastructure. If Paxos fails, the entire MakerDAO edifice experiences a deep shock, this effect cascading to all the secondary tools based on MakerDAO and from there to all the tertiary tools based on those secondary tools.

In a sense, the role being played by Paxos stablecoins is the same role being performed by Treasury bills and other safe assets like commercial paper or money market funds, which are the foundational bedrock for all sorts of traditional financial services.

Now, there is another $500 million worth of Paxos stablecoin that is not frozen in MakerDAO. This block of stablecoin may very well be serving a different function than the half billion block locked in Maker. (For instance, I hold $100 in Paxos tokens, and I suppose they function very much like the $100 I hold at PayPal.) But the key point is that while there are times when stablecoins function like PayPal and Western Union, in other circumstances they are performing a role that PayPal and Western Union never do, which is to serve as the substructure for a set of financial utilities. Which suggests that stablecoins merit a different regulatory framework, one better fit for that function.

I don't know what framework that should be. Banking, securities law, a special stablecoin license? But the old school money transmitter framework – which has very lenient requirements governing things like the safety of the transmitters underlying assets – is probably the wrong framework. If you serve as financial bedrock, you merit more robust regulation than Western Union. 

(And by the way, Paxos Trust is itself not regulated as a money transmitter. It operates under the NYDFS's stablecoin framework, which is stricter than money transmitter law, and may be sufficient).

The SEC's Bitcoin ETF Standoff

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 29/01/2022 - 5:36am in

Tags 

Regulation, SEC


Another day, another application for a spot Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) rejected. Yesterday, the SEC rejected an application from Fidelity's Wise Origin Bitcoin Trust, the fifth such rejection in three months. Back in November, the SEC rejected an  application from Van Eck Bitcoin Trust, and in December it rejected applications from Kryptoin Bitcoin ETF Trust and Valkyrie Bitcoin Fund.And on 20th January, it rejected First Trust Skybridge Bitcoin ETF Trust's application.  

Valkyrie had already had an application for a Bitcoin futures ETF approved by default. So the rejection of its spot ETF came as something of a surprise. Indeed, some analysts seem to have expected the SEC's default approval of Bitcoin futures ETFs for Valkyrie and ProShares in October to open the floodgates for approval of spot Bitcoin ETFs. 

But these are not the first spot Bitcoin ETFs the SEC has disapproved. The SEC has previously rejected applications from Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, SolidX Bitcoin Trust, ProShares Bitcoin Trust and Granite Bitcoin Trust. In fact it has rejected every single application for a spot Bitcoin ETF. The only Bitcoin ETF applications the SEC has approved have been for futures ETFs, where the underlying futures are traded on regulated exchanges such as CME. 

Clearly, it's not the quality of the proposed ETFs themselves that is the problem. It's the nature of the Bitcoin spot market. The Bitcoin spot market is widely regarded as the Wild West of crypto trading. Unlike the regulated exchanges on which Bitcoin futures are traded, it is unregulated, opaque, volatile and fragmented. The bar for spot Bitcoin ETF approval is thus much higher than it is for futures ETFs. Not one of these applications has reached that bar.  

In its response to Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust's application (pdf), the SEC set the conditions that a spot Bitcoin ETF would have to meet for approval to be granted. Either the applicant must prove that both the Bitcoin spot market and Bitcoin itself are "inherently and uniquely" resistent to fraud and manipulation; or the ETF's methodology must include measures capable of identifying and counteracting fraud and manipulation in the Bitcoin spot market and Bitcoin itself; or there must be a surveillance-sharing agreement with a regulated market of significant size related to Bitcoin. The SEC examined the submissions in all of the recent applications for compliance with these conditions, and found them wanting.  

Firstly, the Bitcoin spot market. In its submission for Van Eck Bitcoin Trust, BZX Exchange argued that the Bitcoin spot market is extremely difficult to manipulate and that any fraudulent actors would be visible and hence easily avoided. It said that arbitrage would quickly eliminate any price disparities between trading platforms, and that the high cost of market manipulation would make it unsustainable. But it didn't provide any evidence in support of its argument.

The SEC was distinctly unimpressed. It said that efficient arbitrage was insufficient to prove that a market was "inherently and uniquely" resistant to manipulation, and pointed out that other markets with efficient arbitrage, such as equity options on exchange-traded securities, still had to have surveillance-sharing agreements. Furthermore, in the absence of evidence there was no reason to believe that fraudulent or manipulated trading would not affect prices, nor that market manipulation would be too costly for participants with deep pockets. 

The SEC concluded that BZX had failed to prove that the Bitcoin spot market was "inherently and uniquely resistant to manipulation". And it then went on to point out that there is significant evidence that the Bitcoin spot market is riddled with market abuse, security breaches and outright fraud. It listed seven significant risks in the spot Bitcoin market that it said it had identified previously but BZX's proposal had failed to address:

  • wash trading
  • persons with a dominant position in bitcoin manipulating bitcoin pricing
  • hacking of the bitcoin network and trading platforms
  • malicious control of the bitcoin network (51% attack)
  • trading based on material, non-public information, including dissemination of false and misleading information
  • manipulative activity involving the purported "stablecoin" Tether (USDT)
  • fraud and manipulation at bitcoin trading platforms.

These risks are of course far beyond BZX's capability to address. But you'd think, wouldn't you, that it would realise that since it can't mitigate these risks, it has not a hope in hell of convincing the SEC that the Bitcoin spot market is "inherently and uniquely" resistent to manipulation and fraud?
Hilariously, Van Eck itself had also identified a whole load of problems with the Bitcoin spot market, including the fact that a number of bitcoin trading platforms have been victims of cybercrime and that several have closed or faced "issues" because of fraud, failure and security breaches. The SEC, of course, listed these problems as further evidence that BZX's claim was fatally flawed. 
Van Eck also warned in its registration document that the unregulated nature of bitcoin trading platforms made fraud and failure more likely, and that this could compromise market-making and price discovery in the ETF's shares: 

if these spot markets “do not operate smoothly or face technical, security or regulatory issues, that could impact the ability of Authorized Participants to make markets in the Shares” which could lead to “trading in the Shares [to] occur at a material premium or discount against the NAV”

 The SEC sardonically pointed out that this hardly supported BZX's argument that the SEC should treat the Bitcoin spot market more favourably than regulated markets.  

Far from learning from this brutal indictment of the Bitcoin spot market and the flaws in its own submission, BZX repeated exactly the same arguments for Kryptoin and Wise. Why on earth it thought the SEC would respond favourably to arguments it had previously dismissed out of hand is a mystery. The definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein springs to mind. Anyway, the SEC didn't even bother to write new responses to these applications. It just cut and pasted the reasons for rejection from its previous orders. 
BZX's arguments didn't get any better when it discussed the proposed ETF's methodology. The methodology relies on price feeds from a small number of bitcoin trading platforms; BZX claimed that the fact that only a small number of highly-regarded trading platforms were involved, plus the use of a volume-weighted median and eliminatin of outliers, would make the prices resistent to fraud and manipulation. But the SEC pointed out that as these platforms are a subset of the whole market, and BZX had failed to show that the whole market was resistant to manipulation and fraud, BZX could not credibly claim that the prices provided by this subset of platforms would not be influenced by fraudulent or manipulated trading on other platforms.
And once again, Van Eck's own registration document undermined BZX's argument: 

...the Exchange’s assertions that the Benchmark’s methodology helps make the Benchmark resistant to manipulation are contradicted by the Amended Registration Statement’s own statements. In the Amended Registration Statement, the Sponsor states that the Benchmark is “based on various inputs which may include price data from various third-party exchanges and markets” and that these inputs may be subject to “technological error, manipulative activity, or fraudulent reporting from their initial source.

There are similar conflicts between BZX's submissions and the registration documents for both Kryptoin's and Wise's applications. 
Van Eck's Custodian, Gemini, then indulged in a fine piece of special pleading, arguing that market surveillance and controls on the subset of trading platforms used for price feeds were so good that manipulation was all but impossible. But implying that surveillance and control tools on regulated exchanges weren't as good as those on Van Eck's chosen Bitcoin trading platforms wasn't a sensible strategy. The SEC slapped it down: 

However, the level of regulation on the Benchmark’s constituent platforms is not equivalent to the obligations, authority, and oversight of national securities exchanges or futures exchanges and therefore is not an appropriate substitute....

It went on to explain the rules and reporting requirements that regulated exchanges must comply with, and observed that Bitcoin trading platforms comply with none of them. Ouch. 
And the pain continued. A few paragraphs further on, the SEC dismissed as contradictory BZX's argument that in-kind redemptions rendered the question of price manipulation moot. It also refused to accept that in-kind redemptions eliminated the need for surveillance sharing, on the reasonable grounds that in-kind redemptions are fairly common in ETF-land and don't eliminate the need for surveillance sharing by other exchanges.  
BZX's failure to establish that either the Bitcoin spot market or the proposed spot Bitcoin ETF were resistant to manipulation or fraud meant that approval would mean surveillance sharing.  But what is surveillance sharing, and how does it help to prevent fraud and market abuse?
When the market for the assets underlying a derivative product is small, unregulated, opaque or otherwise suspect, the SEC requires exchanges trading that product to enter into a surveillance-sharing agreement with a large regulated market in a related asset or derivative. The idea is that manipulation that wouldn't be visible in the unregulated market would be visible in the larger regulated market and could be controlled there. For this to work, however, the regulated market must influence the unregulated one, not the other way round - or, to put it another way, it must be impossible for a market participant to manipulate the unregulated market significantly without trading in the regulated one. Much of the discussion by the SEC and the applicants therefore centres on whether the regulated market leads or lags the unregulated one. 
For recent spot Bitcoin ETF applications, the proposed regulated market for surveillance sharing is CME's Bitcoin futures market. This is unquestionably a Bitcoin-related market of significant size, and BZX already has a relationship with it. So BZX's argument that it is suitable for shared surveillance is, on the face of it, not unreasonable. But once again, it founders on poor evidence.
The problem is that it is unclear exactly what relationship the CME Bitcoin futures market has with the spot market. BZX argued that the futures price leads the spot price, so a potential manipulator would have to trade in the futures market in order to significantly affect the spot price. It cited a research paper showing the futures market dominated price discovery in the spot market. So far, so good. But there's a problem. It doesn't dominate it consistently:

The paper finds that the CME bitcoin futures market dominates the spot markets in terms of Granger causality, but that the causal relationship is bi-directional, and a Granger causality episode from March 2019 to June/July 2019 runs from bitcoin spot prices to CME bitcoin futures prices. The paper concludes: “[T]he Granger causality episodes are not constant throughout the whole sample period. Via our causality detection methods, market participants can identify when markets are being led by futures prices and when they might not be.”

So not only is the CME Bitcoin futures market at times led by the spot market, but this helpful paper provides a means for would-be manipulators to find out when might be a good time to indulge in a spot of market abuse. Oops. 
BZX didn't provide any other evidence to support its claim that the CME Bitcoin futures market would act as an effective surveillance tool for the Bitcoin spot market. But the SEC did have other evidence - to the contrary. It had previously surveyed all the available academic research on this relationship and concluded that there was no evidence that a would-be manipulator would have to trade on the CME futures market to move the Bitcoin spot price. Double oops. 
This was the final nail in the coffin of Van Eck's application. It also meant that all the other applications that relied on that single research paper would fail. In addition to the four that have failed since the Van Eck application was disapproved, there are others awaiting the SEC's judgement, notably from ARKK and Bitwise. I expect these to fail as well. 
For me, the mystery is why BZX - and NYSE Arc, whose submissions are remarkably similar - thought  resubmitting arguments and evidence that the SEC had already dismissed and failing to provide any new argument or evidence would magically result in approval. But perhaps they didn't. Perhaps they want the SEC to disapprove everything. After all, if the SEC disapproves all applications, the problem isn't the applications, it's the SEC - isn't it?
There seems to be a profound difference of opinion between the SEC and those applying for spot Bitcoin ETFs. The applicants believe the spot Bitcoin market is resistant to manipulation simply because of the nature of Bitcoin, and don't see why they should have to provide evidence for what they consider to be self-evident. But the SEC believes the Bitcoin spot market is a hornet's nest, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, sees no reason to change its view. 

At present, the available evidence supports the SEC's position. The seven risks in the Bitcoin spot market that the SEC identifies are well documented and create a serious hazard for investors and the general public. And the cavalier attitude to risk and disdain for regulation displayed by all the applicants does not inspire confidence in their products. Nor, frankly, does the carelessness so evident in the preparation of their submissions to the SEC. They will have to do a lot better if they are ever to reach the high bar that the SEC has set for approval of a spot Bitcoin ETF.

But I am not convinced they will reach it anyway without root and branch reform of the Bitcoin spot market. While market abuse and fraud remains rampant, the SEC is not going to approve any spot Bitcoin ETF, however responsible the applicant. The way forward for wannabe exchange-traded Bitcoin funds is not repeated applications to the SEC that they know will fail, it is campaigning for much better regulation and oversight of Bitcoin trading platforms and exchanges. 
Related reading:
What do the SEC's recent bitcoin disapproval orders really mean for investors? - Harvard Law School (2017)New Bitcoin ETF grows at record speed - TimeOrder disapproving a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the Valkyrie Bitcoin Fund - SECOrder disapproving a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the Kryptoin Bitcoin ETF Trust - SECOrder disapproving a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the VanEck Bitcoin Trust - SECOrder disapproving a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the Wise Origin Bitcoin Trust - SEC Order disapproving a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the First Trust Skybridge Bitcoin ETF Trust - SECOrder setting aside action by delegated authority and disapproving a proposed rule change to list and trade shares of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust - SEC
Image from Pond5.com

 

The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 5:01pm in

With workers pushed to breaking point, is it now time to call time on predatory business models that give rise to this form of exploitative relationship?

Ross met up with Writer and Filmmaker, Shannon Walsh, to discuss.

The post The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 5:01pm in

With workers pushed to breaking point, is it now time to call time on predatory business models that give rise to this form of exploitative relationship?

Ross met up with Writer and Filmmaker, Shannon Walsh, to discuss.

The post The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Is there still a role for validation?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/09/2017 - 9:02am in

Tags 

Regulation

Yes, answers the OU's Phil Berry, who argues that a validation arrangement can benefit alternative HE and established universities - serving to build a better quality sector.

The post Is there still a role for validation? appeared first on Wonkhe.

Time to open the door on sector diversity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/09/2017 - 9:04am in

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Regulation

The sector is diverse, but it could offer more choices of delivery methods to support the needs of a wider range of learners. Paul Feldman of Jisc, a member of the Higher Education Commission, introduces their recent report.

The post Time to open the door on sector diversity appeared first on Wonkhe.

On senior pay, the ball is in the sector’s court

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/09/2017 - 9:03am in

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Regulation

OfS Chair Sir Michael Barber encourages the sector to get their house in order regarding value for money, as he looks towards the formal existence of the new sector regulator in the new year.

The post On senior pay, the ball is in the sector’s court appeared first on Wonkhe.

Can one size fit all? OfS and the future of regulation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/09/2017 - 3:07am in

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Regulation

The Higher Education Commission has launched a new report on the challenges facing the OfS in fostering a diverse higher education sector. Wonkhe's Arthi Nachiappan and Catherine Boyd digest the key findings.

The post Can one size fit all? OfS and the future of regulation appeared first on Wonkhe.

The OfS should make university governance a top priority

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/08/2017 - 9:01am in

Many of the criticism's recently levelled at universities could be fixed with improved governance, but will the new regulator be sufficiently ambitious to ensure reform? Jim Dickinson suggests some ways forward.

The post The OfS should make university governance a top priority appeared first on Wonkhe.

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