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North America: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup, 7th to 13th September 2018

North America

Welcome to our weekly roundup of all important blockchain and cryptocurrency news from around the world. Follow the latest developments in the cryptocurrency space continent by continent, country by country.

Mexico

Government to tighten Bitcoin regulation through central bank-issued payments: The Bank of Mexico is tightening up Bitcoin regulations by releasing a circular that says Bitcoin exchanges and other businesses dealing in cryptocurrencies will have to require a government permit to do so.

The circular was published in the government’s official daily channel and shows that the country is working to tighten trading laws in the country in an effort to stop any misuse of the digital currencies.

Canada

Canada home to first Bitcoin-linked mutual fund trust: Canadian investors are going to get a taste of something new as a company called First Block Capital Ltd was allowed by the government regulators to operate as a mutual fund trust.

The move means that Canadians can now save their money in Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) that is essentially a tax-free savings account in the country. This will boost the application of crypto and let people save money in the form of cryptocurrencies for retirement.

USA

Crypto industry starts lobbying group in Washington: A new lobbying group has been established by the Blockchain Association of the USA to represent entrepreneurs and investors in the sector and lobby for the right response from the government.

The group will also assist the government in implementing crypto specific laws including Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money-Laundering (AML) measures.

Department of Defense building to become crypto mining facility: A Nevada-based building of the US Department of Defense is being taken over and converted into a cryptocurrency mining facility by a private mining company.

The Wuhan General Group of China has used the opportunity to use the vacated building and install a total of 1,300 mining rigs in the building. With competition tough around the world, companies are finding it difficult to locate suitable buildings for cryptocurrency mining operations because they take a lot of space and need a former factory floor for installation of equipment.

SEC stops only Bitcoin ETN operating in US: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has stopped the trading of the only Bitcoin Exchange Traded Note (ETN) being offered in the country. The ETN in question had only been trading in the country since mid-August.

The banned ETN is named Bitcoin Tracker One and according to the SEC, there is a lack of consistent, accurate information about the ETN that confuses investors. While the statement from the SEC says that the ETN has been banned only till 20 September, its overall attitude probably means that the ETN will be banned for a long time.

New York approves Gemini stablecoin: A New York State regulator has allowed two-dollar linked digital tokens including one belonging to the Winklevoss twins’ exchange Gemini.

The Winklevoss brothers made big money settlements with Mark Zuckerberg during their infamous trial in which they accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea. They also jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon early on and profited a lot from it.

While the twins have been trying to get ETFs legalized for some time, they are also experimenting with stablecoins, digital coins linked to recognized assets such as the US dollar that gives them stability.

Marshall Islands

IMF puts pressure on government after plans for a national crypto: The tiny Pacific nation of Marshall Islands’ plans to shift to a national cryptocurrency have suffered a setback after the IMF warned against the idea and suggested that the banks will refuse to work with it if the government goes ahead with its plans.

The new token being considered by the tiny island nation was called Sovereign and could have displaced the US dollar as the national currency in the near future. But, the IMF which heavily relies on the current fiat system for survival has come out and warned the country against doing so.

 

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Can Bitcoin Save a Canadian Ghost Town?

The Canadian mill town of Ocean Falls on British Columbia’s central coast has seen its population shrink from 5,000 to just a handful of residents, becoming a ghost town, but Bitcoin mining might be bringing back the good old days.

Ocean Falls is a community on the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada. Formerly a large company town owned by Crown Zellerbach, it is only accessible via boat or seaplane, and is home for a few dozen full-time residents, with the seasonal population upwards of 100.

It became the classic tumbleweed ghost town of western movies after the paper mill which supported a buzzing small community, finally shut down in the late 1970s, seeing the town’s population desert Ocean Falls for more lucrative prospects.

Since then it’s remained home to a few, only buoyed by some seasonal interest during a few months in the Canadian summer. But that’s changing. From this summer, sounds began to emanate from the old deserted mill; the first heard in almost half a century. These were not the buzz of a saw though, but the distant hum of electricity; the sound of Bitcoins being created.

Ocean Falls has now become home to a mini Bitcoin mining industry, utilizing the dam which used to provide the mill’s 13 MW of power, enough also to power the two nearby towns of Bella Bella and Shearwater. The electricity was always more than enough to supply the power needed for the three towns, so now the surplus is being put to good use.

The idea was the brainchild of Kevin Day, a crypto enthusiast who first came across the name Ocean Falls watching a documentary in the State capital of Vancouver eight years back. His newly acquired interest in crypto later drove him to consider mining Bitcoin, and the ghost town came to mind once again.

Day started up the company Ocean Falls Blockchain (OFB), telling his investors he would be buying 6 MW of energy from Boralex, the private utility that owns the dam, by the end of 2018, bringing in about USD 5.7 million in annual revenue from the Bitcoins created. Plans were to then expand out from Ocean Falls with predictions that OFB would have over 17,500 Bitcoin mining units by 2012 by increasing its energy consumption to 30 MW of power.

In true Canadian pioneering spirit, Day shipped in hundreds of Bitmain Antminer S9 mining units and a half ton transformer, transported from Vancouver by truck, then barged up the river the rest of the way. He then constructed his lab using the paper mill complex as an operations area then installed huge fans for cooling. The project was born and the mill brought back to life.

It’s unlikely that a handful of computer operators will bring the old town back but there is life in the place now. Keith Cockell, son of one of the original dam operators in the 1950s and 1960s, is back in town and doing his father’s job now. He likes what he sees:

“There’s been a lot of years where we’ve been waiting for someone to come along… the day we fired up, the miners started going, there was the humming, and I said to Kevin, “It’s a good feeling seeing that extra power being used”.”

Toni Ziganash, who runs a boarding house from the old bank building in town, would love to see a local economy bringing back the public:

“We have a very ageing population here, and when I say ageing, that means 70 and up. So there’s not a lot of energy. There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for anything new, to tell you the truth… So I would just like to attract some younger people to come in.”

Day pulled his server’s switches in July. It remains to be seen what awaits Ocean Falls, and if this could be the start of something special, revitalizing an economy frozen in time.

 

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Canada Postpones Crypto, Blockchain Regulation Updates to 2020

Canada’s government has effectively put the release of new cryptocurrency regulations on hold until 2020 instead of updating them this fall.

The federal government in Canada is preparing for the 2019 general election which has caused it to delay the release of the regulations until after this has taken place, and with a 12-month waiting period for new regulations to go into effect, they will not be active until 2020.

Mixed responses

A draft version of the regulations was shared with the public in June in which stricter controls on the cryptocurrency industry were outlined. Some have taken the delay as a positive sign that the government may be looking to review what they interpret as unfavorable conditions, while others have shared concerns that the decision may harm Canada’s competitive edge in the growing industry.

The Blockchain Association of Canada (BAC) spoke to Bitcoin Magazine, saying that this should be perceived as a good thing for the Canadian blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors, and shared its confidence in the government’s agenda. ”It may be best to observe and intervene as little as possible,” BAC’s Executive Director Kyle Kemper added.

Several participants have reportedly said that the vast amount of quality feedback to the June draft halted the government from implementing the bill before making amendments. A number of the country’s blockchain companies and organizations were part of a discussion with Finance Canada officials in which they were able to vocalize their own opinions of the drafted regulations.

The Toronto-based Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) shared a report with government officials that included input from 70 industry participants, calling for a ”middle ground” on regulations. While they recognized a substantive regulatory framework was required in order for Canada to remain competitive, too strict governance could well stifle innovation from the sector.

If input from key industry figures has been the main factor in causing the delay, local blockchain businesses should rest assured the next draft should reflect changes in their favor.

 

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Coinsquare Expands Into European Market, Eyes Japan

Canadian Ontario based crypto exchange Coinsquare is expanding into European market towards the end of this year.

Coinsquare is one of Canada’s principal crypto exchanges and also claims to be the nation’s most secure platform for crypto trading. Founded in 2014, the exchange has over 100,000 users. It supports seven cryptocurrencies and four fiat currencies: the British pound, Canadian dollar, euro, and US dollar. In July, the FSA in Japan received Coinsquare’s application to also operate there.

Its new European users will also have access to the same North American selection of coins- Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, XRP, Dogecoin, and Dash. Thomas Jankowski, Coinsquare’s Chief Digital, and Growth Officer commented on the latest move:

“Coinsquare is a regulated, fully-compliant trading platform and we’re thrilled to offer the European market the same secure and intuitive interface that we offer to Canadians.”

Until now, Coinsquare has only been open to Canadian citizens or residents. The users had to register by submitting relevant documentary proof like driver’s license, passport, national ID card, residence permit or in the case of Quebec, a healthcare card for verification. According to Coinsquare, its move into Europe by partnering with businesses will enable it to:

“…launch fully white-labeled platforms that offer a consistent brand experience, and are specifically tailored to individual markets and the needs of their clients.”

Along with these developments, the company also launched a subsidiary in July, called CoinCapital. Registered with the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC)  as an exempt market dealer, investment fund manager and portfolio manager CoinSquare sees it as a worthwhile addition to the main company. The company commented:

“This new division will offer a suite of investment products focused on emerging technologies including blockchain, artificial intelligence, and cryptocurrencies.”

Canada is rapidly becoming a world leader in embracing cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, behind the US and the UK. Due to provincial research and development, low energy costs, high-speed internet and internal regulation, Canada — the home of Ethereum, has become an established global leader in blockchain innovation.

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Thai Central Bank to Test Digital Currency

The Bank of Thailand (BoT) has announced a landmark project which will see the launch of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) using R3’s Corda platform.

Project Inthanon Phase 1

As written in a 21 August press release from the BoT, Project Inthanon is in Phase 1. Iin this period, the BoT and participating banks will collaborate to design, develop and test a proof-of-concept (PoC) for domestic wholesale fund transfers using a “wholesale CBDC”.

A wholesale CBDC differs from a “retail CBDC” in the sense that wholesale limits usage to financial institutions and markets, as opposed to retail, which is for general public use.

It will use R3’s Corda, an open source distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform that is enterprise-focused. It positions itself as a tool for financial services, according to the official website, enabling “institutions to transact directly using smart contracts”.

The BoT describes this project as a “collaborative milestone”; there are eight banks confirmed as participants which include HSBC, Bangkok Bank Public Company Limited and Thanachart Bank Public Company Limited.

Team effort

Collaborators will be exploring the potential implications and benefits of DLT in a bid to “enhance efficiency of the Thai financial market infrastructure”; through this, they will create a PoC for a prototype.

The press release writes, “Key payment functionalities such as liquidity saving mechanism and risk management will also be developed and tested during this phase. Project Inthanon Phase 1 is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2019 after which the BOT will publish a project summary accordingly.”

Thailand’s intention to explore a CBDC were first revealed in July when the Governor of the BoT gave a speech in Singapore. He described the growing acceptance of blockchain technologies within financial institutions in Asia and that the BoT, as well as other national banks, will begin looking into the concept.

CBDCs around the world

BoT also makes note of other financial institutions around the world who are also exploring the concept of a CBDC, naming the Bank of Canada, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

In July, a Senior Economist in the Funds Management and Banking Department for the Bank of Canada released a compelling and comprehensive research paper titled ‘Central Bank Digital Currency and Monetary Policy‘. In great detail, it explored CBDCs in the context of social welfare.

The study pointed out that having both cash and a CBDC within a country could result in lower welfare, estimating that economic welfare gains in Canada could increase marginally but increase nonetheless.

CBDCs aren’t a particularly new concept; other societies around the world such as Senegal in West Africa have experienced widespread benefits from the implementation of such a currency alongside the native fiat currency.

Larger nations such as the United Kingdom have also expressed interest, with the Bank of England openly contemplating the possibility of a CBDC.

 

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First Crypto Company Listed on the London Stock Exchange is Now Active

Crypto mining firm, UK-based Argo Mining — first cryptocurrency company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) is now active.

Argo, which provides “accessible” crypto mining via a subscription service has raised £25 million (about $32.5 million) through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the LSE, exceeding its fundraising target by £5 million (about $6.5 million).

Company documents have stated that the newcomer began its life on the LSE with roughly 156 million shares priced at 16p, bringing Argo’s evaluation to £47 million pounds (about $61.2 million). Its website offers three packages covering three levels of mining power provisions, which has all been sold out. The company supports BTG, ETH, ZEC, and ETC.

London-headquartered firm Argo works on a subscription-based model, with its cryptocurrency mining operations based in Quebec, Canada, active since last year. This has become a popular location for mining farms due to optimal climate and energy cost conditions. Argo has plans to expand operations to Iceland and China, both of which benefit from cheap electricity costs and a cold climate.

Executive Chairman Jonathan Bixby stated that:

“Argo’s admission to the London main market is a major step in the company’s development and will put us in a strong position to execute our long-term growth strategy” adding, “We are delighted with the strong response from investors which will enable us to grow our business in multiple jurisdictions.”

Bixby suggests that he would like to see the company become the “the Amazon Web Services of crypto.” Argo had released its crypto mining subscription service in June after gaining the necessary approval to list on the stock exchange in May.

The Chairman referred to the fact that industrial-scale elites have 90% of the crypto mining sector covered due to its technical requirements, adding “It is incredibly expensive to buy, up front, the hardware you need at $5,000 a machine.”

Bitcoin News reported yesterday that Canaan Creative applied for an IPO earlier this year in Hong Kong with the hope of raining in a significant starter fund. At present, Canaan needs to keep one eye on its competitor Bitmain which at present has a huge 70% of the global Bitcoin mining device market.

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Crypto Hedge Fund to Go Public on Toronto Stock Exchange

Crypto hedge fund Galaxy Digital, owned by billionaire cryptocurrency enthusiast Mike Novogratz, is going to be listed on the TSX Venture Exchange in Toronto, Canada on 1 August 2018. This will make Galaxy Digital a publicly tradeable company, and its shares will now be easy to buy and sell on any major stock trading platform. This is a major milestone for the crypto space since it provides an easy and regulated way for institutional investors to invest in cryptocurrency.

Apparently, it has taken eight months for Galaxy Digital to achieve this public listing, meeting demands from Canadian regulators. Galaxy Digital had to conduct a reverse takeover of a company already listed on the TSX exchange to get listed, a tactic previously used by cryptocurrency mining companies and marijuana businesses. The stock will have the GLXY ticker and its business name is Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd.

Mike Novogratz aims to have Galaxy Digital listed worldwide and is looking into listings in Frankfurt, London, Hong Kong, and eventually the US. Apparently, a USA initial public offering requires two years of audited financial statements, which is something Galaxy Digital won’t have for years. Regardless, now that Galaxy Digital is listed on TSX, investors worldwide can buy and sell shares of GLXY.

Galaxy Digital is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the crypto space, with a focus on institutional investment infrastructure like custodians and properly regulated exchanges. Now that the possibility of a Bitcoin exchange traded fund (ETF) appears to have been pushed off by the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States, the GLXY stock might be one of the best ways for institutional investors to invest in crypto, although it is an indirect way.

 

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One of North America’s Largest Crypto Mining Facilities is Underway

A new 85 MW capacity transfer and electrical substation are currently being constructed in Canada by DMG Blockchain Solutions Inc, making its crypto mining installation one of the largest in North America.

DMG describes itself as a diversified blockchain and cryptocurrency company that works on end-to-end solutions to monetize blockchain’s ecosystem.

The substation, when complete, will come online in September and be connected to the power grid providing 60 MW for energizing mining rigs. The facility is said to be the company’s flagship Canadian crypto mining operation expanding its hosting capability more than 20 times.

Steven Eliscu, executive vice president for Corporate Development, said that such “leading-edge mining equipment and access to low-cost power” augers well for the company’s further development and gives him great optimism for DMG’s future.

As part of this optimism, the company is planning to branch out by building a platform which will ensure “complete provenance of controlled products” through the supply chain, also hoping to become “domain experts” in fields such as agriculture, energy, precious metals, financial services, and manufacturing, as illustrated on the company’s website.

The new facility will be used for in-house operations and for DMG clients engaged in Mining-as-a-Service (MaaS), using faster scaling than a pure mining model with the new installation under construction.

Also, in North America during a subcommittee for the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, California Democrat Brad Sherman boldly declared his belief that all cryptocurrency mining and trades should be banned across the US. The views were clearly not those of the majority of the subcommittee hearing, however.

A current issue in parts of the US and Canada with the increase in mining is the fear of rising electricity rates in areas that were attractive to miners because of the low energy costs. Worries are that rates are being pushed up for local residents causing jurisdictions to increasingly need to deal with some of these community concerns.

Regulators in New York State, for example, have given approval to a new electricity rate scheme for cryptocurrency miners. In response to the permission given earlier by New York state to 36 municipal power authorities to charge higher rates to crypto miners, the Massena municipal utility has come up with its own plan. A new rate structure will allow crypto miners operating there to negotiate their own contracts to pay a “fair price”, thereby protecting other consumers from inflated rates being enforced because of crypto mining.

 

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Bank of Canada Reinvigorates Case for Central Bank Digital Currencies

A paper released by the Bank of Canada has brought forth a positive argument for the implementation of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

Published on 26 July 2018, the paper written by the bank’s Senior Economist in the Funds Management and Banking Department, Mohammad R Davoodalhosseini, goes into great detail to emphasize the potential economic welfare gains that a CBDC could have for Canada and the United States.

Welfare benefits

Summarily, the economic researcher estimates that gains from the introduction of a CBDC “can lead to an increase of up to 0.64% in consumption for Canada and up to 1.6 per cent for the US, compared with their respective economies if only cash is used”.

Davoodalhosseini writes that many central banks are currently contemplating the concept; whilst they provide benefits including holding interest, CBDCs also beg the question as to how fiat cash and digital currencies can co-exist.

Through complex modelling, a quantitative approach and maths, the researcher makes compelling arguments for the use of a CBDC in the instance of welfare.

Should implementing digital currency prove to be cost effective he writes, “Having both cash and CBDC available to agents (consumers) sometimes results in lower welfare than in cases where only cash or only CBDC is available. This fact suggests that removing cash from circulation may be a welfare-enhancing policy if the motivation to introduce CBDC is to improve monetary policy effectiveness.”

European findings

The European Parliament Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) released a study that suggested banks to consider establishing “permissioned cryptocurrency systems” to “complement or substitute” their respective fiat currencies.

The study writes, “The arrival of permissioned cryptocurrencies promoted by banks, even by central banks, will reshape the current competition level in the cryptocurrency market, broadening the number of competitors.”

In the UK, a 2014 quarterly bulletin from the Bank of England concluded that digital currencies pose “no material risk” with regards to monetary or financial stability in the UK due to the small size of such operations at present. However, the paper describes the underlying technology of blockchain as beneficial in many regards, which is evident given its recent positive completion of a distributed ledger technology project.

CBDC use-cases

Countries around the world have been adopting national digital currencies in the most recent of years. Senegal in West Africa was one of the first to roll-out a digital currency. Announced in 2016, the blockchain based eCFA currency, which is dependent on the central banking system, is circulated alongside paper money and is helping unbanked Africans in the emerging market connect to financial services.

This year, Venezuela has utilized cryptocurrencies to extraordinary effect in the face of world-leading levels of hyperinflation and poverty. Through this success, the Venezuelan government announced a move to an oil-backed national cryptocurrency called Petro, which is presently being utilized to fund a huge housing project.

Though in a bizarre turn of events, the Venezuelan government announced recently that it would be getting rid of its fiat currency the Bolivar Fuerte and replacing it with a fiat currency that is tied to the Petro, the new fiat is to be named the Sovereign Bolivar.

The “economic reconversion” is to start on 20 August 2018, says Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

 

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Canadian Draft Law Requires Crypto Exchanges to Report “Large Virtual Currency Transactions”

In Canada, an official draft of new regulations on crypto exchanges and payment processors has been released by the government, says a Canada Gazette reports.

The draft will tackle areas identified by a 2015-16 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) evaluation, principally strengthening Canada’s Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing Regime (AML/ATF). The FATF is an intergovernmental organization that develops policies to combat money laundering.

New regulations will treat crypto exchanges and payment processors as money service businesses (MSB), which requires them to report transactions over CAD 10,000 Canadian dollars (USD 7,700). The new Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures will now have a threshold set at CAD 1,000 CAD (USD 770).

Canada’s move towards further cryptocurrency regulation and transparency reflect the growing trend with governments around the world to tighten the regulatory grip on the industry as a whole. The US Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) has been particularly active this year in tracking down and prosecuting fraudulent cryptocurrency exchange activity, according to Bitcoin News.

Francis Pouliot, co-founder of Montreal-based blockchain consulting firm Catallaxy, was particularly unhappy with current developments, and tweeted his response to the latest draft.

New requirement: “Large Virtual Currency Transaction Record” means businesses required to ask for and keep details of every transaction over $10,000, like large-cash transaction reports. That’s going to be extremely difficult and invasive to implement. I will object to this. pic.twitter.com/PdabH0uGj4

— Francis Pouliot ⚡ (@francispouliot_) June 8, 2018

The draft reveals the regulations would cost about CAD 61 million (USD 47 million) over the next ten years, with the Canadian government maintaining that implementing these regulations will have a positive impact on the country’s international reputation.

This year, Canada’s first blockchain exchange-traded fund began trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Bank of Canada piloted a research program to examine the possibility of a national cryptocurrency.

Canada has been referred to as one of the most transparent countries globally when it comes to understanding laws surrounding the digital currency industry, aside from Switzerland, which reportedly wants to be “THE crypto-nation”.

 

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