Facebook’s Libra currency under fire

Libra has raised eyebrows among the world’s financial regulators, including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Facebook’s Libra currency under fire

  • Libra will be co-managed by 100 partner firms, including Facebook’s newly-minted financial services division Calibra
  • Libra, which is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player Bitcoin, is expected to launch in the first half of 2020

LONDON: Facebook’s planned virtual unit Libra, already under heavy attack from US President Donald Trump and global regulators, faces skepticism among the wider cryptocurrency community as well.
One theme — besides Brexit — dominated discussion among the movers and shakers from London’s financial technology or FinTech industry as gathered for their annual get-together: the future of virtual currencies.
“Can I just ask you to raise your hand if you would not be willing to use Libra?” asked the moderator at an event at London’s recent ‘FinTech Week’.
In the room, filled with about 100 experts and media who closely track the sector, about two-thirds of participants raised their hand to express distrust at the upstart currency.
Helen Disney, founder and boss of Unblocked Events, which promotes the blockchain technology that powers many cryptocurrencies, acknowledged growing doubts over who exactly would oversee and regulate Libra’s operation.
People are “concerned about how the governance... would work,” Disney told AFP.
“The cryptocurrency community is very libertarian in thinking,” its “about giving power to the people, democratization of finance, keeping away from big banks and companies who control (the) economy,” she said
Last week’s gathering came one month after Facebook announced to the world its plans for the virtual currency.
Libra, which is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player Bitcoin, is expected to launch in the first half of 2020.
Whereas Bitcoin is decentralized, Libra will be co-managed by 100 partner firms, including Facebook’s newly-minted financial services division Calibra.
The companies behind Libra — which will be backed with a basket of real-world currencies — include payment giants Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, as well as taxi-hailing services Lyft and Uber.
To access Libra on smartphones, users will go through a virtual wallet that will also be named Calibra.
While Facebook boasts an enormous customer base dotted across the globe that should facilitate Libra’s uptake, it firm also been plagued by privacy concerns that could make users hesitate.
“Can’t wait for a cryptocurrency with the ethics of Uber, the censorship resistance of Paypal, and the centralization of Visa, all tied together under the proven privacy of Facebook,” said Sarah Jamie Lewis, head of non-profit research organization Open Privacy.
Libra has meanwhile raised eyebrows among the world’s financial regulators, including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve.
But Disney believes that Libra will finally force regulators to present clear regulation guidelines, as demanded by the cryptocurrency community itself.
“We have been waiting for a long time for a clearer signal (regarding) the regulation of cryptocurrencies and digital assets,” she said.
But James Bennett, head of cryptocurrency research firm Bitassist, argues that Libra should not be seen in the same light as Bitcoin.
“In the long run, people may realize that Libra is not a cryptocurrency,” Bennett said at the FinTech Week event.
“A true cryptocurrency should be resistant to attacks by all parties, from sovereign states to global corporations,” he said, adding that “cryptocurrency is a type of money used to transfer value over the Internet that cannot be stopped, confiscated or destroyed by any single entity.”
Trump has meanwhile unleashed a vicious attack on virtual currencies, slamming them for their alleged shadowy nature and arguing that Libra had no standing nor dependability — unlike the dollar.
“I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air,” Trump tweeted Thursday.


Property investors turn to SE Asia amid Hong Kong unrest

Updated 7 min 38 sec ago

Property investors turn to SE Asia amid Hong Kong unrest

  • The summer of rage in Hong Kong has been fueled by years of simmering anger toward Beijing

KUALA LUMPUR: From luxury Singapore apartments to Malaysian seafront condos, Hong Kong investors are shifting cash into Southeast Asian property, demoralized by increasingly violent protests as well as the China-US trade war.

Millions have taken to the streets during four months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern Chinese city, hammering tourism while also forcing businesses to lay off staff — and the property sector is feeling the pain.

Property stocks in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets have plummeted since June, with developers being forced to offer discounts on new projects and cutting office rents.

Hong Kong businessman Peter Ng bought a condominium on the Malaysian island of Penang — which has a substantial ethnic Chinese population and is popular among Hong Kongers — after the protests erupted.

“The instability was a catalyst for me,” the 48-year-old stock market and property investor told AFP, adding he was worried about long-term damage to the Hong Kong economy if the unrest persists. “Investors will always look at things like that, political stability.”

And Derek Lee, a Hong Kong businessman who owns a Penang apartment, said he knew others in the semi-autonomous city who were considering investing in Southeast Asian property because of the unrest.

“People are thinking about how to quicken their ideas, how to make a more stable life,” the 55-year-old told AFP.

Adding to the allure of Malaysia is its relative affordability and prices much lower than Hong Kong.

The Malaysia site of Southeast Asian real estate platform Property Guru has seen a 35 percent increase in visits from Hong Kong, according to its CEO Hari Krishnan. 

While Hong Kong’s protests are primarily pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, the summer of rage has been fueled by years of simmering anger toward Beijing and the local government over falling living standards and the high costs of living.

Hong Kong’s property market is one of least affordable in the world with sky-high prices fueled, in part, by wealthy mainlanders snapping up investments in a city which has failed for years to build enough flats to meet demand.

But now mainland Chinese, who traditionally viewed property in Hong Kong as a safe investment, are opting for rival financial hub Singapore as a result of the protests and the US-China trade war, according to observers.

There has been a jump this year in sales of luxury apartments in the city-state — which like Hong Kong is known for pricey property — driven partially by mainland Chinese buyers, according to the consultancy OrangeTee & Tie.

“The protests in Hong Kong have made some of the (mainland Chinese) based there ... (more concerned) about investing in Hong Kong real estate, so they carry that investment to Singapore,” said Alan Cheong, executive director of the research and consultancy team at Savills.

As well as hitting China’s economy, trade tensions may have discouraged some Chinese from investing in the West and pushed them toward Singapore, with its mostly ethnic Chinese population.

“I think they don’t want to go to the West,” said Cheong.

Singapore is “the closest country culturally to China other than Hong Kong, and I think they feel more comfortable with that.”

There are further signs the stable, tightly ruled city is benefiting from the Hong Kong turmoil — Goldman Sachs last week estimated as much as $4 billion flowed out of Hong Kong to Singapore this summer.

And analysts warned there was little hope of Hong Kong’s property market recovering soon.