The rise of cryptocurrencies: Year in Review

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Updated 09 January 2022

The rise of cryptocurrencies: Year in Review

  • The year witnessed digital coins gaining global acceptance as legal tender

RIYADH: 2021 was a record year for cryptocurrency, which saw the market value for digital coins briefly top $3 trillion (SR11.3 trillion) in November.

Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market value and the second-largest cryptocurrency, ether, also hit all-time highs. While altcoins and the meme-inspired Dogecoin gained traction.

Other digital assets, such as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, sold for millions of dollars alongside fine art in major auction houses. A digital collage by US artist Beeple sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million in March.

In addition to art, NFTs for use in video games to buy digital land or other items soared in value.

And El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as legal tender in September, in a move that saw the government provide digital wallets giving away $30 in Bitcoin to every citizen. 

HIGHLIGHT

El Salvador became the first country to accept bitcoin as legal tender in September, in a move that saw the government provide digital wallets giving away $30 in Bitcoin to every citizen.

Blockchain-based applications, including decentralized finance, or DeFi, garnered interest from both retail and institutional investors, pushing the growth of Web3, which is the decentralized version of the internet based on blockchain technology that powers NFTs and underpins cryptocurrencies.

All of this helped push cryptocurrency into the mainstream in 2021.

Here are the crypto highlights of 2021.

 

Most searched cryptocurrencies

Receiving an average of 1,100,000 Google searches per month, Bitcoin was the most Googled cryptocurrency in the UK in 2021, according to a new study.




A representation of the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin is seen in this picture illustration taken June 14, 2021. (REUTERS/File Photo)

Research conducted by Bacancy, a software firm, added that Dogecoin is the second most searched digital coin in the UK with a monthly average of 596,000 Google searches over the past year.

In third place with 378,000 searches is Ethereum, the blockchain-based software platform for receiving and sending value globally.

With 189,000 searches per month, the Shiba Inu token, another digital coin with a dog theme, was in fourth place.

Cardano is the fifth most-searched, with 187,000, followed by XRP in sixth place with 185,000 monthly searches and in seventh place is Ripple with 83,000 Google searches in 2021.




A representation of the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin is seen in this picture illustration taken October 19, 2021. (REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo)
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Meanwhile, Dogecoin has overtaken Bitcoin in popularity in the US in 2021 as it is the most searched cryptocurrency in the country’s 23 states, according to research.

This survey was conducted by financial adviser The Advisor Coach to establish the cryptocurrency each US might want to invest in based on searches.

Analysis of the Google Trends data revealed that Dogecoin had the highest number of states who were interested in investing in the digital coin with a total of 23 states, including Illinois, Florida, Hawaii and New Jersey. The rise in interest can be partially attributed to the endorsement of US billionaire Elon Musk who said in December that his electric carmaker Tesla would accept Dogecoin as a form of payment.

Bitcoin was the second most popular with 10 states looking up investments opportunities in cryptocurrency, including Connecticut, Alaska, Mississippi, and New Hampshire.

A total of eight states inquired into Ethereum, the third-highest spot in the research, with states such as Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia and Ohio showing an interest.

 

Who’s mining

Most Bitcoin mining took place in China, according to internet protocol, or IP, addresses that used the mathematical functions needed to search for the digital coin.

In 2021, the world’s top Bitcoin mining pools all came from China, with five pools being responsible for over half of the cryptocurrency's total hash, or mathematical mining functions. 




Cryptocurrency mining facilities are seen in Pristina, Kosovo. (REUTERS/Hazir Reka/File Photo)

This is likely related to energy prices around the world as the cost of electricity in Germany is more than 10 times the price in China. Successful mining for Bitcoin uses banks of high-powered computers that use a great deal of energy.

Digital coin mining companies bought a lot of hardware this year, which resulted in the price of some mining accessories jumping roughly 10 percent a week in 2021, according to Statista.

However, on the currency’s dark side, the US Internal Revenue Service revealed in November that $3.5 billion of cryptocurrency was seized last year.

This represents 93 percent of all funds seized by the criminal investigation unit during 2021.

The agency expects to confiscate billions more dollars in cryptocurrency next year.

“I expect a trend of crypto seizures to continue as we move forward into fiscal year 2022. We are seeing crypto involved in a number of our crimes as we move forward,” IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Jim Lee said.

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Pakistan’s national currency continues to gain against greenback

Updated 11 August 2022

Pakistan’s national currency continues to gain against greenback

  • Pakistani rupee gained Rs3.03 to close at Rs218.88 against the greenback in the interbank market
  • Rupee in the open market also appreciated from Rs218 to Rs216 for selling during trading on Thursday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency on Thursday continued its bullish trend and appreciated 1.38 percent against the United States dollar amid easing balance of payment pressure and expected inflows from the International Monetary Fund, traders and analysts said.

The Pakistani rupee gained Rs3.03 to close at Rs218.88 against the greenback in the interbank market following eight consecutive appreciation trading sessions. The rupee has recouped its value by 9.3% or Rs21 against the greenback in the continued uptrend, according to State Bank of Pakistan data.

“There are couple of reasons for the current appreciation of the Pak rupee against dollar including easing off balance of payment pressure and declining demand at home after government’s administrative measures to curtail imports,” Tahir Abbas, Director Research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.  

“Declining current account deficit and price cut of oil and other commodities also eased off pressure on the rupee. The expected inflows from the IMF by the end of this month and undervalued currency are also the key reasons of rupee appreciation.”  

Following austerity measures by the government and a restriction on imports, the import bill has declined from $7.8 billion in June 2022 to $4.8 billion in July 2022, which has not only reduced the trade deficit but also eased pressure on the national currency.  

The rupee in the open market also appreciated from Rs218 to Rs216 for selling during trading on Thursday. The currency in the open market has appreciated by over 11% or Rs28 since July 29, 2022, according to the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP).

“There are only sellers in the market after the sentiments have changed following the measures taken by government and the central bank,” Zafar Paracha, General Secretary of ECAP told Arab News.
 
“The central bank has taken action against the banks’ treasuries departments which were involved in maneuvering of dollar in interbank market. In addition, the expected reduction in the import bill of August has also played appreciation role.”    

The pressure on the Pakistani rupee eased off after the government took steps to curtail imports and meet preconditions of the IMF for the revival of a $6 billion program signed in 2019 to stave off a balance of payment crisis.  

The IMF said last month it had reached a staff level agreement with Pakistan that would pave the way for the disbursement of $1.17 billion after its board approval later this month. Islamabad also has to convince the fund about the availability of funds for a $4 billion financing gap.

Last week, the UAE’s state news agency had reported that the country intended to invest $1 billion in Pakistani companies across various sectors, which include gas, energy infrastructure, renewable energy and healthcare.

Following the current bullish trend in the currency market, Pakistani analysts said the currency was likely to appreciate further to around Rs200 against the greenback in the near future.  

Stocks, however, on Thursday, remained bearish mainly due to profit taking that kicked off during the midsession. The benchmark KSE-100 index closed at 42,243 points, down by 251 points.

“Stocks fell sharply lower on political noise and hike in power tariff. Mid session support remained on strong rupee and falling Pakistan dollar bond yields,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Investor concerns for weak earnings outlook played a catalyst role in bearish close.”


McDonald’s to begin reopening Ukraine restaurants

Updated 11 August 2022

McDonald’s to begin reopening Ukraine restaurants

  • The company closed all its restaurants in Ukraine and Russia in March
  • McDonald's said it was working with suppliers to get products to restaurants

DUBAI: McDonald’s Corp. said on Thursday it plans on reopening its restaurants in Ukraine over the next few months in an early sign of western businesses returning to the country, even as the conflict with Russia continues.
The company closed all its restaurants in Ukraine and Russia in March, with McDonald’s selling most of its restaurants in Russia to one of its local licensees in May.
“After extensive consultation and discussion with Ukrainian officials, suppliers, and security specialists, and in consideration of our employees’ request to return to work, we have decided to institute a phased plan to reopen some restaurants in Kyiv and western Ukraine” Paul Pomroy, McDonald’s head of international operated markets, said in a message to employees.
The company said it was working with suppliers to get products to restaurants and bringing employees back on site with enhanced safety protocols.
McDonald’s had 109 restaurants in Ukraine, but did not specify how many it planned to reopen.


Saudi Arabian Mining Co. emerges as TASI’s 5th-best performer

Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi Arabian Mining Co. emerges as TASI’s 5th-best performer

  • Analysts expect Ma’aden to maintain its solid performance throughout 2022, owing to its expansion plans

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian Mining Co., known as Ma’aden, ranked fifth among the top share price gainers this year on the Saudi stock index TASI buoyed by strong results and a thriving mineral sector.

Ma’aden’s share price in 2022 opened at SR39.25 ($10.5) and climbed to SR59 on Aug. 4, surging 53 percent.

A booming mineral industry fueled this rise in Saudi Arabia as, in recent years, the Kingdom has shifted its focus toward discovering and extracting minerals and metals to support its mining industry.

There is over $3-trillion worth of minerals to be exploited in the Kingdom, which opens huge opportunities for minerals companies, Peter Leon, a partner in Johannesburg-based law firm Herbert Smith Freehills told reporters in February.

Leon advised the Kingdom’s Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources on drafting its new mining law.

Khalid Almudaifer, vice minister of MIMR, told Arab News earlier this year that the ministry had established the mining sector’s infrastructure, allowing the Kingdom to leapfrog in both mining and sustainable mining.

FASTFACTS

• The company’s share price in 2022 opened at SR39.25 ($10.5) and climbed to SR59 on Aug. 4, surging 53 percent.

• Ma’aden reported a 185 percent surge in profit during the first quarter of 2022, hitting SR2.17 billion.

• The mining company has a market capitalization of over SR100 billion.

As the Kingdom revealed that it could be sitting on untapped mineral deposits worth $1.3 trillion, Almudaifer added that the $1.3 trillion estimate of untapped minerals is only a starting point and that underground minerals are likely worth even more.

In March, the state-owned firm announced its plans to increase production capacity and invest in exploration to tap into $1.3 trillion mineral reserves, a reason economist Ali Alhazmi believes that made Ma’aden shares lucrative, further leading to high performance.

Speaking to Arab News, Alhazmi explained that one of the reasons could be attributed to Ma’aden turning into probability last year, reaching SR5.2 billion, compared to SR280 million in losses in 2020.

The other reason could relate to its plan to double its capital by distributing three shares to shareholders, which has attracted investors to buy Ma’aden shares.

According to Abdullah AlRebdi, CEO of Rassanah Capital, the beginning of the third line of its ammonia production also helped the company’s fortune, especially when there was a considerable shortage of raw material for fertilizer. It is worth mentioning that the ammonia plant expansion is set to add over 1 million tons of ammonia production to reach 3.3 million tons, making Ma’aden one of the largest ammonia producers east of the Suez Canal.

Ma’aden reported a 185 percent surge in profit during the first quarter of 2022, hitting SR2.17 billion, amid a jump in commodity prices.

Analysts expect Ma’aden to maintain its solid performance throughout 2022, owing to its expansion plans and gold mining projects in Mansoura and Masarrah.

“By the end of 2022, Ma’aden will achieve SR9 billion in profit, a growth of 50 percent from 2021,” Alhazmi predicted.

As one of the fastest-growing mining companies worldwide, Ma’aden has a market capitalization of over SR100 billion and is one of the Kingdom’s 10 most prominent players.

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Russian oil shipments to central Europe expected to resume

Updated 10 August 2022

Russian oil shipments to central Europe expected to resume

  • “I expect the oil shipments to resume in hours,” Slovakia’s Economy Minister said
  • Transneft cited complications due to European Union sanctions for its action on Aug. 4

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia: Oil shipments from Russia through a critical pipeline to several European countries should resume soon after a problem over payments for transit was resolved, Slovakia’s Economy Minister Richard Sulik said on Wednesday.
“I expect the oil shipments to resume in hours,” Sulik said.
Russian state pipeline operator Transneft said Tuesday it halted shipments through the southern branch of the Druzhba, or Friendship, pipeline, which runs through Ukraine to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. The northern leg of the Druzhba pipeline, which runs through Belarus to Poland and Germany, was unaffected, Transneft said.
Transneft cited complications due to European Union sanctions for its action on Aug. 4, saying its payment to the company’s Ukrainian counterpart was refused.
Sulik said the payments would be made Wednesday by Slovak refiner Slovnaft after both the Russian and Ukrainian sides agreed to the solution.
Slovnaft is owned by Hungary’s MOL energy group.
MOL confirmed the money has been transferred.
Slovakia receives practically all its oil through the Druzhba pipeline. Sulik said the payment is worth some 9–10 million euros (up to $10.2 million).
He said his country would work on a long-term solution to the problem which he said was caused by the refusal of an unnamed bank in Western Europe to transfer the money due to the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia for its war against Ukraine.
“I wouldn’t look for a political context behind it, there’s none,” Sulik said.
However, Simone Tagliapietra, an energy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said Russia has weaponized natural gas heading to Europe by claiming technical issues, and “this opens questions on whether it might now do the same with oil.”
Russia has blamed equipment repairs for its decision to slash flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, whose government has called it a political move to sow uncertainty and push up prices amid the war in Ukraine.
EU leaders agreed in May to embargo most Russian oil imports by the end of the year as part of the bloc’s sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The embargo covers Russian oil brought in by sea, but allowed temporary Druzhba pipeline shipments to Hungary and certain other landlocked countries in central Europe, such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

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Middle East investors eye London property on back of weak pound

Updated 10 August 2022

Middle East investors eye London property on back of weak pound

  • Thanks to the favorable exchange rate, a £1 million home in London that would have cost $1.7 million in 2014 currently costs only about $1.2 million
  • Exchange rate forecasts predict sterling will strengthen against the dollar between now and 2026, suggesting that now is the perfect time for overseas buyers to take the plunge

LONDON: The declining strength of Sterling has created a window of opportunity in London for investors from the Middle East, according to property consultancy JLL.

Sterling buyers are paying 35 percent more now for London properties than they were eight years ago but those purchasing in US dollars are paying 3.8 percent less.

In June 2014, a US buyer would have had to pay $1.7 million for a £1 million property in London. The weaker pound means at the end of June this year, a £1 million property in the city would have cost only $1.2 million.

Exchange rate forecasts from Oxford Economics predict the pound will strengthen against the dollar between now and 2026, suggesting that this is the perfect time for overseas buyers to take advantage of the currency-exchange benefits that are available.

Analysis of passenger arrivals at London’s Heathrow Airport show that the number of visitors from the Middle East has recovered to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, the number of passengers arriving from the region in May was 1 percent higher than the pre-pandemic average, and 2 percent higher in June.

“The weaker sterling, alongside the safe-haven status usually associated with UK real estate, is driving and will continue to drive investment here,” said JLL’s Alex Carr.

“This return of overseas demand at present is particularly apparent among purchasers from the Gulf states, who are traveling back here for the first time in two years.

“London has always, historically, been a safe haven for wealthy individuals from Gulf states who are looking to diversify their assets, being one of the most resilient and transparent property markets in the world.”

London’s upscale Kensington district reportedly has experienced a significant increase in inquiries and applications from buyers in the Middle East.

“It was evident in May that demand was building, with increased communications from prospective (Middle Eastern) buyers who were preparing for their return to the UK following two years of travel restrictions,” said JLL’s Thomas Middleditch.

“A lot of these individuals have kept in touch over the course of the pandemic to stay informed on the market, yet as most are tangible buyers they have waited until they are in a position to physically return to the UK before inquiring about specific properties.

“Kensington has always been popular among Middle Eastern buyers and considered a low-risk investment given its location and established address.”