When the tide goes out: big questions for crypto in 2019 – Gary Gensler

MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer, Senior Advisor MIT Media Lab, Gary Gensler

From CoinDesk

After this year’s wild market ride and so many failed projects, what might Satoshi Nakamoto’s innovative “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” mean for money and finance in 2019 and beyond?

Satoshi’s innovation – the use of append-only timestamped logs, secured by cryptography, amongst multiple parties, forming consensus on a shared ledger – needs to be taken seriously. The resulting blockchains of data can form widely verifiable peer-to-peer databases.

For any chance of a lasting role in the long evolution of money, though, blockchain applications and crypto assets have to deliver real economic results for users. And while bringing the crypto finance markets within public policy norms is critical, the greatest challenge remains the seriousness of commercial use cases.

A bunch of hype masquerading as fact won’t do it.

What We’ve Learned

Blockchain technology and crypto tokens provide an alternative means to move value on the Internet without relying upon a central intermediary. They promise the potential to lower verification and networking costs, ranging from censorship, privacy, reconciliation and settlement costs to the costs of jump starting and maintaining a network.

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Why institutional investors are entering the digital asset space – Edward Woodford

MIT Sloan Master of Finance Alumnus Edward Woodford

Digital assets have garnered increasing interest from institutional investors, despite questions remaining around the regulation, security, and reliability of trading venues. Today, the largest trading venues – typically referred to as “crypto exchanges” – serve individual investors and traders, are limited to spot trading, and are often unregulated or based in foreign jurisdictions. What’s more, they often lack the technological infrastructure and depth of liquidity to execute larger orders that institutions require.

As a result, many of these institutional investors – typically those managing large amounts of money – bypass exchanges and turn to the opaque world of over-the-counter (OTC) trading, buying and selling large amounts of cryptocurrency directly with a specific counterparty. Deals are done in the dark, primarily through messaging platforms like Telegram and Skype. We estimate that the OTC market is currently around three times greater than the on-exchange volume.

However, the OTC trading has some considerable downsides compared to on-exchange trading. Participants can see a publicly disclosed order book on exchange, which does not exist OTC. With an order book, there is more transparent pricing, which allows for the best executable price within the market. In addition, contrary to an exchange where the identity of your counterparties is hidden, with OTC, an investor’s intention – to buy or sell – is revealed and thus can cause slippage in price or leakage in terms of your trading intentions.

The fact is that the lack of an acceptable institution-ready exchange is the one of the single largest barriers to crypto asset class growth, as every meaningful financial market is built on a foundation of institutional involvement.

What does the digital asset space look like today?

Today, digital asset trading is dominated by institutions, principally OTC. The type of institutions involved is changing. The early players were proprietary trading firms and family offices, who have the most latitude in their investment mandates. Digital asset hedge funds were also established with specific mandates to trade digital assets. Now, more established funds are entering the space, along with asset managers who’ve had to gain additional comfort.

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Don’t let the crypto circus in congress fool you – Michael Casey

Michael Casey, Senior Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

Michael Casey, Senior Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

From Coindesk

Progress?

Judging from the most eye-catching headlines from two separate hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday, it’s tempting to conclude there has been little of it from U.S. regulators and legislators in their comprehension of cryptocurrencies these past five years.

In fact, Rep. Brad Sherman’s laughable suggestion during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in the house that the U.S. ban mining and purchases of bitcoin could suggest we’ve gone backward since bitcoin was first discussed in Congress in the fall of 2013.

At that time, the sight of Jennifer Shasky Calvery, then-director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), telling bitcoin exchanges and wallets they needed to register with FinCEN, was ultimately viewed positively by crypto enthusiasts. In showing that regulators like her weren’t inherently hostile to cryptocurrencies, Calvery’s comments led to a doubling in bitcoin’s price over the following two weeks to more than $1,100 in early December.

Now, five years on, some officials do sound a bit hostile.

At a separate hearing the same day as Sherman’s grandstanding, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said cryptocurrencies are “great if you’re trying to hide or launder money.” Had he noticed how the FBI had traced the bitcoin transactions of the 12 Russians indicted last week for trying to tamper with U.S. elections?

The folly of his position was indirectly identified over at the other hearing, where Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Michael Conaway — who presumably did not intend to take a dig at the Fed Chairman — joked, “As long as the stupid criminals keep using bitcoin, it’ll be great.”

It’s best to look beyond the eye-catching headlines, however. In the wider context, it’s clear that we have actually come some way forward in regulatory comprehension of this technology. And that’s a good thing. Read More »

Opinion: MIT-led team is aiming to build a better cryptocurrency – Sandy Pentland

Sandy Pentland, MIT Sloan Information Technology Professor

From MarketWatch

New technologies that make it possible to reinvent our financial system have exploded over the past decade.

Bitcoin BTCUSD, ethereum and other cryptocurrencies are proof that there’s a market for alternatives to the big, powerful players. And yet, it’s unclear how these cryptocurrencies will affect the economic landscape. Problems like bubbles, financial crashes and inflation aren’t going away any time soon. (Ahem, note recent events.)

But in the future, things could be different. These digital currencies and their supporting infrastructure hold great promise for deepening our understanding of the monetary circuit. With newfound clarity, we can build tools for minimizing financial risk; we can also learn to identify and act on early-warning signals, thus improving system stability. In addition, this new level of transparency could broaden participation in the economy and reduce the concentration of wealth.

A crypto alternative

How might this work? Leading cryptocurrencies, with bitcoin being perhaps the most famous, or infamous, example, have considerable logistical limitations. An alternative is needed. Read More »

Join the #MITSloanExperts “The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything” Twitter chat, February 28

The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything, by Michael Casey and Paul Vigna

MIT Sloan’s Michael Casey and Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Vigna, authors of The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything, will discuss their new book that examines applications of blockchain technology with the potential to provide new financial security, social change, and personal empowerment, during a Twitter chat on February 28th at 1 p.m. ET.

Michael Casey is a Senior Lecturer of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Senior Advisor for the Digital Currency Imitative at MIT’s Media Lab, where he studies blockchain and its applications in the social and economic sectors. Additionally, Casey is a writer and researcher in the field of economics, finance, and digital-currency technology. Casey received his undergraduate degree from The University of Western Australia, his graduate diploma in Journalism from Curtin University of Technology and received his Master of Arts and English in 1994 from Cornell University.

Paul Vigna is a markets reporter for the Wall Street Journal, where he focuses on blockchain, bitcoin, and other cryptocurrency news. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and has authored three books to date. Vigna received his undergraduate degree from Fairfield University in 1990.

Casey and Vigna will discuss their work with Mark Hochstein, managing editor of CoinDesk and veteran business journalist with experience covering financial services and bitcoin innovations.

Join us on Twitter on February 28 at 1 p.m. ET, follow along using #MITSloanExperts, and potentially win a free copy of The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything.