A Bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong.
S3studio | Getty Images
Some crypto holders in China and Hong Kong are scrambling to find a way to safeguard their bitcoin and other tokens after China’s central bank published a new document Friday spelling out tougher measures in its wider crypto crackdown, including souped-up systems to monitor crypto-related transactions.
Bitcoin was down as much as 6% and ether sunk as much as 10%, amid a wider sell-off early Friday, as investors digested the news.
“Since the announcement less than two hours ago, I have already received over a dozen messages – email, phone and encrypted app – from Chinese crypto holders looking for solutions on how to access and protect their crypto holdings in foreign exchanges and cold wallets,” David Lesperance, a Toronto-based attorney who specializes in relocating wealthy crypto holders to other countries to save on taxes, told CNBC early Friday.
Lesperance said the move is an attempt to freeze crypto assets so that holders can’t legally do anything with them. “Along with not being able to do anything with an extremely volatile asset, my suspicion is that like with Roosevelt and gold, the Chinese government will ‘offer’ them in the future to convert it to e-yuan at a fixed market price,” he said of President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy around the private ownership of gold, which was later repealed.
“I have been predicting this for a while as part of the Chinese government’s moves to close out all potential competition to the incoming digital yuan,” said Lesperance.
The People’s Bank of China said on its website Friday that all cryptocurrency-related transactions in China are illegal, including services provided by offshore exchanges. Services offering trades, order matching, token issuance and derivatives for virtual currencies are all strictly prohibited, according to the PBOC.
The directive will take aim at over-the-counter platforms like OKEx, which allows users in China to exchange fiat currencies for crypto tokens. An OKEx spokesperson told CNBC the company is looking into the news and will let CNBC know once it has decided on the next steps.
Lesperance claims some of his clients are also worried about their safety.
“They are concerned about themselves personally, as they suspect that the Chinese government is well aware of their prior crypto activities, and they do not want to become the next Jack Ma, like ‘common prosperity’ target,” said Lesperance, who has helped clients to expatriate in order to avoid taxes, amid a rising crypto crackdown in the U.S.
That said, it’s common for the authoritarian state to lash out against digital currencies.
In 2013, the country ordered third-party payment providers to stop using bitcoin. Chinese authorities put a stop to token sales in 2017 and pledged to continue to target crypto exchanges in 2019. And earlier this year, China’s takedown of its crypto mining industry led to half the global bitcoin network going dark for a few months.
“Today’s notice isn’t exactly new, and it isn’t a change in policy,” said Boaz Sobrado, a London-based fintech data analyst.
But this time, the crypto announcement involves 10 agencies, including key departments such as the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security, in a show of greater unity among the country’s top brass. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange also participated, which could be a sign that enforcement in this space might increase.
There are other signs of early government coordination in China. The PBOC document was first announced Sept. 15, and a document banning all crypto mining by China’s National Development and Reform Commission was released Sept. 3. Both were published on official government platforms on Friday, suggesting a collaboration between all participating agencies.
And unlike past government statements that refer to cryptos under the same umbrella language, this document specifically calls out bitcoin, ethereum and tether, as stablecoins begin to enter the lexicon of regulators in China.
Bespoke Growth Partners CEO Mark Peikin thinks that this is the start of widespread, near-term pressure on the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and that “the risks facing Chinese investors will have a significant spillover effect, leading to an immediate risk-off trade in the U.S. crypto market.”
“Chinese investors, many of whom continued to turn a cold shoulder to the Chinese government’s latest and largest crackdown on cryptocurrency trading the last several months, may no longer remain bellicose,” Peikin told CNBC.
“Chinese investors thus far largely skirted the ban by decoupling transactions – using domestic OTC platforms or increasingly of late, offshore outlets, to reach agreement on trade price, and then using banks or fintech platforms to transfer yuan in settlement,” Peikin said.
But given the PBOC has improved its capabilities to monitor crypto transactions – and the recent order that fintech companies, including the Ant Group, not provide crypto-related services – Peikin said this workaround used by Chinese investors will become a progressively narrow tunnel.
Friday’s statement from the PBOC adds to other news out of China this week, which has roiled crypto markets. A liquidity crisis at property developer Evergrande raised concerns over a growing property bubble in China. That fear rippled across the global economy, sending the price of many cryptocurrencies into the red.
However, not all are convinced this downward pressure on the crypto market will last.
Sobrado thinks the market is overreacting to Friday’s announcement from the PBOC, given that a lot of the exchange volume in China is decentralized and conducted peer-to-peer – increasingly the most telling metric of crypto adoption. While exchanging tokens P2P doesn’t evade regulatory scrutiny, Sobrado said those crypto exchanges are harder to track down.
Lesperance also points out that Friday’s news might actually strengthen the business case for cryptos as an asset class, given they are a hedge against sovereign risk.
Ultimately, the biggest question is whether this latest directive from Beijing has teeth. “The running joke in crypto is that China has banned crypto hundreds of times,” Sobrado said. “I’d be willing to wager people will be trading bitcoin in China a year from now.”
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey says ‘hyperinflation’ will happen soon in the U.S. and the world
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and co-founder & CEO of Square, speaks during the crypto-currency conference Bitcoin 2021 Convention at the Mana Convention Center in Miami, Florida, on June 4, 2021.
Marco Bello | AFP | Getty Images
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey weighed in on escalating inflation in the U.S., saying things are going to get considerably worse.
“Hyperinflation is going to change everything,” Dorsey tweeted Friday night. “It’s happening.”
The tweet comes with consumer price inflation running near a 30-year high in the U.S. and growing concern that the problem could be worse that policymakers have anticipated.
On Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged that inflation pressures “are likely to last longer than previously expected,” noting that they could run “well into next year.” The central bank leader added that he expects the Fed soon to begin pulling back on the extraordinary measures it has provided to help the economy that critics say have stoked the inflation run.
In addition to overseeing a social media platform that has 206 million active daily users, Dorsey is a strong bitcoin advocate. He has said that Square, the debit and credit card processing platform that Dorsey co-founded, is looking at getting into mining the cryptocurrency. Square also owns some bitcoin and facilitates trading in it.
Responding to user comments, Dorsey added Friday that he sees the inflation problem escalating around the globe. “It will happen in the US soon, and so the world,” he tweeted. Dorsey is currently both the CEO of Twitter and Square.
It’s one thing to call for faster inflation, but it may be surprising to some that Dorsey used the word hyperinflation, a condition of rapidly rising prices that can ruin currencies and bring down whole economies.
“Clearly, there’s a place for crypto. Clearly, it’s winning the race against gold at the moment,” Jones said Wednesday.
But most of the major investors have not gone so far as to call for hyperinflation like Dorsey.
Alec Baldwin fatal prop gun shooting raises questions about working conditions
While injuries or death from prop firearms are extremely rare, the accidental killing of Halyna Hutchins on a Sante Fe movie set Thursday has sparked inquiries about working conditions for Hollywood crew members.
“I’ve been in the industry 21 years,” said Kevin Williams, the prop department supervisor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “I have not heard of any circumstances like this. So, this is definitely one of these things, and it sounds like a cliche to say, but it really sounds like a freak accident.”
The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office confirmed that actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of “Rust,” a Western being filmed at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, killing the film’s director of photography and injuring its director, Joel Souza.
Security guards and a compliance officer at New Mexico’s Bonanza Creek Ranch on Oct. 22, 2021, the film set where actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun.
Adria Malcolm | Reuters
Souza has since been discharged from the hospital. No charges have been filed. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
While it’s unclear at this point what exactly transpired Thursday, many in the industry have begun to inquire about working conditions on set. These queries come as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees works to finalize a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that addresses the union’s calls for better working hours, safer workplace conditions and improved benefits.
“There have been times that I have been on projects for 18 to 20 hours and then been asked to return in six,” Williams said.
The IATSE issued a statement Friday addressing Hutchins’ death and encouraging its members to contact the union’s safety hotline if they feel unsafe on set.
“Our entire alliance mourns this unspeakable loss with Halyna’s family, friends, and the ‘Rust’ crew,” the statement read. “Creating a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from every one of us, day in and day out. Please, if you see something, say something.”
The union declined to comment further.
A person familiar with the matter told NBC News that half a dozen camera crew workers walked off the “Rust” set in protest of working conditions just hours before the shooting took place. Among their concerns were multiple misfires of the prop gun.
Earlier Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing three unnamed people involved with the production, that the crew was frustrated with the production’s long hours. It also alleged that there were two previous prop gun misfires on set, one the previous week and one on Saturday.
”The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement provided to CNBC. “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down.”
Rust Productions is cooperating with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.
Hollywood productions typically adhere to strict safety measures for stunt work, particularly when it comes to weapon and prop safety. The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee has written and distributed safety bulletins on best practices for television and movie productions.
“Blanks can kill,” the first bulletin reads. “Treat all firearms as though they are loaded. ‘Live ammunition’ is never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage.”
These guidelines are recommendations and may not apply to reality shows such as “Mythbusters” or “Top Shot” where live rounds are used to test scientific theories or for marksmanship competition.
“I can say unequivocally that a blank round versus a live round is really easy to identify in the hands of an experienced armorer or prop master,” Williams said. “I can’t imagine anybody would say ‘whoops’ and just put that in there.”
He also noted that safety demonstrations are done with all cast and crew involved in firearm stunts who are instructed that prop weapons should never be pointed at another actor or crew member. In cases where a director wants to film a weapon being pointed at the camera and discharged, ballistic shields are used, he said.
“There are a lot of safety measures put in place,” he said. “If it turns out that a live round was loaded into a vintage weapon and it turns out that that is how this happened, then we need to figure out why.”
That’s a “potential failure in the system,” Williams said.
U.S. officials keep close watch on the ‘delta plus’ mutation as it spreads in the U.K.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo | Pool | Reuters
U.S. health officials are keeping a close eye on an emerging Covid-19 subvariant, dubbed “delta plus,” that some scientists say may be more contagious than the already highly transmissible delta variant.
Formally known as AY.4.2, delta plus includes two new mutations to the spike protein, A222V and Y145H, which allow the virus to enter the body. Those mutations have been found in other Covid variants, so it’s unclear how dramatically those changes affect the virus.
Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said it could be 10%-15% more contagious than delta, which first appeared in India and spreads easier than Ebola, SARS, MERS and the 1918 Spanish flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Delta has an R-naught, or reproductive rate, of eight or nine, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, meaning that every person who has Covid will spread it to up to nine other people. The “wild type” or original strain of Covid had an estimated R-naught of about three. Someone infected with the delta variant carries 1,000 times the viral load of the original Covid strain.
India’s Ministry of Health reported in June that delta plus was more transmissible than the delta variant, adding that the subtype binds more strongly to lung cell receptors and could even reduce the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments.
The mutation has been detected in the U.S., but there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in delta plus cases nationwide, Walensky said at a White House Covid briefing Wednesday.
“We particularly monitor for sublineages that could impact therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines,” Walensky said. “At this time, there is no evidence that the sublineage AY.4.2 impacts the effectiveness of our current vaccines or therapeutics.”
The AY.4.2 subvariant has been detected in at least five cases in the U.S. since August: in Washington, D.C., California, North Carolina, Washington state and Massachusetts, according to Outbreak.info. The website collects data from GISAID, a global genomic database on Covid and influenza cases.
Top health authorities have cautioned for weeks that more powerful and potentially vaccine-resistant Covid variants could develop as long as widespread outbreaks continue to occur, fueled by billions of people worldwide who remain unvaccinated. White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in August that the U.S. could be “in trouble” if another mutation surpassed delta, asking the unvaccinated to get their shots in hopes of curbing a surge that crushed the nation’s health-care systems this summer.
Delta plus could also eventually affect the age groups eligible to receive Covid booster doses, Dr. Peter Marks, the Food and Drug Administration’s lead vaccine regulator, said Wednesday night. The FDA and CDC have authorized Covid boosters for a wide array of adults in the U.S. from all three manufacturers in the U.S.: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
“The exact age of that will be based on what we see of the emerging situation, which is quite dynamic right now because we continue to see reports of new variants coming up,” Marks said. “And we’re also seeing changes in the epidemiology of Covid-19 in our country right now with new hotspots coming up even as certain places die down.”
Concerns over delta plus are running high in the U.K., where officials are battling a surge in cases and facing a renewed health crisis. Delta plus cases represented roughly 6% of all sequenced Covid cases as of the week beginning Sept. 27, according to the latest data from the country’s Health Security Agency. The sublineage is “increasing in frequency” in the U.K., the agency noted, and doctors from the National Health Service Confederation in London are calling for a return to stricter Covid protocols heading into the winter.
But global health leaders are urging the public not to panic. Though the emergence of a Covid subtype isn’t the same as an entirely new variant evolving, keeping track of delta’s progression could allow the medical community to better understand the mutation, Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, Covid-19 incident manager at the World Health Organization’s regional branch for the Americas, said at a briefing Oct. 6.
“Looking to these additional changes, it may help researchers to track the variants on a fine scale,” Aldighieri said. “But they do not imply any functional or biological difference.”
— CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt in London contributed to this report.
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