Bitcoin mining difficulty – a measure of how hard it is to compete for mining rewards on the world’s first blockchain network – has posted its largest two-week increase in 12 months.
According to BTC.com data, mining difficulty reached 9.06 trillion (T) at block height 584,640 around 9:17 UTC on July 9, surpassing the previous record of 7.93 T by 14.23 percent. This was the strongest growth in any two-week period since August 2018 – a sign that competition among miners is not only intensifying but doing so at an accelerated rate.
The bitcoin network is designed to adjust its mining difficulty every 2,016 blocks (roughly 14 days) based on the participating mining power in each cycle, in order to ensure the block-producing time at the next period stays at about every 10 minutes.
When there are fewer machines competing to solve bitcoin’s hash function to earn newly created bitcoin, the difficulty will fall; when more players jump in, it rises.
Competition right now is so fierce, mining difficulty has leapfrogged the entire range of eight trillion to break the threshold of nine trillion. The estimated difficulty byat the next adjustment period could be as high as 10.35 T, which would be another 14.17 percent increase.
Similarly, the amount of computing power devoted to securing the bitcoin network has also logged the biggest growth of any two-week difficulty adjustment cycle since August 2018, based ondata and CoinDesk’s calculations.
Enthusiasm for bitcoin mining has pushed the hash rate to as high as 74.5 quintillion hashes per second (EH/s) as of July 5, in line with predictions by mining farms in China that have been plugging in machines to take advantage of cheap hydroelectric power during the rainy summer season.
The total hashing power is expected to continue rising as the peak rainy season is still months away in southwestern China, an area that is estimated to account for half of bitcoin’s global mining production.
Bitcoin mining difficulty took a significant hit last year amid the market downturn. It dropped as much as 30 percent from October to December and only got back to the previous high last month.
That said, the increases in bitcoin’s hash rate and mining difficulty have not yet caught up with the pace of bitcoin’s price jump, at least not as much as they did in the bull run during the second half of 2017.
According to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index data, bitcoin’s price surged by 400 percent from around $4,000 to nearly $20,000 between June and December 2017. During the same period, the network’s computing power grew by at least 200 percent.
However, while bitcoin’s price has shot up to as much as $12,000 in June – a 300-percent jump since it fell to $3,000 early this year – the network hash rate has only increased by 100 percent over the same period.
The reason for this lag is an insufficient supply of new bitcoin mining equipment to meet the market’s demand since major miner makers are hitting a bottleneck of production capacity resulting from a limited supply of chips from semiconductor vendors.
Coming from an organization so tied to the question of identity (whether real or not), it is surprising that Facebook’s Libra coin seems confused about its own.
The organization has chosen to brand Libra “a stable global cryptocurrency,” and the label “cryptocurrency” has been replicated by media around the world. Yet Libra is not a cryptocurrency.
Don’t get me wrong – those of us in the sector appreciate the global attention given to the concept since the announcement.
But in this case the definition matters beyond semantics: it will affect eventual use cases and regulatory treatment. It could also transform how investors view both stablecoins and blockchain-based securities going forward.
First, let’s look at why it’s not a cryptocurrency.
While definitions vary, one key characteristic of cryptocurrencies is their resistance to censorship. For this, they need to be “decentralized enough” to prevent any one group from deciding who gets to transact. Libra does not yet fulfill that criteria, and although the Foundation has said it plans to move towards a “more decentralized” system over time, doing so (or not) is entirely in its hands.
Furthermore, the value of a Libra coin is not created by the underlying technology, the market, math or however you choose to understand bitcoin and similar assets. It’s a digital representation of a basket of fiat currencies and other securities.
The only thing Libra coin has in common with cryptocurrencies is that they all move on a blockchain.
So, what is it? On the surface, it’s a “stablecoin,” a token that maintains a stable value via a peg to “real world” assets such as fiat currencies or a commodity (some stablecoins have an algorithmically-determined value mechanism, but they belong in a different discussion). The sector is currently awash with stablecoin projects building solutions for payments and settlements, most of which are not yet live. Of those that have launched, few outside of U.S.$-backed Tether have significant volume, although the market is young and still shifting.
Where Libra differs from its stablecoin peers is in the peg: according to the white paper, it will be backed by “a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities” (my italics). Notice the use of the term “securities.” An asset backed by securities is, by definition, also a security. Libra is more like an ETF than a fiat-backed stablecoin.
We can try to argue that short-term government debt is more a currency than a security. But even without the telltale use of the word, the regulators’ approach to stablecoins is still up in the air. At the Crypto Evolved conference in New York last month, SEC Deputy Director Elizabeth Baird was asked for her take on stablecoins. Her response was blunt: “I think they’re securities.”
Others have posited that even relatively simple fiat-backed stablecoins could be characterized as swaps or “demand notes,” both of which would be treated as securities. And the SEC’s head of digital assets, Valerie Szczepanik, confirmed at a hearing last week that it does not matter that the stablecoin “does not have an expectation of profits” (with the usual caveat of “facts and circumstances”).
Note that this is Libra coin we’re talking about, not the Libra Investment Token which is obviously a security. We’re talking about the token that Facebook hopes will become the de facto payment mechanism for most of the world.
The white paper opens with: “Libra’s mission is to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.” Glossing over the unrealistically aspirational qualification of “simple” (really??), can we use a security as a “currency”?
Asset-backed representations of value have been currencies before – think of the dollar and other national currencies back in the days of the gold standard. But they were backed by a commodity that was not controlled by any one entity and did not have an “issuer.” The Libra proposition is very different.
With this, we start to see why the definition is so important. If the Libra token is officially classified as a security, as is likely, then using it in a transaction will involve a “sale” of that security, and a capital gain or loss. Since we’re talking about a stablecoin, the taxable event is unlikely to be significant. But it will be greater than zero, since Libra’s basket value will fluctuate relative to the currency into which Libra coin has to be converted to complete the transaction (because Libra is unlikely to become a “unit of account” in which the value of local goods is denominated).
Sure, software will emerge to smooth the friction and helpfully calculate what we have to officially declare – but the need to do so at all will act as a significant barrier. It’s not only the hassle and cost involved; it’s also the understandable desire of most even law-abiding users to stay off the tax authorities’ radar.
What does this mean for crypto investors?
In terms of portfolio allocations, not much. Libra as it is currently structured will not provide competition-beating gains for funds looking for alpha. As its ecosystem matures, it could provide stable returns through lending or collateralization – many funds prize liquidity and stability over high risk and performance. But that’s not going to set the securities world on fire.
The main impact will come not so much from Libra itself, but in the glimpse it offers of where a new asset class could emerge.
The idea of securities as payment mechanisms is innovative and could open up a host of potential use cases. The requisite stable value need not necessarily mean limited upside, as new share issuance as a sort of value-linked dividend (for example) could maintain a peg while providing the holder with a return. Instead of the share price going up, an algorithm would issue you more of them, and destroy some if the value went down. Your wealth would fluctuate, while the price of the share remains stable.
The fiscal friction from using a security as payment would not be an issue for institutions, since they generally have back offices well versed in handling this.
Another intriguing thread to pull on is the idea of securities backed by a basket of currencies and government debt. We could see the emergence of custom-made securities that hedge the currency risk of the issuer. Currency hedges are a major concern for both corporates and investors – imagine a debt instrument that packages those complex equations into a stable yield, or into a pre-hedged token for use in either capital markets or supply chain transactions.
Financial innovation did not start when blockchain technology got a new lease of life through connected networks and decentralized consensus. Markets have been furiously evolving since there were markets, often in unexpected ways with unintended consequences.
For all its features and faults, Libra represents a significant step forward in this process. Its stated aim of extending financial inclusion and reducing payment friction is one that has consumed entrepreneurial minds for decades, and while this may not be the solution the world is waiting for, it’s at least pushing the conversation forward in constructive ways.
However, when it comes to technology of any type, few inventions end up being used for their original intent. Libra is unlikely to be any different. In combining elements of distributed ledger technology, economic philosophy and savvy marketing, the initiative will end up boosting awareness, adoption and development of cryptocurrencies and security tokens more broadly. Just not in the way the designers originally anticipated.
Facebook’s David Marcus is pushing back against concerns about the social media giant’s new cryptocurrency project, Libra.
In a note published Wednesday on Facebook, Marcus addressed “a number of questions and a few misunderstandings” about the project.
In Wednesday’s post, Marcus sought to address a number of issues that have been raised by lawmakers and informed observers alike, including whether Libra is actually decentralized, why there isn’t a charter in place for the Libra Association and whether Libra can actually address financial inclusion.
Perhaps most notably, he addressed the widespread distrust of Facebook in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, 2016 election interference and other high-profile mishaps.
“Bottom line: You won’t have to trust Facebook to get the benefit of Libra,” Marcus wrote, adding:
“And Facebook won’t have any special responsibility over the Libra Network. But we hope that people will respond favorably to the Calibra wallet [made by Facebook]. We’ve been clear about our approach to financial data separation and we will live up to our commitments and work hard to deliver real utility.”
Under various subheadings, Marcus addressed complaints about the project, including concerns that Libra would not be able to bank individuals who are currently under- or unbanked, as well as concerns about Facebook’s track record on consumer data protection.
“Someone wrote that the key reason people are unbanked is that they don’t have enough money to actually be banked, and claimed Libra wouldn’t solve this,” Marcus wrote, calling this explanation misguided.
In his view, Libra would lower the drawbridges to financial services for anyone with “a $40 smartphone and connectivity.”
Marcus also repeated a claim from the Calibra subsidiary’s public documentation in noting that Facebook would not have access to any financial data from the wallet provider.
“People will have many ways in which to use Libra and access the network,” he said. “You’ll be able to use a range of custodial and non-custodial wallets that will have full interoperability with one another, meaning you’ll be able to pay and receive payments across wallets from different companies, or use a software wallet you’d operate on your own.”
The company’s profit model for Libra would come from any commerce that occurs across its family of apps by ensuring that ads are more effective and advertisers are more motivated to buy space on Facebook’s platforms, he said.
“We are looking forward to continuing to engage with the various communities and stakeholders. We want to hear your feedback, and we are committed to taking the time to get this right,” Marcus said in his conclusion.
While Libra will be controlled by a small number of entities at launch, it will gradually decentralize over time, he said.
Facebook, which is one of 28 founding members for the Libra Association – the governing association which will be responsible for overseeing the Libra network after it launches – will ultimately have the same amount of power over the network that its other launch associates will have, Marcus said.
“It’s easy to assume from the headlines that Libra is only associated with Facebook, but that is not the case,” Marcus wrote, adding:
“But it was important to start with trusted entities that could operate in a regulated environment and with the operational expertise required to ensure the integrity of the network in its foundational stage. I’d argue that one hundred geographically distributed, industry-diverse organizations is quite decentralized. … As a comparison, often the concentration of power in the hands of those running software for mining pools on other blockchains is overlooked.”
“But there’s no question that there are more decentralized blockchains available, and that the Libra Association must strive to gradually decentralize it further,” he said.
Each of the founding members will be a part of setting up the Libra Association’s governance rules and “other key decisions,” as part of an effort to limit the amount of power Facebook has over the network, he claimed.
Bitcoin (BTC) looks set to close in the green on U.S. Independence Day for the fifth consecutive year, having recovered nearly 25 percent from recent lows.
The top cryptocurrency by market capitalization rose 1.17, 1.79, 3.35 and 1.67 percent on July 4 in 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively, according to Bitstamp data.
BTC’s Independence Day performance in the years prior to 2015 is mixed. Prices saw little change in 2012, rose 3.16 percent in 2013 and suffered a 2.63 percent loss in 2014.
All-in-all, bitcoin, considered by some observers as an anti-establishment asset, has put on a good show on the U.S. Independence Day in five out of the last seven years.
The cryptocurrency now appears poised to extend the four-year winning trend, as the recovery from recent lows seems to be gathering traction and the short duration charts are now flashing bullish signals.
As of writing, BTC is changing hands at $11,600, representing 4 percent gains on a 24-hour basis, having hit a high of $12,061 earlier today. At that price, the cryptocurrency was up more than $2,400, or 25 percent, from the July 21 low of $9,614.
BTC jumped 4 percent in 60 minutes late on Wednesday, confirming an upside break of the symmetrical triangle – a bullish continuation pattern – on the hourly chart.
Notably, the breakout was backed by a sharp rise in buy volumes (green bars). In fact, buy volume climbed to its highest since July 1, invalidating the bearish volume divergence represented by the falling trendline.
Therefore, the path of least resistance is on the higher side and prices could rise toward the bearish lower high of $12,448 created on June 26.
While the momentum has cooled somewhat in the last 10 hours, the minor price pullback seems to have taken the shape of a bull flag – a pause that often restarts with upwards momentum.
The probability of BTC posting daily gains with a UTC close above today’s opening price of $12,061 would drop if the price finds acceptance below $11,385 – the low of yesterday’s high-volume bullish candle (horizontal line).
That, however, looks unlikely, as the daily chart is reporting a bullish candlestick pattern.
BTC rose 10.5 percent on Wednesday, marking a strong follow-through to the dip demand highlighted by the preceding day’s bullish hammer candle.
The candlestick pattern indicates the pullback likely ended at $9,614 and thus prices could continue to rise toward the recent high of $13,880.
Bitcoin (BTC) was trading below $10,000 on exchanges for the first time in 11 days on Tuesday morning (UTC), and may face further losses ahead.
The top cryptocurrency by market value hit a low of $9,713 at 06:00 UTC – a level last seen on June 21 – before regaining some ground. At time of writing, one BTC is worth $10,200, down around 7 percent on a 24-hour basis, as per Bitstamp prices.
The drop saw BTC retrace more than 30 percent of gains from its 17-month high of $13,880 hit on June 26, and more than 60 percent of the four-week rally from lows near $7,500.
Bitcoin’s price drop is hurting the broader market as well. Only seven out of the top 100 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization are reporting gains at press time, according to CoinMarketCap.
That said, most of the losers are outperforming bitcoin, which was the 11th worst performing top-100 cryptocurrency of the last 24 hours, at 09:00 UTC. For instance, EOS and bitcoin cash (BCH) were down 3 percent, while cryptos like ether (ETH) token and XRP reported 6 percent and 4.5 percent drops, respectively.
As a result, a majority of alternative cryptocurrencies are reporting gains in BTC terms. The cryptocurrency market performance of the last 24 hours indicates the investors have likely begun rotating money out of bitcoin and into alternative cryptocurrencies.
With bitcoin’s technical charts signaling scope for a deeper drop toward key support at $9,097, altcoins may continue to shine bright in BTC terms.
With the 5- and 10-day moving averages reporting a bearish crossover and the 14-day relative strength index reporting bearish conditions with a below-50 reading, bitcoin appears on track to test support at $9,097 (May 30 high).
Supporting the bearish case is the recent drop in the Chaikin money flow index from 0.37 to 0.13 – a decline indicating weakening buying pressure.
The outlook as per the daily chart would turn bearish if the cryptocurrency prints a UTC close below $9,097, violating the bullish higher-lows and higher-highs pattern.
The case for deeper losses would weaken if the price finds acceptance above the June 27 low of $10,300, although as of now that looks unlikely.
The previous 4-hour candle closed well below $10,300 (see yellow line), confirming a bearish lower-highs and lower-lows pattern.
The breakdown is backed by high sell volume (red bars). In fact, sell volumes have been consistently higher than buy volumes ever since BTC topped out at $13,800. As a result, a drop toward $9,097 looks likely.
The Chaikin money flow has turned negative for the first time since June 10 – a sign the cryptocurrency is now facing increasing selling pressure.
The outlook would turn bullish if the price clears the descending trendline hurdle at $11,100 on the back of strong buy volumes. That would open the doors to a retest of the recent high of $13,880. After all, the long-term charts are still biased bullish.