International banking regulators’ decision to classify Bitcoin as the riskiest of assets dragged cryptocurrencies further into the mainstream financial world.
It also made it extremely costly for banks to hold digital tokens on their balance sheets, potentially delaying crypto’s wider adoption.
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision proposed that a 1,250 per cent risk weight be applied to a bank’s exposure to Bitcoin and certain other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin jumped on the announcement, then erased the gains. It was trading around $36,200 as of 10:30 a.m. in Hong Kong on Friday.
“The only consistency has been the volatility — it’s been big spikes, tons of enthusiasm, followed by big selloffs,” Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., said of Bitcoin’s moves. “If you believe in it you’re probably to stomach the volatility, but if you’re just in it because it seems like the hot way to get a quick buck, that volatility is going to be hard to deal with.”
The ruling sparked a bevy of reactions across Wall Street and other financial centers worldwide. Here’s a sampling:
Luke Sully, CEO at treasury technology specialist Ledgermatic:
“It’s a piece of news that both advocates and critics of Bitcoin will declare as a win. It demonstrates that Bitcoin is now a recognized asset class with risk management parameters for the banks, but these same parameters could be a potential deterrent given the onerous capital requirements that may make it an unpalatable business,” he said. “There are a few underlying assumptions in this risk weighting, the most obvious being that the price may go to zero and investors could lose their full allocation. The capital requirements don’t protect the banks clients from transaction, settlement and FX volatility either.”
David Tawil, president of ProChain Capital, a crypto hedge fund:
To me, this whole thing, along with the IMF, is just a way for those entities to get involved in the conversation. In terms of putting these requirements it’s going to go ahead, and at least for now, take traditional banks that are traditional regulated by these regulatory entities essentially out of this game and that will allow for more and more alternative players, who are not regulated, to go ahead and to pull further ahead,” he said. “A regulator has very little upside and enormous downside — it’s like being a policeman. You want to protect people. So the furthest you can go in terms of lodging measures that stop activity, the better. And so, I think that they are for the first time inserting themselves. This certainly does not mean the end of cryptocurrency, the end of Bitcoin.”
Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex:
“I don’t think these things are good or bad themselves — it depends on what the objective is,” he said. “It’s not decentralized, it’s highly concentrated. Crypto was born in an age in which we had very extreme disparities of wealth and income — how can it not reflect that? The bulk of Bitcoin that’s owned by wallets have more than 100 Bitcoins, that’s more than $300,000 — how many Americans have $300,000 to put into crypto as opposed to retirement money?”
Matt Maley, chief market strategist for Miller Tabak + Co.:
“Obviously tougher capital requirements cause banks to have more capital on hand — that can have an impact on their earnings. The committee is saying because of risks involved — cryptocurrencies are very volatile — you have to have more capital on hand to protect against declines,” he said. “If it’s going to cost banks more to hold these cryptocurrencies on their books, they’re theoretically going to be less likely to hold the same kind of size as they otherwise would.”
Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo said in a Bloomberg TV interview with Matt Miller:
“It is getting hammered, but you know what? It’s getting treated like any other higher-risk asset like subprime loans, or CDOs, or derivatives, or structured products. And it is a new product. It’s untested through economic cycles. It’s untested through liquidity.”