Crypto News Headlines (19-May-2022)

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration will press Congress to demand cryptocurrency exchanges keep their customers’ money separate from their own corporate funds, according to a person familiar with the plan that could constrain the way the industry does business.

Spurred by Coinbase’s (COIN) recent disclosure that customers’ money would be jammed up if the company declared bankruptcy, federal officials intend to push U.S. lawmakers to fix the problem by insisting that a future legal framework require crypto firms keep customer assets walled off. That type of custodial rule is standard for financial firms such as futures platforms, but crypto exchanges routinely mingle their funds with customers’ holdings in the same pot – a situation the administration wants to see ended by legislation. The securities industry commonly commingles funds, but the investments are also more heavily regulated.

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has announced a change in its staffing plans. After previously aiming to triple its size heading into this year, the company now feels it’s prudent to slow hiring and reassess its personnel needs against its business goals, given the current market conditions. Quoted in a press release on Tuesday, Coinbase President and Chief Operating Officer Emilie Choi explained:

To ensure we’re best positioned to succeed during and after the current market downturn, we’re announcing we’re slowing hiring so we can reprioritize our hiring needs against our highest-priority business goals.

Choi further elaborated that Coinbase had made the decision in order to emerge stronger from this down cycle. She emphasized the step is part of managing the business to the scenarios the company had planned for, and assured the changes will not affect its expense outlook for the second quarter and the whole of 2022.

Ethereum developers have reached another milestone on their way to the long-awaited ETH 2.0 network upgrade—the Ropsten public testnet will undergo an upgrade to proof-of-stake consensus on June 8.

The configuration code for upgrading the testnet appeared in a pull request from Ethereum DevOps engineer Parathi Jayanathi in the eth-clients GitHub repository on Monday. 

Last month, the developers working on The Merge, an upgrade to the Ethereum network to switch it from a proof-of-work to proof-of-stake consensus model, began testing how the switch would work on a shadow fork. 

Two days later, things seemed less rosy as Ethereum Foundation developer Tim Beiko said on Twitter that the upgrade had been pushed to the latter half of 2022.

As the fall of Terra (LUNA) and TerraUSD (UST) may have a noticeable short-term impact on the decision-making of both retail and institutional investors, it doesn’t pose a risk to the larger crypto ecosystem, according to Du Jun, CEO of Huobi Global CEO. 

In an interview with Cointelegraph, Jun explained that the collapse of Terra will affect the ecosystem by slowing down investor interest in crypto as an asset class. However, Jun noted that this will only be a short-term effect. In the long term, the exchange CEO explained that crypto like Bitcoin’s (BTC) demand as a hedge against fiat inflation will grow along with the advent of new applications for blockchain:

“In the long term, demand for cryptocurrencies as a hedge against fiat inflation will continue to grow, as well as for applications of blockchain technology.”

When asked about critics who are using the Terra collapse as an opportunity to take a dig at the entire crypto market, Jun highlighted that crashes like Terra also happen in many other industries.

Azra Games, a blockchain gaming startup, raised $15 million in seed funding, according to a Thursday announcement.

The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led the round, with additional participation from NFX, Coinbase Ventures, Play Ventures and Franklin Templeton. 

Azra Games will use the funds to build out its first game Project Arcanas, a sci-fi fantasy epic with mass combat and role-playing game (RPG) elements. The game will feature web3 technology like virtual collectibles. 

The firm was founded by Mark Otero, former general manager of the video game giant Electronic Arts (EA), and spearheaded the popular video game Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.

Nomura’s new digital-asset subsidiary, announced earlier this week in a move that potentially catapults the Japanese investment bank ahead of U.S. and European rivals, will start by focusing on cryptocurrencies, the unit’s newly appointed CEO Jez Mohideen said.

Only later will the division, which will be based in Europe and given a title in the coming months, look into more exotic applications such as decentralized finance (DeFi) and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

“To start with, I would say the top 10 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization we will be looking at opportunistically for market making and client services,” Mohideen said in an interview. “Then basically, we’ll go down further the market cap chain to see the opportunity based on institutional demand. So, also looking at DeFi protocols, if these get launched in our own launch pads, we will look to make markets there as well.”

While banks have been testing the crypto waters for some time, many have restricted themselves to trading, whether derivatives or exchange-traded products, or conducting research into various types of digital assets. Nomura was one of the first to explore safekeeping of crypto assets through the Komainu custody consortium, alongside investment fund CoinShares and storage specialist Ledger, and is also one of the first to say it plans to delve deeper into the ecosystem.

Max Credit Cards, the Israeli payment and credit card super-brand holding more than 3 million credit cards announced that it had signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Bits of Gold towards launching a new and unique VISA credit card, MaxBack Crypto, with which will allow users to accumulate eligibility for cashback in Bitcoin depending on their spending with the card. Upon ordering the card, a dedicated account will be opened for the customer by Bits of Gold. The cashback amount accumulated in NIS will be transferred, and Bits of Gold will automatically convert it to Bitcoin. The MaxBack Crypto will be launched in the coming weeks, subject to the completion of regulatory requirements. Meanwhile, a preliminary registration for updates was launched.

Also, Bits of Gold, regulated under the Israeli Capital Market Authority, has reached agreements with the Tax Authority to significantly ease some of the bureaucratic burdens on Israelis interested in buying and selling digital currencies. The deal focuses on tax deduction from sellers of digital currencies in a “closed circuit” (directly to Bits of Gold, without accepting or passing on to others). It stipulates that the company itself will deduct the tax. This means that customers will be able to trade digital currencies without the need for independent reporting to the tax authority. At the same time, taxation will work smoothly and without any action required from the customer.

Cunliffe, deputy governor for financial stability at the Bank of England (BOE), had a warning for crypto investors at a Wall Street Journal conference Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The Bank of England executive cautioned that crypto investors should expect more difficult times ahead. He explained that as the Federal Reserve and central banks around the world tighten financial conditions, investors will be more attracted to safer assets.

Replying to a question about whether rising interest rates would ramp up pressure on cryptocurrencies, Cunliffe was quoted as saying:

Yes, I think as this process continues, as (quantitative tightening) starts in the U.S. … I think we’ll see a move out of risky assets.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell said last week that the Fed will continue tightening monetary policy until it sees “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is falling to the target rate of 2%.

Cunliffe also discussed another factor affecting the crypto market. Noting the Russia-Ukraine war is prompting investors to move funds into safer assets, he advised:

When there’s a move out of risky assets, you would expect the most speculative assets to be the ones most affected.

Several tokens backing so-called Ethereum killers have posted double-digit losses over the past 24 hours, with Avalanche leading the bearish action.

Avalanche (AVAX), the native token of the smart-contracts platform led by former Cornell professor Emin Gün Sirer, shed nearly 16% of its value in the past 24 hours and is currently trading at $27.94, according to data from CoinMarketCap.

AVAX is the 13th-largest cryptocurrency with a market capitalization of $7.6 billion. Today’s bearish action now puts the token 80% down from its all-time high of $146.22 recorded back in November 2021.

Part of this drop could be attributed to slowed growth on various DeFi projects built on Avalanche.

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has created a “crypto native think tank” in an attempt to help shape the global conversation around policies for digital assets.

The newly formed Coinbase Institute will also publish research on crypto and Web3.

Coinbase tapped its director of policy Hermine Wong to head the institute. She previously served in the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and before that worked at the Department of State.

The related Coinbase Institute Advisory Board has also been formed and will feature academics across law and finance from top universities such as Harvard, MIT, Duke and John Hopkins, coupled with an academic partnership with the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan has conducted surveys for the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Defense and will partner with Coinbase on an annual U.S.-based survey that measures the adoption of cryptocurrencies and sentiment toward digital assets.