Russia's Ruble Crashes 10% in Two Days as Investors React to New Sanctions

Russia’s currency and stock market began the week with big losses in response to the new sanctions imposed on Russian officials with strong ties to President Putin.

The Russian ruble continued its decline in Tuesday’s Forex session, trading down 5.5% against the dollar at the lowest point of the day, before closing off with a 4% loss at a rate of 63.01 rubles per dollar:

At the height of the sell-off, the ruble was trading at a level (63.92 rubles per U.S. dollar) not seen since December of 2016.

Russia’s RTS Index was down more than 4% during the first half of the trading session, but managed to recoup most of the losses in the second half of the trading day, finishing with a small loss of 0.4%.

Image credit: 1

European Commission to Invest €300 Million in Developing Domestic Blockchain Ecosystem

In a statement issued today, The European Commission (EC) said it will be bringing heads of state, as well as representatives of EU territories and academics to discuss the development of the artificial intelligence and blockchain industries within the EU’s Digital Single Market.

The press release said the European Commission has set aside €300 million to be invested in the European blockchain space as part of the EU’s strategy to “harness the many opportunities of blockchain and avoid a fragmented approach.”

During the event, which is scheduled to take place tomorrow in Brussels, the EC will lay the groundwork for the European Blockchain Partnership, an initiative designed to support European companies and innovators within the Europen blockchain economy.

“Many proposals still need to be agreed. Europe should move forward, and building on the Digital Single Market, increase investments and foster cooperation in a series of key areas such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, eHealth and innovation.,” said the EC.

Image credit: 1

Canadian Dollar Posts Gains vs. USD on Improving NAFTA Negotiations

The Canadian dollar gained approximately 0.65% on Monday on a more positive outlook on NAFTA negotiations, in addition to a rise in expectations that the Bank of Canada might raise rates again this year.

The loonie also got a boost today from Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, who told CNBC that "good progress is being made on North American Free Trade Association talks."

Additionally, Bank of Canada's first-quarter Business Outlook Survey - Spring 2018, which indicated that “business sentiment continues to be positive,” pushed the CAD to close the day off at a 1-month high of 1.2698 against the USD.

While the survey's tone was positive overall, BofA also pointed that some Canadian companies remained cautious with their sales forecasts due to uncertain trade policies in the U.S., "While firms’ expectations for US economic growth have strengthened further, some cited rising protectionism and reduced competitiveness as factors limiting the impact on their sales.," said Bank of Canada.

Image credit: 1

Russian Ruble, Stocks Plunge Amid Fresh Sanctions on Russian Oligarchs and Officials

The Russian ruble crashed approximately 4.2% vs. the dollar on Monday. This is the largest one-day drop since January of 2016, when the ruble hit all-time lows against the dollar at 85.9493.

Monday’s sell-off was largely driven by the fresh sanctions imposed on seven Russian oligarchs and seventeen officials close to President Putin, which were announced last Friday in response to the supposed Russian interference in the U.S. elections, in 2016.

In addition to the currency fall, shares of major Russian firms also lost value during Monday’s trading session, as investors began to digest the knock-on effects of the new sanctions on the Russian economy.

Russia’s RTS Index closed on Monday with a whopping loss of 11.44%. At the height of the sell-off, the RTS was down more than 12%.

The new sanctions could put in jeopardy Russia's fragile currency, which has been fairly stable since April of 2017, trading between 56-60 rubles to the dollar.

The Russian ruble took on big losses between 2014 and 2016 - falling from 33 rubles/dollar in June of 2014, all the way down to 85 rubles/dollar by Jan. of 2016 - as the first wave of sanctions against Russia were unveiled as a response to the Crimean annexation of 2014.

Image credit: 1

Turkish Lira Slides to Record Lows as President Erdogan Calls for Lowering Interest Rates

The Turkish Lira dropped to record lows against the dollar today as President Erdogan rejected investors’ concerns, as well as calls for increasing interest rates, over excessive inflation.

The USD/TRY currency pair hit record highs on Monday morning at 4.0757. At press time, the USD/TRY is trading around 4.05. President Erdogan said investors who call for higher interest rates are jealous of Turkey’s economic growth.

Concerned economists and investors have urged Turkey’s authorities to raise interest rate for to taper off excessive inflation in the Turkish economy, however, Turkish monetary authorities have continued to implement various stimulus measures to keep inflation growing.

In a speech in Ankara today, the Turkish president said this:
“Those who say Turkey’s growth rate is excessive are speaking out of jealousy.”
Additionally, President Erdogan stated that unemployment rate will drop below 10% as increased investment results in more jobs and economic output, “We’re talking about an investment-support incentive system, and here, first of all, we need to save investors from these high interest rates.," adds Erdogan.

Although the president has made it a priority to keep interest rates low, currency speculators and investors have been abandoning the Turkish lira in droves. Since the start of 2018, the lira has lost more than 7% of its value against the U.S. dollar.

Image credit: 1

Bank of Montreal Starts Blocking Debit/Credit Card Transactions Tied to Cryptocurrencies

Bank of Montreal has started blocking all buying and selling of cryptocurrencies. In an internal bulletin sent to its wealth management products division, the bank said the decision was taken to protect clients due to the excessive volatility of cryptocurrencies.

According to the leaked bulletin, posted by an anonymous BMO employee on Reddit, Bank of Montreal has been blocking clients from using their credit and debit cards, as well as online payments methods such as Interac Online.

“Clients attempting any cryptocurrencies transactions using a BMO Debit or Credit MasterCard will be blocked, and will be presented with a screen message advising them that transaction cannot be completed.,” said the BMO memo.

And BMO isn’t the first Canadian bank to take such drastic measures. Last month, stories began to surface on various forums that TD Canada Trust was blocking cryptocurrency transaction on their TD Visa cards.

But while some major Canadian financial institutions may have temporarily prevented their clients from dealing in cryptocurrencies, some data has emerged recently that suggests tech-savvy Canadians have turned to P2P marketplaces like LocalBitcoins, to circumvent the blockade.

In the last two weeks of March, over $13 million CAD worth of bitcoin was traded on LocalBitcoins by Canadian investors, according to figures by This is a significant increase to prior weeks, where weekly volumes barely exceeded one million Canadian dollars.

And Canadians aren’t the only ones to be saved by P2P bitcoin marketplaces. In February of 2017, investors in China flocked to LocalBitcoins after major Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges were forced offline by regulators from the People’s Bank of China.

Image credit: 1

SEC Freezes $27 Million in Illegal Stock Sale Profits from Longfin Corp. Pump-and-Dump

The Securities and Exchange Commission has frozen millions in illicit trading proceeds from the illegal distributions and sales of restricted shares of Longfin Corp. stock. The agency said today that the assets of Longfin CEO, as well as three other individuals involved in the scheme, have been frozen.

According to the SEC, the market capitalization Longfin rose above $3 billion on the NASDAQ, after the company announced the acquisition of a purported cryptocurrency business.

The SEC claims in their press release that Amro Izzelden Altahawi, Dorababu Penumarthi, and Suresh Tammineedi illegally dumped large chunks of their restricted shares on unsuspecting investors as the price of Longfin shares spiked on the news. Through this scheme, the trio allegedly amassed more than $27 million in illegal profits.

The SEC's complaint, unsealed today in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that Venkata Meenavalli, CEO of Longfin, directed the company to issue more than two million unregistered, restricted shares to corporate secretary and a director of Longfin, Amro Izzelden Altahawi.

Meenavalli also issued tens of thousands of restricted shares to Penumarthi and Tammineedi. The SEC explains that the scheme violated existing federal securities laws that specifically forbid the trading in unregistered shares distributed to persons affiliated with the company.

Robert Cohen, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Cyber Unit, said the quick actions of the agency prevented the illicit profits from going offshore:
“We acted quickly to prevent more than $27 million in alleged illicit trading profits from being transferred out of the country.”

Image credit: 1

USD/CAD Rates Jump to 2-month Highs After Federal Reserve Chair Powel's Testimony

The U.S. dollar rallied to a new 2-month high against its Canadian counterpart on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chair Powell’s hawkish speech in front the US House Financial Services Committee.

Last week, the USD/CAD pair was given a boost following the release of abysmal Canadian retail sales numbers for December, which revealed that core retail sales - excluding automobiles - had tanked 1.8%.

The unexpected news pushed Canada's currency to a two-month low of 1.27585 vs. the USD, on February 22nd, as FX traders digested the numbers and started pricing in potential rate-hikes.

But since last week's bearish news, market participants began shifting their attention to Powell’s speech on Tuesday, which signaled further rate increases in 2018 due to improving labor markets, higher-than-expected wage growth and rising inflation expectations.

While the exchange rate between the USD and the CAD closed on Tuesday at a two-month high of 1.27757, continued short-term bullish momentum may push the FX pair towards the big resistance level of 2017, located at 1.2900.

Image credit: 1

Cryptocurrency ATM Manufacturer BitOcean Planning ICO on the Enterprise-focused Vechain Thor Blockchain

In a speech given at the Vechain Thor re-branding event on Sunday night, Vechain CEO Sunny Lu revealed that BitOcean, a cryptocurrency automated teller machine manufacturer with a presence in both China and Japan, will be using the Vechain blockchain platform to launch its own ICO:

"I'm not going to steal the thunder of BitOcean, but I'm here to announce on behalf of the BitOcean team, the're going to launch their own token project on Vechain Thor.," Lu told the audience.

The surprise announcement further strengthens ties between the two companies. In December of last year, a strategic partnership was signed to bring Vechain's own token, VET, to BitOcean's growing network of ATMs using the Japanese Yen.

While Lu gave no further details on the BitOcean token sale, the ICO is likely to take place in the second half of 2018 as the Vechain Thor blockchain is scheduled to launch in June, 2018.

Hong Kong and Swiss Regulators Sign Fintech Cooperation Agreement

The Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) said today it has singed an agreement with the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) to work on meeting regulatory challenges in the rapidly-growing financial technology space.

Per the agreement, the SFC and FINMA will share information on emerging Fintech trends and technologies that "have the potential to supplement or disrupt the financial services industry."

Additionally, the new deal opens up bilateral mechanism for referrals of Fintech firms seeking to operate in the jurisdiction of the SFC and/or FINMA.

Ashley Alder, Chief Executive Officer the SFC, had this to say:
"It will help both regulators keep abreast of innovation in financial services while providing innovative Fintech firms seeking to develop and grow their businesses internationally enhanced channels for communicating with regulators."
In related news, UK's Financial Conduct Authority signed a similar agreement last week with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

FXOpen Launches CFD Trading Pairs on Bitcoin Cash, Ripple, Ethereum Classic, Monero, NEO, IOTA, EOS and OMNI

FXOpen UK, an FCA-regulated British FX broker, announced on Friday that new CFD trading pairs on eight new cryptocurrencies were activated on existing clients' crypto trading accounts.

According to FXOpen's email to clients, the new cryptocurrency additions were Bitcoin Cash, Ripple, Ethereum Classic, Monero, NEO, IOTA, EOS and OMNI. The new coins were selected from the Top-20 list on

"With the latest additions, FXOpen now offers 15 Crypto-Currencies across 39 markets allowing trading against USD, EURO and Bitcoin.," said FXOpen in a separate blog post.

The London-based broker explained it will be constantly monitoring global rankings and actively scouting for "new and emerging cryptocurrencies."

Traders will be limited to trading the new CFD pairs with maximum leverage of 1:3.

French Regulators Tell Forex Dealers to Stop Online Ads of Cryptocurrency CFDs and Binary Options

The Autorité des marchés financier, France's financial regulator, published a release yesterday, advising FX trading platforms offering cryptocurrency derivatives (like Bitcoin/Litecoin CFDs) to adhere to existing industry rules. The French agency also told business to cease advertise these offerings to the general public via electronic means.

The agency also explained that the burgeoning cryptocurrency industry has pushed many online Forex brokerages to offer binary options and cryptocurrency CFDs instruments, where the underlying asset is a cryptocurrency like bitcoin. Retail investors are lured into making bets on the future price movements of these very volatile assets, but without actually holding the cryptocurrency itself (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether, etc..).

According to the AMF's legal research, instruments such as Bitcoin CFDs and binary options do not fall under existing EU MiFID framework, which deals mainly with options, futures and swaps. But the agency clarified that "cash-settled cryptocurrency contract" may be considered a type of derivative, regardless of the legal standing of cryptocurrencies under existing EU laws.

Based on this reasoning, the AMF stated that derivateives dealers that offer these instruments to European retails investors must follow the rules of existing MiFID 2 legislation:
"Above all, these products are subject to the provisions of the Sapin 2 law, and notably the ban of advertisements for certain financial contracts."

Cyprus Financial Regulator Says Cryptocurrencies Not Suitable for Retirement Planning

The Cyprus financial authority, the CySEC, issued a warning last week on cryptocurrencies. The agency specifically directed consumers to read the European Securities and Markets
Authority’s warning on ICOs.

Additionally, the CySEC described cryptocurrencies as "digital representation" of value that are neither issued nor guaranteed by any central bank or public authority, and that these assets have no legal status of currency within Cyprus:

"They are highly risky, generally not backed by any tangible assets and unregulated under EU law, and do not, therefore, offer any legal protection to consumers.," said the CySEC.

The agency told consumers that cryptocurrencies and ICOs can be very risky and are usually highly speculative, as well as prone to bubbles and extreme volatility. The CySEC also warned retirees and pensioners that cryptocurrency investments are not suitable for retirement planning.

Image credit: 1

French Financial Watchdog To Share Information With France's National Cybersecurity Agency

In light of the threat to the financial sector, France's financial regulator (AMF) and the French National Cybersecurity Agency (ANSSI) have agreed to work together more closely protect IT and financial markets infrastructure. On the 16th of February, both agencies signed a letter of intent.

"The financial industry and the markets are particularly vulnerable to digital risks and cyberattacks," said the AMF.

The AMF is responsible for ensuring the orderly operation of French equities, FX and bond markets. As such, it shares joint responsibility with ANSSI for the digital security of this sensitive sector.

ANSSI, as the national cybersecurity authority, is tasked with tackling threats against public infrastructure and private industry, in particular IT system of vital importance to the state.

The AMF said in their press release that both agencies will closely collaborate by sharing information regarding incidents that affect the security of various information systems, as well as managing of crises.

While both institutions already have a working relationship, this letter of intent is the next step in strengthening those ties:
"This agreement follows a similar initiative with the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Resolution in the banking and insurance sectors, to promote coordinated action in response to digital security challenges."

Israeli Financial Startup Launches First Bitcoin ATM in Jerusalem

Although the city of Tel Aviv had a total of three Bitcoin ATMs since the middle of last year, Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jewish state and an emerging hi-tech hub, didn't have a single cryptocurrency ATM machine.

But thanks to BitMarket, a Jerusalem-based financial services startup founded by two young Israeli entrepreneurs, the capital city finally got its first Bitcoin ATM in December, 2017.

In an interview with Israeli news service Ynet, BitMarket founders Idan Mizrahi, 28, and Or-Chai Levi, 24, said they were following the cryptocurrency markets develop for several years before deciding to venture into the space with their own company:

" a certain stage, out of belief in technology, we decided to take the plunge and set up the company.," Mizrahi told Ynet.

BitMarket's ATM, manufactured by Lamassu, only support fiat-to-bitcoin transactions at this time, and charges a 6.95% fee, according to CoinATMRadar.

U.S. Dollar Dipped 1.4% Last Week Despite Strong January CPI Readings

The dollar had its biggest weekly loss in two years, slipping to a three-year low against several currencies on Friday.

Extending overnight losses, the dollar’s index traded as low as 88.25 on Friday morning, the lowest since December of 2014. The index was on track to lose more than 2 percent on the week, but a strong equities rally sent the index into the green in the closing hours of trading on Friday afternoon.

The USD has been weighed down by a variety of factors in the first two months of the year, including worries that the Trump administration's tax cuts may exacerbate the growing budget deficit, which is projected to increase close to $1 trillion by the end of 2019.

And despite a stronger-that-expected U.S. inflation report on Wednesday, which showed January CPI gaining 0.2% and Core CPI gaining 0.1%, the dollar failed to gain momentum as investors began to consider the possibility of additional rate-hikes by the Federal Reserve later this year.

The dollar index finished on Friday closed at 89.08 with a modest gain of 0.52 percent, but booked losses of approximately 1.4 percent for the week.

Image credit: 1