Positive Canadian GDP Print Sends Canadian Dollar Under 1.33 Once Again

The CAD received a boost from yesterday’s rally in oil prices, which pushed the USD/CAD exchange rate briefly under 1.33. And today’s better-than-expected GDP figure that showed the Canadian economy growing 0.6 percent in January, pushed the Canadian dollar under the 1.33 mark for a second time this week.

By 8:40 a.m., ten minutes after the GDP release, the USD/CAD was trading as low as 1.32901.

According to Statistics Canada, the manufacturing sector showed the biggest gains in January, growing 1.9 percent, “With the exception of October, the manufacturing sector has grown every month since June 2016.,” said the agency.

While the services sector showed increases of 1.1 percent:
“Service-producing industries rose 0.4%, their highest monthly growth rate since June 2015.”
The repopt showed significant growth in the mining, oil & gas sector, which expanded by 1.9 percent in January. One of the key points in the report was the growth in wholesale trade. Statistics Canada data showed the sector growing by 2.4 percent in January, with the agency stating that this was “the largest monthly gain since July 2013.”

Solid growth was also observed in the retail, transportation and construction industries. Although residential construction was up by 0.5 percent, real estate agents and brokers posted declines in activity of 1.8 percent in January, “Activity in this subsector has generally been declining since its peak in the second quarter of 2016.,” said the report.

CAD banknote photo by KMR Photography

Rebound in Oil Prices Sends Canadian Dollar Under 1.33 Against the USD

The Canadian dollar rose to a 7-day high of 1.32780 on Thursday, aided by rising crude oil prices. After trading in a range between 1.3320 & 1.3400 since Wednesday of last week, the CAD spiked 0.50 percent on Thursday morning as crude oil futures rose above $50.00 around 10:00 a.m. EST.

By 11:15 a.m., the price of crude oil had risen to 15-day high of $50.46, pushing USD/CAD exchange rate down to its 7-day low of 1.32780.

Thursday’s oil-price-spike was also strong enough to offset the effects of the rising U.S. dollar on the USD/CAD exchange rate. In a rare display, the USD/CAD rate declined as the U.S. Dollar Index climbed to an 8-day high of 100.44 on Thursday.

The U.S. dollar’s strength was mainly a result of a better-than-expected Q4 GDP print of 2.1 percent, which was released today at 8:30 a.m by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

While the CAD was trading at 1.3278 around 11:45 a.m., at press time, the Canadian dollar has given up most of the day’s gains, trading at 1.33222:

Canada's currency may have gotten a small boost today from the energy market. However, the CAD has yet to recover all the heavy losses it took on at the beginning of February, which became when the USD/CAD exchange rate was under 1.3000.

CAD banknote photo by KMR Photography

Mexican Peso Rises To Highest Level in 2017 Ahead of Banco de Mexico Interest Rate Decision

The Mexican peso rose 1.65 percent on Wednesday to its highest level in 2017. While the peso was trading above last Friday’s high (19.02) at 1:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday morning, by 3:30 p.m., the USD/MXN rate had dropped down to 18.71985 - the lowest rate for this year.

Today’s surge in the peso comes just one day ahead of Banco de Mexico’s decision on interest rates, scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Thursday.

Majority of financial analysts are expecting Mexico’s central bank to raise rates by 25 basis points to 6.50 percent during tomorrow’s meeting. However, a sizable number of analysts polled by Reuters also foresee a 50-basis-point increase.

“Seven thought the bank could deliver a half-percentage point hike, while two saw no move.,” said the Reuters report.

Although a majority of polled analysts see only a 25-basis-point increase, the Mexican central bank has hiked rates by 50 basis points in two of its last meetings in February and December, to stem the fall of the peso and get excessive inflation under control.

The peso has recovered most of the losses from the U.S. elections in November as a result of multiple interest rate hikes, as well as a $20 billion USD Forex hedges program by Mexico’s Foreign Exchange Commission, but it’s still not trading under 18.17 (rate before Trump’s election).

Analysts may have different opinions on what Banco de Mexico decides to do tomorrow, but Deputy Governor of Banco de Mexico, Javier Guzman, said at the beginning of this month that a “strong monetary policy is need to avoid second round effects from the recent supply shocks and the unanchoring of long-term inflation expectations.”

Furthermore, the Governing Board of Banco de Mexico said today that it expects the peso to continue rising vs. the USD, when it announced it was increasing its revaluation reserves to 268 million pesos.

Peso photo by Harold Maduro

Scottish Vote on 2nd Independence Referendum Triggers Sell-Off in the British Pound

The British pound took a nosedive on Tuesday morning on news that Scottish Parliament voted 69 to 59 in favor of a second Scottish referendum, which is to be held within the next 18 months.

In an official statement following the vote, First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said talks with UK authorities regarding the referendum will begin after the triggering of Article 50, adding that any opposition to the vote will go against the will of the Scottish people.

Sturgeon states:
“Today’s vote must now be respected. The mandate for a referendum is beyond question, and it would be democratically indefensible - and utterly unsustainable - to attempt to stand in the way of it.”
While the Scottish people voted against a split in the previous referendum, held in 2014, Sturgeon defended the need for a second referendum by claiming a “hugely damaging and uncertain future” for Scotland due to Brexit.

It remains unclear if Theresa May's Government would allow such a divisive vote amid the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but financial markets were quick to respond.

Although the pound was on track to close off March with a gain of 2 percent, boosted by a weaker dollar and Bank of England’s decision on Mar. 16th to keep interest rates unchanged, today’s vote wiped out a sizable of the pound’s gains.

Following news of the vote, the GBP/USD rate dropped 0.90 percent against the U.S. dollar, erasing most of the gains from last Wednesday. And the FTSE 100 Index closed the day with a gain of 0.68 percent.

Pound banknotes photo by Petras Gagilas

Euro Leaps to 4-Month High on Improving German Business Climate, Weaker Dollar

The euro rallied on Monday to its highest level in four months as the U.S. dollar fell to its lowest rate in 2017. Additionally, the euro was also boosted by a better-than-expected German Ifo Business Climate reading for March, which came in at 112.3 points - a net gain of 1.2 points over previous month’s reading of 111.1.

According to the press released by the Ifo Institute, this is the highest monthly reading since July of 2011.

Ifo Institute President Dr. Clemens Fuest said the index for the manufacturing sector also rose to its highest level since July of 2011, “This very positive development was partly driven by a renewed upturn in demand. Prices continued to follow an upwards trend. The index rose in nearly all key segments of manufacturing.,” he added.

While the report showed improvements in the current bussines situation and future expectations of the retail and construction sectors, it also highlighted the declines in the wholesaling sector:
“After last month’s sharp increase, the business climate index in wholesaling deteriorated.”
In the hours following the report, the EUR/USD exchange rate rose to a 4-month high of 1.09058. The rise was also fueled in large part by the declining U.S. Dollar Index, which hit a 20-week low of 98.86 on Monday.

Although the euro was trading at a 4-month high against the dollar at 9:00 a.m. EST, by 4:00 p.m., the EUR/USD exchange rate was back down to levels prior to the Ifo Business Climate news, giving up most of the gains for the day:

Euro banknotes photo by Images Money

International Investor Appetite for Bitcoin Continues to Grow Despite Falling Price & Bitter Scaling Debate

Interest in the world’s most valuable digital currency, Bitcoin, continued to grow across the globe in the third week of March.

Despite a lower price and mounting concerns about a possible split in the underlying infrastructure of the digital currency itself, volumes on peer-to-peer cryptocurrency marketplace LocalBitcoins, where traders set their own terms and prices for each deal, have continued to grow in several countries - especially in Venezuela.

Data from Coin.dance shows that for the week ending on 2017-03-25, the amount of Bitcoin changing hands in Venezuela hit a record high of 555. In fiat currency terms, 22,565,152 Venezuelan bolivars worth of Bitcoin trades took place in the country last week:

Bitcoin trading activity has also continued to grow in other South American countries like Colombia. While Colombia’s national currency has been relatively stable around 3000 pesos per dollar since March of last year, Colombian investors have continued buying and selling the digital currency this year as evidenced by the rising weekly turnover figures on LocalBitcoins.

Last week, 245 BTC (778.8 million Colombian pesos) was traded by Colombian traders. This figure represent a new all-time high, eclipsing the previous record of 233 BTC for the week ending on March 18, 2017.

While other major South American countries like Brazil, Argentina and Peru did not post new records last week, trading activity in these regions has been on the rise since the start of 2017.

The same could be said for North American countries like the USA, Mexico and Canada, which have seen consistently high weekly turnover figures on LocalBitcoins this year; 10 out of 12 weeks this year have seen volumes above $7 million in the U.S.; weekly turnover in Mexico has been above 1.4 million pesos every single week this year, unlike in 2016, when most weeks were under 1.2 million; and in Canada, last week’s volume came in at $461,840 CAD, second-best weekly figure.

The ongoing, bitter struggle within the Bitcoin community about how to best increase the transaction throughput of the Bitcoin network, which is mainly taking place between the 'Bitcoin Unlimited' & 'Bitcoin Core' developer teams and their supporters, pushed the BTC/USD rate last week under the $1000 mark for the 3rd time this month.

However, the widespread bearish sentiment has not dented investor appetite for the world’s most popular cryptocurrency in China, where a record 7313 Bitcoin (54 million CNY) were bought and sold by Chinese traders in the week ending on 2017-03-25, according to calculations by Coin.dance.

Dotted world map image by Matti Mattila

Chinese Bitcoin Exchange BTCChina Unveils New KYC/AML Rules

Major Chinese cryptocurrency exchange, BTCChina, announced today that its new KYC/AML verification system has been completed.

BTCChina, along with other major exchanged in the country, suspended withdrawals in February as regulators from the People's Bank of China reinforced the need for digital currency businesses to be in full compliance with all financial regulations.

According to today’s statement, clients will have to be in compliance with of BTCChina’s know-your-customers rules by submitting four identity documents: legal name, national ID number, bank card number, personal mobile number.

The new requirement apply to all clients who wish to perform deposits & withdrawals - even to existing clients who had accounts prior to the downtime. While fiat-based transactions are currently available with the proper verification, BTCChina said in its statement that Bitcoin/Litecoin withdrawals are still not active.

Similar rules are expected to be unveiled at other major trading venues like Huobi and OKCoin.

Bitcoin exchange domiciled in China were quick to bend to the demands from PBoC regulators, but the long-term effects on their bottom lines as a result of this debacle, which forced many investors to P2P marketplaces like LocalBitcoins, is difficult to gauge at this point.

Weekly trading activity emanating from China on LocalBitcoins remained mostly under 3 million CNY up until February of this year. However, following the closures of Huobi, OKCoin and BTCChina in mid-February, weekly volumes on LocalBitcoins in China began to increase very rapidly.

During the last week of February, 50 million CNY worth of Bitcoin changed hands on LocalBitcoins in China. And by the by the beginning of March, weekly volumes were hovering above 60 million CNY, according to charts by Coin.dance.

Russian Ruble Remains Near 19-month Highs as Bank of Russia Cuts Interest Rate by 25 Basis Points

The Bank of Russia unexpectedly cut interest rates by 25 basis points to 9.75 percent on Friday, citing better-than-expected economic growth numbers during the first few months of 2017.

In her statement, Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina said excessive inflation has slowed down considerably, but further declines are needed over the coming months, “We need to see inflation not just slowing down, but anchoring near the 4% target.,” said Nabiullina.

According to Nabiullina’s statement, the strengthening ruble, which has appreciated approximately 33.6 percent against the dollar since January of 2016, played a major role in bring excessive inflation under control:
“The ruble appreciation triggered inflation to reduce faster than forecast. It has affected all goods and individual services in recent months, especially food prices. Exchange rate movements also decelerated growth in non-food goods and service prices.”

While the Russian economy and currency were hit hard in the second half of 2015 and into the start of 2016, when the USD/RUB exchange rate hit an all-time high of 82.45, Nabiullina explained that the economic crisis wasn’t “so deep in 2015-2016 and the economy saw a recovery earlier than expected.”

Comparing the economic crunch of 2015-2016 to the one in 2008, Nabiullina said GDP only dropped 3% during the last economic downturn.

Although the appreciation of the ruble has brought excessive inflation under control, the uncertainty lingering in the oil markets, and the effect of rising interest rates in the United States on the dollar, may negatively impact the Russian economy at some point, said Nabiullina:
“In a scenario when we see oil prices slump from the current relatively high levels, both business and household expectations are set to be negatively affected for a time.”
The announcement by the Bank of Russia briefly pushed the USD/RUB exchange rate towards a 34-day low of 56.6035, but there wasn’t sufficient selling momentum to break the 19-month low at 56.5608, printed on February 15, 2017.

To support the downward trend in inflation towards the 4% target, Governor Elvira Nabiullina said additional interest rate reductions may take place in Q2 and Q3 of 2017.

Rubles banknotes photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink

Storj Cryptocurrency Spikes to 4-Month High After Ethereum Migration Announced

Atlanta-based Storj Labs Inc., developers of the blockchain-based cloud storage network Storj, announced today it will be switching its digital currency (SJCX) over to the Ethereum token framework.

Since launching, Storj Labs has used the Counterparty smart token platform, which runs on top of the Bitcoin blockchain.

But rising Bitcoin transaction fees and delays, coupled with the lack of development and updates of the Counterparty platform, have prompted the Storj development team to migrate to the more popular Ethereum ecosystem, which Storj Labs CEO Sean Wilkinson called a “more active and robust development community.”

In his blog post, Wilkinson explained that the rising transaction fees of the Bitcoin network have created an untenable situation for Storj cloud storage providers:
“For the February farmer payout we paid over $1,600 in transaction fees, or about 13% of total payouts. This is not sustainable or scalable.”
Storj Labs partnered with Counterparty last year to work on ultra-fast micropayments for SJCX, which would have been based on the upcoming Lightning Network being developed by Bitcoin Core developers.

However, Storj developers now believe that this path is “unlikely to be broadly useful” as the Counterparty platform has very little adoption, “The Counterparty ecosystem is small. Very few other organizations are using it at scale.,” said Wilkinson.

As a result of the mounting issues with the Counterparty platform, along with many requests from within the Storj community itself, the Storj Labs team made the decision to migrate its token to the Ethereum ERC20 token standard.

Ethereum’s token platform already supports the tokens of major projects like decentralized computing platform Golem (GNT), as well as REP, the token of the decentralized prediction market Augur.

Wilkinson said a roadmap will be laid out for the migration process, and existing SJCX holders will be allowed to swap their Counterparty-based tokens to Ethereum-based SJCX.

The news lifted the SJCX/BTC exchange rate to a 4-month high of 0.000238. At press time, one SJXC token costs about 0.000206 BTC:

New Zealand Dollar Falls After RBNZ Head Says "Further Depreciation" Needed for Economic Growth to Continue

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) refused to raise interest rates for the second time this year on Wednesday, citing “on-going surplus capacity in the global economy and extensive geo-political uncertainty.”

In today’s statement, RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler said monetary policy across the globe will remain accommodating, with the exception of the United States, where interest rates have begun to rise.

Governor Wheeler also mentioned the poor Q4 GDP figure for 2016, which came in at 0.4 percent, but he dismissed this print as a temporary occurrence, stating that the New Zealand economy is on solid footing with “strong population growth, and high levels of household spending and construction activity.”

More notably, the governor mentioned the falling New Zealand dollar, saying it needed to drop even further for the economy to “achieve more balanced growth.”

Wheeler’s call for a weaker NZD is consistent with RBNZ’s statement in February, in which the central bank said a low exchange rate is needed for the economy to continue growing.

The NZD/USD exchange rate was trending higher before RBNZ’s interest rate decision and statement - trading as high as 0.79732 on the day. However, the NZD began to lose ground against the USD after Governor Wheeler’s bearish comments:

It remains to be seen if Wheeler's comments will have any sustained, lasting negative impact on the NZD exchange rate, but RBNZ's calls for a weaker currency on February 8, 2017, caused the New Zealand dollar to depreciate by 6% over a 30-day period.

NZD flag image by Free Stock

U.S. Commercial Crude Oil Inventories Buildup Pushes Oil Price to 4-Month Low

The price of crude oil dropped to a 4-month low on Wednesday due to a larger-than-forecast U.S. commercial oil inventories for the week ending March 17th.

Today’s release by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that commercial crude inventories in the United States had risen by 5 million barrels from the prior week:

“At 533.1 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are at the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.,” said the report.

While today’s EIA report wasn’t as bad as the 8.2 million barrels increase that was reported on the 8th of March, which triggered the oil price crash, the release spooked some oil traders. Around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, crude oil futures briefly dropped to $47.01 - a price not seen since November 30, 2016.

But soon after the oil inventory numbers came out, crude oil futures rallied 92 cents to $47.93 by 11:30 a.m.:

Oil jack photo by Blake Thornberry

Golem's Cryptocurrency Rises to Record Highs After ShapeShift Integration

GNT, the token of the Golem decentralized computing network, became the 13th most valuable digital currency by market capitalization on March 20, 2017. Data from CoinMarketCap shows GNT’s market cap rising close to $50 million at the height of yesterday’s rally.

While there was no breaking news coming from Golem's 14-person development team, the price of GNT was pushed to an all-time high of $0.059 on Monday as Swiss-based digital currency exchange, ShapeShift, announced support for Golem’s token on Twitter.

On the Poloniex exchange, where a large portion of investors buy and sell Golem tokens, the GNT/BTC exchange rate hit a record high of 0.000059:

Golem’s token, along with majority of top alternative cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, have experienced tremendous growth since mid-March due to fears surrounding the Bitcoin scaling debacle, which could potentially split Bitcoin into two competing digital currencies.

Rising investor appetite for altcoins, coupled with ShapeShift’s decision to support GNT, has placed Golem’s token among other major altcoin projects like ZCash, MaidSafeCoin, Augur and NEM.

Odds of a Bitcoin Split Continue to Rise as 'Bitcoin Unlimited' Mining Capacity Expands

Bitcoin’s value has taken a direct hit as a result of the rising animosity between the Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Unlimited supporters & developers. The debate, drama and brinkmanship surrounding Bitcoin’s scaling debate pushed the BTC/USD exchange rate down by 25% last week.

On March 15th, the digital currency was hovering around $1257, but by March 18th, as the community began to seriously contemplate the odds of a split in the network, with plenty of colorful commentary on Twitter and Reddit, Bitcoin’s price had fallen under $950.

Although the exchange rate has risen back above the $1000 mark over the last two days, the threat of a split has not gone away. In fact, the hashrate (mining power) of miners who are in support of Bitcoin Unlimited has continued to rise.

As of today, Bitcoin Unlimited’s estimated hashrate reached a record high of 1.428 Th/s - about 40% of all mining power on the Bitcoin network:

The amount of blocks being mined by Bitcoin Unlimited miners has also continued to increase at a steady pace. According to data by NodeCounter, Bitcoin Unlimited miners have found 36.8% of all blocks, while last week, that figure was close to 33%:

BU’s rising dominance on the Bitcoin network, largely driven by Chinese mining pool Antpool, which began signalling 100% support for BU last Monday, has unnerved many Bitcoin Core supporters/miners.

Many on the side of Bitcoin Core perceive the cozy partnership between Antpool and the Bitcoin Unlimited group as an existential threat to the core principle of decentralization the digital currency was founded upon by its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.

And the disagreement between the two camps has become so ferocious that one of the more prominent Bitcoin Core developers, Peter Todd, floated the idea that an algorithm change may be necessary to protect Bitcoin Core’s network in the event Bitcoin Unlimited splits-off by gaining a large share of the mining power.

Bitcoin Unlimited needs to amass more than 70% of the mining power before a split is even considered feasible. However, if the current rate of growth of mining power in support of the Bitcoin Unlimited proposal continues unabated, the likelihood of a split in Bitcoin’s blockchain network will increase dramatically over the coming weeks and months.

Divided sign photo by Johnny Silvercloud with alteration by Razor-Forex.

Australian Dollar Hits 2017 Highs vs. USD Ahead of RBA's Minutes of the Monetary Policy Meeting

Australia’s currency rallied to its highest rate against the U.S. dollar on Monday. The AUD/USD currency pair began trading on Sunday evening at around 0.7704, however, by 3:15 a.m. EST on Monday, the pair was trading as high as 0.77479.

Monday’s rally also pushed the Australian dollar to a 4-month high, trading only 0.40% away from taking out the US election highs of 0.77782, printed on Nov. 8, 2016. The rally in the AUD/USD Forex pair was mainly driven by weakness in the U.S. Dollar Index, which fell to its lowest level in March - 100.02 - on Monday.

However, it remains to be seen if the Aussie dollar can hold onto today’s gains going into the Asian Forex session, when the Australian central bank releases its Minutes of the Monetary Policy Meeting of the Reserve Bank Board for the month of March, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. EST.

Tonight’s release will shed some light on RBA’s views on the global and domestic economic landscapes, as well as the the bank’s stance on monetary policy, which may have changed considerably after last week’s interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve in the United States.

AUD banknotes photo by Whit Andrews

More than 600 'Bitcoin Core' Nodes Come Online This Week As Bitcoin Scaling War Ramps Up

As the rhetoric and threats of a contentious hardfork (a split in the Bitcoin network) ramped up within the Bitcoin community in the days following the discovery of a critical bug in the Bitcoin Unlimited (BU) client, which temporarily brought down more than 400 BU nodes, the number of nodes supporting Bitcoin Core (BC) has climbed rapidly over the last few days.

The bitter scaling debate has prompted many pro-BC members of the community to fire up Full Nodes, which perform the tasks of verifying transactions and blocks on the Bitcoin network.

But these special servers also consume excessive amounts of upload bandwidth due to the ever-increasing size of Bitcoin's blockchain, and node operators open themselves up to DDoS and hacking attacks.

However, the inherent dangers of running a Full Bitcoin Node are being brushed aside by an increasing number of enthusiasts as the likelihood of a Bitcoin split ratcheted up to new highs in mid-March.

Since the start of this week, approximately 660 new BC nodes have come online, bringing the total amount of Bitcoin Core nodes to 5947 (83.37% of all nodes) on Friday, according to data compiled by Coin.dance.

The last time the Bitcoin network had so many BC nodes was on the 14th of August, 2015.

Bitcoin Unlimited node counts, which dipped from 764 to 410 on Tuesday, have also climbed to an all-time high of 813 on Friday.

Server photo by Bob Mical

BoE Votes to Keep Rates at 0.25 Percent, British Pound Climbs to 14-Day High Against USD

Today’s decision by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to keep interest rates unchanged at 0.25 percent, pushed the British pound to a 14-day high vs. the U.S. dollar. The MPC also reaffirmed its commitment to keep government bond purchasing program at £435 billion.

On the ongoing challenges regarding the Brexit situation, the BoE said monetary policy will be crafted and adjusted according to developments in “demand, potential supply, the exchange rate, and therefore inflation.“

However, UK’s central bank also mentioned in its statement that monetary policy would not dampen the economic fallout from Brexit:
“Monetary policy cannot prevent either the real adjustment that is necessary as the UK moves towards its new international trading arrangements or the weaker real income growth that is likely to accompany it over the next few years.”
While majority of MPC members voted to keep interest rate unchanged, MPC External Member Kristin Forbes, who said last month that an interest-rate-hike would not be harmful to the UK economy, was the only member to vote against keeping rates unchanged at 0.25 percent.

BoE’s MPC vote to keep rates low, boosted the pound to a 14-day high of 1.23771 by 1:15 p.m. EST on Thursday. Since Tuesday of this week, when the pound was trading at 2-month lows against the USD, the GBP/USD rate has climbed 2.18%:

The climb of the GBP/USD Forex pair this week was mainly driven by weakness in the dollar, which tumbled 1.15 percent on Wednesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates to 1 percent.

BoE building photo by Captain Roger Fenton

New Zealand Dollar Has Wild Day as Federal Reserve Hikes Rates & Q4 NZD GDP Figure Disappoints

The New Zealand dollar pared back some of Wednesday’s gains after lower-than-forecast GDP readingfor the last quarter of 2016 was announced by Statistics New Zealand (SNZ).

The agency’s release said New Zealand's economy grew only 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, which was 0.3 percent lower than analysts' estimates of 0.7 percent. The gains were mainly in the services sector, said SNZ:
“Business services was up 1.7 percent, due to computer system design and related services and advertising, market research and management services.”
In the last quarter of 2016, manufacturing posted declines of 1.6 percent, while exports dropped by 3.8 percent.

On Wednesday, during the New York Forex session, the NZD/USD rate was pushed higher by approximately 1.8 percent to a 12-day high of 0.70495, when the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates to 1%, weakening the dollar.

However, the disappointing New Zealand GDP figure which was released at 5:45 p.m. EST, sent the NZD/USD rate lower by 0.52 percent to 0.70:

NZD banknotes photo by Karl Baron

Mexican Peso Rallies to New Highs for 2017 Following U.S. Interest Rate Increase

The Mexican peso rallied to its highest level in 2017 on Wednesday as the U.S. dollar tumbled in response to FOMC’s decision to increase interest rates to 1%.

The peso was already gaining ground against the dollar on Wednesday after Peter Navarro, who leads the White House National Trade Council, told Bloomberg that the United States is seeking to form an alliance with Mexico and Canada, to keep foreign auto parts manufacturers out of the North American market.

The proposed partnership is said to be just one component of a complex NAFTA-renegotiation-initiative by the Trump administration, which is set to begin in the second half of 2017.

Navarro’s comment pushed the USD/MXN exchange rate lower on the day, however, the FOMC interest rate decision at 2:00 p.m. weakened the dollar significantly, pushing the USD/MXN rate even lower towards the end of the trading session.

By 3:45 p.m. EST, the peso hit its highest rate for 2017: 19.19499. At the close of the NY Forex session, Mexico’s currency had gained 2.26% on the day, closing at 19.22235 to the USD:

At press time, the USD/MXN rate is about 5.5% away from returning to pre-Trump levels, when 18.16 pesos were equivalent to 1.00 USD:

Mexican peso banknote photo by Richard Cawood

More Than 400 'Bitcoin Unlimited' Nodes Knocked Offline After Critical Bug Discovered

The number of Bitcoin nodes supporting the Bitcoin Unlimited (BU) scaling framework took a nosedive today after a new exploit was uncovered by Bitcoin Core developers.

According to Peter Todd, a cryptography consultant and contributor to the Bitcoin Core GitHub repo, the newly discovered bug in BU had been present for more than a year:

Several overlooked lines of code in the BU client would allow an attacker to craft a special request to the vulnerable BU client, which would then freeze the client and take it offline.

Since BU nodes only represented less than 13% of all nodes on the Bitcoin network prior to today’s crash, the bug did not endanger the Bitcoin network as a whole. The amount of BU nodes plunged after news of the bug spread within the community.

At press time, Coin.dance charts show that the number of BU nodes plunged on Tuesday under 320.

Bitcoin statistics portal, NodeCounter, which is pro-BU, shows that 305 BU nodes - 5.1% of all Bitcoin nodes - are online at the moment.

Today’s incident is set to ramp up hostilities even further between Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Unlimited supporters, “If Bitcoin Unlimited was a predominant client, this is a vulnerability that would have left the entire network open to being crashed.,” said one Redditor on the /r/Bitcoin subreddit, which is largely pro-Bitcoin Core.

“Almost one year and no devs in BU noticed this ! Talk about lack of peer review and testing . This is why you cannot "fire" the most competent developers working on core and replace them with amateurs.,” said another Redditor.

The divide between the two camps also ratcheted up yesterday, when one of China’s largest Bitcoin mining pools, Antpool, announced full support for Bitcoin Unlimited. But despite the drama over the past two days, the price of Bitcoin has remained stable around $1250 - only $100 away from its all-time high at $1350.

Network cables photo by Lars P.

Rising Saudi Oil Production Drives Crude Oil Prices to 4-Month Lows

Crude oil futures dropped to 4-month lows on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. At 11:10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, the oil futures traded as low as $47.09 - the lowest price so far in 2017.

Oil prices dove lower on Tuesday after an OPEC monthly report revealed that Saudi Arabian oil production in February had risen back above 10 million barrels per day. Downside pressure on oil prices increased after Kuwaiti oil minister, Issam Almarzooq, said prices could go as low as $45 due to rising shale oil production, according to a Bloomberg report.

Almarzooq’s comments referred to the Drilling Productivity Report released yesterday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which estimates that U.S. shale output will rise by 109 thousand bpd to 4.962 million barrels per day in April of this year.

Volatility in the oil markets is set to spike again tomorrow, as market participants react to the the release EIA’s crude oil inventories report for the second week of March. The sharp decline in the price of oil this month was triggered on March 8th, when EIA’s inventory report showed a large buildup (8.2 million) of U.S. commercial crude oil inventories for the week ending March 3, 2017.

Since March 8 - including today’s plunge to $47.09 - crude oil futures have dropped by approximately $5.80 (-10.96%).

Oil Pump photo by Paul Lowry

Bitcoin Scaling War Intensifies as Antpool Backs 'Bitcoin Unlimited' - Investors Flee Into Alternative Cryptocurrencies, Ethereum Hits $30

The rejection of Winklevoss’ Bitcoin ETF on Friday by the SEC, caused some of the more well-capitalized altcoins like Ether and DASH to appreciate in value over the weekend.

However, the escalating tension surrounding the ongoing debate regarding the transaction capacity of Bitcoin’s blockchain network intensified further on Monday when BITMAIN co-founder, Jihan Wu, announced on Twitter that Antpool - one of the largest mining pools in the world, owned & operated by BITMAIN - will be directing all of its hashing power to mine Bitcoin Unlimited blocks.

Wu’s unexpected announcement had an even more noticeable impact on the altcoin market than the Bitcoin ETF rejection. The market capitalization of the entire altcoin market surged to a new record of $5 billion, according to figures by CoinMarketCap.

Ether, which hit a 6-month high last Friday against Bitcoin, rallied even higher on Monday to a 10-month high of 0.0253 on Poloniex, a U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange. And on Bitfinex, the ETH/USD pair hit an all-time high of $30.60:

Other top alternative cryptocurrencies like Monero (XMR), Litecoin (LTC), MaidSafeCoin (MAID), Factom (FCT), Storj (SJCX) and Zcash (ZEC) appreciated by double-digit percentages on Monday.

The only exception was DASH, which declined more than 14% on Monday from a daily high of 0.06583 down to approximately 0.05644 by 1:30 p.m. EST.

Other less-known digital currencies also saw significant gains on Monday; GNT, the token of the Golem distributed computing network, spiked to more than 20%; REP, the token of the Augur prediction marketplace, which run on the Ethereum blockchain, spiked close to 18%; Namecoin, a cryptocurrency focusing on DNS decentralization and censorship resistance, which has been in a downtrend since 2015, spike more than 250% today.

After Wu’s Tweet, many Bitcoin evangelists, proponents and supporters, took to Twitter & Reddit to express their disapproval. Vinny Lingam, CEO of blockchain identity startup, CivicKey, said on Twitter:
“Danger on the horizon. If Bitcoin forks, all bets are off and we can kiss $3k BTC in 2017 goodbye…”
While some cryptocurrency investors have begun divesting some of their BTC holdings due to mounting risks of a split in Bitcoin’s network (also known as a hardfork), the price of Bitcoin remained quite stable on Monday, trading in a tight range between $1216 and $1247.

It should be noted that the risk of a hardfork in the Bitcoin blockchain is low at the present time, but the amount of nodes supporting Bitcoin Unlimited (BU) has been steadily growing over the past two months.

Data compiled by NodeCounter shows the amount of pro-BU nodes on the Bitcoin network climbed to a record high of 775 on Saturday, March 11:

NodeCounter charts also show that as of today, BU miners have mined more blocks than pro-Segwit miners on the network: 308 vs. 256 over the last 1000 blocks, respectively.

Bitcoin Unlimited and Bitcoin Classic miners currently account for 31.3% of the hashing power on the Bitcoin network (1000+ Ph/s on March 12, 2017, vs. 568 Ph/s on February 28, 2017):

Bitcoin Core supporters who disagree with the BU proposal and back the Segwit soft-fork upgrade path, currently have the majority of the nodes on the Bitcoin network.

Market Capitalization of All Alternative Cryptocurrencies Rises Above $4 Billion in March; Ethereum & DASH Rally to Record Highs

It used to be the case that when Bitcoin rallied, alternative cryptocurrencies declined in price. However, this dynamic seems to have changed somewhat since the start of this year - at least for some of the top altcoins.

As Bitcoin has continued to set new all-times highs in February and March, the market capitalization, as well as price of several major cryptocurrencies (Ethereum, Dash & Monero) has climbed in tandem.

Data from Coinmarketcap shows the combined market capitalization of all alternative digital currencies hit a new all-time high of $4.3 billion on Sunday, March 12, 2017, with Ethereum’s market cap making up close to 50% of that figure:

Ether (ETH), the token of the Ethereum blockchain, rose to a new record valuation of $2.07 billion today.

Although Bitcoin’s 24h volume reading of $232,732,829 represents 55.14% of global cryptocurrency turnover, Coinmarketcap data says that 19.46% of all cryptocurrency trading ($82,133,476) over the past 24h took place on various ETH pairs.

Privacy-centric digital currency, DASH, was trading at record highs of $80.00+ at 6:05 p.m. EST on Sunday, further solidifying its place as the 3rd most valuable cryptocurrency in the world. The market cap of DASH rose to a new all-time high of $562.37 million.

It’s also worth noting that the DASH/BTC pair on crypto-exchange Poloniex saw close to $32 million in turnover for the past 24h, while total daily DASH volume across all pairs came in at $46,884,646 - 11.11% of global cryptocurrency turnover.

Monero, the 4th largest digital currency by market cap, did not rise to new highs today, but its current market capitalization is only $21 million away from breaking its previous record of $257.12 million, recorded on January 5, 2017.

With a few exceptions - NEM, Zcash, GameCredits and MaidSafeCoin - majority of altcoins have lost ground against Bitcoin since the start of 2017.

Dollar crates photo by imgarcade.com

Ethereum Climbs to 6-month High vs. Bitcoin on Winklevoss ETF Rejection

March 10th, 2017, will go down in history as one of the most volatile days for the digital currency, Bitcoin, due to the Securities and Exchange Commission's decision to not list shares of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust for trading in the United States.

While SEC’s move to deny the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF caused the price of the world’s most valuable digital currency to plunge 24% in a matter of minutes on Friday - ether, the token of the Ethereum blockchain, had one of its best days on record.

As the value of Bitcoin plunged from $1290 to $975, the ETH/BTC pair climbed to a 6-month high of 0.017997. The last time Ether traded this high was on October 25, 2016.

On Hong Kong-based Bitfinex, which has the highest-volume ETH/USD pair, Etereum's token was trading as high as $19.70 per coin on Friday afternoon:

Today’s monumental developments gave ETH a significant boost, however, the innovative digital asset has been in an uptrend since the start of this year.

Improving fundamentals, particularly the Enterprise Ethereum initiative, which was backed by major investment banks J.P. Morgan and Banco Santander, among many others, vaulted ETH to new 2017 highs back in February.