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Aurora Cannabis Provides Corporate Update and Confirms Cannabis 2.0 Roll Out – Canada NewsWire

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“We have focused our collective efforts to be ready for the successful launch of Cannabis 2.0 as Canada takes the next step in the legalization of newly allowed product forms. We are ready and have launched a diversified portfolio of new product formats and are excited for Canadians to have access to high-quality, safe alternative cannabis products such as edibles, vape pens and other derivatives,” said Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora. “We have prudently deployed capital and we believe that we’re ready with the appropriate combination of technology, scale and consumer insights to have the right products on store shelves in a timely fashion. This was not an easy task and I would like to thank the entire Aurora team for their collective efforts in getting 2.0 across the goal line in time for our provincial regulators.”

Recent Corporate Initiatives

Aurora has taken steps to proactively rationalize capital expenditures, reduce near term debt and bolster liquidity in an effort to position the Company for the long-term success. The previously announced deferral of construction and commissioning activities is expected to conserve approximately $200 million of cash in the near term. Aurora believes that its existing assets are sufficient to meet current demand at a low cost per gram. The company expects to have the flexibility to ramp up projects as global demand dictates.

In late November, the Company also retired $227 million of the $230 million 5% unsecured convertible  debentures that were due in March 2020 with the issuance of shares and thereby preserving cash. Aurora continues to evaluate multiple sources of capital and currently has access to undrawn capacity under a CDN$360 million credit facility with a syndicate of banks, in addition to its US$400 million at-the-market (“ATM”) equity distribution program.

Cannabis 2.0 Product Launch

The Company has commenced shipments of initial orders received to 10 of Canada’s provincial regulators of Cannabis 2.0 products following December 17, 2019, however most Canadian consumers will likely not see these products on retail store shelves until early January 2020 due to varied retail operations across the country. Patients can now immediately access a variety of the new product formats.

Initially the Company is providing a variety of CBD and THC vape and edible products, such as gummies, chocolates, baked goods and mints. These new cannabis products are being produced at Aurora Sky in Edmonton, Alberta, Aurora River in Bradford, Ontario and Aurora Vie in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. These centres have been outfitted to provide centralized production, packaging, logistics and distribution capabilities. The Company has prioritized its resources to prepare for a successful initial launch and has built inventories to support an ongoing replenishment strategy to help ensure consumers across Canada have access to a diverse portfolio of high-quality derivative products.

The Company encourages Canadian consumers to review Aurora’s “Ready for Edibles” campaign, which aims to educate consumers about the responsible consumption of cannabis edibles. The campaign can be seen at cannabis retail outlets across Canada. For more information, visit the Ready for Edibles website.

To learn more about Aurora’s upcoming portfolio of new products please click here.

Provincial Regulatory Updates

Aurora commends Premier Ford, Minister Downey and the Government of Ontario for committing to improving the province of Ontario’s cannabis retail environment through the open allocation of retail cannabis licensing. The new policy is expected to see the removal of the cap on the number of private cannabis stores in the province as well as thoughtful pre-qualification requirements.

“We applaud this positive step by the Province of Ontario to provide a retail environment which is conducive to a successful system that  provides Canadians with more safe, regulated cannabis products,” said Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora.

Recent Executive Appointment

Aurora is pleased to announce that Rick Savone has joined the company as Senior Vice President of Global Government Relations. In this new role, Rick will oversee Aurora’s relationships with governments around the world, helping them to create regulations that will allow greater access to medical cannabis products for patients. Over the course of his career Rick has developed deep government relations experience, most recently as the Director General for Global Affairs Canada. Prior to that, Rick was Canada’s ambassador to Brazil and has held various other senior level positions with the Department including as consul general in Shanghai.

International Market Developments

Denmark

Aurora has received the very first approval from the Danish Medicines Agency for the import of the Company’s Sedamen Softgel capsules into Denmark. Aurora is currently working to obtain an export permit from Health Canada and expects to complete the first shipment from its Aurora Ridge facility in Markham, Ontario in the first calendar quarter of 2020.

Ireland

On December 2, 2019, Aurora announced that one of the Company’s oil products has now been approved for use under Ireland’s new Medical Cannabis Access Programme (“MCAP”). Aurora’s High CBD Oil Drops received approval from the Irish authorities and have now been added to a regulatory schedule by the Irish Minister of Health enabling importation, prescribing and supply under the schedule and is to date, one of only two products to gain such authorization.

Flagship Retail Store Update

Aurora’s Experiential Flagship Store Opens in the West Edmonton Mall

The Company’s flagship retail store official opened on November 27, 2019 in North America’s largest shopping mall. At approximately 11,000 square feet, the location in the West Edmonton Mall combines a retail cannabis store that showcases Aurora brands and an immersive experiential space for cannabis education, events and community engagement. With more than 30 million visitors to the West Edmonton Mall each year, Aurora’s flagship is already seeing a combined average of 700 visitors per day. On average, 94% of visitors to the cannabis and accessories store make a purchase. Thus far, the top selling cannabis products have been Aurora’s Hybrid and THC Pre-Rolls, Whistlers organic products and the Company’s popular cultivar, LA Confidential. To learn more about Aurora’s new flagship store, please click here.

Facility Status Updates

Whistler Pemberton Facility Construction Complete

Aurora’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp. (“Whistler”), recently completed construction of its 62,000 square foot production facility in Pemberton, British Columbia (the “Pemberton Facility”). Construction of the Pemberton Facility commenced April 2018, and is purpose built to European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (EU GMP) standards. The fifteen-room Pemberton facility is Whistler’s largest and has a designed capacity of 4,500 kg of premium, organic certified, cannabis per year. The new Pemberton facility also incorporates a public lounge to educate visitors to the region about Whistler and its history of pioneering organic certified cannabis cultivation.    

Whistler product is in strong demand from both medical and consumer markets, and its craft production commands a premium brand position and pricing. The additional capacity of the Pemberton facility is expected to enable Aurora to increase the availability of Whistlers organic certified dried cannabis, hand-rolled joints and cannabis. Whistler expects to introduce a new line of organic certified hashish and live rosin cannabis extracts soon.

Aurora Nordic 1 Receives Additional Licensing

Aurora Nordic 1, the Company’s 100,000 square foot facility located in Odense, Denmark, with a production capacity of 8,000 kg per year of medical cannabis, recently received a processing and drying license. Aurora has also completed the requisite filings to obtain EU GMP certification of the facility, and expects to receive approval in the first calendar quarter of 2020, which will allow for sale to patients across Europe.

New Extraction Technology Implemented at Aurora River

Aurora River, the Company’s 210,000 square foot production facility located in Bradford, Ontario, recently completed installation of new, proprietary extraction equipment to increase the Company’s resin extract production capacity for soon-to-be-released premium cannabis derivative products. The highly-advanced, process patented equipment was designed in-house and uses CO2 extraction to process up to 20 kg of plant material per run and is capable of performing two runs per day. Aurora River is already using the new extraction technology for the production of edibles and Aurora’s new line of vapes with high-quality cannabis resin from the company’s high-THC and high-CBD cultivars.

Aurora Eau Receives Health Canada Processing License

Aurora Eau located in Lachute, Quebec, recently received a Health Canada processing license. In addition to its existing Health Canada license, which authorized cannabis cultivation and sales, the new license allows the facility to process, package and sell dried and fresh cannabis to authorized Canadian retailers. Designed for the cultivation of niche and exotic cannabis varieties and home to Aurora’s eastern Canada outdoor grow operation, Aurora Eau is a 48,000 square foot facility with a production capacity of 4,500 kg/ year.

New Automated Packaging Line Installed at Aurora Vie

Aurora Vie located in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, recently commissioned and installed a new automated packaging line, reducing the time it takes to package solid dose cannabis products. The state-of-the-art equipment can package, seal and cap up to 100 bottles per minute and has been used for softgels at the facility since Oct. 31, 2019. The new packaging line is used for cannabis-infused mints, which are made at Aurora Vie and are expected to enter the consumer and medical cannabis markets after December 17, 2019.

Dehulling and Decorticator Arrive at Hempco’s Nisku Facility

Hempco’s new, state-of-the-art, 56,000 square foot processing facility, which is capable of processing 2.9 million kg per year hemp is nearing completion. The facility, located in Nisku, Alberta, recently commissioned its new dehulling and decorticating equipment. Upon completion in the first calendar quarter of 2020, the new equipment will be capable of dehulling 450 kg/hour of hemp hearts and decorticating 1.5 tonnes per hour of hemp fibre.

Industry Recognition

Aurora Wins Top Prizes at Canadian Cannabis Awards

Aurora took home four top prizes at Lift & Co.’s Canadian Cannabis Awards on November 8, 2019. Awards received at the event included “Top Sativa Flower” for San Rafael ’71 Tangerine Dream, “Top Indica Flower” for San Rafael ’71 Pink Kush, “Top Cannabis Spray” for Aurora Sativa Oral Spray and “Top Balanced Bottled Oil” for MedReleaf Midnight Oil. Other Aurora family products and companies were also finalists in the “Top Sativa Flower,” “Top High CBD Bottled Oil,” “Top Cannabis Capsules,” “Top Home Growing Box” and “Top Testing Lab” categories.

Strategic Partner Developments

Aurora has a broad partnership portfolio of cannabis and cannabis-adjacent businesses which all provide valuable strategic benefits to Aurora. The benefits include retail footprint and customer insights, product technology/intellectual property, and operational or cost advantages. The Company continuously evaluates the strategic fit of these investments and may choose to monetize investments which are no longer core to the strategic plan.

Alcanna Inc. (“Alcanna”)

  • Alcanna continues to build-out its cannabis retail store network across Canada with 30 Nova Cannabis locations in Alberta;
  • Nova Cannabis’ Queen Street West location in Toronto continues to average $400,000$500,000 per week in sales – of which Aurora and MedReleaf are the highest selling brands by a wide margin;
  • Alcanna is targeting the maximum of 10 stores in Ontario by August 31, 2020 with 10-15 more by year end and to reach the 30-store limit before August 2021.

Capcium Inc.  (“Capcium”)

  • Capcium is currently in the final stages of construction at its new state-of-the-art production facility with a capacity for up to 10 softgel encapsulation lines capable of producing approximately 2.5 billion softgel capsules annually.
  • Capcium recently received its cannabis R&D license for the new facility and will be starting its cannabis R&D laboratories in Q1 2020. Capcium is expecting to obtain its standard processor license by end of Q1 2020.
  • Capcium’s softgel capsules manufactured for Aurora were the first finished softgel products of a Canadian LP to be approved for sale in an EU country.

Choom Holdings Inc. (“Choom”)

  • Currently, Choom has 14 stores open and operating and is targeting 20 stores open across Canada by the first quarter of 2020 with two additional cannabis development permits in highly coveted areas of the Greater Vancouver region;
  • On December 1, 2019, Choom expanded its executive team with the appointment of Corey Gillon as the company’s new Chief Executive Officer, who was also appointed to the Board of Directors. Corey’s executive leadership roles were established at Walmart and Aritzia where the corporate strategies he implemented were customer-focused and ensured operational retail development;
  • With the recent announcement made by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to move to open market for private cannabis retail, Choom had commenced the process of exercising the option to purchase its branded flagship retail store located in Niagara Falls. With these regulatory changes, Choom expects to expand its footprint in Ontario starting the first quarter of 2020.

CTT Pharmaceutical Holdings Inc. (“CTT”)

  • On October 6, 2019, Aurora commenced sales of its Dissolve Strips to the Canadian medical market. Dissolve Strips, a novel non-smokable, sublingual cannabinoid delivery technology, were developed in collaboration between CTT and Aurora, who hold a 9% ownership interest;
  • Based on the successful market introduction, with the Dissolve Strips selling out in short order, Aurora and CTT are in the process of developing additional SKUs, including CBD infused strips and THC:CBD balanced strips for both the medical and the consumer markets;

EnWave Corporation (“EnWave”)

  • EnWave has signed a total of 14 royalty-bearing commercial licenses for REV technology in fiscal 2019;
  • On December 11, 2019, EnWave announced that in its Fiscal 2019 it generated $42.8 million in revenue, up 88% from $22.8 million in 2018;
  • EnWave has sold its innovative REV machines for the drying of Cannabis to Swiss, Australian and New Zealand companies.

High Tide Inc. (“High Tide”)

  • High Tide expanded its retail cannabis network from 25 branded stores at the end of September to 30 operating locations today, including 27 Canna Cabana stores and 3 KushBar stores located across Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
  • Acquired the remaining 49.9% of its KushBar joint venture, including 3 operating retail cannabis stores and a fourth location currently under construction, all located in Alberta.

Radient Technologies Inc. (“Radient”)

  • Radient is currently extracting and processing a large inventory of cannabis biomass for Aurora at its Edmonton I cannabis processing facility (designed for 56,000 kg / year throughput capacity). Recovery of cannabinoids is consistently above 90% and as much as 99%. Products have shown high levels of quality and demonstrated extended “shelf life,” with negligible cannabinoid degradation over multiple months.
  • Radient’s Edmonton II hemp processing facility, designed to process 420,000 kg / year of hemp, is on track for completion at the end of calendar 2019. Additional commissioning and validation work is expected to commence in early calendar 2020, after licensing is granted by Health Canada. Radient’s Edmonton III facility (“Edmonton III”), with construction well underway, is expected to begin operations in the second half of calendar 2020, scaling up to its intended full capacity of 280,000 kg/ year of cannabis and 2.8 million kg/ year of hemp thereafter.
  • Radient’s Germany facility (“Germany”) will be commissioned in two phases. The first phase, a leased production facility that is being built to suit cannabis extraction, is now under way. Phase one capacity and throughput will be 200 kg/ day, processing either hemp or cannabis biomass. The second phase will be the expansion of capacity on a site adjacent to the facility noted in the aforementioned first phase, scaling up to a throughput capacity of 280,000 kg/ year of cannabis, and 2.8 million kg/ year of hemp.

About Aurora

Headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with funded capacity in excess of 625,000 kg per annum and sales and operations in 25 countries across five continents, Aurora is one of the world’s largest and leading cannabis companies. Aurora is vertically integrated and horizontally diversified across every key segment of the value chain, from facility engineering and design to cannabis breeding and genetics research, cannabis and hemp production, derivatives, high value-add product development, home cultivation, wholesale and retail distribution.

Highly differentiated from its peers, Aurora has established a uniquely advanced, consistent and efficient production strategy, based on purpose-built facilities that integrate leading-edge technologies across all processes, defined by extensive automation and customization, resulting in the massive scale production of high-quality consistent product. Designed to be replicable and scalable globally, our production facilities are designed to produce cannabis at significant scale, with high quality, industry-leading yields, and low-per gram production costs. Each of Aurora’s facilities is built to meet European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (“EU GMP”) standards. Certification has been granted to Aurora’s first production facility in Mountain View County, the MedReleaf Markham facility, and its wholly owned European medical cannabis distributor Aurora Deutschland. All Aurora facilities are designed and built to the EU GMP standard.

In addition to the Company’s rapid organic growth and strong execution on strategic M&A, which to date includes 17 wholly owned subsidiary companies – MedReleaf, CanvasRX, Peloton Pharmaceutical, Aurora Deutschland, H2 Biopharma, BC Northern Lights, Larssen Greenhouses, CanniMed Therapeutics, Anandia, HotHouse Consulting, MED Colombia, Agropro, Borela, ICC Labs, Whistler, Chemi Pharmaceutical, and Hempco – Aurora is distinguished by its reputation as a partner and employer of choice in the global cannabis sector, having invested in and established strategic partnerships with a range of leading innovators, including: Radient Technologies Inc. (TSXV: RTI), Cann Group Ltd. (ASX: CAN), Micron Waste Technologies Inc. (CSE: MWM), Choom Holdings Inc. (CSE: CHOO), CTT Pharmaceuticals (OTCC: CTTH), Alcanna Inc. (TSX: CLIQ), High Tide Inc. (CSE: HITI), EnWave Corporation (TSXV: ENW), Capcium Inc. (private), Evio Beauty Group (private), and Wagner Dimas (private).

Aurora’s Common Shares trade on the TSX and NYSE under the symbol “ACB”, and is a constituent of the S&P/TSX Composite Index.

For more information about Aurora, please visit our investor website, investor.auroramj.com

Terry Booth, CEO       
Aurora Cannabis Inc.  

Forward Looking Statements

This news release includes statements containing certain “forward-looking information” within the meaning of applicable securities law (“forward-looking statements”). Forward-looking statements are frequently characterized by words such as “plan”, “continue”, “expect”, “project”, “intend”, “believe”, “anticipate”, “estimate”, “may”, “will”, “potential”, “proposed” and other similar words, or statements that certain events or conditions “may” or “will” occur. These forward-looking statements are only predictions.  Various assumptions were used in drawing the conclusions or making the projections contained in the forward-looking statements throughout this news release. Forward-looking statements are based on the opinions, estimates and assumptions of management in light of management’s experience and perception of historical trends, current conditions and expected developments at the date the statements are made, such as current and future market conditions, the current and future regulatory environment and future approvals and permits. Forward-looking statements are subject to a variety of risks, uncertainties and other factors that management believes to be relevant and reasonable in the circumstances could cause actual events, results, level of activity, performance, prospects, opportunities or achievements to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements, including general business and economic conditions, changes in laws and regulations, product demand, changes in prices of required commodities, competition and other risks, uncertainties and factors set out under the heading “Risk Factors” in the Company’s annual information form dated September 10, 2019 (the “AIF”) and filed with Canadian securities regulators available on the Company’s issuer profile on SEDAR at www.sedar.com. The Company cautions that the list of risks, uncertainties and other factors described in the AIF is not exhaustive and other factors could also adversely affect its results. Readers are urged to consider the risks, uncertainties and assumptions carefully in evaluating the forward-looking statements and are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such information. The Company is under no obligation, and expressly disclaims any intention or obligation, to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as expressly required by applicable securities laws.

SOURCE Aurora Cannabis Inc.

For further information: For Media: Laura Gallant, +1.437.992.8429, [email protected]; For Investors: Rob Kelly, +1.647.331.7228, [email protected]

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More than 197000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in Toronto so far – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Almost 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto, and more shots are being injected in the arms of residents in clinics this weekend.

In a news release, the city said a number of hospitals and community healthcare centres are operating 15 clinics on Saturday and Sunday to vaccinate those in Phase 1 priority groups, including residents aged 80 years and older, who have a confirmed appointment.

“The city of Toronto, Toronto Public Health, hospitals and community healthcare centres are all working together to get Torontonians vaccinated as quickly as possible. Getting vaccinated protects individuals, their close contacts and the community,” the release stated.

The city said 197,155 vaccine doses have been administered so far.

Earlier this week, Toronto officials responded to criticism that the city is falling behind other regions in vaccinating people over the age of 80.

The city said it had administered COVID-19 vaccines to seniors in hospitals and congregate settings, but wider availability of vaccines for residents above the age of 80 will only occur when supply improves, and the provincial booking system launches on March 15.

The province released an update on its vaccination plan on Friday, announcing who will be prioritized in the second phase of its rollout set to run from April to July.

On the same day, Health Canada authorized the country’s fourth COVID-19 vaccine, the single-dose Johnson and Johnson shot.

Retired general Rick Hillier, the head of the province’s vaccine task force, said there had been a “seismic shift” in the province’s vaccination rollout following the approval of two more vaccines, supply ramping up, and new guidance on the extension of interval between two doses.

“I want to say by the first day of summer we want to have, vaccine supply dependent, we want to have a first needle in the arms of every person in Ontario who is eligible for the vaccine and wants to get,” he said during a news conference on Friday.

More than 860,000 doses have been administered and over 270,000 people have been fully vaccinated in Ontario so far.

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COVID-19 Bulletin #364 – news.gov.mb.ca

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Need More Info?

Public information, contact Manitoba Government Inquiry: 1-866-626-4862 or 204-945-3744.

Media requests for general information, contact Communications Services Manitoba: 204-945-3765.

Media requests for ministerial comment, contact Communications and Stakeholder Relations: 204-290-5374.

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Sask. top doctor urges public to accept whichever vaccine is available, regardless of brand – Yahoo News Canada

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Why the rise of bitcoin could be the first shot in a currency revolution

Oliver Dobson lives in a town outside of Canada’s financial nerve centre, a nearly three-hour drive from Toronto. How he earns his living is worlds apart from the traditional business of Bay Street. For the past few years, Dobson has been trading in cryptocurrencies, stockpiling a horde of digital coins that have suddenly skyrocketed in price. In the real world, he lives off of cash savings, but on the Internet, he works in myriad ways to harvest these tokens. He considers it his full-time job. “I’m very frugal with my money,” Dobson said. “I focus my time stocking up on these coins, so that when they explode [in price], I can take advantage of it.” Prices for these cryptocurrencies, which have less familiar names like ether and nano, are exploding because they’re riding on the coattails of bitcoin, which has been on a feverish run. The going rate has catapulted from about $9,000 per bitcoin a year ago to a peak of roughly $58,000 in late February, according to CoinDesk. The tidal wave has showered digital wealth on Dobson and other Canadians with a stake in the game, while attracting large players from Wall Street like never before. Bitcoin’s flirtation with mainstream acceptance and the gravity-defying climb in the price — along with some white-knuckle dips — have made headlines around the world and even captured the attention of the doubters. Underneath the mania is a potential sea change in the world of finance that observers say was made possible by a global pandemic. And what’s at stake is nothing less than a war for the future of money. But there are plenty of skeptics. They warn bitcoin is a highly speculative investment play with no real value backing it up and that investors run the risk of crushing losses. Oliver Dobson estimates banks handle only 10 or 20 per cent of his finances. He says he manages the rest in crypto networks. (Submitted by Oliver Dobson) Create money out of thin air’ The rally has made Dobson’s seemingly bizarre occupation all the more lucrative. Among other methods, he said he uses bitcoin to buy other digital coins on crypto exchanges and sell them when they rise in price. He also keeps his eye out for so-called airdrops, where crypto startups release free tokens or coins as part of a marketing stunt. “If you’re asking me, how do you make your money? I guess in a way, you just go try random stuff and they might just create money out of thin air and hand you some.” The new wave of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies has its share of colourful characters. It also has some heavy hitters from legacy finance. Wealthy investors and big institutions, such as PayPal Holdings Inc., Mastercard Inc., Visa Inc. and Tesla Inc., are embracing bitcoin in various ways, signalling broader approval of crypto for the first time. The 2018 rout To understand how this happened, and what it all means, it’s helpful to look back at the last bitcoin wave, which ended when investors watched vast sums of wealth get wiped out in a brutal crash. Invented as an alternative to national currencies in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, bitcoin enjoyed one of its sharpest climbs almost a decade later, in 2017. The going rate escalated from less than $3,000 per coin to nearly $20,000 in six months. This bitcoin boom was driven not by big institutions like banks and pension funds, but by amateur, regular investors making a bet on new technology, said Alex McDougall, the managing director of portfolio management at the bitcoin and digital asset fund manager 3iQ in Toronto. People were drawn to an alternative to the legacy banking system, McDougall said. Bitcoin and its underlying technology presented a possible end-run around these gatekeepers, allowing people to do their own banking without a large financial institution. “We saw this potential move towards a radically open world and an entire new generation of wealth could be created in an entirely different type of market participant,” McDougall said. Monty Kohli, a 25-year-old cryptocurrency investor, says he believes in the ethos of decentralized finance and continues to have money tied up in digital coins. (Submitted by Monty Kohli) “We also saw a ton of scams and fraud and a bunch of, quite frankly, B.S. that sprung up around the market.” The price of bitcoin ultimately crashed in 2018, dropping more than 80 per cent in a year. Left in the ashes were people who lost their life savings. Monty Kohli, a cryptocurrency investor in his early 20s at the time, didn’t face catastrophic losses, but still watched up to $8,000 in wealth disappear. Despite the setback, he believes in the ethos of decentralized finance and continues to have money invested in digital coins, but it’s money he said he can afford to lose. Now 25, Kohli said he’s a bitcoin banker. He said he loans out tokens in a secondary, crypto market where he collects interest, though he maintains a day job working in the finance department of a Toronto company. “My time horizon for investing is quite long and so that’s where I can also afford to take some risk in my portfolio,” he said. While long-time core believers like Kohli remain in the game, some bigwigs on Wall Street are suddenly stepping in from the sidelines. And that’s part of what makes this latest bitcoin wave so different. COVID-19 fuelling the latest bitcoin rally “There is relentless demand,” said Edward Moya, a New York-based senior market analyst with the currency trading company Oanda Corp. “What we’re starting to see is Wall Street, Main Street are really embracing the crypto world. Even when we have significant sell-off days, there is still strong demand, and it’s global.” Moya said the arguments in favour of an alternative to government-issued currency haven’t changed all that much, but critical conditions have shifted in the past year, making that case more persuasive. “If we did not have COVID, we would not be talking about bitcoin right now,” he said. Central banks around the world have been pumping trillions of dollars into their economies to help them survive crippling lockdowns and various restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19. A major concern with all the pandemic-related stimulus is that it threatens to ‘devalue or debase’ national currencies, said Gavin Brown, a senior lecturer and associate professor of financial technology at the University of Liverpool. (Gavin Brown) A major concern with all of that stimulus is that it threatens to “devalue or debase” national currencies, said Gavin Brown, a senior lecturer and associate professor of financial technology at the University of Liverpool. “The purchasing power is less because, quite simply, there’s more of it and therefore it’s worth less.” Bitcoin, on the other hand, is “not controlled by a central bank; it doesn’t have any domicile; doesn’t have any formal governance structure like you would expect with a company or a nation state,” Brown said. “Instead, the supply of bitcoins is controlled by mathematical code and computer code, which means that the supply side of bitcoin is known at all times. It will never be more than 21 million [coins in circulation].” Critical infrastructure allows for big investments Cash was already on the decline for years, while the pandemic has accelerated demand for fast and convenient digital payments, analysts at the investment bank J.P. Morgan said in a recent report. “The pandemic has boosted demand for digital services and also for ‘alternative’ currencies as multiple rounds of stimulus, accommodative monetary policy, and excess savings have boosted money supply, leading to record inflows into bitcoin investment vehicles.” Critical storage infrastructure is one development making cryptocurrency more accessible to institutional investors. Here, an illustration of bitcoin’s logo stands on a PC motherboard.(Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters) Another important change is that critical storage infrastructure required to hold large sums of bitcoin for institutional investors is now available. Tesla revealed in early February it had bought $1.5 billion US in bitcoin, something that “would have been almost impossible just a couple of years ago due to the lack of institutional controls and infrastructure at play,” Brown said. It’s not only easier for some large institutions to invest, the academic said, it’s also more publicly acceptable — entirely different than the 2017 surge. A bet or an investment? Some bright minds in finance don’t buy all of the enthusiasm. Stephen Poloz, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, said in an interview that bitcoin is more of a speculative investment play than it is a currency. “Even the pros who deal in bitcoin often use the word ‘bet’ rather than ‘invest,’ which suggests in our minds it’s sufficiently volatile; it really is close to gambling as opposed to actual investment, since the asset itself has no intrinsic value,” said Poloz, a special advisor at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. “But that doesn’t mean that it can’t become mainstream.” Stephen Poloz, a special advisor at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt and a former governor of the Bank of Canada, says bitcoin trading is akin to gambling. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) Poloz said the Toronto Stock Exchange took important steps in this direction by listing two bitcoin exchange-traded funds. It means investors can put money into bitcoin under a regulated system of controls that ensure those investments are backed by the coins. Dobson, the crypto token trader, said the funds traded on the stock market and other developments, such as PayPal’s foray into bitcoin, represent the antithesis of why cryptocurrencies exist in the first place. “Would you appreciate it if you agreed yesterday to buy a car paying in bitcoin and then you go to pick it up today and it cost you 16 percent more today than yesterday? – Stephen Poloz, former governor of the Bank of Canada “The whole point of cryptocurrency is that it’s peer-to-peer, decentralized digital currency; it’s immutable, it’s uncensorable, and it’s yours, purely yours,” he said. “They don’t give you access to withdraw your coins, so you never actually own them.” Dobson estimates that banks handle only 10 or 20 per cent of his finances and he manages the rest in crypto networks. “Dollars don’t make more dollars,” he said, meaning he can make higher returns holding onto cryptos than national currencies, “so I keep basically everything I possibly can out of dollars. I do everything in my power to make sure that the amount of Canadian dollars that I’m holding is the smallest amount that I can get away with.” But Poloz argues bitcoin can’t replace national currencies in part because it takes far longer to process transactions. If, for example, someone used bitcoin to buy a cup of coffee, the drink would likely be cold by the time the payment cleared. While the technology could theoretically improve to make payments faster, he said there is no fundamental value behind the coins, leaving the price vulnerable to wild swings. “Would you appreciate it if you agreed yesterday to buy a car paying in bitcoin and then you go to pick it up today and it cost you 16 per cent more today than yesterday?” he said. “That’s not the kind of volatility that you can endure in something that is being used for payments.” ‘A real seismic shift’ There is no shortage of predictions of where bitcoin’s latest wave is headed. The financial services firm UBS Wealth Management reportedly warned investors there is little stopping cryptocurrency prices from falling to zero. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she worries about potential investor losses. People pass in front of a crypto currency ‘Bitcoin Change’ shop near the Grand Bazaar on December 17, 2020 in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images) Brown, the fintech academic from the U.K., said there probably will be a correction, or drop, in the price of bitcoin over the coming weeks and months, but he expects the appeal of a decentralized currency won’t disappear. “It allows them to move money without a payment intermediary,” he said. “The idea of doing banking without a bank … that is a paradigm that flies in the face of not just centuries of financial development but millennia. That’s a real seismic shift.” Still, Brown doesn’t believe bitcoin will someday dominate global finance. Where this is ultimately headed, he predicts, is a digital currency war. There are three groups that Brown believes will be competing for supremacy: decentralized coins, like bitcoin; corporate coins, such as one launched by J.P. Morgan and the currency Facebook proposes; and, finally, future digital currencies backed by central banks. “There’s a three-way fight for the future of money.”

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