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U.S. banks must seek regulatory permission before engaging in certain crypto activities – regulator

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U.S. banks must seek and obtain written permission from their bank supervisors before engaging in certain activities involving cryptocurrency, a major regulator said on Tuesday.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said banks must be able to demonstrate they have appropriate risk management tools before taking on activities like providing custody services for customers’ crypto holdings.

“Because many of these technologies and products present novel risks, banks must be able to demonstrate that they have appropriate risk management systems and controls in place to conduct them safely,” said acting Comptroller Michael Hsu in a statement.

The new stance from the regulator places a higher bar on banks considering some crypto activities, after the agency under former President Donald Trump cleared the way for banks to engage in some crypto work.

Under the new interpretive letter, banks are not allowed to engage in several crypto-related activities, such as providing custody for crypto assets and using dollar deposits and reserves to back “stablecoins,” without first notifying their bank supervisors of their intention to engage in that activity.

Supervisors will then review the bank’s risk management tools and systems, and allow the activity only if banks demonstrate they can do so in a safe and sound manner.

A separate joint statement from the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the OCC issued on Tuesday said banking regulators intend to clarify in 2022 what role traditional banks can legally play in the cryptocurrency market.

 

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Investment

Bukele steps up El Salvador’s bet on sliding bitcoin; buys another 150 coins

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El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said the Central American country had acquired an additional 150 bitcoins after the digital currency’s value slumped again, enlarging his bet on the cryptocurrency despite criticism.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down about 30% from the year’s high of $69,000 on Nov. 10. Bukele said last week that El Salvador had acquired 100 additional coins to take advantage of the currency weakening.

Late on Friday, Bukele announced the government had stepped into the market again.

“El Salvador just bought the dip! 150 coins at an average USD price of ~$48,670,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

Until Nov. 26, El Salvador had 1,220 bitcoins.

In September El Salvador became the world’s first nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, a move that generated global media attention but also attracted criticism from the opposition and foreign financial institutions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday that El Salvador should not use bitcoin as legal tender, considering risks related to the cryptocurrency.

 

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Trump's Media Company to Get $1 Billion in Investment From SPAC – Bloomberg

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Former President Donald Trump’s media company said Digital World Acquisition Corp. has agreed to a $1 billion investment following the combination of both companies. 

Trump first announced the plan to merge with the so-called blank-check firm in October that would help enable him to regain a social media presence after he was kicked off Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. platforms. The new enterprise will be in operation by the first quarter of 2022 and plans to start a social media company called Truth Social. 

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Gold Is a Green Investment. Owning it Can Be Tricky. – Barron's

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Gold bullion bars


David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Most investors don’t think of gold as a sustainable investment. Historically, it has required large amounts of water, energy and toxic chemicals to mine and refine. Mining companies have been accused of exploiting developing countries and their workers.

Yet gold bullion—as opposed to miners—is surprisingly green. Once fashioned into bars, it just sits in vaults, having virtually no carbon footprint. According to the World Gold Council, there are 201,296 metric tons of previously mined gold in storage. https://www.gold.org/goldhub/data/above-ground-stocks Gold miners increase that stock by just 1.5% a year—3,000 tons.

Two money managers,




Franklin Templeton

and Sprott Asset Management, recently filed with regulators to launch the Franklin Responsibly Sourced Gold https://www.nyse.com/publicdocs/nyse/markets/nyse-arca/rule-filings/filings/2021/SR-NYSEArca-2021-73%20Pdf.pdf and the Sprott ESG Gold https://www.sec.gov/rules/sro/nysearca/2021/34-92506.pdf exchange-traded funds. 

According to its filing, the Franklin ETF will seek “to predominantly hold responsibly sourced gold bullion, defined as London Good Delivery gold bullion bars produced after January 2012 in accordance with London Bullion Market Association’s Responsible Gold Guidance.” https://www.lbma.org.uk/responsible-sourcing/guidance-documents The Sprott one seeks to buy gold from miners that meet its proprietary environmental, social and governance criteria in addition to market association approval. 

Neither Sprott nor Franklin Templeton were available to speak while seeking regulatory approval. 

The London bullion association’s 2012 Responsible Gold Guidance required gold to be sourced from refiners not linked to human rights abuses or armed groups, i.e., “conflict gold.” The association’s standards have evolved since then to include environmental criteria. Still, gold sourced after 2012 before those criteria were added could come from dirtier sources.

A 2021 open-letter https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/open-letter-lbma-concerns-responsible-sourcing-programme-fails-curtail-human-rights-abuse-and-illicit-gold-supply-chain/signed by five human rights groups said “downstream customers cannot have confidence that the LBMA’s Good Delivery gold is free of human rights abuses and not linked to conflict.”

The association responded to these accusations with its own open letter,  https://www.lbma.org.uk/articles/lbma-responds-to-ngo-open-letter-on-responsible-sourcing stating that it “recognizes the challenges that all audit programs face, and whilst no program is perfect, we remain committed to continuous improvements, and ongoing engagement with stakeholders in addressing the supply-chain risks.”

The new Sprott ETF should have a higher standard for sourcing gold because of its unique ESG criteria.  But its regulatory filing acknowledges that it may not be able to find enough ESG-approved gold, so that the trust expects to hold some amount of unallocated [i.e., non-ESG approved] gold at any given point in time.”   

All of which is to say these new ETFs may not be much greener than traditional bullion ones. 

Yet gold’s carbon advantages are real. According to one study https://www.gold.org/goldhub/research/gold-and-climate-change-decarbonising-investment-portfolios by climate-risk analysis firm Urgentem, for a portfolio of 70% equities and 30% bonds, introducing a 10% allocation to gold (and reducing the other asset holdings by equal amounts) reduced portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 7%, while a 20% gold allocation lowered it by 17%.

“The emissions associated with holding gold are frankly a lot less than holding equities,” says Terry Heymann, CFO of gold trade-group World Gold Council.

While bullion as a low-carbon investment makes sense, Heymann posits that the mining industry is also becoming ESG-friendly, pointing to the World Gold Council’s 2019 publishing of its Responsible Gold Mining Principles https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/responsible-gold/responsible-gold-mining-principles, which the Council’s 33 member companies—including the world’s largest miners—have all committed to following. The principles support the Paris Climate Accord’s goal of producing zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

“You’re going to see a lot more use of renewables [at mines]— solar, hydro, or wind,” Heymann says. “Secondly, you’re going to see a move towards electric vehicles.” He points to miner Newmont’s (NEM) “all-electric mine” in Northern Ontario, https://mining.ca/mining-stories/goldcorp-electric/ which has a fleet of battery-powered trucks as an example of the industry’s future.

Yet miners have a long way to go to convince ESG experts. The differences between bullion and mining stocks are “night and day,” says Adam Strauss, co-manager of Appleseed (APPLX), an ESG-focused fund which has 7% of its portfolio in the




Sprott Physical Gold Trust

(PHYS).  “Gold mining is a very dirty business.”

A 2020 report by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Development and the Responsible Mining Foundation called the mining industry’s efforts to achieve its sustainable development goals so far “cosmetic.”  https://www.responsibleminingfoundation.org/app/uploads/RMF_CCSI_Mining_and_SDGs_EN_Sept2020.pdf Although she acknowledges individual miners differ, Perrine Toledano, the CCSI’s mining analyst, says that some miners “just cherry-pick the [sustainable goal] they want and then communicate on its positive impact.”

Could an ESG ETF tracking just the 33 World Gold Council member companies that have agreed to its principles be sustainable? Sustainalytics, one of the largest ESG ratings services, gives mixed grades to different members, calling the ESG-risk of Chinese miner Zijin Mining Group “Severe,” and rating it one of the worst companies in its entire coverage universe.

That said, those ratings could improve in time. “Every single one of our members is committed to implement the responsible gold mining principles, and I know that work is under way,” says Heymann. “We’ve got four members in China, and they’re all committed to doing this.” This March, Zijin issued a release regarding its “ESG Report to emphasize Sustainable Development,”stating  it continues “to improve our ESG performance in environmental and ecological protection, human rights protection, anticorruption, responsible supply chain and community engagement.” and that it invested 1.92 billion renminbi in 2020, a 51% increase over 2019, on environmental protection.

“Having some sort of [ESG] guidance is very positive,” Sustaianlytics mining analyst Dana Sasarean says about the Council’s principles. “If the world requires gold, I think it’s important to make sure that this gold is produced in the most responsible way. But there are challenges.”

Write to editors@barrons.com

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