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By Valentin Schmid of The Epoch Times
After a spectacular run up to $3,000, Bitcoin prices have been choppy, falling as low as $1,830. However, they reversed and rallied more than $1.000 in just a few days after a software upgrade called Segregated Witness (SegWit) was confirmed, which will allow Bitcoin to perform more transactions and develop different functionalities.
Epoch Times spoke to Bitcoin expert Trace Mayer about SegWit, the problem with the Bitcoin miners, other crypto coins, and expectations of price movement going forward.
Epoch Times: It looks like Bitcoin is getting a major upgrade with Segregated Witness. Can you explain?
Trace Mayer: It lays the platform for Bitcoin to scale and it also lays a big platform for extensibility. We’re going to be able to do all types of things because it is also a fix for something called transaction malleability. By fixing a lot of these things with Segregated Witness, Bitcoin is just going to be so much more. It’s a really, really big upgrade.
There are some vested interests, whether in the Bitcoin community or outside of the Bitcoin community, that have not wanted to see Segregated Witness activated. So, it’s been a long, protracted fight. But it looks like it’s going to get activated and Bitcoin will be on its way.
Epoch Times: Why did it take so long?
Mr. Mayer: It’s been two years in the making. If we had something like a Facebook, or a Google, and let’s say that that you only needed five percent of the voting shares in order to completely stop any future growth or development of the company, well, guess what?
So in the board rooms, you fight all the time. But with proxy voting you can have control of some of these very large corporations and get stuff done with inactive votes or people abstaining. But with Bitcoin, when you want to change something, you have to actively get a very large chunk of votes.
You have to gets votes from users who are using the wallet software, that performs network consensus. You have to get votes from the miners who are processing transactions in blocks. You have to have a super majority from everybody in order to maintain distributive consensus, or you’ll have what’s called “a fork” or a split of the blockchain. So anybody with even a very small percentage can exercise a veto. So Bitcoin has a whole different type of governance than a normal company.
And so, if you want to move upgrades forward, you have to have super majority consensus from millions of people and that’s a hard thing to achieve. So with Segregated Witness finally looking like it’s going to activate, Bitcoin’s rising up to a whole new level, because it’s being upgraded in terms of scale and extensibility.
And I think that’s being reflected in the price, because it’s going to have so many more use cases in the future. So investors who are buying and holding it today are looking at this saying: “The uncertainty about the path of Bitcoin going forward is getting cleared up, therefore we’ll buy and hold it because it’ll be so much more useful in the future.”
Epoch Times: But you say this is not a done deal yet.
Mr. Mayer: Right. We’re not out of the woods yet. We’ve only locked in what’s called BIP 91. We have another, couple hundred Bitcoin blocks before we start enforcing BIP 91, and miners will be the ones enforcing that.
And then even after that gets enforced, we need two weeks in order for BIP 141 to be activated. And then we have another two weeks before we actually start enforcing that. So the earliest time SegWit could be active and functioning on the network is mid-August.
Miners could be liars. They’ve proven that in the past when they have signaled falsely. So you get all types of Machiavellian games. But it does appear that we’ve gotten consensus.
People are starting to signal they are going for SegWit and people are relying on that. It’s really not in the miners’ best interest to disrupt this process any more than they already have. They stand to lose the most amount of money because they’re the only ones who have to actively choose which fork to follow, and that has the economic consequences.
Everybody else can just sit and hold and see how it plays out but doesn’t have to make an economic choice.
Epoch Times: Aren’t the miners just service providers for the users?
Mr. Mayer: The work they do has value because individuals and users of Bitcoin place value on that work. If miners do work that users do not value, then miners will lose a lot of money in the process. And then they won’t be miners anymore because they’ll go bankrupt.
Miners can’t fire anybody. The people who hire and fire are the people who hold Bitcoin and who use Bitcoin. The way they determine who they’re going to hire or fire is based on what software they run. And 99.1 percent of the people who interact with the Bitcoin network are using the Bitcoin core software because it’s the safest, the most reliable, the most secure.
But these miners think they can top-down authoritarian control Bitcoin because the work they do provides value either way. What they’ve found is that the more they try to squeeze their grip on the Bitcoin community, the more they’re just grasping at air.
Users and consumers should presume as a fundamental premise that miners are hostile and malicious to Bitcoin users and consumers. They’re not to be trusted. They’re a rattlesnake to be on your highest guard against.
Bitcoin’s been very much an open source community project where there’s been a lot of good will. People have presumed that other people are acting with good intentions, that they have Bitcoin’s best interest at heart. It’s been very collegial.
But this two-year-long debate around SegWit revealed that these miners are not to be trusted. This sets up a whole different type of game theory in the way that you interact with other people in the ecosystem. The Miners burned their bridges with a lot of people in the Bitcoin community.
At the end of the day, it has been very good because it helps Bitcoin become even stronger and more censorship resistant. You can think of it like the body getting a nasty cold or flu. It’s not any fun while you have it but if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger because you increase your immune system and your ability to respond.
Epoch Times: What’s your opinion on some of the other coins in the space?
Mr. Mayer: None of them really have like a good, decentralized, peer-to-peer, censorship resistance, scalable, liquid, secure, way of protecting and storing value. And that’s why Bitcoin is king of the mountain.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of fun going on and that you can’t make a lot of money with these altcoins. We have a lot of really cool projects going on and a lot of fun tech, but don’t pretend that you’ve got the security, the liquidity, and the scalability that Bitcoin has. Nobody is even close.
Epoch Times: What do you think the price is going to do in the near future?
Mr. Mayer: I think if we’re going to continue having turbulence. I think between now and probably the end of the year, after the November decision on 2x the issues get definitively resolved.
Then I think the price is going to be significantly higher. You never know, of course Bitcoin’s always wild and crazy, but the thing is, it just might actually turn into something, so perhaps, you should acquire a little bit of it.
And that’s really what people have to do, they have to develop their own human capital to learn how to buy Bitcoin, sell Bitcoin, secure Bitcoin. And even if you’re doing this with just a $50 or $100 bucks, you’re getting the technical literacy.
So if you wanted to move larger amounts in, you could confidently do it without losing your money. And so all of that takes time and diligence and hard work for people to do, which is why we see these waves of adoption and usage happening. Which means that there’s going to be lots of upside potential with Bitcoin for many, many years to come.
* * *
Finally, here courtesy of CoinDesk, is a quick timeline of BitCoin Cash following its imminent August 1 launch:
We're less than 24 hours away from the launch of Bitcoin Cash.
Whether you're worried, interested or excited, you can't deny that the event – which will likely see a new cryptocurrency created from the existing bitcoin blockchain – will have ramifications on the larger ecosystem.
In this article, I'm going to go over the different things you can expect in the next few days.
As you may have seen on social media, exchanges and merchants are currently scrambling to prepare for the fork.
At a minimum, these custodians of customer bitcoins will want to record customer balances right before the hard fork so they can untangle who's entitled to what later. (Or risk facing accounting challenges).
More adventurous exchanges are preparing to list Bitcoin Cash as a separate asset, though this presents its own problems.
For one, listing a cryptocurrency that hasn't launched could prove difficult. Also, once markets are live, trading is likely to be choppy. (Part of what caused crazy volatility during the Zcash launch was that so few exchanges supported it during the first few days.)
This probably won't be the case as many exchanges have already committed to supporting the trade of Bitcoin Cash, but it bears watching.
We can expect many exchanges to freeze withdrawals in preparation of the above.
August 1, 00:00 UTC
This is the expected time of the BIP 148 UASF launch.
Because the bitcoin network is already enforcing BIP 91, this should be a non-event. That is, BIP 148 won't split the network and bitcoin will continue as a single chain.
August 1, 12:20 UTC
Bitcoin Cash will launch.
At this point, miners that are mining Bitcoin Cash will create a transaction block greater than 1 MB in size and fork the bitcoin network.
There are a few scenarios here that depend on the percentage of hash power that the new blockchain attracts:
- If less than 16% of bitcoin's current hash power transitions to Bitcoin Cash, the first block will likely take over an hour. This won't affect the bitcoin blockchain that much, though on average, blocks should take a little longer than 10 minutes.
- If 17-50% of hash power moves to mining Bitcoin Cash, the first block will likely take between 20 minutes to an hour. This will slow down the bitcoin blockchain somewhat. Blocks on bitcoin will take between 12-20 minutes.
- If more than 50% of hash power is mining Bitcoin Cash, the first block will likely take less than 20 minutes. This will slow down the bitcoin blockchain significantly. Blocks on bitcoin will take longer than 20 minutes on average.
During this time, users will likely begin sending Bitcoin Cash to exchanges that both list the cryptocurrency and that have vowed to continue operations through the fork.
We can expect that the exchanges that accept Bitcoin Cash deposits first will have a lot of activity, and that initial trading will likely cause some significant price volatility due to reduced liquidity.
As for transaction approvals, even with low hashing power, we can expect the Bitcoin Cash mempool to be relatively empty since the network's blocks will be relatively big.
At 12.5% hash power, the mempool on Bitcoin Cash will clear at about the same rate as bitcoin. That said, confirmations will be much slower for the coin with less hash power until difficulty adjusts.
If Bitcoin Cash has relatively low hashing power, we can expect some difficulty adjustments at this time. Most scenarios result in something close to 10-minute block times provided the hash power stays constant.
This is probably not a safe assumption as miners will likely be switching between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash depending on which one is more profitable.
Bitcoin Cash will be much easier to mine after the difficulty adjustments, and we may get some relatively fast blocks (2.5 minutes or less) until we hit block 479,808.
SegWit should lock in on bitcoin around this time.
Depending on how much mining power moves over to Bitcoin Cash, and how much new mining power shows up, lock-in on block 479,808 on bitcoin may take longer than expected.
Once lock in is achieved, the code will be activated later this month, effectively upgrading the main bitcoin blockchain to support larger-capacity transactions.
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Oneok Inc. plans to double the capacity of its Canadian Valley natural gas processing facility in the Sooner Trend Anadarko basin Canadian and Kingfisher counties (STACK) play of western Oklahoma to 400 MMcfd.
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After months of dithering the Trump administration finally appears to be implementing a relatively coherent policy in Syria. The decision to focus exclusively on Daesh and completely forego any kinetic action against the Syrian government is decidedly bad news for the exiled Syrian opposition and the armed groups on the ground.
As much as Washington hates to admit it, this latest policy shift is effectively a declaration of defeat in Syria in as much as after six long years the US has finally admitted it has neither the will nor the ability to overthrow the Syrian government. The effect of this policy shift is already being felt on the ground with the CIA instructed to suspend a covert programme to train and equip anti-Assad forces.
However, a scaling down of ambitions, apparently motivated in part by a desire to cooperate more closely with Russia, does not amount to the end of US influence in Syria. Washington will continue to be deeply involved in the fight against Daesh and will use that as a pretext to consolidate its alliance with PKK-aligned Kurdish forces in Syria.
And most important of all the US has an abiding interest in continuing to counter Iranian influence in eastern Syria, with the undeclared aim of preventing pro-Iranian forces from gaining control of the Iraqi-Syrian border. It remains to be seen to what extent Washington’s latest policy shift (aimed in part at pleasing Russia) impacts Iran; Russia’s partner in Syria.
Abandoning the fight
To be fair, Washington’s policy shift is not as dramatic or sudden as it appears. The previous Obama administration was also inching towards such a position (i.e. abandoning the anti-Assad fight); the only difference being that the current administration is ready to formalise such a position. Whilst the formalisation of this position may be in part motivated by a desire to decrease tensions with Russia, the truth is that this position is in the US interest in so far as the quest of overthrowing Assad is beyond reach, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Syrian government has proven to be far more resilient than initially anticipated, not just militarily but also in the political arena where it has consistently outsmarted the Western-backed exiled opposition. Moreover, this opposition lost its tenuous connectivity with the armed groups on the ground a long time ago and is mostly irrelevant, the latest Geneva peace talks notwithstanding.
Crucial to the Syrian government’s success, and its underlying morale, has been the consistent support it has received from two powerful states. Russia and Iran have optimally coordinated their actions despite significant differences in their desired outcomes to the conflict. Since deploying its air force in late September 2015, Russia made a big impact on the ground by turning the tide against Syrian rebels and jihadists in three key provinces, namely Homs, Hama and Aleppo. Moreover, Russian air power has been pivotal to containing opposition and jihadist remnants to Idlib province.
For its part, Iran has played a decisive role in shoring up Syrian government defences on the ground by deploying its multi-national militias from as far afield as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iran has also deployed elements of the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in addition to smaller numbers of special forces from Iran’s regular military.
By contrast, the US support for anti-Assad forces can best be described as inconsistent, half-hearted and chaotic. American programmes to train and equip client forces have been wasteful and often ended in abject failure. By formally shutting down these programmes the US finally has a chance to place its Syria policy on a relatively stable footing.
The Iran problem
The latest US policy shift also appears to be aimed at driving a wedge between Russia and Iran in Syria. Although not formal allies, Iran and Russia have worked out a smart division of labour in the Syrian conflict which has succeeded in containing Arab and Western ambitions in the war-torn country.
The US appears to be trying to exploit the distinctions in Russian and Iranian deployments in Syria, as well as their divergent views on conflict resolution. Russia’s deployment in Syria is characterised by conventional military deployment primarily designed to secure Russia’s four decades long military and political influence in the country, as demonstrated by the plan to expand the naval base in Tartus.
Iran on the other hand is ideologically committed to Syria, not least because the Alawite-dominated clique at the upper reaches of the Syrian state is the best guarantor for Syria’s continuing support for Hezbollah, Iran’s ideological compatriots in Lebanon. Moreover, Syria is Iran’s sole formal ally in the international system, a legacy of the Iran-Iraq War when Syria dissented from the Arab fold by backing non-Arab Iran.
But attempting to divide Iran and Russia does not necessarily amount to a successful containment of the former. This is especially the case as the US lacks the resources on the ground to decisively contain Iran at sensitive conflict points, notably the areas in eastern Syria near to the border with Iraq. Recent developments, notably repeated American military engagements with pro-Iranian forces in the region, appeared to indicate that the US and Iran may be heading toward a direct clash.
However, all is not well with the American special forces-run programmes concentred in the Al-Tanf base in southern Syria, as demonstrated by the expulsion of a client group for allegedly ignoring instructions to solely focus on Daesh. There are even unconfirmed reports that the US may be getting ready to abandon the Al-Tanf base run by American and British special operators. If this comes to pass then the US will have to own up to yet another policy shift, this time foregoing the option of confronting Iran militarily in eastern Syria.
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Schwab: “New Accounts Are At Levels We Have Not Seen Since The Dot Com Bubble” As Millennials Rush Into Stocks
We can now officially close the book on the "cash on the sidelines."
One week ago, we reported that in the latest weekly survey of Bank of America high net worth clients, the cash allocation had fallen to an all time low of just 10.4%, below the previous record low of 11% in April 2007 as everyone is "forced" to dance in this market, in which the music is still playing.
Now, in a separate confirmation of what Deutsche Bank recently classified as market "froth", Jonathan Tepper points out that the stock euphoria has finally spread to the retail investor.
Case in point: in its Q2 earnings results, Schwab reported that after years of avoiding equities, Schwab clients opened the highest number of brokerage accounts in first half of 2017 since 2000.
This is what Schwab said on its Q2 conference call:
New accounts are at levels we have not seen since the Internet boom of the late 1990s, up 34% over the first half of last year. But maybe more important for the long-term growth of the organization is not so much new accounts, but new-to-firm households, and our new-to-firm retail households were up 50% over that same period from 2016.
In total, Schwab clients opened over 350,000 new brokerage accounts during the quarter, with the year-to-date total reaching 719,000, marking the biggest first-half increase in 17 years. Total client assets rose 16% to $3.04 trillion.
Schwab also adds that just like in the case of Bank of America's HNW private clients, the net cash level among its clients has only been lower once since the depths of the financial crisis in Q1 2009:
Now, it's clear that clients are highly engaged in the markets, we have cash being aggressively invested into the equity market, as the market has climbed. By the end of the second quarter, cash levels for our clients had fallen to about 11.5% of assets overall, now, that's a level that we've only seen one time since the market began its recovery in the spring of 2009.
While some of this newfound euphoria may be due to Schwab's recent aggressive cost-cutting strategy, it is safe to say that the wholesale influx of new clients, coupled with the euphoria-like allocation of cash into stocks, means that between ETFs and other passive forms of investing, as well as on a discretionary basis, US retail investorshas never been more "all-in" stocks than they are now.
But wait, there's more: throwing in the towel on prudence, according to a quarterly investment survey from E*Trade, nearly a third of millennial investors are planning to move out of cash and into new positions over the coming six months. By comparison, only 19% of Generation X investors (aged 35-54) are planning such a change to their portfolio, while 9% of investors above the age of 55 are planning to buy in.
Furthermore, according to a June survey from Legg Mason, nearly 80% of millennial investors plan to take on more risk this year, with 66% of them expressing an interest in equities. About 45% plan to take on “much more risk” in their portfolios.
In other words, little by little, everyone is going "all in."
Ironically, Schwab's own economists were forced to caution its clients that the party may soon be ending as we discussed last week in "Even Schwab Is Warning Retail Clients Of 'Danger Signs Rising':"
A solid earnings season should contribute to a continuation of the bull market in stocks. Dangers are lurking, however, and the possibility of a decent-sized pullback has grown over the past couple of months, in light of monetary policy and geopolitical uncertainties. While we would likely view such a move as healthy, it can be disconcerting. Stay diversified and be prepared to guard against overreacting to any such move.
Because if there is anything retail investors are known for, it is avoiding "overreacting" to "decent-sized pullbacks." As for those 45% of Millennials planning to take on "much more risk" at the all time highs in the S&P, good luck.
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