Central banks plan to back digital units as crypto soars

Central banks plan to back digital units as crypto soars


  • Bitcoin rose above US$50,000 for the first time Tuesday, 16 February. At around 12.35 GMT, bitcoin hit an all-time high of US$50,547.70 (PhP2.449M), marking a 4.4% gain since Monday. It later stood at US$49,213.54 (PhP2.383M)
  • Corporate heavyweights as Elon Musk increasingly back the world’s most popular virtual currency


With the rapid rise of cryptocurrencies and the drop in global use of cash, a number of central banks, in response, have announced plans for bank-backed digital units.


Unregulated and attractive

Because it is unregulated by any central bank, bitcoin emerged as an attractive option for investors with an appetite for the exotic. A downside seen is that criminals have also picked up on its under-the-radar appeal.

Debate over the status of the digital asset, whether to be treated as money, an asset or a commodity, still rages. Traded via a decentralized registry system, called a blockchain, bitcoins require massive computer processing power in order to manage and implement transactions. That power, meanwhile, is provided by bitcoin miners, who do so in the hope they will receive new bitcoins for validating transaction data.


Crypto soars at record high, passed US$50K price level

Once the domain of internet geeks and hobbyists, bitcoin has since exploded in popularity and has now soared by almost 75% in value this year.

“The crypto king has crossed the US$50,000 (PhP2.422M) price level for the first time as institutions are all over it,” says AvaTrade analyst Naeem Aslam. “There is a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out) among traders as the price is going through the roof and we have limited supply.”

Aslam told AFP (Agence France-Presse) that bitcoin could reach US$100,000 (PhP4.846M). “Of course, there will be some bumps but investors should consider them as an opportunity to bag some bargains,” he adds.

Bitcoin, on a meteoric rise since March last year when it stood at US$5,000 (PhP242.340K), was spurred by online payments giant PayPal, which said it would allow account holders to use cryptocurrency.

The unit last week blasted its way past US$45,000 (PhP2,181B) after Elon Musk’s electric carmaker Tesla invested US$1.5B (PhP72.7B) in the virtual unit. In a further boost, Tesla unveiled plans to accept the cryptocurrency from customers buying its vehicles.


Mastercard goes crypto, too

Mastercard and US financial giant BNY Mellon have meanwhile agreed to accept digital currencies as payments, even as many regulators remain skeptical.

Mastercard goes crypto
Under its Innovations, this is “why Mastercard is bringing crypto onto its network.”

Adding further legitimacy, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey and rap mogul Jay-Z are putting their heads together to make bitcoin “the Internet’s currency.”

Bitcoin, launched in 2009, the crypto hit the headlines in 2017 after soaring from less than US$1,000 (PhP48,465.00) in January to almost US$20,000 (PhP969.3K) in December of the same year.

The virtual bubble then burst in subsequent days, with bitcoin’s value then fluctuating wildly before sinking below US$5,000 (PhP242,310.00) by October 2018.

However, strengthening corporate support has transformed the outlook this time around, commentators say. “Growing corporate support for the crypto makes this a very different market to what it was in 2017,” says Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson. (JSM/JuanManila)


Taskforce T3 is beside Gov’t efforts on COVID-19 rollout

WHO: COVAX global vaccine facility

MANILA Taskforce T3 (Test, Trace, Treat), a private sector coalition, vows to strengthen its collaboration with the national Government as the arrival of the first batch of vaccines is fast approaching. The landing of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX global vaccine facility will prompt the Government’s rollout of the vaccination program. T3 backs a speedy pace of the Government’s drive.


  • COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and others.


“The private sector eagerly anticipates the arrival of the first batch of vaccines from the COVAX facility in order for the country to jumpstart its vaccination program. The collective goal for both the private sector and government is to vaccinate as many people as possible at the soonest possible time,” Guillermo Luz, chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, says in a statement.

Luz recognizes that these initial vaccine doses were earmarked for priority sectors: health care professionals and senior citizens.

“Our medical frontliners have been tirelessly protecting and treating Filipinos from the beginning of the pandemic and we support the Government’s prioritization of health care workers in receiving the initial vaccine doses,” Paolo Borromeo, CEO of AC Health, says.

Taskforce T3’s technical support on vaccine administration and cold-chain logistics for the transit of temperature-controlled vaccine vials are in place.

With the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, Taskforce T3 provides vaccine education campaign to inform citizens about vaccine safety and efficacy.

Taskforce T3 has also procured and donated vaccine doses to the national Government for its economic and essential frontliners. The procurement intends to augment the vaccine supply of the national Government and the vaccines secured from the COVAX facility.

“A successful vaccination rollout is crucial to our country’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and support our ultimate goal to protect lives and provide livelihood. The private sector is unwavering in its commitment to assist the national Government by providing resources and expertise to ensure the success of its vaccination program,” says Joey Concepcion, founder of Go Negosyo and presidential adviser for entrepreneurship.

Taskforce T3 was formed in April 2020 to work closely with the NTF to manage the outbreak of the pandemic.

It launched “Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat” campaign to build consumer confidence and encourage Filipinos to help rebuild the economy and protect jobs, as long as strict safety guidelines and protocols are followed. (JSM/JuanManila)

Featured image: World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Phoenix Petrol open for sale, after Q3 losses and growing finance charges

Phoenix Petroleum is open to sell stakes

MANILA — With the oil industry reeling from the adverse impact of the ongoing coronavirus global pandemic, one of the country’s largest fuel retailers intends to sell a minority or even a controlling stake in the company after aggressive expansion in the past years only sunk it more in debts despite boosting company earnings. As of Q3 2020, Phoenix stood at PhP49.2 billion in debt, of which PhP37.8 billion was current or due within a year.

Its business difficulties were also further amplified by the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic which caused the company to register a net loss of PhP75 million as of September 2020, reversing the PhP931.5 million profit the previous year as revenues fell 22.4 percent to PhP56.8 billion on lower oil prices. The company, however, said recovery was underway with its retail business at 80 percent of pre-pandemic volumes so an influx in capital by prospective investors remains viable in the future.

The Philippine Rating Services Corp.—or PhilRatings, a rating agency that provides credit ratings for bonds, commercial paper, banks and other financial institutions, local governments, project finance transactions and asset-backed securities—expressed these concerns in a July 2020 report when it pointed to Phoenix’s increasing interest expenses and declining profit margins. It said Phoenix’s coverage ratios to pay obligations had been dropping since 2017, triggering financial analysts to say that Phoenix’s lower ratio indicated more difficulty in servicing debts.

“Given such, the level of finance charges of the company has grown since 2017, exceeding profitability growth rates,” PhilRatings noted while giving Phoenix a “stable outlook” status.

Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy of Phoenix Petroleum Philippines Incorporated says he is “open” to selling shares for the company’s ownership in a bid to mitigate company losses citing the pandemic-induced economic slump experienced not only by the Philippines but by the rest of the world.

Uy, founder, president and chief-executive-officer of Phoenix, clarifies though that no final decision has actually been made but his decision to “sell’ is in consideration that potential new investors in the oil firm would provide Phoenix with a “stronger balance sheet and higher earnings per share (EPS).”

Data from the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) shows the petrol retailer has a market value of PhP18.4 billion and is listed as among the most recognizable companies in Uy’s group. Uy has a range of firms in property, logistics and gaming to restaurants, education and telecommunications via Chinese startup Dito Telecommunity.

An independent fuel retailer established in Davao in 2002, Phoenix has shown encouragement in taking on bigger players many times its size, including the “Big 3” oil companies: Petron Corporation, Pilipinas Shell Petroleum, and Chevron Philippines.

Phoenix, through Uy’s support of the former Davao City mayor’s presidential bid in 2016, was identified as a major donor of President Rodrigo Duterte and it is during Duterte’s term that saw Phoenix and Uy’s other companies’ rapid expansion.

Last year, Phoenix has reached 665 retail stations across the country and has displaced Chevron to become the country’s third-biggest oil company after Petron and Pilipinas Shell. This paved the way for the firm to launch an aggressive acquisition campaign for a liquefied petroleum gas company Petronas Energy Philippines in 2017 and the local Family Mart convenience store chain the following year. The company’s growing debts worried lenders despite the purchases. (JSM/JuanManila)

Featured image: P20/liter Thanksgiving Promo by Phoenix Petroleum at its Barra, Opol station, May 2020. Photo via CDODev.com

How lockdowns extinguish hope

How lockdowns extinguish hope


  • In a study by the University of Basel, data reveals that one in five Swiss suffers severe depressive symptoms having been a year into the pandemic. And the most affected are young people.
  • “Today the social fabric is more fragile,” says psychologist Dieter Schürch. “The family is more fragile. Work is more fragile.”

The study wants to be certain if the third wave of the pandemic is not the disease anymore but the effect it will leavepsychological. According to the research, 18% of Swiss are reported having severe depressive symptoms, almost one in five.

According to the Swiss Corona Stress Study, based on the responses of 11,000 people, the level of stress among the Swiss during the last 12 months have been increasing with a rather alarming rate. Experts are concerned on the data on young people where post lockdown is marked with depressive disorders.

Compared to subjects over 65 years old, data show that only 6% report severe depressive symptoms. Meanwhile the 14 to 24 year-olds report 29% while 25 to 34 year-olds relate 21%.


It is the young who are most affected

“Young people have found themselves confronted with an exceptional situation which they have nevertheless been able to manage and interpret with great responsibility,” comments Ilario Lodi, director of Pro Juventute Svizzera Italiana (For the Young Switzerland-Italian Association).

“They have understood the drama of the moment and that their behavior could have negative effects on the whole community. I believe that not all adults have been equally as disciplined,” he adds.

It is a psychological burden the study brought to light.

“The degree of involvement and sensitivity of young people is reflected in the data of the study,” notes Lodi who adds, “Young people have been asked (and continue to be asked) to have an extraordinary ability to adapt, to reinvent themselves overnight , without however reflecting on the fact that they do not have a retrospective look that can place this moment in their journey of growth.”

In short, according to Lodi, the tools to contextualize the present are lacking, to do it with the right distance and the right involvement. Hence the greater anxiety and psychological stress experienced by the category.


“We no longer talk about hope”

“Today the social fabric is more fragile,” echoes psychologist Dieter Schürch. “The family is more fragile. Work is more fragile, as is the possibility of planning the future or the formation of our young people.

“In a very short time our lives are turned upside down and put to the test by an invisible enemy.”

Schürch is aware that serious mental disorders are manifestations of what psychiatrists call the new and rampant “pandemic trauma.”

“Not being able to put a face to the enemy triggers on the psychological level the underlying fears among the most vulnerable individuals. Dealing with this impalpable but terrible reality, that is capable of undermining our very existence, it provokes in these people the development of deep fears and monstrous fantasies.”

The theme of the invisible enemy, Schürch explains, has a particular significance even among the smallest. “How do you explain to them the existence of a danger linked to a virus by its nature is invisible?” “Also, the fear cannot be made concrete,” the professor adds.


Children see and feel what goes on around

He says children perceive changes within the family unit, from the habits, behavior of the other members to any tensions. “And this is the most dangerous aspect,” he continues, “because a child needs tranquility and security to develop his identity in complete safety.”

Another central aspect, according to Schürch, concerns the narration of the future. Today is completely absent.

“The uncertainty of the present has eliminated any discourse concerning the future. This will have an effect on your people and their vision of life. A boy, for instance, needs to know that he lives in a reality with in which something can be built. Where he can look to the future with hope and trust.”

This word “hope” has been completely excluded from our vocabulary, from the chronicle of the present. “Who speaks of hope today? Who promises something positive about the future?

“However, we cannot think that all this cannot be absorbed by the young people who overlook life,” Schürch says.

Another fundamental element, he notes, is the extraordinary speed with which our lives have been put to the test. This has had a major effect on the mental stability of many individuals. It’s normal, he explains, we haven’t had the time to metabolize the sometimes profound changes that have occurred. The time of mental digestion is fundamental for the stability of the individual.


An appeal to authorities

“We have the impression that all indicators of serious mental disorders are on the rise,” says Stephan Wenger. He is co-president of the Swiss Federation of Psychologies and Psychologists.

They appeal to authorities for immediate attention. Failure to treat these diseases could lead to disastrous consequences. “These,” Wenger stresses, “already cost billions to the economy and social insurance every year.”

For young people, the lack of confrontation with peers can result in a flattening of the days spent in their own room, or in an explosion of domestic conflicts due to the feeling of being more controlled within the walls of the house. All this can lead to a lack of stimuli and for this reason, the role of the family is absolutely central.

“The theme of depression is linked to the amplification of sadness. We become sad when we feel that we are losing something,” says doctor and psychotherapist of developmental age, Alberto Pellai.

“The question we must ask ourselves is: what are we losing? and how can we put it back in our life? With confinement, younger boys have lost very important pieces of life. Fewer social contacts and interactions with friends can lead to a loss of energy or motivation,” he says.

“Families must be very proactive in motivating children, overcoming their resistance in being involved in activities that inevitably have different formats,” Pellai says.

He advises families with kids to twin up with other families with kids and are of the same age for them to share experiences, carry out alliances, and doing activities that have some semblance of “normal” or what used to be normal.


Countermeasures proposed

People at risk of severe depressive symptoms are higher in subjects aged 14 to 24, the study showed and the federal experts affirmed.

Physical activities as a preventive measure was identified as preventive measure, as well as reducing school stress, compensation for losses attributable to protective measures, shouldering of financial costs for treatment or therapy, among others. (JSM/JuanManila)

Featured image: Depression by Lucas Pezeta