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Crypto Boom Is ‘Speculative Mania,’ Bank of Canada Deputy Says

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 2/10/2021 Shelly Hagan

(Bloomberg) -- A top Bank of Canada official called the recent spike in cryptocurrency prices “speculative mania,” and said such assets don’t have the qualities to become the money of the future.

In a speech on “payments innovation,” Deputy Governor Tim Lane said costly verification methods and unstable purchasing power makes cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin a “flawed” method of payment.

“The recent spike in their prices looks less like a trend and more like a speculative mania -- an atmosphere in which one high-profile tweet is enough to trigger a sudden jump in price,” Lane said Wednesday.

Timothy Lane wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a curtain: BoC deputy Tim Lane © Bloomberg BoC deputy Tim Lane

Timothy Lane speaks at a Montreal conference on Feb. 25, 2020.

Photographer: Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg

The remarks underscore the extent to which top policy makers are taking notice as a speculative fever sweeps cryptocurrency markets. Christine Lagarde, president at the European Central Bank, took aim at Bitcoin’s role in facilitating criminal activity last month at an online event organized by Reuters, saying the cryptocurrency has been enabling “funny business.”

It’s a sentiment Lane shared on Wednesday, saying such assets only work as a method of payment for “illicit transactions.”

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as much as 7.5% Wednesday to $43,764 after surging past $48,000 earlier this week on the back of Tesla Inc.’s $1.5 billion investment in the asset.

Central banks around the world are trying to get to grips with emerging payment technologies. In addition to cryptocurrencies, private-sector initiatives such as Facebook Inc.’s Libra are adding urgency to the debate over how digital currencies should be handled.

For several years, the Bank of Canada has been analyzing which circumstances might lead Canada to decide to issue a digital currency as a sort of contingency should the need arise. In his speech, Lane said the shift to online activities caused by the pandemic is forcing the central bank to accelerate those efforts.

Central Banks Edge Toward Money’s Next Frontier in Digital World

“Our view remains unchanged: a digital currency is by no means a foregone conclusion,” said Lane. “That said, the world has been changing even faster than we expected.”

The Bank of Canada is monitoring scenarios where it could decide to issue its own digital currency. For example, if the use of cash is restricted or eliminated or if private cash-like assets were to make serious inroads.

Stablecoins -- whose value is pegged to some external asset -- can be more stable than cryptocurrencies, Lane said. But if demand for such cash-like securities does surface, it should be central banks who issue them, he said.

“Only a central bank can guarantee complete safety and universal access, and with public interest -- not profits -- as the top priority,” according to Lane. “We will issue such a currency only if and when the time is right.”

In order to advance its work on a digital currency, the bank has engaged with three university project teams independently. The reports from the research will be released Thursday and will help inform the bank’s thinking, Lane said.

(Updates with Bitcoin trading in sixth paragraph.)

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