In the midst of all the attention over Ripple’s work helping banks make cross-border money transfers less expensive and more efficient, Ripple has released the first of its quarterly XRP Market Reports. The reports are designed to “improve the health of XRP markets globally” according to a statement and will feature “sales, commentary on price movement, and news of newly-available third party wallets, exchanges, validators, and liquidity providers.
“XRP is core to Ripple’s strategy,” the statement at the Ripple website read, “and the time is right for us to feature XRP more prominently.” The highlights include news that market participants bought $4.6 million of XRP directly from Ripple’s money service business, XRP II. And that XRP enjoyed a quarter-over-quarter average daily volume growth of 121%.
With regard to price action in XRP, the report cited a number of factors including the uncertainty of the U.S. presidential election, India’s move to limit its cash economy, and growing demand from China as key drivers. And while XRP slightly underperformed other digital currencies toward the end of 2016, the report attributes this to both availability issues on digital exchanges and in China, as well as “XRP’s reputation as a more institutional asset” as opposed to a speculative trading instrument.
The report also noted that one of the biggest digital asset exchanges in the world, Bitstamp, has begun listing XRP/EUR and XRP/USD trading pairs, and that Ripple will launch a plan to enable “qualified market participants” to borrow XRP. This was described as “a crucial step” toward bringing XRP into the capital markets industry en route to becoming “the institutional standard bearer for international value transfer.”
That said, IBM distinguishes itself from Microsoft’s efforts by being fairly IBM-centric in its offering. Jerry Cuomo, IBM VP of blockchain technology, told CoinDesk: “What we’re doing is we’re picking a specific fabric and a specific point of view. We’re not interested in any fabric,” Cuomo explained, “we’re interested in one that can support business applications. We’re a bit more opinionated on what fabric is needed.”
International Business Machines, indeed.
And when it comes to ascertaining the appetite for blockchain, IBM has done its homework. In a survey of 200 banks, IBM learned that 65% of respondents “plan to have projects in production” in the next three years. Areas of focus include clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance, and reference data. Respondents to a different survey of 200 global FIs revealed that 14% planned to deploy commercial blockchain products in 2017.
“The continued growth of the Ripple network represents a major endorsement of our open approach to connecting the world’s bank and their customers,” Ripple co-founder and former CEO Chris Larsen said. Larsen, who will transition to the role of Ripple chairman of the board at the beginning of 2017, added: “Together we are building a modern payments system to enable new economic opportunities and the seamless flow of value around the world.”
R3: Are Blockchain-Curious Banks Stronger Together?
One way to measure the progress of blockchain technology is by keeping track of the comings (and goings) of members of R3, the world’s largest blockchain-based cooperative. Founded in 2014 and with more than 70 of the world’s largest FIs onboard, R3 is designed to conduct research on and promote the use of blockchain technology in financial services. R3’s biggest contribution to date is Corda, an open-source distributed ledger platform that, while maintaining many of the characteristics of blockchain technology, is not – technically speaking – a blockchain.
Unfortunately, many of the headlines R3 made in 2016 involved a handful of founding members – including Morgan Stanley, Santander, and Goldman Sachs – leaving the cooperative. Specific reasons for leaving the group were typically not provided, though each bank made it clear that the decision was not a reflection on their interest in blockchain technology. Many observers have speculated that the timing of the departures was related to issues surrounding R3’s fundraising efforts, as well as concerns about the growth of the cooperative itself (currently at more than 70 members). Speaking to the departures at Disrupt London in December, R3 founder and CEO David Rutter pointed to the difficulty of “meet(ing) everyone’s criteria” in an organization the size of R3. To the fundraising concerns, Rutter affirmed R3’s “very good progress” toward completing a $150 million funding round.
Beyond the Banks: Card Companies, Payments and Blockchain
One interesting place to keep an eye on for blockchain-related developments in 2017 is among non-bank financial players like the card companies. Visa (FD14), for example, unveiled a blockchain based payments platform, Visa B2B Connect, in partnership with Chain (FD15) in 2016. The technology, designed to provide “near real-time transactions” for high value international payments, will undergo testing this year.
Is a Bull Market in Bitcoin a Boon for the Blockchain?
With bitcoin closing 2016 with a return to its highest level in years, it is little surprise the cryptocurrency is finding its way into the hearts and minds of investors seeking uncorrelated assets to diversify their portfolios. In “Bitcoin Investing: Where Wall Street and Silicon Valley Meet,” Chris Burniske and Adam White make the case for bitcoin as an asset class for long-term investors based on the currency’s declining volatility, reward-vs-risk, and lack of correlation with most other markets including gold, U.S. real estate, and U.S. equities since 2011. Whether growing interest in bitcoin ends up contributing to (or at least correlating with) increased interest in the technology that makes the digital currency possible will be one of the big questions of 2017, as well.