Crypto trade growing in Asia; need regulatory frameworks to protect investors: IMF

As Asian investors pile into this field, links between the region's equity markets and cryptocurrency assets have increased


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Published: Tue 23 Aug 2022, 12:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 23 Aug 2022, 12:17 PM

Digitalization of the payment system can aid in the transition to the environmentally-conscious method of payments, and can also foster financial inclusion, but crypto assets could pose risks to financial stability too, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said.

In a blog titled 'Crypto is More in Step With Asia's Equities, Highlighting Need for Regulation', the IMF said that few parts of the world have embraced crypto assets like Asia — where top adopters include individual and institutional investors, from India to Vietnam and Thailand — which raises the important issue of the extent of integration of crypto into the financial systems of the region.

"Before the pandemic, crypto seemed insulated from the financial system. Bitcoin and other assets showed little correlation with Asian equity markets, which helped diffuse financial stability concerns," the blog authored by Nada Choueiri, Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf and Tara Iyer said.

However, crypto trading soared during the pandemic, as millions stayed home and received government aid, while low-interest rates and easy financing conditions also played a role.

The total market value of the world's crypto assets surged twenty-fold, in just a year and a half, to $3 trillion in December. Subsequently, it plunged to less than $1 trillion in June, as central bank interest rate hikes to contain inflation ended easy access to cheap borrowing, it added.

"Large losses on crypto may drive these investors to rebalance their portfolios, possibly causing financial-market volatility, or even default on traditional liabilities," it said.


As Asian investors piled into crypto, the correlation between the performance of the region's equity markets, and crypto assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, has increased, as per the blog.

"While the returns and volatility correlations between Bitcoin and Asian equity markets were low before the pandemic, these have increased significantly since 2020."

The blog said the key drivers of the increased interconnectedness of crypto and equity markets in Asia could include a growing acceptance of crypto-related platforms and investment vehicles in the stock market, or more generally, growing crypto adoption by retail and institutional investors in Asia — many of whom have positions in both the equity and crypto markets.

Further, it raised concerns that a growing interconnectedness between the two asset classes permits the transmission of shocks that can impact financial markets.

"Accordingly, authorities in Asia are increasingly sensitive to the rising risks posed by crypto as adoption continues to spread. They have therefore dialled up their focus on crypto regulation, and regulatory frameworks are underway in several countries including India, Vietnam and Thailand."

The report concluded that a significant effort is needed to address important data gaps that still prevent domestic and international regulators from fully understanding the ownership and use of crypto, and its intersection with the traditional financial sector.

It recommended regulations be framed in such a way that they establish clear guidelines on regulated financial institutions and seek to inform and protect retail investors, become fully effective, and be closely coordinated across jurisdictions.

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