Singapore warns public against cryptocurrencies


Gaining traction: Trading volumes of bitcoin and ethereum in Singapore accounted for 2% of the average daily trading volume of securities on the main stock exchange last year. — Reuters

SINGAPORE: Singapore once again warned the public about the risks of trading cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, a market that while relatively small in the city-state has surged in significance over the past year.

“Cryptocurrencies can be highly volatile, as their value is typically not related to any economic fundamentals, ” Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), said in response to a parliamentary question yesterday. “They are hence highly risky as investment products, and certainly not suitable for retail investors.”

He said that cryptocurrency funds are not authorised for sale to retail investors. The MAS also has powers to impose additional measures on digital token service providers, under which exchanges offering the trading of cryptocurrencies are regulated, as needed, according to Tharman, who is also senior minister and coordinating minister for social policies.

Tharman’s comments come as the total market value of cryptocurrencies pushed past US$2 trillion (RM8.2 trillion) for the first time, doubling in about two months amid surging institutional demand.

Bitcoin has been on a tear as investors dabble in crypto as a way to boost returns on cash in a world of near-zero interest rates, with the likes of Tesla Inc saying last month it will accept its use as payment for cars.

Cryptocurrency trading in Singapore remains small compared to shares and bonds, with the combined peak daily trading volumes of bitcoin, ethereum and XRP accounting for 2% of the average daily trading volume of securities on the main stock exchange last year, Tharman said.

While the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Cuban and Paul Tudor Jones have endorsed cryptocurrencies, Tharman isn’t the only regulator to express caution about an industry where fraud is still a concern.

A European Union watchdog recently warned of “significant” investor risks after bitcoin’s gains, and Gary Gensler, the nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, said in his confirmation hearing that ensuring the crypto market is free of fraud is a challenge for the agency.

Meanwhile, authorities in Singapore have stepped up efforts to combat money-laundering and terrorism financing risks associated with cryptocurrencies, Tharman said.

Among the measures it has taken, the MAS has increased surveillance of the crypto sector to identify suspicious networks and higher-risk activities that may need further scrutiny, Tharman said.

MAS is also continuing to raise awareness on risks of investing in digital assets to help people avoid being cheated or “inadvertently used as mules, ” he said.

“The crypto assets space is constantly evolving, ” Tharman said.

“MAS has been closely monitoring developments and will continue to adapt its rules as needed to ensure that regulation remains effective and commensurate with the risks posed.

“Investors, on their part, should exercise extreme caution when trading cryptocurrencies.” — Bloomberg

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