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Frances Coppola

Frances Coppola

I’m Frances Coppola, writer, singer and twitterer extraordinaire. I am politically non-aligned and economically neutral (I do not regard myself as “belonging” to any particular school of economics). I do not give investment advice and I have no investments.Coppola Comment is my main blog. I am also the author of the Singing is Easy blog, where I write about singing, teaching and muscial expression, and Still Life With Paradox, which contains personal reflections on life, faith and morality.

Articles by Frances Coppola

The entire crypto ecosystem is a ponzi

6 days ago

The crypto ecosystem has grown massively in the last three years. Many of those participating in it have made life-changing amounts of money – on paper, or perhaps more accurately on computer. But  the problem with paper gains is that they tend to evaporate like the morning mist when the market turns. The crypto market turned towards the end of 2021 and is now firmly in bear territory. Bitcoin has fallen from above $60,000 in November 2021 to barely $16,000 now. For anyone who bought Bitcoin near the top, that is a mammoth real loss. And even though it is not a real loss for people who bought Bitcoin in the bear market of 2018 and have HODLed for years, it is still a mammoth paper loss. No-one likes to see an unrealised financial gain wiped out by the markets before they can claim

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The FTX-Alameda nexus

23 days ago

How did it all go so wrong, so quickly? Less than a month ago, Sam Bankman-Fried was the golden boy of crypto, with a net worth in the $billions, and his exchange FTX was valued at $32bn. Now, FTX has a gaping hole in its balance sheet, thousands of people have lost their money, and Sam is facing personal bankruptcy and, potentially, fraud charges. The short answer is – it didn’t. The hole in FTX’s balance sheet has existed for a long time. We don’t know exactly how long, but the size of the estimates (ranging from $6-$10 billion) suggests several months if not years. Sam has been trading while insolvent. He’s not the only crypto oligarch to do so: Celsius’s Mashinsky also traded while insolvent for an extended period of time. Trading while insolvent is illegal, of course. But in

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When populism fails

October 18, 2022

At the Battle of Ideas last Saturday, a panel on "populism" spent an hour and a half discussing everything except economics. Sherelle Jacobs of the Telegraph called for the Tory party to replace what she called a "twisted morality of sacrifice and dependency" with the "Judaeo-Christian" values of thrift and personal responsibility. And when a brave audience member asked "shouldn’t we be discussing economics?" Tom Slater of Spiked brushed him off and carried on talking about cultural issues. Economics be damned, populism is all about morality and culture. But important though morality and culture are, it is economics that really matters. Rudiger Dornbusch’s work on macroeconomic populism shows that populism eventually fails because the economics don’t work. And when it does, the people who

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What was the real reason for the Bank of England’s gilt market intervention?

September 30, 2022

Why did the Bank of England intervene in the gilt market this week? The answer that has been doing the rounds is that it was protecting the solvency of pension funds. But this doesn’t make sense to me. The Bank doesn’t have any mandate to prevent pension funds going bust. And anyway, the type of pension fund that got into trouble isn’t at meaningful risk of insolvency. There was never any risk to people’s pensions. I don’t think the Bank was concerned about pension funds at all. I think it had a totally different type of financial institution in its sights. Let’s recap the sequence of events from a market perspective. This was, on the face of it, a classic market freeze. Pension funds sold assets, mainly long-dated gilts, to raise cash to meet margin calls on interest rate swaps (of which

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Celsius is heading for absolute zero

August 16, 2022

Yesterday, the failed crypto lender Celsius filed a monthy cash flow forecast and a statement of its assets and liabilities held in the form of cryptocurrency and stablecoins. They showed that the lender is deeply underwater and will run out of money within two months.  Today, Celsius presented an update regarding its chapter 11 bankruptcy plans. Reading this, you’d think it was a different company. Liquidation isn’t on the agenda. No, they are talking about "reorganization" and and seeking debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing: DIP financing is a specialist form of finance for companies in chapter 11 bankruptcy to enable a company to continue operating. It usually takes the form of term loans. DIP loans are secured on the company’s remaining assets and are typically senior over all other

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Why Coinbase’s balance sheet has massively inflated

August 15, 2022

Coinbase recently filed its interim financial report. It makes pretty grim reading. A quarterly net loss of over $1bn, net cash drain of £4.6bn in 6 months, fair value losses of over 600k… To be sure, Coinbase is not on its knees yet. It still has $12bn of its own and customers’ cash (both are on its balance sheet), and a whopping asset base. In fact its assets have increased – a lot. As have its liabilities. Coinbase’s balance sheet is five times bigger than it was in December 2021. Here’s Coinbase’s balance sheet, as reported in its 10-Q filing. I’ve outlined the relevant items in red:  There’s a new asset called "customer crypto assets" worth some $88.45 bn, matched by a new liability called "crypto asset liabilities". This asset and its associated liability are by far the biggest

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The ones who stay in Omelas

August 12, 2022

Ursula Le Guin’s short story "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" contains a terrible moral conundrum. Many people have agonised over it: to my knowledge, no-one has solved it. Attempts that I have seen all in some way change the framing of the story, whether by justifying blood sacrifice, insisting that there must be a better way, or creating a better alternative. But if you change the framing, you have not solved the problem. You have avoided it.As I read through Le Guin’s story to the end, I recognised the moral conundrum. It is similar to the one I posed in this piece. In Le Guin’s story, as in mine, the facts don’t matter. It is what people believe that matters.In Le Guin’s story, millions of people believe their happiness and that of everyone they love – indeed, their very existence

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Where has all the money gone?

July 28, 2022

The collapse of Terra in May sent shock waves round the crypto world, triggering domino-like collapses of crypto companies. One of those companies was the investment fund Three Arrows Capital. At the time, everyone thought 3AC was a conservatively-managed investment company that was simply the unfortunate victim of an unforeseen event. If anyone was to blame for 3AC’s collapse, it was Do Kwon.  How wrong they were. Since 3AC was ordered into liquidation by a British Virgin Islands court, more  and more creditors have emerged from the woodwork claiming they are owed money. The liquidators have filed emergency motions to freeze 3AC’s assets because there is evidence that funds are being moved out of reach. And 3AC’s co-founders, Su Zhu and Kyle Davies, have done a runner, though Bloomberg

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Why Celsius Network’s depositors won’t get their money back

July 14, 2022

The crypto lender Celsius has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This should come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, though the grief and pain on Twitter and Reddit suggests that quite a few "Celsians" didn’t want to believe what was staring them in the face. Celsius suspended withdrawals nearly a month ago. So far, every crypto lender that has suspended withdrawals has turned out to be insolvent. There was no reason to suppose that Celsius would be different.  Celsius’s bankruptcy filing says the company has assets of $1 – 10 bn and a similar quantity of liabilities: This doesn’t tell us much about the extent of the company’s insolvency. But rumours have been circulating of a $2bn hole in its balance sheet. In May, according to Coindesk, the company said it had $12bn of what Celsius calls

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Shipwrecked

July 14, 2022

Two days after I published my last post, the ship went down. Voyager Digital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy filing revealed the extent of its indebtedness. Tragically, most of its creditors are customers, some of whom hold claims worth millions of dollars. But its largest creditor is Alameda Research, to whom it owes $75m. This is the maximum that Voyager could draw down from Alameda’s credit line in a 30-day period. So it appears that Alameda did not pull its credit line as I thought. Rather, Voyager maxed it out – but still ran out of money. Voyager’s desperate shortage of cash is the proximate reason for its bankruptcy. But for its customers, the hole in its balance sheet is the bigger problem. Voyager admits that it cannot repay all, or even most, deposits

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The sinking of Voyager

July 3, 2022

Friday was quite a day. The crypto lender BlockFi provisionally agreed a bailout deal with FTX. The hedge fund Three Arrows Capital (3AC), already in compulsory liquidation in its home territory the British Virgin Islands, filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in the United States. And the crypto broker Voyager suspended trading and withdrawals. Voyager’s press release revealed a massive hole in its balance sheet. Some 58% of its loan book consists of loans to 3AC:And its loan book is nearly 50% of total assets:So approximately 28% of Voyager’s assets are in default. And since 3AC now has creditor protection, Voyager must wait for bankruptcy courts to decide how much, if anything, can be recovered. That will take months. But the balance sheet hole doesn’t explain why Voyager has

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There’s no such thing as a safe stablecoin

May 31, 2022

Stablecoins aren’t stable. So-called algorithmic stablecoins crash and burn when people behave in ways the algorithm didn’t expect. And reserved stablecoins fall off their pegs – in either direction. A stablecoin that does not stay on its peg is unstable. Not one of the stablecoins currently in circulation lives up to its name. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the evidence. Exhibit 1, USDT since the end of April:Exhibit 2, USDC over the same time period:(charts from Coinmarketcap)Both coins de-pegged on 12th May. Neither has returned to par. Stable, they are not. And no, USDC is not "more stable" than USDT. A stablecoin that can’t hold its peg when everyone is piling into it is no more stable than one that can’t hold its peg when everyone is selling it. Indeed, since stablecoins can be

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The Great Unemployment Fudge

May 13, 2022

In the U.S., we are told, the post-World War II period was a golden age of full employment. High wartime government spending had brought to an end the double-digit unemployment and misery of the Depression, and as war gave way to peace, unemployment settled at a non-inflationary level of 3-5%. It’s known as the post-war "economic miracle".But it’s a myth. There was never full employment. The low unemployment of the post-war years is a massive statistical fudge. In fact, over five million people lost their jobs immediately after the end of the war, most of whom never worked again. But they were never listed as unemployed – because they were women. The Great Unemployment Fudge started in the "Depression of 1946", described by the Cato Institute as "one of the most widely predicted events

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Sleepwalking into war

March 8, 2022

In a broad-ranging discussion the other day about the path of political and economic policy over the last decade, I found myself returning again and again to events in 2014. Events that were apparently unrelated: Bulgaria’s banking crisis, Moldova’s banking fraud, the collapse of Banco Espirito Santo, the election of Syriza in Greece, the first Scottish independence referendum, UKIP’s success in two Westminster by-elections as well as local and European elections. And in Ukraine, the Euromaidan revolt followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Donbas. "Why do all roads lead back to 2014?" I found myself asking. The financial and political eruptions of 2014 marked the start of a major shift in the global geopolitical landscape. But it was not clear where the faultline lay.

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The SEC’s Bitcoin ETF Standoff

January 28, 2022

Another day, another application for a spot Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) rejected. Yesterday, the SEC rejected an application from Fidelity’s Wise Origin Bitcoin Trust, the fifth such rejection in three months. Back in November, the SEC rejected an  application from Van Eck Bitcoin Trust, and in December it rejected applications from Kryptoin Bitcoin ETF Trust and Valkyrie Bitcoin Fund.And on 20th January, it rejected First Trust Skybridge Bitcoin ETF Trust’s application.  Valkyrie had already had an application for a Bitcoin futures ETF approved by default. So the rejection of its spot ETF came as something of a surprise. Indeed, some analysts seem to have expected the SEC’s default approval of Bitcoin futures ETFs for Valkyrie and ProShares in October to open the floodgates for

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The tangled web of sex and gender

December 21, 2021

As many of you probably know, I have had to take a break from writing recently because of a broken wrist. But I did manage to write responses to this Twitter thread from Shaun Lawson. I was uncomfortable about responding on Twitter to Shaun’s questions, so decided to write them in a Word document and send them to him privately. But on reflection, I believe my views are every bit as worthy of a hearing as those of the trans activists and gender critical people who express themselves loudly all over social media. Twitter is a bear pit, so I’m publishing them here. As the trans rights debate is extremely toxic, comments are moderated. I will delete comments that are personal attacks on me or anyone else or that are grandstanding a personal agenda.   

I dislike the widespread, and often

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How to use People’s QE to fight climate change

November 1, 2021

This is the uncut version of the final chapter of my book, "The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing". It was written May/June 2018, so is slightly out of date (though I have updated it in places). But I believe its conclusions are right. So I am publishing it now to coincide with COP 26. I’ve also included an updated version of the original postcript of the book, which seems to me to be very relevant now – not least because the first part of the Dune epic has just been released!
There is scientific consensus that
climate change is radically changing the nature of the planet, with profound
implications for the future of humanity and indeed for life on earth as we know
it. Already, the effects are becoming apparent: ice caps are melting, sea
levels are rising, global temperatures are the

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Maya Forstater’s human rights problem

October 3, 2021

Maya Forstater’s Employment Tribunal hearing comes up soon. This is her second hearing: the judge in the first hearing dismissed her case with a controversial judgment that described her "gender critical" beliefs as "not worthy of respect in a democratic society". She appealed this judgment, and in June this year the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found that the judge had erred in law and her beliefs were protected under section 10 of the Equality Act. The EAT instructed that a second Employment Tribunal should consider whether the discrimination she complained about in the original hearing was "because of or related to" her beliefs. Forstater may or may not succeed in her discrimination case against her employer. She is far from the only person to hold "gender critical" beliefs: if

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JP Morgan’s Coffee Machine

September 3, 2021

It’s now widely accepted, though still not universally, that banks create money when they lend. But it seems to be much less widely known that they also create money when they spend. I don’t just mean when they buy securities, which is rightly regarded as simply another form of lending. I mean when they buy what is now colloquially known as "stuff". Computers, for example. Or coffee machines. Imagine that a major bank – JP Morgan, for example – wants to buy a new coffee machine for one of its New York offices (yes, it has more than one). It orders a top-of-the-range espresso machine worth $10,000 from the Goodlife Coffee Company, and pays for it by electronic funds transfer to the company’s account. At the end of the transaction JP Morgan has a new coffee machine and Goodlife has $10,000

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Crypto’s Weimar

June 18, 2021

A cryptocurrency has just re-enacted the Weimar hyperinflation.Yesterday, the price of the cryptocurrency TITAN crashed to zero, and its related stablecoin IRON fell off its USD peg, trading as low as 69 cents to the dollar. It was a sudden and dramatic collapse that left investors shocked and bewildered. Equally shocked and confused, the coins’ issuer launched an immediate investigation: Iron Finance issued its post mortem a few hours later. This is the key paragraph:Later, at around 3pm UTC, a few big holders started selling again. This time, after they started, a lot of users panicked and started to redeem IRON and sell their TITAN. Because of how the 10mins TWAP oracle works, TITAN spot price drops even further in comparison to the TWAP redemption price. This caused a negative

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Bank capital and cryptocurrencies

June 15, 2021

The BIS’s draft proposals for capital regulation of stablecoins and cryptocurrencies have just been released. The headline proposal was a risk weighting of 1250% for what the BIS called "Group 2 cryptoassets", which includes all cryptocurrencies, all algorithmic stablecoins, and reserved stablecoins  that don’t meet the capital, liquidity and disclosure requirements for "Group 1 cryptoassets" specified in the same document. Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two major cryptocurrencies, would fall into Group 2, along with most existing stablecoins. The proposals were widely misunderstood in the crypto community. As ever, much of the misunderstanding was about the nature of bank capital. Many people confuse bank capital with reserves. Reserves are cash deposits at the central bank and vaulted

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Tether’s smoke and mirrors

May 17, 2021

Tether has issued what it calls a “breakdown of its reserves”. It actually consists of two pie charts. Here they are:Seriously, this is all Tether has seen fit to reveal.  Furthermore, the pie charts only purport to show the breakdown of Tether’s reserves on the 31st March 2021. We do not know whether Tether’s reserves still have the same composition now. Nonetheless, the crypto world took these charts as an indication that Tether was, if not fully cash-backed, at least mostly. “76% of its reserves are in cash or cash equivalents, whereas banks only have 10%!”, crowed several people.In both the reserve report and the monthly attestation, Tether takes “reserves” to mean total consolidated assets. The monthly attestations from Moore Cayman essentially say: 1. Tether’s total consolidated

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Calculus for Economists

May 11, 2021

Gabriel Sterne complains about economists’ loose use of mathematical terminology: Of course, it’s not just economists who use "increase" and "accelerate" interchangeably. But economics is a mathematical discipline, and in mathematics, "increase" and "accelerate" mean different things. So is Gabriel’s observation true, and if it is, is it a problem?To test Gabriel’s hypothesis, I ran a little Twitter test. I asked this question: This was of course far from rigorous: the sample was self-selecting, there was no way of restricting it to economists (though I did ban finance tweeps from answering), and it all depended who was on Twitter this morning. And the terminology I used was itself confusing – deliberately so, since this is how economists often write. But the results were nevertheless

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David and Goliath

May 7, 2021

Yesterday, someone who had been watching one of my (all too frequent) Twitter arguments about money made this comment: The "unknown person with few followers" was my protagonist. And the blue tick "classical expert" was me. I am Goliath. But ten years ago, I was David. Armed only with Blogger and Twitter, and my knowledge of banking and finance, I set out to slay the financial Philistines that rampaged across the internet in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. I published my first Coppola Comment post on 20th February, 2011. It throws slingshots at a media pundit who had written an article about short selling, on which he was far from expert. You can still read it, if you like. My early posts were rough and ready, and my terminology is at times excruciatingly loose, but I was sure

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From Carbon To Metals: the Renewable Energy Transition

March 16, 2021

The world is transitioning from a carbon-intensive to a metals-intensive economy. Low-carbon technologies use much larger amounts of metal than traditional fossil fuel-based systems. Demand for metals is thus rising exponentially, fuelling a boom in mining and production.But this creates an environmental challenge. Metals extraction and processing is a significant contributor to global warming and a major pollutant. Unless more environmentally-friendly ways of generating energy from renewable sources can be found, saving the planet from carbon emissions may prove extremely costly for our fellow creatures and even for ourselves.  
Climate change is driving a metals and mining boom The Paris Climate Agreement, which was ratified by 174 countries and the European Union in 2016, aims to keep

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The dismal decade

March 8, 2021

Earlier today, the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, gave a speech at the Resolution Foundation outlining the nature of the Covid-19 crisis and the challenge that it poses for monetary policy. But as his speech progressed, it became clear that the Bank faces a much larger challenge. Covid-19 hit the UK economy at the end of a dismal decade. Returning to "where we were" before the pandemic won’t be good enough. Just how dismal the 2010s were is evident in this chart from Andrew Sentance: Even before Covid-19 struck, average GDP growth was well below its historical average and heading downwards. The 2010s were, to put it bluntly, a decade of stagnation.  The 2000s were slightly worse, but that was because they included the deep recession after the financial crisis, during

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Democracy won’t save you

February 2, 2021

The fashionable concentration on democracy as the main value threatened is not without danger. It is largely responsible for the misleading and unfounded belief that so long as the ultimate source of power is the will of the majority, the power cannot be arbitrary. The false assurance which many people derive from this belief is an important cuase of the general unawareness of the dangers which we face. There is no justification for the belief that so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; the contrast suggested by this statement is altogether false: it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from becoming arbitrary. Democratic control may prevent power from becoming arbitrary, but it does not do so by its mere existence. If

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Bitcoin fixes Microstrategy (or does it?)

January 10, 2021

Do you have a poorly-performing company that you don’t know what to do with? Bitcoin fixes this! At least, that’s what Michael Saylor seems to think. Since August 2020, Microstrategy, the company of which he is simultaneously CEO, chairman and principal investor, has invested heavily in Bitcoin. And Saylor has joined the select group of billionaires fronting the campaign to promote Bitcoin’s widespread adoption (and talk up its price). Microstrategy has been bumping along the bottom for quite some time. MarketWatch helpfully reports the income statements for the last five years. They make grim reading. Here are the bottom-line net income and key financial metrics from 2015 to 2019 inclusive:Yes, there’s been some improvement in net income, but just look at that EBITDA….The financials

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Reconciling IS-LM and endogenous money

January 5, 2021

This post was sparked by conversations with people who have opposing views of how money creation works. Some people think that classical models such as IS-LM don’t work with endogenous money theory, therefore the models need to be discarded: others think that there’s nothing wrong with the model and the problem is endogenous money theory. Personally I think that simple models like IS-LM can be powerful tools to explain aspects of the working of a market economy, and it behooves us therefore to find ways of adapting them to work with an endogenous fiat money system. So this is my attempt to reconcile IS-LM with endogenous money. I don’t claim that it is anything like the final word on the subject, so comments are welcome. The IS-LM model looks like this::where M is the quantity of money in

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The asymmetric mechanics of Tether

November 30, 2020

Tether is the issuer of the cryptocurrrency world’s premier stablecoin, USDT. Stablecoins aim to guarantee the value of cryptocurrencies in dollar terms, hedging volatility risk and making it easier to realise notional gains from cryptocurrency’s wild price rises. But Tether’s relationship with the main cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, is controversial. There is a raging battle between those who think that USDT issuance pumps up the price of Bitcoin, and those who argue that USDT issuance has nothing to do with Bitcoin’s price. But in my view, the truth is more complex. Tether’s asymmetric mechanics both support and disprove the arguments of both sides. USDT, Tether’s "token", is a representation of the US dollar that can be readily traded on cryptocurrency markets. People exchange

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