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Risk and Capital Requirements for Infrastructure Investment in Emerging Market and Developing Economies

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Mobilizing private investment in infrastructure will be key to increase growth and resilience in developing countries. Well-planned infrastructure can raise potential output growth and help reduce the carbon footprint of progress. Directing excess savings from advanced economies towards emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) helps address the low investment returns of institutional investors in developed economies while supporting achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Infrastructure is a natural match for insurers’ long-term liabilities. Long-term fixed income instruments fit well with the long-dated liabilities of insurance companies, especially for those offering life insurance and annuity products. Infrastructure projects tend to yield long-term, predictable cash flows, with low correlation to other assets and relatively high recovery value in case of repayment arrears. This match is so significant that some regulators provide special treatment for insurers that hold them to maturity. The recent update of Europe’s Solvency II Directive, for instance, provides for a “matching adjustment” that allows insurers to discount their liabilities by the rate of return of infrastructure-linked instruments, which tends to be higher than the market-implied discount rates, thus reducing the present value of these liabilities and the business cost for insurers.

However, insurance companies still allocate less than 2.5 percent of assets under management to infrastructure investment, in part because of insufficient understanding of the risk profile of this asset class. There are many reasons for the low participation of infrastructure, including the limited supply of fully operational infrastructure projects issuing debt. There is also an informational hurdle, with investors’ perception of infrastructure being risky, despite the long tradition of regulated utilities of yielding low-risk cash flows. This perception is also reflected in some regulatory frameworks, which require insurers to allocate sizeable amounts of capital to support investments in long-term debt, especially for unrated transactions, thus reducing the internal rate of return and the profitability of holding these instruments.

More recently, European regulators have acknowledged the particular risk properties of infrastructure, reducing the capital charge on this type of finance. Following the advice of the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (EIOPA), which performed a comprehensive analysis of historical data of infrastructure risks in advanced economies, the European Commission in September 2016 revised down the standard formula for capital charges on qualifying infrastructure debt (and equity) investments under the Solvency II Directive. This calibration resulted in a significant relief of infrastructure debt relative to equivalent corporate bonds and loans. However, this more favorable regulatory treatment remains restricted to investments in countries that are members of either the European Economic Area (EEA) or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). So, infrastructure projects in many EMDEs do not benefit from it.

New empirical analysis of infrastructure debt in EMDEs offers an opportunity to widen the perimeter of a more favorable regulatory treatment. Recently, Moody’s Investor Service published a detailed analysis of the historical credit performance of project finance bank loans, which account for 80 percent of the funding of project finance transactions originated globally since January 1, 1983. The study reviewed data of more than 6,000 projects from a consortium of leading sector lenders (Moody’s Project Loan Data Consortium), of which more than 1,000 are projects in EMDEs.

The study shows that credit performance of project loans in EMDE debt is not substantially different from that of comparable debt in advanced economies. As in advanced economies, the risk profile of project bank loans in EMDEs improves over time. Specifically, the marginal default rate–i.e., the likelihood that an infrastructure loan performing at the start of a specific year will default within that year–exceeds the level for non-investment grade corporate exposures by the time of the financial closing of the project, but it steadily declines as the loans mature, when projects reach “brownfield stage”. Cumulative default rates of infrastructure become flat like those of investment grade instruments, while rates for originally equivalent corporate debt continue to rise throughout their lives (Figure 1).  After five years, the marginal default rate of project loans is consistent with that of “AA/Aa”-rated corporates and, actually, on average lower in EMDEs than in advanced economies. For PPPs, the cumulative rate of return over the first 10 years of project loans in EMDEs is virtually the same as those in advanced economies, at less than 6 percent. Also, recovery rates for EMDE project loans average about 80 percent, and, thus, are like those for senior secured corporate bank loans.

Figure 1: Cumulative Default Probability of Unrated Project Loans in Advanced and Developing Economies

Sources: Moody’s Investors Service (2017) and Jobst (forthcoming). Note: based on the shortened study period between 1995 and 2015; the sub-samples “EEA or OECD,” “EMDE-A” and “EMDE-B” correspond to the samples selected in the Moody’s report and cover EEA and OECD member countries, all non-high income countries, and all non-high income countries without EEA or OECD members (i.e., Bulgaria, Croatia, Mexico, Romania, and Turkey).

Applying the relevant data from the recent Moody’s report to two important solvency regimes for insurers shows sufficient scope for reducing the capital charge for investments in infrastructure debt. World Bank staff in the finance area have recovered the credit risk parameters from the published  data on project loans and applied them to the relevant elements of the Solvency II Directive and the International Capital Standard (ICS) for internationally active insurers, which will be implemented by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS). We apply these data to these solvency regimes, differentiating the properties of infrastructure loans from the standard corporate exposures without adjustments to current regulatory methodologies. Only the intrinsic risk profile of infrastructure debt vis-à-vis the standard risk assumptions on long-term debt was considered. When doing so, we find that the capital charges would decline significantly when these differences in risk are considered. Specifically, for a 10-year risk horizon, the annual expected loss of project finance loans (1.6 percent) is half of the expected losses implied by “Ba/BB”-rated non-financial corporates, and the implied capital charges would decline from 23.5 to 13.3 percent under Solvency II (Table 1). Under ICS, it would drop from 12.7 to 10.7 percent, consistent with the estimated economic capital within the range of 10.5 to 13.8 percent (based on the 99.5 percent conditional tail expectation).  Additional analysis of rated EMDE infrastructure debt securities, using data from another Moody’s Investors Service report published earlier in 2017, indicates some flexibility to lower capital charges on these instruments under Solvency II. For instance, the charge for “Baa/BBB”-rated securities, would come down from 20 percent to about 16 percent.

Table 1: Credit Risk and Estimated Capital Charges for Unrated Project Loans (using standard risk parameters and differentiated infrastructure risk profile) *

Sources: BCBS (2017), European Commission (2015 and 2017), IAIS (2017), Moody’s Investors Service (2017) and Jobst (forthcoming). Note: recovery rate refers to ultimate recovery rate; */calculated over 10-year horizon with recovery rate consistent with unsecured senior claims; **/ reduced capital charge if qualifying infrastructure exposure in EEA or OECD country; 1/ fixed risk factors of the Solvency II SCR Standard Formula — Spread Risk Sub-Module for fixed income investment, as amended by Regulation (EU) 2015/35 (October 10, 2014) and EU Regulation 2017/1542 (June 8, 2017); 2/ credit risk factor under the proposed International Capital Standard (ICS) is assumed to follow the advanced internal ratings-based (A-IRB) approach for specialized lending (project finance) using the cumulative PD with/without a floor for PD and LGD and full application of the maturity adjustment; 3/ based on credit risk (PD and LGD) of global non-financial corporate debt issuers; 4/ based on 99.5% conditional tail expectation (CTE).

Even a modest reduction in capital requirements for long-term infrastructure investments can significantly boost return-on-equity (RoE) under a prudent but differentiated regulatory treatment. For instance, considering a stylizing illustration for a European regulated insurer holding a 10-year infrastructure loan yielding 4.6 percent annually (less the insurer’s borrowing cost of 1.0 percent and an income tax rate of 35 percent), reducing the capital charge of 23.5 percent (under the current standard formula approach applied to corporate exposures) to about 14 percent (under a differentiated approach) would raise the RoE of investing in such an instrument from 10 percent to more than 17 percent. The latter figure is more than 50 percent above the average RoE of European life insurers in 2016.

Figure 2.  Return on Equity of Infrastructure Debt Investment as a Function of Regulatory Capital Charges

Sources: Bloomberg L.P., Moody’s Investors Service (2017) and Jobst (forthcoming). Note: The calculation is based on the annual yield (less the risk-free rate of 1.0 percent) after tax (35 percent); 10-year U.S. government debt yield at 2.31 percent as of end-Sept. 2017 and median RoE of European life insurers as of mid-2016 (EIOPA, 2017); 1/ average infrastructure loan rate in the U.K. (4.3 percent) according to Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (2015) at end-2014 and scaled to EMDE consistent with infrastructure bonds (4.6 percent); 2/ based on the Solvency II Spread Risk Sub-Module (European Commission, 2015, 2016 and 2017), assuming unrated exposure is treated like corporate exposure (loans/bonds) with credit quality step (CQS) of 5 (‘B’) and assumed maturity of 10 years (OECD, 2015).

Lower capital charges can help maximize finance for development, unlocking an important source of long-term capital for global growth. Although regulatory disincentives for infrastructure investment in EMDEs may be just one of the impediments to growing exposure to this asset class, the evolution of these regulations can be an important step forward.  By helping to increase the rate of return of holding infrastructure-linked instruments potentially by up to 50 percent, it may help insurers and other institutional investors to accelerate the rebalancing of their assets in ways that will help crowd-in resources in quality climate-smart infrastructure projects in EMDEs.  These projects are an important part of strategies to increase the resilience of these economies while helping eliminate extreme poverty and produce shared prosperity.

First published in World Bank

Note: The capital charges computed here were reached by using the implied transition probabilities for infrastructure loans and  (i) mapping the current reduction factors for qualifying (unrated) infrastructure investment for EEA/OECD countries under the Solvency II SCR Standard Formula — Spread Risk Sub-Module to the expected loss of project loans in EMDEs and (ii) calibrating expected loss to the credit risk stress factor for ICS (IAIS, 2017) following the advanced internal ratings-based approach according to the finalized Basel III framework. For details, refer to Jobst, Andreas A., forthcoming, “Credit Risk Dynamics of Infrastructure Investment—Considerations for Insurance Regulation,” Working Paper (Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group).

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Economy

2022: Small Medium Business & Economic Development Errors

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Calling Michelangelo: would Michelangelo erect a skyscraper or can an architect liberate David from a rock of marble? When visibly damaged are the global economies, already drowning their citizenry, how can their economic development departments in hands of those who never ever created a single SME or ran a business, expect anything else from them other than lingering economic agonies?

The day pandemic ends; immediately, on the next day, the panic on the center stage would be the struggling economies across the world.  On the small medium business economic fronts, despite, already accepted globally, as the largest tax contributor to any nation. Visible worldwide, already abandoned and ignored without any specific solutions, there is something strategically wrong with upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers or the building growth of small medium business economies. The SME sectors in most nations are in serious trouble but are their economic development rightly balanced?   

Matching Mindsets: Across the world, hard working citizens across the world pursue their goals and some end up with a job seeker mindset and some job creator mindset; both are good. Here is a globally proven fact; job seekers help build enterprises but job creators are the ones who create that enterprise in the first place. Study in your neighborhoods anywhere across the world and discover the difference.

Visible on LinkedIn: Today, on the SME economic development fronts of the world, clearly visible on their LinkedIn profiles, the related Ministries, mandated government departments, trade-groups, chambers, trade associations and export promotion agencies are primarily led by job seeker mindsets and academic or bureaucratic mentality. Check all this on LinkedIn profiles of economic development teams anywhere across the world.

Will jumbo-pilots do heart transplant, after all, economic performance depends on matching right competency; Needed today, post pandemic economic recovery demands skilled warriors with mastery of national mobilization to decipher SME creation and scalability of diversified SME verticals on digital platforms of upskilling for global age exportability. This fact has hindered any serious progress on such fronts during the last decade. The absence of any significant progress on digitization, national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of exportability are clear proofs of a tragically one-sided mindset.

Is it a cruise holiday, or what? Today, the estimated numbers of all frontline economic development team members across 200 nations are roughly enough to fill the world-largest-cruise-ship Symphony that holds 6200 guests. If 99.9% of them are job-seeker mindsets, how can the global economic development fraternity sleep tonight? As many billion people already rely on their performances, some two billion in a critical economic crisis, plus one billion starving and fighting deep poverty. If this is what is holding grassroots prosperity for the last decade, when will be the best time to push the red panic button? 

The Big Fallacy of “Access to Finance” Notion: The goals of banking and every major institution on over-fanaticized notions of intricate banking, taxation are of little or no value as SME of the world are not primarily looking for “Access to Capital” they are rather seeking answers and dialogue with entrepreneurial job creator mindsets. SME management and economic development is not about fancy PDF studies of recycled data and extra rubber stamps to convince that lip service is working. No, it is not working right across the world.

SME are also not looking for government loans. They do not require expensive programs offered on Tax relief, as they make no profit, they do not require free financial audits, as they already know what their financial problems are and they also do that require mechanical surveys created by bureaucracies asking the wrong questions. This is the state of SME recovery and economic development outputs and lingering of sufferings.

SME development teams across the world now require mandatory direct SME ownership experiences

The New Hypothesis 2022: The new hypothesis challenges any program on the small medium business development fronts unless in the right hands and right mindsets they are only damaging the national economy. Upon satisfactory research and study, create right equilibrium and bring job seeker and job creator mindsets to collaborate for desired results. As a start 50-50, balances are good targets, however, anything less than 10% active participation of the job creator mindset at any frontline mandated SME Ministry, department, agency or trade groups automatically raises red flags and is deemed ineffective and irrelevant. 

The accidental economists: The hypothesis, further challenges, around the world, economic institutes of sorts, already, focused on past, present and future of local and global economy. Although brilliant in their own rights and great job seekers, they too lack the entrepreneurial job creator mindsets and have no experience of creating enterprises at large. Brilliantly tabulating data creating colorful illustrative charts, but seriously void of specific solutions, justifiably as their profession rejects speculations, however, such bodies never ready to bring such disruptive issues in fear of creating conflicts amongst their own job seeker fraternities. The March of Displaced cometh, the cries of the replaced by automation get louder, the anger of talented misplaced by wrong mindsets becomes visible. Act accordingly

The trail of silence: Academia will neither, as they know well their own myopic job seeker mindset. In a world where facial recognition used to select desired groups, pronouns to right gatherings, social media to isolate voting, but on economic survival fronts where, either print currency or buy riot gears or both, a new norm; unforgiveable is the treatment of small medium business economies and mishmash support of growth. Last century, laborious and procedural skills were precious, this century surrounded by extreme automation; mindsets are now very precious.  

Global-age of national mobilization: Start with a constructive open-minded collaborative narrative, demonstrate open courage to allow entrepreneurial points of views heard and critically analyze ideas on mobilization of small mid size business economies. Applying the same new hypotheses across all high potential contributors to SME growth, like national trade groups, associations and chambers as their frontline economic developers must also balance with the job creator mindset otherwise they too become irrelevant. Such ideas are not just criticism rather survival strategies. Across the world, this is a new revolution to arm SME with the right skills to become masters of trade and exports, something abandoned by their economic policies. To further discuss or debate at Cabinet Level explore how Expothon is making footprints on new SME thinking and tabling new deployment strategies. Expothon is also planning a global series of virtual events to uplift SME economies in dozens of selected nations.

Two wheels of the same cart: Silence on such matters is not a good sign. Address candidly; allow both mindsets to debate on how and why as the future becomes workless and how and why small medium business sectors can become the driving engine of new economic progress. Job seekers and job creators are two wheels of the same cart; right assembly will take us far on this economic growth passage. Face the new global age with new confidence. Let the nation witness leadership on mobilization of entrepreneurialism and see a tide of SME growth rise. The rest is easy.

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Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha

After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.

The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.

In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.

Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.

None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.

First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.

Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.

A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.

Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.

In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.

Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.

While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.

In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.

However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.

First published on China Daily, via World Bank

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The US Economic Uncertainty: Bitcoin Faces a Test of Resilience?

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Is inflation harmful? Is inflation here to stay? And are people really at a loss? These and countless other questions along the same lines dominated the first half of 2021. Many looked for alternative investments in the national bourse, while others adopted unorthodox streams. Yes, I’m talking about bitcoin. The crypto giant hit records after records since the pandemic made us question the fundamentals of our conventional economic policies. And while inflation was never far behind in registering its own mark in history, the volatility in the crypto stream was hard to deny: swiping billions of dollars in mere days in April 2021. The surge came again, however. And it will keep on coming; I have no doubt. But whether it is the end of the pandemic or the early hues of a new shade, the tumultuous relationship between traditional economic metrics and the championed cryptocurrency is about to get more interesting.

The job market is at the most confusing crossroads in recent times. The hiring rate in the US has slowed down in the past two months, with employers adding only 199,000 jobs in December. The numbers reveal that this is the second month of depressing job additions compared to an average of more than 500,000 jobs added each month throughout 2021. More concerning is that economists had predicted an estimated 400,000 jobs additions last month. Nonetheless, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate has ticked down to 3.9% – the first time since the pre-pandemic level of 3.5% reported in February 2020. Analytically speaking, US employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet businesses are still looking for more employees. The leverage, therefore, lies with the labor: reportedly (on average) every two employees have three positions available.

The ‘Great Resignation,’ a coinage for the new phenomenon, underscores this unique leverage of job selection. Sectors with low-wage positions like retail and hospitality face a labor shortage as people are better-positioned to bargain for higher wages. Thus, while wages are rising, quitting rates are record high simultaneously. According to recent job reports, an estimated 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November alone. Given that this data got collected before the surge of the Omicron variant, the picture is about to worsen.

While wages are rising, employment is no longer in the dumps. People are quitting but not to invest stimulus cheques. Instead, they are resigning to negotiate better-paying jobs: forcing the businesses to hike prices and fueling inflation. Thus, despite high earnings, the budget for consumption [represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] is rising at a rate of 6.8% (reported in November 2021). Naturally, bitcoin investment is not likely to bloom at levels rivaling the last two years. However, a downfall is imminent if inflation persists.

The US Federal Reserve sweats caution about searing gains in prices and soaring wage figures. And it appears that the fed is weighing its options to wind up its asset purchase program and hike interest rates. In March 2020, the fed started buying $40 billion worth of Mortgage-backed securities and $80 billion worth of government bonds (T-bills). However, a 19% increase in average house prices and a four-decade-high level of inflation is more than they bargained. Thus, the fed officials have been rooting for an expedited normalization of the monetary policy: further bolstered by the job reports indicating falling unemployment and rising wages. In recent months, the fed purview has dramatically shifted from its dovish sentiments: expecting no rate hike till 2023 to taper talks alongside three rate hikes in 2022.

Bitcoin now faces a volatile passage in the forthcoming months. While the disappointing job data and Omicron concerns could nudge the ball in its favor, the chances are that a depressive phase is yet to ensue. According to crypto-analysts, the bitcoin is technically oversold i.e. mostly devoid of impulsive investors and dominated by long-term holders. Since November, the bitcoin has dropped from the record high of $69,000 by almost 40%: moving in the $40,000-$41,000 range. Analysts believe that since bitcoin acts as a proxy for liquidity, any liquidity shortage could push the market into a mass sellout. Mr. Alex Krüger, the founder of Aike Capital, a New York-based asset management firm, stated: “Crypto assets are at the furthest end of the risk curve.” He further added: “[Therefore] since they had benefited from the Fed’s “extraordinarily lax monetary policy,” it should suffice to say that they would [also] suffer as an “unexpectedly tighter” policy shifts money into safer asset classes.” In simpler terms, a loose monetary policy and a deluge of stimulus payments cushioned the meteoric rise in bitcoin valuation as a hedge against inflation. That mechanism would also plummet the market with a sudden hawkish shift.

The situation is dire for most industries. Job participation levels are still low as workers are on the sidelines either because of the Omicron concern or lack of child support. In case of a rate hike, businesses would be forced to push against the wages to accommodate affordability in consumer prices. For bitcoin, the investment would stay dormant. However, any inflationary surprises could bring about an early tightening of the policy: spelling doom for the crypto market. The market now expects the job data to worsen while inflation to rise at 7.1% through December in the US inflation data (to be reported on Wednesday). Any higher than the forecasted figure alongside uncertainty imbued by the new variant could spark a downward spiral in bitcoin – probably pushing the asset below the $25000 mark.

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