MONEY The Economy

China is Slowing. What If Its Housing Bubble Bursts?

Even if the real estate market in the world's second-biggest economy were to collapse, the repercussions may not be bad as you think.

While global investors covet China’s growth — as evidenced by the buzz surrounding Alibaba’s IPO — the Chinese economy is actually slowing down.

In 2013, the world’s second largest economy grew at an annual rate of 7.7%. By 2015, according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, that will drop to 7.3%. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy’s growth rate is projected to increase by almost one percentage point.

What’s going on? Well, China’s industrial production gains in August slowed to their lowest level since 2008 and retail sales growth declined by a few percentage points year-over-year.

Perhaps most important, the nation’s newly built home prices only grew by 2.5% in July, after surging by 10% at the beginning of the year.

The notion of a housing crisis in an economy more than three times the size of France brings back flashbacks of 2008 and probably a few chills down every investor’s spine.

“A property price crash in the world’s second largest economy would have global implications,” says Wells Fargo Securities economist Jay Bryson.

But those global implications wouldn’t be as worrisome as the U.S. housing collapse six years ago, per Bryson. Here’s why.

The Worst Case

To play out this thought experiment you have to assume that at some point in the near future China’s home prices will experience a decline on the order of what the U.S. experienced over the past decade. (Bryson played out this scenario in a recent report.)

Currently, residential investment makes up a pretty decent portion of the Chinese economy – about 10% of nominal GDP. To put that in context, that ratio was closer to 6% for the U.S. in 2006.

So housing is a big deal in China. If they experienced a value decline like we did, Bryson estimates that would lop off about one percentage point of growth. But the pain wouldn’t stop there.

A collapse in housing prices would result in fewer construction jobs – estimated at around 60 million people in urban China. Jobless workers would spend less, which means that those goods and services the now-unemployed construction workers would normally purchase would not get bought.

If out-of-work construction workers reduce their spending on food and entertainment, the businesses that produce that food and entertainment will make less money and then some of their workers may face unemployment too. Since my spending is your income, lower spending means people have less money in their paychecks, and the nation’s GDP suffers.

Moreover, if housing goes in the tank, banks will see losses, which means they’ll tighten credit, resulting in fewer loans for people to start businesses.

Let’s not forget the actual homeowners. If home prices fall, homeowners’ equity declines as well. (See: Sell, Short). And when people’s chief asset is suddenly worth a lot less, they’re not going to spend as much on other, discretionary items. “Although the lack of data makes it impossible to quantify the wealth effect in China, researchers have found that there is a statistically significant direct relationship in the United States between changes in wealth and changes in consumer spending,” per Bryson’s report.

Lower demand from China means that countries which sell goods to China (think Chile and Australia) will sell less stuff. As corporate profits are squeezed, a global bear market may result.

“Although China may not be as important to global economic growth as the United States, the global economy clearly would not be immune to a major property market downturn in China,” says Bryson.

The Not-So-Bad Case

Freaked out? Breathe deep and take solace in the fact that despite this potentially harrowing dénouement, the world probably wouldn’t endure another global financial crisis. And that’s thanks to responsible Chinese borrowers.

Chinese households usually have to put a lot more money down – 30% on their first home, up to 60% for an individual’s second – than Americans. So if prices were to decline substantially, Chinese homeowners would be in a much better position than Americans back in 2007 to deal with the crisis. For example, household debt-to-disposable income has grown substantially in China since 2007, but it’s still about one-third the size of U.S. households back in 2007.

The world will also feel less of a pinch. When mortgages started going bad in the U.S., foreign financial institutions lost close to $750 billion of the more than $2 trillion in write-downs resulting from the crash. That was because foreign banks owned a lot of U.S. mortgage-backed securities. Not so here. “Chinese mortgages are generally held by Chinese financial institutions in the form of whole mortgages.” So if prices were to drop, Chinese banks would suffer while U.S. one’s most likely wouldn’t.

Lastly, the Chinese government wouldn’t sit on its hands while its economy came crashing down. Beijing’s debt-to-GDP ratio is around 15%, so it has a lot of room to recapitalize its banks if needed.

So what’s an investor to do?

“I don’t lose sleep at night worrying about China, nor should other people,” says Bryson. “But they may want to keep an eye on it.”

TIME Money

If Women Had Their Own Currency, Here’s What It Would Be Worth

Photo Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME

Don't spend your $0.77 all at once

After a little girl asked President Obama why there aren’t any women on U.S. currency, he said Wednesday that adding some female faces to our cash sounded like a “pretty good idea.” Almost immediately, all of our fantasies came alive on the web. What would, let’s say, Ruth Bader Ginsburg look like on a $20 bill? Where would we spend our Beyoncé $10 bill first? Will our grandmas give us a Susan B. Anthony $5 bill on our birthdays and tell us not to spend it all at once?

But then we remembered: because of the wage gap, a dollar for a woman is not the same as a dollar for a man. Although the true extent of the gender pay gap is widely disputed even among feminists, President Obama said in the 2014 State of the Union that women make only 77¢ for every dollar a man makes.

So here’s what U.S. currency would really look like, with women’s faces and women’s wages:

A Harriet Tubman $20 would only be worth $15.40.

Photo Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME

A Sandra Day O’Connor $10 would only be worth $7.70.

Photo Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME

A Rosa Parks $5 would only be worth $3.85.

Photo Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME

A Gloria Steinem $1 would only be worth $0.77.

Photo Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME

That just shrunk your 401(k).

MONEY alternative assets

New York Proposes Bitcoin Regulations

Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins
Benoit Tessier—Reuters

New regulations may make Bitcoin safer. But some people think they will also ruin what made virtual currencies attractive.

Bitcoin may have just taken a huge step toward entering the financial mainstream.

On Thursday, Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent for New York’s Department of Financial Services, proposed new rules for virtual currency businesses. The “BitLicense” plan, which if approved would apply to all companies that store, control, buy, sell, transfer, or exchange Bitcoins (or other cryptocurrency), makes New York the first state to attempt virtual currency regulation.

“In developing this regulatory framework, we have sought to strike an appropriate balance that helps protect consumers and root out illegal activity—without stifling beneficial innovation,” wrote Lawsky in a post on Reddit.com’s Bitcoin discussion board, a popular gathering places for the currency’s advocates.

“These regulations include provisions to help safeguard customer assets, protect against cyber hacking, and prevent the abuse of virtual currencies for illegal activity, such as money laundering.”

The proposed rules won’t take effect yet. First is a public comment period of 45 days, starting on July 23rd. After that, the department will revise the proposal and release it for another round of review.

Regulation represents a turning point in Bitcoin’s history. The currency is perhaps best known for not being subject to government oversight and has been championed (and vilified) for its freedom from official scrutiny. Bitcoin transactions are anonymous, providing a new level of privacy to online commerce. Unfortunately, this feature has also proven attractive to criminals. Detractors frequently cite the currency’s widely publicized use as a means to sell drugs, launder money, and allegedly fund murder-for-hire.

The failure of Mt. Gox, one of Bitcoin’s largest exchanges, following the theft of more than $450 million in virtual currency, also drew attention to Bitcoin’s lack of consumer protections. In his Reddit post, Lawsky specifically referenced Mt. Gox as a reason why “setting up common sense rules of the road is vital to the long-term future of the virtual currency industry, as well as the safety and soundness of customer assets.”

New York’s proposed regulations require digital currency companies operating within the state to record the identity of their customers, including their name and physical address. All Bitcoin transactions must be recorded, and companies would be required to inform regulators if they observe any activity involving Bitcoins worth $10,000 or more.

The proposal also places a strong emphasis on protecting legitimate users of virtual currency. New York is seeking to require that Bitcoin businesses explain “all material risks” associated with Bitcoin use to their customers, as well as provide strong cybersecurity to shield their virtual vaults from hackers. In order to ensure companies remain solvent, Bitcoin licensees would have to hold as much Bitcoin as they owe in some combination of virtual currency and actual dollars.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, two of Bitcoin’s largest investors, endorsed the new proposal. “We are pleased that Superintendent Lawsky and the Department of Financial Services have embraced bitcoin and digital assets and created a regulatory framework that protects consumers,” Cameron Winklevoss said in an email to the Wall Street Journal. “We look forward to New York State becoming the hub of this exciting new technology.”

Gil Luria, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, also saw the regulations as beneficial for companies built around virtual currency. “Bitcoin businesses in the U.S. have been looking forward to being regulated,” Luria told the New York Times. “This is a very big important first step, but it’s not the ultimate step.”

However, this excitement was not universally shared by the internet Bitcoin community. Soon after posting a statement on Reddit, Lawsky was inundated with comments calling his proposal everything from misguided to fascist. “These rules and regulations are so totalitarian it’s almost hilarious,” wrote one user. Others suggested New York’s proposal would increase the value of Bitcoins not tied to a known identity or push major Bitcoin operations outside the United States.

One particularly controversial aspect of the law appears to ban the creation of any new cryptocurrency by an unlicensed entity. This would not only put a stop to virtual currency innovation (other Bitcoin-like monies include Litecoin, Peercoin, and the mostly satirical Dogecoin) but could theoretically put Bitcoin’s anonymous creator, known by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, in danger of prosecution if he failed to apply for a BitLicense.

One major issue not yet settled is whether other states, or the federal government, will use this proposal as a model for their own regulations. Until some form of regulation is widely adopted, New York’s effort will have a limited effect on Bitcoin business. “I think ultimately, these rules are going to be good for the industry,” Lawsky told the Times. “The question is if this will spread further.”

TIME Money

How Much Is a Bitcoin Worth? Let Google Tell You

Google Search now includes Bitcoin in its currency calculator, lending a little more legitimacy to the cryptocurrency.

If you need to know the current value of a Bitcoin, it’s now faster than ever to figure out through Google.

The search engine’s currency calculator now supports Bitcoin, so you can type “1 Bitcoin to dollars,” “10000 yen to BTC” or “How much is 500 Bitcoin worth?”

As Coindesk points out, Google added a Bitcoin currency tracker to its finance searches last month. Currency conversion is the next logical step, given that Microsoft’s Bing started calculating Bitcoin values in February. Though Bitcoin has struggled to gain recognition from some governments, support from the major search engines may help lend some legitimacy to the cryptocurrency.

Google does caution that conversion rates may not be accurate down to the minute, but you can always consult other sources like Coindesk if you need more detailed data.

TIME China

The U.S. Has Good Reason to Be Fed Up With China’s Economic Policy

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew listens during a panel discussion at the North American Energy Summit in the Manhattan borough of New York
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew listens during a panel discussion at the North American Energy Summit in the Manhattan borough of New York, June 10, 2014. Adam Hunger—Reuters

Talks in Beijing between American and Chinese officials made little progress on key economic issues

No one expected big breakthroughs from the latest round of the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, held this week in Beijing. But the results didn’t even meet those lowly expectations. After two days of talks with Chinese officials, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew left empty-handed. A much-coveted but long-discussed treaty to boost investment between the two countries only inched forward. Nor did China offer firm commitments to further liberalize its currency — an issue of great importance to Washington. That apparently left Lew searching for something positive to say to his Chinese hosts. “The commitments China has made here in Beijing over the past two days reflect the economic reform goals set forth” previously, Lew said on Thursday, “and we look forward to future progress.”

Washington has been waiting for progress for quite a while. U.S. officials have been repeatedly pressing Beijing to open markets wider to American companies, improve the protection of intellectual property, and make the economy more transparent and market-oriented. But in return, Washington just gets vague pledges and expressions of caution. Meanwhile, the two continue to bicker over trade practices — most notably these days, Washington’s punitive tariffs on Chinese solar panels. The stalemate in economic ties between the U.S. and China is symbolic of the greater strain between the two nations. China has responded angrily to U.S. charges that its military cyberspies on American companies, while officials from both sides have exchanged hostile barbs over China’s territorial disputes with Japan and other neighbors. Relations between the U.S. and China are arguably at their lowest point in years.

That’s bad news. What happens between the world’s two largest economies has ripple effects around the world. Each country, furthermore, needs the other for its own economic growth. U.S. companies require access to Chinese consumers to keep their profits growing, while China badly needs advanced U.S. technology to upgrade its industry. Still, the two sides often look upon each other warily. As China’s clout increases, the U.S. is frustrated that Beijing is not making the Chinese economy more open or playing by the perceived rules of international commerce. Beijing’s policymakers get upset when Washington badgers them on reforms they consider none of America’s business.

But the U.S. has good reason to be annoyed. Many of the issues that matter to Washington have been dragging on interminably with no resolution in sight. Take, for instance, the sticky issue of China’s currency, the yuan. Washington has complained for many years that Beijing manipulates the value of the yuan to promote its own exports, and during this week’s meetings, Lew again pressed his Chinese counterparts to make the process by which it is valued more market-driven. Though I have written on many occasions that the U.S. has exaggerated the impact the yuan’s value has had on the country’s trade deficit with China, Lew has a right to be fed up with the slow pace of change. The Chinese have been blabbering about allowing market forces to determine the yuan’s exchange rate for ages, and the reform is considered an integral part of China’s greater goal of liberalizing capital flows in and out of the country. But the government still wields tremendous influence over the direction of the yuan — a degree of control is has been reluctant to relinquish, promises aside. In this week’s meetings, China offered only more excuses. “If we move too fast, we will be tripped by the demons of details,” Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang cryptically responded to Lew. Instead, Wang said Beijing was looking for “balance.”

“Balance,” however, has become Beijing-speak for “do nothing.” Currency reform is only one of many changes Chinese policymakers have promised, but never seem to implement. President Xi Jinping and his team have pledged to liberalize markets, fix the financial sector and allow private businessmen a bigger role in the economy. Economists swooned over a bold policy document released in November that committed the leadership to a sweeping reformation of China’s economic system. No one should expect such major changes to happen overnight, of course. But the fact is we’re still waiting for the process to really get started. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is facing a host of unresolved problems that threaten its future. Growth has slowed, debt has mounted to dizzying levels, the financial sector is fundamentally flawed, and a property bubble appears to be bursting.

What Lew wants to see from China is a true effort to overhaul an economic model that is badly broken. That would be good for China, the U.S., and everybody else.

TIME technology

California Lifts Ban on Bitcoin

California Legalizes Bitcoin
California Gov. Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Technically, all transactions using digital or alternative currencies had been illegal in California until Monday

California lawmakers approved a bill Monday that lifted an outdated ban on the use of bitcoin and other alternative currencies, as more states seek to clarify and revise virtual currency laws.

AB 129, which Governor Jerry Brown had signed on Saturday, will ensure that “various forms of alternative currency such as digital currency” will be legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments, according to the bill’s text. The bill reflects the growing use of digital currencies, revising Section 107 of California’s Corporations Code that prohibits use of “anything but the lawful money of the United States.”

“In an era of evolving payment methods, from Amazon Coins to Starbucks Stars, it is impractical to ignore the growing use of cash alternatives,” Democratic Assemblyman and the bill’s author Roger Dickinson said in a recent statement.

Dickinson noted that points and rewards programs function as digital currencies, and thus would not have been legal without the passage of AB 129, which legalizes these “community currencies,” that is, alternative payment systems between businesses and customers.

Other states have similarly sought to clarify their bitcoin laws. In March, the Texas Department of Banking stated that bitcoin transmissions, while permitted, are not technically “currency” transmissions. That month, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced the state will accept proposals for a virtual currency regulation system.

While bitcoin use is now legal in California, it is not technically legal tender, a status reserved for and defined federally as “United States coins and currency” under the Coinage Act of 1965. The IRS clarified in March that bitcoin functions more like property than currency, which means that taxes applying to property transactions also apply to bitcoin transactions.

Elsewhere in the world, only very few countries, notably Brazil and China, have specific regulations of bitcoin use.

MONEY Retirement

Eco Disaster: Lessons from Greenpeace’s Currency Bet Gone Bad

The global peace and sustainability nonprofit lost a bundle betting on currencies. Here's what you can learn from the mistake.

Superstars from Tiger Woods to Warren Buffett tell us the secret to their success is keeping it simple. So why would a donor-dependent, globally recognized nonprofit take a macro-economic flyer on which way currencies will move?

More important: What can the disastrous Greenpeace International bet on the direction of the euro tell us about how we handle our own financial matters? Greenpeace, which is quite good at promoting peace and sustainability, is really bad at macro analysis. Sometime last year the organization lost $5.2 million—more than 6% of its annual budget—when it bet wrongly against a rising euro.

This large loss came to light only this week, and it’s too soon to know its full effect. The organization says a financial pro on its staff overstepped and has been fired, and that the loss will not lead to a penny being cut from its causes. Still, it’s hard to believe that at least some donors won’t bristle and hold back donations. The consequences promise to go beyond simple embarrassment.

One lesson here is that currency speculation is a tricky business and best left to hedge fund managers like George Soros. If you must engage in currency bets alone, do so with only a small fraction of your savings and through straightforward international government bond funds. These pay interest in local currency and thus represent a foreign exchange bet. You might also consider a currency ETF from leaders CurrencyShares and WisdomTree.

The bigger lesson, though, is that it really does pay to keep things simple when investing. As Buffett writes in this year’s annual letter to shareholders:

You don’t need to be an expert in order to achieve satisfactory investment returns. But if you aren’t, you must recognize your limitations and follow a course certain to work reasonably well. Keep things simple and don’t swing for the fences. When promised quick profits, respond with a quick “no.”

Complexity is all around us. Exotic mortgages sunk millions of homeowners in the Great Recession. Unimaginably arcane financial derivatives contributed to the demise of Lehman Bros. and downfall of Bear Stearns, among other investment banks, during the financial collapse. Even bankers didn’t know quite what they were doing—not unlike the hapless, rogue finance staffer making a wrong-way bet on the euro for Greenpeace.

Individuals can make things as difficult or as easy as they want when they save and invest. Annuities are especially hot right now. Many people shy away from them because they believe all of them to be complex, and many others end up in the wrong type of annuity (and many other insurance products) because so many truly are complex. Yet for most people just looking to lock up guaranteed lifetime income, the venerable immediate or deferred immediate annuity are a sound and simple option.

Likewise, you can prospect for the hottest stock funds, only to be disappointed once you plunk down your dollars and see them eaten away by lackluster returns and high expenses—or you can choose low-fee diversified stock index funds, or maybe a target-date mutual fund, sleep well, and check back in just once a year to rebalance. Why layer chance on top of investment risk? You are good at something else, not macroeconomic analysis.

Reports suggest that the wayward Greenpeace employee was not nest feathering but trying to do the right thing for the future of the organization. Still, it went bad—even for someone in finance. As with many endeavors, when it comes to money, better to do as Buffett says and just keep it simple.

TIME Scotland

Scottish Independence Could Put Whisky Makers on the Rocks, Study Says

Daily Life On Orkney
Dave Reid inspects the quality of the heather filled peat, from Hobbister Moor, in Highland Park whisky distillery on May 30, 2014 in Kirkwall, Scotland. Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert—Getty Images

A vote for Scottish independence could expose local distilleries to costly and unpredictable swings in foreign exchange rates, a new report warns

A new study suggests a Scottish vote in favor of independence could boomerang on one of the nation’s proudest exports: Scotch whisky.

Analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch say that Scotland’s upcoming vote for independence on September 18th risks severing the nation from the British pound, forcing it to create its own currency and casting it into a brave new world of fluctuating exchange rates. Whisky makers, in particular, could absorb the brunt of the shocks. They account for the nation’s second largest export and ship to roughly 200 countries around the world, according to the report.

“At present, the large producers typically invoice Scotch whisky in U.S. dollars,” the authors wrote. “As such the main transactional FX risk faced is the movement in Sterling/US$ which is typically hedged on a 12 month basis. A volatile currency would likely be more difficult and expensive to hedge making pricing and planning decisions harder. “

That would mean a possible contraction of investment, fewer barrels of Scotch and a slightly less satisfied global population of Scotch drinkers.

TIME technology

Bitcoin ATM Comes to Capitol Hill

Representatives Of A Bitcoin Kiosk Company Demonstrate The Currency Product On Capitol Hill
Robocoin CEO and co-founder Jordan Kelley uses the Robocoin Bitcoin ATM, during a demonstration of the ATM in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 8, 2014 in Washington. Drew Angerer—Getty Images

A congressman purchased his first units of the cryptocurrency

For a few hours it was possible in the halls of the U.S. Congress to buy the crypto currency that at least one Senator said should be banned.

In a hallway in the Rayburn House of Representatives office building Tuesday night, a gaggle of media encircled Colorado Democrat Rep. Jared Polis as he inserted his hand into a palm-reading device, and then placed a $10 bill into a refrigerator-sized purple kiosk. Out of the machine came a piece of paper with the unique code for 0.02 bitcoin. It was the first bitcoin ever purchased on Capitol Hill, at least from a machine that printed receipts.

The kiosk was an ATM owned by the startup Robocoin, a Las Vegas-based firm that sells machines for exchanging dollars for bitcoins, the stateless, cryptography-based digital currency that has enthralled libertarians, bewildered financial regulators, drawn the ire of establishment politicians. Typically it takes days and a certain amount of tech savvy to exchange dollars for bitcoins. With Robocoin, the process is complete in about 10 minutes. “I think that may be the fastest way in the world to get bitcoin,” said Robocoin CEO Jordan Kelley.

Rep. Polis helped organize the demonstration to dispel what he feels are misconceptions among some in government about the nature and promise of bitcoin.

“Healthy skepticism and some intrigue as well,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) when asked what he thought of bitcoin after seeing the ATM at work. House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also made a stop by the event.

But Johnson’s “healthy skepticism” is a far cry from the outright contempt some in Congress have visited upon bitcoin, which critics worry could be used to facilitate black market trading (as it did in the now-defunct website Silk Road), money laundering and other illegal activity. In February, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) wrote a letter to regulators calling on the U.S. government to ban bitcoin “and prohibit this dangerous currency from harming hard-working Americans.”

Those comments—which Manchin has since walked back—are what inspired Rep. Polis to help organize Tuesday’s Robocoin demo.

“When I saw that serious politicians were talking about banning something, a concept that has great benefits for humanity,” said Polis, a tech entrepreneur before starting his career in Congress, “I decided to step in and show that there are those of us here that have a countervailing viewpoint: that alternative currencies enhance freedom, enhance economic opportunity, particularly for the world’s most disadvantaged, and can reduce transaction costs across our entire economy.”

Underneath the demo gimmick, the event served to highlight what bitcoin boosters see as the currency’s unique advantages and to dispel some of the murkiness surrounding a currency most closely associated in the popular imagination with the illegal online drug trade. As Polis noted in his remarks, “the currency of choice is still dollars” for greasing the wheels of illegal activity of any kind around the world. The amount of illegal activity funded by bitcoin is still a fraction of a fraction of that facilitated with good old-fashioned cold hard cash.

Bitcoin boosters hope the currency could one day help bring banking services to the poor by dramatically lowering the cost of a financial transaction, like cashing a check, a service for which the bankless poor currently pay a premium at check cashing shops. Biometric security features, like the Robocoin ATM palm reader, could actually make the cryptocurrency less anonymous and reduce theft by tying bitcoins to the individuals who own them.

As bitcoin has come to prominence in recent months, the big question for government has been “if the regulators should just wait and see or if they would want to ban it,” said John Russell, Robocoin co-founder and CTO. “I would encourage them to wait and see and watch what the community is going to be able to do.”

TIME Currency

Big Bitcoin Exchange Files for Bankruptcy

Germany Bitcoin
AP

The company claims a loss of $473 million worth of the digital currency

A major Bitcoin exchange filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, providing a detailed account of the estimated losses from what was one of the world’s largest exchanges for the currency.

In a news conference in Japan, a lawyer for the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange said it had lost three-quarters of a million Bitcoin belonging to customers, along with 100,000 of its own. At current market prices for Bitcoin that’s an estimated loss of $473 million, the Associated Press reports. Mt. Gox listed outstanding debts of about $63.6 million against assets of about $37.7 million.

Late Monday evening, Mt. Gox’s website went blank unexpectedly, causing the value of the virtual currency to fall to around $470 from $550 in just a few hours. A leaked document revealed that a security breach had resulted in the theft of nearly three-quarters of a million Bitcoin—about six percent of all available Bitcoin. The heads of several other Bitcoin exchanges released a joint statement saying the Mt. Gox shutdown “does not reflect the resilience or value of Bitcoin and the digital currency industry.”

The sudden implosion of an exchange that, according to the Wall Street Journal, at one time handled more than 80 percent of all Bitcoin trades has raised questions about the lack of regulations governing the currency. On Thursday, Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that the central bank does not have the authority to regulate the digital currency.

“Bitcoin is a payment innovation that’s taking place outside the banking industry,” Yellen said. “To the best of my knowledge there’s no intersection at all, in any way, between Bitcoin and banks that the Federal Reserve has the ability to supervise and regulate. So the Fed doesn’t have authority to supervise or regulate Bitcoin in anyway.”

[WSJ]

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