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It hasn’t been a great week for digital currencies.
Bitcoin is trading nearly 40% below its record price of $64,000 following a sudden crash sparked by regulatory moves in China. Ethereum is down more than 35% from its all-time high, and dogecoin is off more than 45%.
Investors expect cryptocurrencies to be volatile. But the severity and breadth of the pullback has traders worried about a potential bubble, and observers are asking tough questions about whether coins are good stores of value.
The crash follows heightened interest from institutional investors in crypto assets, a trend highlighted by Tesla’s decision to purchase $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin. Adoption by other big corporates and investors may now slow.
But the week also provided two major announcements from the US government that could, over time, help to mainstream cryptocurrencies, and address some problems commonly associated with digital coins.
The first major announcement was from the US Treasury, which called for crypto transfers worth more than $10,000 to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
“As with cash transactions, businesses that receive cryptoassets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would also be reported on,” it said in a report on tax enforcement published on Thursday.
Getting the IRS involved may not sound like a positive development for cryptocurrencies. But the government treating coins the same way it treats cash could be a key step in moving cryptocurrencies into the mainstream.
But wait, there’s more: The second development came from the US Federal Reserve, which announced new steps in the development of a potential digital dollar that would be controlled by the central bank.
Chair Jerome Powell said in a rare recorded video message Thursday that the Fed will publish a discussion paper this summer exploring technology for digital payments, “with a particular focus on the possibility of issuing a US central bank digital currency.” It is asking for public comments on the issue.
“Our focus is on ensuring a safe and efficient payment system that provides broad benefits to American households and businesses while also embracing innovation,” added Powell.
The Fed thinks a digital dollar might be an improvement over current offerings, including “stablecoins” that are pegged to the value of other assets including reserve currencies.
“To date, cryptocurrencies have not served as a convenient way to make payments, given, among other factors, their swings in value,” said Powell. “Stablecoins aim to use new technologies in a way that has the potential to enhance payments efficiency, speed up settlement flows, and reduce end-user costs — but they may also carry potential risks to those users and to the broader financial system.”
Essential context: The Fed has been studying digital currencies for some time, but other central banks are moving more quickly. China is already running real-world tests with a digital version of the yuan, for example.
Even as the Fed moves to deepen its push into crypto, the central bank made clear that cash is still king.
“We think it is important that any potential [central bank digital currency] could serve as a complement to, and not a replacement of, cash and current private-sector digital forms of the dollar, such as deposits at commercial banks,” said Powell.
Tim Cook takes the stand
At the center of the lawsuit is Fortnite, the hugely popular video game made by Epic that was kicked out of the App Store last summer for flouting Apple’s rules on digital payments by establishing its own system.
Apple gets a 30% cut of many in-app purchases on iOS devices and does not allow alternative payment systems. Fortnite’s removal from the App Store prompted Epic to sue Apple, reports my colleague Rishi Iyengar.
Battle lines: Epic accuses Apple of exercising monopolistic control over its “walled garden” iOS operating system. Apple argues there are several other places users can buy apps and that its commission helps the company make its devices better and more secure.
Cook’s testimony is likely to set the tone for Apple’s fight against the growing antitrust pressure it’s facing. Other frenemies such as Spotify and Match Group, the owner of Tinder, have accused the App Store of being anticompetitive. And regulators in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom, are investigating Apple’s rules.
Cook appears to be preparing extensively for his day in court. He has undergone several hours of mock questioning from former prosecutors to mimic what he might face on the stand, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“The thing that’s got to be a little bit scary to Epic is that Tim Cook by reputation is a very persuasive witness,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “He’s doing what he was hired to do, which is make Apple’s case to the public.”
So long, Internet Explorer
The end is finally near for Internet Explorer, one of Microsoft’s most-reviled products that refused to die.
Microsoft (MSFT) announced this week that it will end support for Internet Explorer 11 on June 15, 2022, reports my CNN Business colleague David Goldman. That final nail in the coffin came after years of flirting with IE’s demise.
For example, in August 2020, Microsoft turned its back on IE for its own products. Teams stopped working with IE last fall, and its 365 apps (including Office) will no longer work on IE by mid-summer 2021.
Once the most-used web browser, IE had been on a steady downward trajectory for nearly two decades. Its share of the browser market fell below 50% in 2010 and now sits at about 5%, according to browser usage tracker NetMarketShare.
In its death announcement, Microsoft said IE is slow, no longer compatible with many modern web tasks, and is far less secure than modern browsers. So there you have it — the end of an era.
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Coming next week: Earnings season rolls on with results from Nvidia, Dollar General, Medtronic, Costco, Dell and Gap.