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Podcast episode

Digital Money Demystified w/ Prof. Tonya Evans – EP216

Professor Tonya Evans is the author of the new book “Digital Money Demystified: Go from Cash to Crypto Safely, Legally, and Confidently.” She discusses the topic of cryptocurrency with show host Gene Tunny. Professor Evans argues there are many myths surrounding digital assets, including their association with criminal activity and extreme volatility. She aims to dispel these myths and provide readers with a more accurate understanding of cryptocurrencies. Professor Evans is distinguished professor at Penn State Dickinson Law and a leading expert in intellectual property and new technologies. Please note this episode is for general information only and does not constitute financial or investment advice.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple Podcasts and Spotify.

About Professor Tonya M. Evans

Dr. Tonya M. Evans is a distinguished professor at Penn State Dickinson Law and a leading expert in intellectual property and new technologies. With a prestigious 2023 EDGE in Tech Athena Award, she is highly sought-after as a keynote speaker and consultant. Her expertise spans blockchain, entrepreneurship, entertainment law, and more.

As a member of international boards and committees, including the World Economic Forum/Wharton DAO Project Series, Dr. Evans remains at the forefront of cutting-edge research. She recently testified before the House Financial Services Committee and the Copyright Office and USPTO to advise on the intellectual property law issues related to NFTs and blockchain technology.

What’s covered in EP216

  • [00:05:31] Prudent crypto investing according to Prof. Evans.
  • [00:09:18] Crypto scams.
  • [00:13:18] Peer-to-peer technology.
  • [00:17:34] Taxing crypto assets.
  • [00:22:45] Central bank digital currencies.
  • [00:29:13] Exchanging value without government support.
  • [00:38:17] The currency of outer space.
  • [00:41:10] Self-custody and centralized exchanges.
  • [00:47:48] “Not your keys, not your crypto.”
  • [00:49:17] Underrepresentation in the crypto ecosystem.
  • [00:54:07] Learning the language of crypto.
  • [00:59:47] Tracking Bitcoin transactions.
  • [01:01:57] The speed of prosecuting crypto fraud.

Links relevant to the conversation

Amazon page for Digital Money Demystified:

https://www.amazon.com.au/Digital-Money-Demystified-Crypto%C2%AE-Confidently-ebook/dp/B0BVP8GPF8

Regarding a spot Bitcoin ETF, Yahoo Finance reported on 28 November 23 that “Crypto investors are awaiting Security & Exchange Commission (SEC) approval for a spot bitcoin ETF, which could unlock a surge of capital investment in the crypto space.”

https://finance.yahoo.com/video/bitcoin-may-reach-57k-over-175421720.html

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Binance:https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy1926

Transcript: Digital Money Demystified w/ Prof. Tonya Evans – EP216

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. We then used a human application, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, to exercise his primitive brain and see if he could successfully hunt down mondegreens. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording

Tonya Evans  00:03

Now we have web three where not only are we exchanging messages of information, packets of information. Now those packets are about value. It gets at the heart of even why governments tax, particularly in times of war, etc, and to protect borders that are now being threatened by a borderless currency.

Gene Tunny  00:32

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.

Hello, and welcome to the show. In this episode, I talked about cryptocurrency with the author of a new book on the topic. The book is “Digital Money Demystified” and the author is Professor Tonya Evans from Dickinson Law at Pennsylvania State University. Among her many achievements, Professor Evans was a 2021 Forbes over 50 listee in the investment category. She’s on the board of directors of Digital Currency Group and she’s testified before a congressional committee on digital assets. In other words, she knows what she’s talking about on crypto. This episode was recorded in mid November 2023. Please check out the show notes for any important developments since then, particularly for any news about spot Bitcoin ETFs that may have happened. I should note that one big thing that’s happened since the interview is Binance and its CEO pleading guilty to criminal charges for anti money laundering and US sanctions violations. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said “it’s willful failures allowed money to flow to terrorists, cyber criminals and child abusers through its platform.” As always, if you have thoughts on this episode, or other episodes or ideas for future episodes, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your thoughts on crypto, positive or negative. What do you think about Professor Evans defence of crypto against the major criticisms that it faces? Has she changed your mind on crypto? What about the recent news about Binance or SBF before that? Please let me know what you think after listening to the episode. Let’s get into it. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Professor Tonya Evans on crypto.

Professor Tonya Evans, welcome to the programme.

Tonya Evans  02:42

Thank you, Gene. Thank you so much. I’ve been looking forward to this. So I’m happy to, happy to chat about my favourite topic.

Gene Tunny  02:49

Oh very good yes. You’re certainly passionate about it, I’ve been reading your book over, well the last two nights. It’s, it’s an easy to read book. And I got through it in in two sittings on my Kindle. So well done on that. So yes, your book is Digital Money Demystified from go from cash to crypto safely, legally and confidently. To start off with, what do you think needs to be demystified about digital money? Or in other words, what motivated you to write this book?

Tonya Evans  03:26

Yeah, this it’s interesting because I do so many speaking engagements, obviously, as a not only as a law professor, which is kind of a different exercise in exploring things. I know, we’ll get into some regulatory stuff later. But at a higher level, there’s so much misinformation about the nature of the assets, why they even exist, what types there are, how they’re different. Some of the most common myths that I constantly explore and help people to right size include the level of crypto involvement in criminal activity, which is actually quite low. The nature of volatility, and the the existence of volatility is not the myth. This is a nascent asset class. And so, obviously, it’s very volatile. So when I compare crypto as a nascent asset class to earlier developments of assets like the stock exchange, for example, we go back to the 30s and Buttonwood and the volatility that was involved, so many things going on behind the scenes that people weren’t aware of. And that was very problematic when you think about the asymmetry of information which is often extremely problematic in the finance lane. You really need to have the transparency and accessibility for an open market. Otherwise you don’t have an open market and people are left to their own devices. People are investing in things when they don’t have all of the information. And so that’s what made it really interesting for me to 1) start to study the area, but 2) to make sure that people understood the existing system, how crypto assets and blockchain technology actually changed that. And kind of where we go from here. As you can tell, the book is not an argument. For someone to absolutely buy crypto, I still leave that up to the person, but I want them to have a more informed body of information to draw from so that they can actually make good choices. One of the ways that I like to explain it is to say, you can actually be a prudent crypto investor, which sounds like an oxymoron. It’s like prudent and crypto investing, how do those things go together, but people are afraid of what they don’t understand. And the reality is, and we will continue to talk about this in our conversation. This technology is here, not just as a matter of Bitcoin and Etherium, and some of the other coins, but every major, not major, but every country is looking at its own version of digital currency in the form of central bank digital currencies. We have FedNow which is not in and of itself a cryptocurrency. But it’s kind of like the the framework or the platform for digital assets that I believe, my personal opinion, the government would not have this official statement today. But three to five years from now, we’ll look back on this moment in time, where FedNow, the rails, the frameworks to enable digital asset transmission, I believe will be the precursor to a central bank digital currency in the United States. And finally, when I think about the various investment products that will become available, probably, I’m pretty conservative so I would say at the beginning of 2024, we will see an exchange traded fund specifically for Bitcoin, probably 12 to 18 months after that, for Etherium. This will be an investment product that is available to investors, and also the professionals, the financial advisors that have to make sense of this, the CPAs the lawyers. So for all of these reasons, at least demystifying the space so that people don’t fall victim to the clickbait and the sensational headlines, some of which are horrible. I, there is no place for criminal activity, Sam Bankman-Fried is going to enjoy a lot of time in jail. I’m absolutely for that. But you know, that is one small part of a larger ecosystem where the great majority is used for legitimate not nefarious purposes. So for all those reasons, I just think it’s important that people level up their, their understanding, you see from the book, The glossary of terms, just helping to demystify and understand so that people will lean into the education piece to decide then if this is something that they want to add to their profession, or their portfolio.

Gene Tunny  08:04

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned the glossary of terms just then I think that’s one of the standout features of the book. So yeah good work on that. Professor Evans, could you just explain the difference between some of these scams until, I read your your book, I didn’t appreciate the difference between an exit scam and a rug pull. So I hear about rug pulls all the time on Coffeezilla’s channel on YouTube, could, are you able to go over what those different crypto scams are and what to watch out for? Please?

Tonya Evans  08:40

Yeah they’re quite close, right. So it’s the difference of having a team that from the beginning, knows that they are going to turn the lights off at some point, they’re gonna, you know, pump up the price, get a lot of enthusiasm. And their goal from the beginning is to scam people out of their money, right, and to set the market conditions in order to get the highest price possible to leave others downstream holding the bag. Right, as opposed to someone that at least in the beginning, has some good intention and realises at some point in time, it’s not going well. And that people who have invested fall into what we talked about earlier about not having all the information. So you have a key some key decision makers that still have an influence on a project. Oftentimes, it’s not built yet. So they have grand plans, they have a roadmap, they might have a white paper, but at a certain point they run out of gas and they disappear with everyone’s money and all of a sudden you can’t find them anymore, closely aligned but so it’s more of the intentionality from the beginning. But the end result is a lot of people get caught holding the bag.

Gene Tunny  09:51

Right so the exit scam is where there’s that intentionality at the beginning is that right and the rug pull is yeah, we stuffed up let’s just try and get out of it. And yeah well…

Tonya Evans  10:01

That’s right, that’s right.

Gene Tunny  10:05

Bad luck investors. Okay. Righto, so you’re a Gen X law professor right? So I think I read that in the book. So you’re same generation is me and I often feel I’m probably, if I was five years younger, I probably would have got massively into crypto, but I was probably, at the start of it, I was a bit sceptical of it. How did you become like, as a lawyer, as a law professor, how did you become interested in crypto in the first place?

Tonya Evans  10:34

I had a friend who was getting an advanced degree in the future of media and kind of the intersection of media and new technologies. And to take a step back, I actually am primarily an intellectual property lawyer, and law professor, I just actually celebrated my 25th reunion from Howard University School of Law. So I’ve been around for a minute, I practiced law for 10 years before I even started teaching. And now as a recovering practitioner, also known as a law professor. And I get to lean in to things normatively, how they should be rather than day to day kind of practically what they are, right? That’s really the transition from representing clients to informing law as it’s being developed. And so I was very interested in the work that she was doing at the intersection of media and blockchain. I had heard of Bitcoin at the time, this was in 2017. Bitcoin was first launched in January of 2009. So it had been around for some time, but was really relegated to the fringes of cypher, the cypherpunk movement, mostly those kind of tech men, mostly with a technology, technology background, and also in finance, and kind of like this microcosm of two microcosms is the area of cryptocurrency. So mainstream adoption or even awareness just wasn’t a thing at that time. And also, as you mentioned, I’m a lawyer. I’m licenced to practice law in four states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and DC, I am highly revered. In my profession, I have no intention of losing my licence. And so trying to make sense of this magic internet money was not something that, that I was at all interested in at the time. But what I was interested in is her discussions around the underlying technology that was organising financial data, the transactions and the balances in a very novel way, using existing technologies. But again, organised in a novel way. So what were the technologies, are the technologies? Cryptography, which is the encrypted messaging that has been around in some form or fashion, quite frankly, for millennia, obviously, it’s digital now. But the idea of going from point A to point B, or sending a message, often in times of war and other areas, the ability to send to encrypt and decrypt messaging was critically important. But that’s been around for forever, then we have peer to peer technology. So as an IP lawyer, I’m also interested in this part, because when I first learned about peer to peer technology, it was gonna, you know, upend the media, ecosystem, and that entire industry was going to fall because you and I could be in completely different places but I could send you a perfect digital copy of a media file, and then go on the internet and send it to 1000 of my not-so-closest friends without exhausting the original. So I guess that was great if you wanted to share music, not so great for the music industry, but for everybody else. But obviously, if you are doing that with money that runs into the double spend problem, where, you know, I can say I have $100 in the bank to send it to you and also to Susan, and the first person to cash that check is the one who wins that is that’s not going to work for money. So the novel way of using cryptography, peer to peer technology, the internet, and then a novel way of coming to agreement, we would call it we call this the consensus mechanism of coming to agreement where I don’t have to trust you, but I trust a software that is pre-coded with the rules of engagement. It’s open source software, which is also lends itself to copyright, to patent areas of interest as an intellectual property attorney, where I was like, Well, I have to figure that out. I have to let my students know that this is something that is changing the nature of intellectual property. And it doesn’t, it didn’t seem at the time that I needed to also fundamentally understand cryptographically secure digital assets. But I fell down the rabbit hole, it was quickly apparent that understanding the technology I need needed to understand the nature of the assets that were being validated, verified and secured. In this type of news decentralised database, I didn’t have any appreciation for all that language at the time. But being drawn in, in my existing area of expertise, I think was the best way for me to be intellectually curious, and to really learn more.

Gene Tunny  15:31

Gotcha. And are there many legal cases? Is there much litigation regarding crypto?

Tonya Evans  15:38

What we’re seeing now involves, the short answer is yes. Now, but mostly at the federal and state levels against federal or state regulators and various parties or, or stakeholders, participants in crypto. I don’t know if you have a lot of them in terms of the actual number but the import of of actions with the SEC, the Security Exchange, Securities Exchange Commission against some of the big ones we have coinbase, we have the ripple case with ripple is a network that has a native token called XRP. That has been tied up for a long time until recently, when a federal court said that the SEC led by Gary Gensler had really overstepped the boundaries of their regulatory power. The way that reg, regulatory bodies in the executive actually get their power is it’s delegated from Congress. So an agency can only do as much as they are empowered to do by their enabling legislation. And the federal court said that the SEC overstepped its bounds actually making it the, clearing the pathway I should say, for those spot, Bitcoin exchange traded funds or ETFs, that are likely to be approved begrudgingly by the SEC, in my humble opinion. But as soon as November 17, perhaps in the first quarter of 2024, that is one of the most exciting and also pressing legal issues that people will start to learn more about. There’s other things going on with Treasury, trying to make sense of how to properly tax crypto, it was always a nightmare when I first started buying and exchanging crypto in like 2018, where you literally had to have a spreadsheet because crypto, all crypto assets are taxed in the United States as a capital asset. So imagine that every time I am going from cash to crypto, as I say, from, you know, $1 to some portion of Bitcoin is a taxable event, even if I’m using the dollar to get bitcoin and then within the same day, or maybe the same week, then exchanging Bitcoin for ETH. And then using that to get a stablecoin every single time there’s a an exchange, that is considered a taxable event, even if it’s negligible. So the argument before the before treasury, in general and IRS in particular is there should be some de minimis amount. In right now, the number that’s floated is about the equivalent of $600, where we, I mean, it gets to be completely impractical to have to account for every single transaction under that amount, because you’re not worried about money laundering, you’re, you know, you’re not worried about significant fraud or anything like that at that level. And so that’s a really interesting thing to watch. And then finally, there’s a lot of, I don’t think it’s going to happen in 2024, because we’re in a presidential cycle, but a lot of support for various types of legislation to give greater certainty as a matter of regulation. But greater clarity of what agency is actually primarily empowered, if at all, will there be a primary or lead regulator as between this SEC and the CFTC? That’s major. The CFTC is responsible for futures and for commodities. But there doesn’t seem to be agreement between the head of the CFTC and the SEC about the taxonomy, the characterization of various assets. And it’s problematic because most of them are programmable. They actually can change the nature of their character, they might start out as a security. I argue that Ethereum actually did start out as a security. It was, the project was not yet built, they did an initial coin offering inviting people to invest and get a return on their investment. That is, and it was not registered. That would be a classic unregistered security. But years later when it was fully decentralised there’s no central foundation or entity responsible, I argue, and the head of the CFTC would agree that that ETH is a commodity. But the SEC is the head. Gary Gensler does not agree. So I say all that to say, there’s a lot of uncertainty that is driving business away from the United States, to other jurisdictions where it may not be easier, but at least it’s clear. And that’s one of the greatest dangers in the United States is that we would not lead in this area. So those are some of the things to really look for in the headlines that have a direct impact on mass adoption.

Gene Tunny  20:54

And what jurisdictions would they be Professor Evans that the activity could be driven to?

Tonya Evans  21:01

So we see a lot of offshore stuff in and by off, sometimes, when people hear offshore, they immediately think illegal, this is literally off of the shores of the United States. So it makes me think of the Bahamas that has its own central bank currency, the sand dollar, it makes me think of Bermuda. I’m a former member of their advisory board, their financial Technology Advisory Board. They were quite forward thinking. Bermuda is particularly interesting, because it’s a jurisdiction that has a long history of well regulated very clear insurance. And so that’s an interesting place. Zug Switzerland is known as you know, like the Crypto Valley, in the same way that we might think of Silicon Valley here in the United States, quite forward thinking. Singapore is ahead of the curve. Absolutely. It’s the UAE. Despite all that is going on in that area of the world. The UAE, in general, makes me think of Dubai in particular, and Abu Dhabi. A couple of years ago, I was one of the first of Forbes 50, over 50 listees and we celebrated in Abu Dhabi, for example. And I was amazed not only how opulent and beautiful, but how progressive in terms of forward thinking with with crypto. And finally, and this is not a leader that we want to follow, but it’s a caution… not, well, I’ll say it a cautionary tale regarding central bank digital currencies, is China. China was the first country to launch a central bank digital currency, which raises in me all sorts of alarm bells, not not for central bank digital currencies in and of themselves. But the huge issues around financial privacy that people need to get up to speed on if in fact, the United States would start to publicly explore CBDC here, that you want to have the same financial privacy that you do with cash, but have the convenience and things that are better, faster, cheaper, with respect to digital assets. So there’s a lot going on in this space and a lot of activity. In fairness to the United States, there’s some countries and I’ve mentioned a few where you have just one regulator. They don’t have the alphabet soup of the FCC and the CFTC and the partridge in a pear tree right in, in the executive. They don’t have the committees and the subcommittee’s wrangling for jurisdiction and oversight authority in the legislature. However, you know, it’s more simplistic. And so it used to kind of not be a great thing, but it is when you need to be nimble and move quickly because our system is not intended to move quickly. It’s actually built this way to slow things down and be more methodical, but that doesn’t work with this type of technology.

Gene Tunny  24:16

Hmmm, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I imagine that our regulators, I’m in Australia, so I imagine they’re looking closely at what’s happening in the States to see where things land. And you Yeah, it’s fascinating about this Bitcoin ETF. And I know that there was a group in Congress that’s looking at the regulations of how they changed the regulations around the SEC yet or is that something still to do? Do they need to give SEC more powers?

Tonya Evans  24:47

They’re exploring it. The short answer to your question is yes. Because the rulemaking authority that is delegated to an agency comes from Congress and so, we call those enabling or enabling acts, there’s another term as well, but enabling act. So basically, Congress says, here’s the framework, you’re the subject matter expert executive agency. So you all kind of you’re the mortar to these bricks. And it’s the executive branch in general agencies in particular that, that put into play the actual rules and regulations and actually run the thing you think of it like as you have a CEO, the President, and then you have all of these smaller bodies that take care of the day to day functioning, based upon, okay, we have this delegated authority from the legislative body, but it’s ultimately up to Congress to say you’ve over stepped, what we asked you to do, we empowered you to do X, Y, but now you’re doing Z, or also to say, hey, when we created this enabling legislation to empower this agency, we did not have this in mind. We did not have this in mind, right. And so we’re gonna need to go back to the drawing board on this. And I am encouraged that there is in many important, for many important issues, there seems to be a bipartisan effort. I don’t think this is beholden to one party or the other, although it is certainly playing itself out that way. When I think of President Biden’s executive order to order all of the agencies to look into the space and to come up with their rules, a report outs, etc. That happened back in 2022, in March of 2022. So a year later, we have some of those reports. The concern has been, and it’s been a bipartisan concern, that and what I what I testified about in March was about what appears to be a Choke Point 2.0. Choke Point 1.0 was an actual policy under the Obama administration that was cutting off banking access to certain industries deemed to be harmful at the time. So it was like the payday lenders and things like that. Ultimately, it was overturned. But you could at least intellectually understand why that might be. But it ended up not passing muster. We don’t have something on the books, but in effect, it has been very difficult for people operating in the crypto industry to actually be banked. They said, You know, it’s basically like, well, if you want it to be off, you know, off the grid and have your own little money, then you won’t use our banks to do it. And what we’re seeing is that and that has happened in the marijuana industry as well, it’s like if this is if something is otherwise legal, and lawful, that we shouldn’t have a government operating against it to thwart its progress and kind of kill it in its infancy, which what it appears to be. And so you will see this discussion around banking and and being able to onboard meaning going from cash to crypto, and off boarding, settling out, selling in the way that you would sell stocks, and then recoup in in Fiat. So we’ll see that playing itself out too. But that’s another major issue.

Gene Tunny  28:20

Right so is that really difficult at the moment so does the government make it difficult to do that?

Tonya Evans  28:24

It has been very difficult even for someone like me, in addition to teaching at Penn State, Dickinson Law School, I have my own onboarding platform. It’s a online business, I do not sell tokens, I do not invest for other people. And I have either been debanked or had an application denied just because I am a crypto educator, which makes no sense in the world. And it was too difficult because what banks were also hearing is, the government doesn’t like it, even though banks are private, they are in general, they are inextricably linked with the government, as we always see in terms of bailouts, etc, etc. And so when you hear from on high, that this is something that the government at this point in time does not fully support, in my humble opinion, because it is a customer service issue. When you start exchanging value that isn’t beholden to a government. That’s a big deal. You know, it’s we’re basically looking at a time where you have internet 3.0 web 3.0 is what people refer to it as, in the web 2.0 version. There was great support around the globe for the global exchange of information. Yeah, we had to use the internet, you had to protect the internet. Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel had to figure out what the hell email was because we were all going to use it. Right. And that was great. And we wanted to support innovation, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Now we have web three where not only are we exchanging messages of information packets of information. Now those packets are about value. It gets at the heart of even why governments tax, particularly in times of war, etc, and to protect borders that are now being threatened by a borderless currency. That’s a BFD. And so that changes the conversation even though the technology is the same. And so we have a customer service issue. And until governments can figure it out, I don’t think they’re always going to be very excited, particularly in the United States where we have the globe currently. Let’s talk about it in 10 years, but currently the global reserve.

Gene Tunny  30:42

Yeah, yeah. In your books title, you talk about going from cash to crypto. And that’s a you’ve got a registered trademark sign there, is that your platform is it Professor Evans can you explain what cash to crypto is about please?

Tonya Evans  30:56

Yeah, that’s my signature course. So I when I launched Advantage Evans Academy, my primary course and it’s still up and very popular today. It’s an on demand, evergreen version, I’m constantly updating actually, because things change every year. And it takes you in five modules from introducing folks to fundamentals or even the purpose. We start with mindset of even trusting ourselves, managing our own money, because as a Gen Xer I grew up, the minute that you had any money, you’re gonna put it in the bank. And it’s interesting to learn more, as I’ve learned more about the crypto space to really fundamentally start to unpack savings and loans, it’s like, Alright, so let me get this straight, I’m going to put a whole bunch of money into the bank, maybe you used to be able to walk down to the bank, I don’t know if people can do that anymore. And I’m gonna put my money in and it’s gonna be safe there and up to $100,000. I’ll get it back. If we all want our money, even though I plan to have way more than $100,000 stored for another day, right? But let’s say I just have 100,000, it’s FDIC insured, and I’m going to earn a pittance, if anything in interest. And then that same bank is going to loan me back my money for cars for homes, and they’re going to keep the spread. I don’t like that. I don’t like that system. I didn’t know that was a system where I was taught not to trust myself. And not to worry my pretty little head about it. Well, I’ve learned so much in the last six, going on seven years than I had, and I went to Northwestern and went to all the best schools I graduated with honours that from law school. My dad’s a doc, my mom’s a lawyer. I knew nothing about money before I really started to lean in and see how disconnected I was even from the process. Even from understanding when people ask me, what is bitcoin backed by, like what is the dollar backed by? And I don’t hate dollars, I love dollars. But we haven’t been on the global, excuse me the gold system standard for decades. Based on the full faith and credit of the government, we keep coming up against the threat of government shutdown, we’ve had two downgrades in our credit rating, because people aren’t trusting us as much as they used to. Because it’s our full faith and credit. Our word is supposed to be our bond, and it’s scaring the rest of the world. So this is an also, an alternative, alternative to that, that people need to get aware of. Not necessarily replacement in toto today. But you definitely want options in this world.

Gene Tunny  33:33

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  33:38

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Gene Tunny  34:07

Now back to the show.

This is something I’ve covered on the show quite a bit because it’s obviously a huge issue in economics. And I mean the way that I think about it and that economists think about it’s well Milton Friedman in Monetary History of the United States, even you know, he acknowledged look, money is a fiction. But what will, what the question is which, which fiction is the most powerful do most believe and the fact is that with dollars, you can settle existing contracts, all the prices are in dollar terms. And you can pay your taxes to the inland ra…, internal revenue or to the Australian Taxation Office in the local currency. So that’s what gives the dollar power or means that that fiction is strongest. And I think that’s, that’s why many economists are concerned about that. And why there is that concern about well, maybe, I mean, is this volatility going to ever settle down? I don’t know. I mean, I think I take your points in your book, I think you make the best possible case for, for Bitcoin and for crypto. But yeah, I think that would be the concern of, of economists. Do you have any thoughts on that at all Professor Evans?

Tonya Evans  35:29

I think it’s important, it’s an important metric. I don’t even know if it’s a success or not, but just to understand what position crypto should have, if any, in an overall portfolio. And obviously, there is I mean, Bitcoin, for example, is up almost 70% this year. And it is one of the quickest ways over its lifecycle to get a significant return on investment as it goes through it’s bull and bear cycles in the same way that the stock market goes through bear, bullish and bearish cycles, the manipulation and I don’t use that pejoratively, but the way that monetary policy is set with inflation, we’re tweaking it’s kind of like we’re calibrating, right. And so there’s a natural energy lifecycle to assets. And as long as you are strategic, you could have something that is very, very safe and secure and predictable, offset with something that isn’t, with great risk comes greater reward, and then it’s an overall balance a balanced portfolio that I think is most important, I would not recommend, although I know some you know, Bitcoin maximalists will cash out their 401 K and put it all into Bitcoin and let it roll. They I think there’s a privilege in being able to do that, because I believe that if past is prologue, we are we will be entering a bull market soon. I think with more positive news. We’re getting past the crypto contagion, we have endured a two and a half, almost three year down cycle. And historically speaking, things have ticked upward. Bitcoin is generally the the rising tide that lifts all boats around. So even really crappy coins start to do modestly better. When bitcoin is doing better, that’s one of the many dangers I see in the space. But you know, whether or not this becomes this entire ecosystem becomes more stabilised. I believe that is possible. I just don’t know if I can read the tea leaves yet of when. But I do believe it’s not a matter of if but when giving, given the import of this technology that is just so pervasive across industry, and sector, it also makes me think of what will be the monetary standard. And this is not too far fetched to stay in space, in outer space, and we don’t have all of the sophisticated borders and things of that nature, but you’re gonna have to have a common currency that becomes more than any one government or, or country’s currency. What currency will that be? It’s probably going to be a digital asset. Which one I don’t know. It may not be Bitcoin, but it’s going to be some type of digital coin. And so preparing for that now and having a first mover advantage depending upon your risk tolerance is something that I’m willing personally to do. And I believe the first step to that is for folks to lean into education, from cash to crypto programme is great for fundamentals. Obviously, the book is a quick read that just level sets, facts so that people have a better idea of what questions to even ask, as they start to kind of become cautiously optimistic in the space, not fall victim to fear uncertainty and doubt or FUD and definitely not to fall victim to FOMO when people start talking about it and and celebrities are back in and NFT’s are all the rage and the next DOW comes out like you cannot be emotional about strategically investing for the long term. And so that’s what I want to educate and empower people to do through through my work through my courses. And certainly through the book.

Gene Tunny  39:22

Gotcha. You raise an interesting question about effectively what’s going to be the currency of the Galactic Empire. I’m gonna have to think more about that and see if any science fiction writers have thought about that. That’s quite a quite an important question. I like it. Right! With the, one thing I’m wondering is do you know how, how extensive is Bitcoin or crypto being used for actual transactions? Are contracts being written in do you see any of that going on?

Tonya Evans  39:53

That’s a great question. I’ve not quantified that yet. I love that question. You’ll have to have me back and we can uncover that. What I know for sure is that more and more legacy companies are creating opportunities for their existing customers to stay on platform and to have access, exposure or some of the the benefits of crypto and the underlying technology. So MasterCard and Visa have products now that will allow you to either earn crypto back, or to pay for things in crypto and you don’t really have to ever touch Bitcoin or whatever crypto is connected to it, because that happens behind the scenes. But you can say I offer this product, right? There’s still I don’t think they’re set their real time settlement is to the blockchain, right? They still have their legacy infrastructure, but they want to not lose customers, as people become more curious and have more opportunities. So Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, they will, PayPal first entered into the space, they would allow you to purchase Bitcoin, I don’t think it was other coins at the time, but you couldn’t take it off platform. So for me and for cypherpunks, or others, like the whole thing is your own personal self custody of your assets. So I don’t leave things on a centralised exchange, even if I trust it. Look what happened to you know, those who had left their property on FTX’s, centralised exchange or BlockFi. We saw a lot of lenders, you know, go out of business and file bankruptcy and your coins go with it. So self custody is a really important thing. But most people are not going to do that now. And PayPal knows that. So giving people the ability, they realised they weren’t going to get a lot of traction if they didn’t allow for people to take their Bitcoin off platform. And eventually they developed a product to do that. And in addition, they recently, I don’t know how to pronounce it, but they have their own coin. It’s like PY something. But it’s a PayPal, stablecoin so that they can do real time settlement within their own PayPal ecosystem, which is really really powerful Cash App, you have been able to buy bitcoin off of Cash App forever, and then transfer it off into your own self custody wallet. We have, in full transparency I am a member of the Board of Digital Currency Group, which owns Grayscale as in CoinDesk, it owns Genesis as well as well, probably 200 different projects and companies in its portfolio. And one of those is Grayscale, Grayscale has GBTC. So the Grayscale Trust, I’m sure a number of people have seen their commercials and Grayscale has petitioned or applied to exchange or change the character of GBTC into a spot Bitcoin ETF. And so there are so many companies BlackRock, one of the most prudent, traditional historical companies in the in the investment space has applied for an ETF as well. So Deutsche Bank, it just the gamut. So most of that exposure has been for high net worth individuals, but the crypto really is a democratic, inspiring currency. And that’s not a particular political party. It’s this the democratic with a little D that democratises access to, to money and not just money. Because we, it’s a bit of a misnomer to say cryptocurrencies. I feel like if we had to do all over again, we’d call it what I say as crypto asset, because some function well as currencies as we’ve talked about, but it also here in the States and around the world. In in Australia, for sure. We, it is a capital asset. So it’s not just currency. It has additional powers and properties, which is why many people right now, lending to its volatility. This idea of holding on we hoddle or huddle, you’ll see. So used to the proper word was hold and then it was misspelt and now it’s folklore to say huddle, instead of hold that holding for the long term, which makes Bitcoin in particular more valuable because it has a hard cap. Unlike many of the other coins and currencies that are more susceptible to inflation in the same way we see government issued currencies. So so so there’s a lot there to to focus on. You mentioned volatility is one thing I wanted to tie up with that as well, because it lends itself to what we’re talking about now. As more entrants come in to the space, as liquidity continues to rise, as clarity in the laws and regulations start to settle, historically speaking, the volatility of pricing starts to diminish. And the interesting question will be, how long will that take in this space? It just feels like everything is moving more quickly. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or the world is moving faster or both. But what used to take decades and decades, I don’t know that it takes as long anymore, but time will tell.

Gene Tunny  45:36

Yeah, yeah. You mentioned GBT, was it GBTC? Could you? What does that mean? Sorry, I missed that before GB…

Tonya Evans  45:46

Grayscale has a Trust Company and it sells shares of its trust, and the trust holds Bitcoin and other assets. And what and so that was permissible, but it was set up as a trust, not offered as an exchange traded fund for Bitcoin specifically, and so Grayscale submitted a proposal, an application that is sitting before the SEC currently to be approved for a spot Bitcoin ETF. So it has an existing infrastructure. GBTC is available and traded, but based upon trust interests, not as a spot ETF, and that’s what we’re waiting to see. There are 12 different applications before the SEC, an important date for approval is the first one would be November 17. So there’s been a lot of speculation, will the SEC approve one, a few, all 12? So as not to be kind of like the kingmaker to say this is the first one we will approve, maybe that would unfairly, you know, nod to one particular company over another where I believe the SEC hates them all. My opinion, not the opinion of this show. But the federal court said what it said, so we’re gonna, you know, not a matter of if but when but will it be all of them? Will it just be the one from Grayscale? Will it be the first one that they receive? But there’s some date certains that are built into the application process and that’s what the SEC is coming up against now.

Gene Tunny  47:25

Right! Okay. Yeah, definitely. Look out for that. Right I’ve just got two more questions. If you have time Professor Evans this is fascinating. Really, really interesting. And I like the point you made about how you got to make sure you actually own the the assets, the crypto, there’s a phrase you use, I can’t remember off the top of my head but something about you if you don’t own the keys, you don’t own the crypto is that it? Something like that?

Tonya Evans  47:48

Yeah, not your keys, not your crypto not your keys, not your coins, not your keys, not your cheese, whatever you fancy.

Gene Tunny  47:54

Gotcha. Yeah, the other term I learned that is the Lamb bro. So for the Lamborghini bros. And so if we do have that, the bull market in in crypto, we’ll see a few more Lamborghinis out on the street. So it’s a bit of a…

Tonya Evans  48:10

We might, and I will have to say that those who, particularly cypherpunks, hate, hate, hate this moniker, they hate it, hate it, hate it, and I get it. I will tell you, as a woman who has gone to a number of conferences, it’s rough out there sometimes. I think there are men who have the privilege of not seeing how male dominated it, certain ecosystems can be, I mean, certain conferences can be and how intimidating it can be when people are drunk and things are going on and was very flashy. I think that is a misrepresentation in general of my experience, and I’m a black woman. As long as you know, I talk the talk and walk the walk I have, generally speaking, been received well, I have to say. That being said, the Lamborghinis, the parties, the strippers like that’s a lot. So when it makes me but, you know, you think of the idea that we have the finance world, and we have the tech world. And then they come together into this microcosm. The Crypto ecosystem is a microcosm of those two spaces where women are underrepresented significantly, even though it continues to improve people of colour, etc. And so there is no impediment other than one’s own education and knowledge and awareness of the space, which is encouraging. And I think for those who have been in the space for a long time, or maybe from the Cypherpunk movement would say, we’re not keeping anybody out. Right. Many are libertarians, they were like, equal …. is good. Get yours. I’m gonna get mine. I’m not going to keep you from yours. Don’t keep me from my, and I get that I respect that. I think there are other forces that work that make me want to be more intentional. To know how much personally and professionally I have benefited from the knowledge and awareness, the professional pivot I did as a lawyer, as a professor, as an educator, that now I believe, for anyone in the world, it is the best opportunity in countries like mine, and countries like yours, to get ahead to kind of level the playing field to get get caught up as a matter of generational wealth at any other time, in certainly my history, but I would argue the history of the world, because things are digitised, we’re starting to remove like redlining and gatekeepers, things that would maintain the status quo to have the best for just a few. And then the rest left for everybody else. This is one of those pivotal inflection points in life. And I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say, because I know personally, and for those who I’ve helped educate who are like me, that this was that makes it more exciting to. And so I, it was really important for me to put that chapter in the book, because I wanted to not only say, the crypto bro thing it has existed, but it hopefully is the exception and not the rule for people who are very serious in the space. But also it misrepresents all of those who are curious and well positioned to take advantage of the space too, because the only thing that is keeping people out presently is a lack of awareness, education, and some protection as they enter an untested space in many ways.

Gene Tunny  51:46

Gotcha. And that is one of the themes of your book, you were referencing it before. It’s the idea that you see this as it can level the playing field or can provide opportunities to people from minority groups. And I know you’re not saying definitely invest in crypto, but yeah, how do you think about it? Because I see risks in crypto. And I mean, is this the right thing for someone starting out or some someone with not a lot of resources to invest in first thing? How do you think about that?

Tonya Evans  52:17

I would like to see kind of a both and approach particularly with respect to Bitcoin. When I first started in the space I, for a number of reasons, one as a professional and thinking a lot of my profession and not wanting to misguide people, knowing people would trust my voice if they heard it from me. And so I didn’t want to be in the habit of saying buy Bitcoin, buy ETH, buy this, buy that, I’ve changed my approach because Bitcoin is quite special as are stablecoins, I actually think stablecoins are the best way for people to get in. They’re not going to get wrecked by volatility. There’s some really strong ones, USDC from Circle, I have great respect for that team doing exceptional job. I know some of those folks, personally, I love USDC. We also have Tether. I don’t know who the people are. But I know Tether is very important to the Etherium ecosystem. It’s kind of like the oil that keeps things going there. When people want to jump out of the volatility of the market, but not out of crypto, they often move in the stables. And there are ways that you can earn interest and yield and blah, blah, blah. And so, I believe the short answer to your question is that this is a space where you want to start buying, you do, the best days right now are when most people aren’t there. The best times to make a sizable return if it’s to be had at all, is when most people are scared. Right? Warren Buffett says be greedy when people are fearful and fearful when people are greedy. When people start to get greedy, that’s when you know you’re probably getting to the top of a cycle and it’s time to like stabilise move things around, rebalance, reposition. And to really understand that with all of those, you know, 1000s and 1000s of tokens and coins. I hope you’re not gonna buy them all. Probably not gonna buy the overwhelming majority but they’re the you know, the top five, top, top 10 have a proven track record. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to win. But if you start now, you start learning the language. It’s what I’ve even done with stocks when I started swing trading, not day trading, but swing trading sometimes I had to start to learn how to read charts and candles and wicks and bar graphs right to start understanding. If this is the way this particular assets move, once it hits this particular range, maybe that’s a great time to buy. Maybe I’m wrong, but at least I’m using some type of disciplined, non emo…, separate, disciplined approach like separate from emotion. And that’s really important. Some of those same strategies can be used in the crypto space, but the major caveat, not only as a matter of volatility, but also this is 24/7 365. There are no national holidays. There’s oftentimes no customer service. I mean, if you’re buying and holding on an exchange, you have some additional layers of protection. But you have some risks even being on exchanges. This is the time to learn about this. Stable coins, literally are pegged to a particular asset, in most cases, the dollar or some equivalent of that as well. So you don’t have to go up and down with the market, but you can learn about the market. And then finally, back to my original point about Bitcoin because it has a hard cap of 21 million coins that will ever be in circulation, and actually 19 million are already in circulation. But it’ll be a long time after my life. And yours when the final bitcoin is actually issued for some technical reasons we can talk about next time, but it’s special. It’s special. And actually, I don’t think and I think many people would agree with me, Bitcoin doesn’t really function well as a peer to peer cash for more stable economies in Australia, in the United States, in Canada, in very various places in Europe, because it’s a nice to have for most people, not a need to have. But then you go to other nations, you go to Central and South America, you go to countries on the continent of Africa, and you start to see places, Ecuador and El Salvador, where there’s complete destabilisation, there’s confiscation, it is critically important that people have access to something that will hold its value better than the national currency, that is more trustworthy and non-confiscatable in the same way that their local currency is. And when you when you start to learn about that, like people need to travel and understand different cultures and people to really get a handle on why this even if it’s not important, and like a nice investment to have, for some it’s life or death for others. And eventually, every one of us will be touched by some catastrophe at some point that will have a direct impact on our finances, be it natural disaster, something going on, God forbid, with the government and everything in between, like, we have to pay attention to what’s going on in the world. And to, there’s 99.9% of things we can’t control, control the controllables. And one of those is your own level of education in a space that’s transformative, but has the potential to be empowering and to protect you down the road. By the time you need to figure it out. It’s oftentimes too late. So now’s really the time, the market is kind of quiet, the bad actors are starting to get routed out. This is the time when you don’t have the FOMO and FUD pressure, and you can proactively start to take some significant steps in the right direction.

Gene Tunny  58:03

Righto, okay. Final question. You mentioned about criminal activity and as a proportion of all crypto activity, the criminal activities, very small proportion, okay, accept that, but has crypto, is there any evidence on whether crypto has enabled criminal activity? So it’s expanded the amount of criminal activity out there in, so does it make it easier to traffic arms or just you know, awful things like human trafficking, etc? Do we know in drugs? Do we know anything about that?

Tonya Evans  58:37

It’s just a small, small part. There are some significant bad actors who deal precisely in the things that you’ve mentioned. But and the Wall Street Journal here. Maybe within the last, well had to be within the last month, they ran this completely error-ridden report about Hamas, raising millions and millions in Bitcoin. And there was this huge rush by Senator Warren and some other folks signing off on letters saying that needs to be immediate action taken. And it was just completely wrong. And it was scary that our legislators would rely on something that was so faulty, and with not insignificant pushback and fact checking, mostly coming from the crypto community. The Wall Street Journal had to issue a retraction and the senators had to stand down. What was said to be millions and millions that Hamas, Hamas was like, please don’t send us any more money they can track it. Thank you. Send us dollars. Send us dollars do not, send send us dollars and oil. Do not send us Bitcoin because of the nature of the tracking. You can literally go to any bitcoin tracker and see in real time. Now it’s pseudonymous, not anonymous at but with Chainalysis and some other companies use what’sapp’s called blockchain forensics. And it’s really like following the money. It’s a paper trail. But only it’s not using paper and every single transaction all the way back to the original transaction in Bitcoin issued by Satoshi Nakamoto, him or herself, is on chain visible, and you can see from wallet to wallet to wallet to wallet, and you start aggregating pieces of data. This is the way the Department of Justice here in the United States starts to root that out, and it’s just a terrible place for activity. Now, the one point is, it might be easier to get it up front. But it’s not a matter of if but when, with the right resources behind behind it, some of that stuff is going to get found and people will be routed out and they will come to justice. So this is a terrible thing for for for criminal activity. That doesn’t mean criminals won’t try. They’re very lazy. And maybe they don’t know a lot about it either. But that’s why there’s a relatively insignificant amount because, you know, it’s easy to hide physical cash. Right? It’s not easy to hide something that’s there in plain sight. So it’s tough to combat that point because of the pervasiveness of, like the sensationalised headlines, and again not to diminish what’s going on we use Sam Bankman-Fried for example, as an you know, kind of the poster boy, but it took less time because he was apprehended in the Bahamas on November 7, in like basically almost a year to the date. He’s a convicted felon, and we’re just waiting for his sentence. It took way more time to find out who was involved in the the housing crisis, way more time to take down Bernie Madoff. It’s all garden variety fraud, but it happened far more quickly in the crypto space and I don’t think that the crypto space gets enough credit for that.

Gene Tunny  1:02:00

Yeah, good point. Very good point. Okay, Professor Tonya Evans, this has been amazing. I really value your insights and your your deep knowledge of this sector. This is this is really terrific. And I got a lot out of this. And yeah, I’d love to do a round two sometime in the future. But yep, Digital Money Demystified. I’ve got it on Kindle. I think it comes out in paperback. Next year, early next year. So yep, I think

Tonya Evans  1:02:28

It’s here now, yeah now here now go to your favourite place and buy buy buy, you can go to digitalmoneydemystified.com. But it came out on October 24. So it’s available wherever books around the world are sold.

Gene Tunny  1:02:42

Okay, ah very good. I must have misread that. That’s, that’s terrific. Well, Professor Tonya Evans, thanks so much for your time. I really value the conversation.

Tonya Evans  1:02:50

Appreciate you Gene. Thank you.

Gene Tunny  1:02:53

Righto, thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via contact@economicsexplored.com Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting app lets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.

1:03:40

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Thanks to Obsidian Productions for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au. Full transcripts are available a few days after the episode is first published at www.economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Podcast episode

Iceland’s Secret: The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Con w/ Jared Bibler – EP215

Show host Gene Tunny interviews Jared Bibler, author of the book “Iceland’s Secret: The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Con.” Jared discusses his firsthand experience during the brutal 2008 financial crisis in Iceland, where he worked at a collapsed bank and later at the financial markets regulator. He sheds light on the dodgy behavior of bankers leading up to the crisis and the severe consequences that followed. Stay tuned to the end of the episode for Gene’s interpretation of Iceland’s secret and its relevance to economies worldwide.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple Podcasts and Spotify.

About Jared Bibler

Jared started his career as a consultant for a Wall Street giant in Boston and New York until moving to Iceland to support the Icelandic pension funds’ foreign investments. He resigned from his job at a leading Icelandic bank a weekend before the 2008 Icelandic financial crisis.

He was subsequently hired to lead a special investigation team, which referred more than 30 criminal cases to the Special Prosecutor of Iceland, including the largest stock market manipulation cases to be prosecuted globally.

Jared’s insider knowledge and unwavering persistence helped Iceland to famously become the only country to jail its bank CEOs. But the real story, deeply complex and sinister, has direct relevance today as banks once again begin to tumble.

What’s covered in EP215

  • 00:02:56 Iceland’s financial crisis was fueled by the growth of banks that became Enron-sized and collapsed, causing significant damage to the economy.
  • 00:05:49 Financial industry corruption and collapse.
  • 00:11:30 Iceland’s banking system collapsed.
  • 00:19:33 Icelandic banks manipulated stock prices.
  • 00:27:26 The financial system is vulnerable.
  • 00:34:58 Banking fraud and economic collapse.
  • 00:35:58 Currency crisis in Iceland.
  • 00:47:19 Iceland faced economic crisis and unemployment.
  • 00:50:54 Iceland’s recovery transformed into something ugly.
  • 00:57:38 Lessons from Iceland’s banking collapse.
  • 01:00:16 Incentives and regulation in finance.

Links relevant to the conversation

Amazon page for Iceland’s Secret:

https://www.amazon.com.au/Icelands-Secret-Untold-Worlds-Biggest/dp/0857198998

Transcript: Iceland’s Secret: The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Con w/ Jared Bibler – EP215

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Jared Bibler  00:04

What meagre foreign currency reserves we had at the Central Bank, were being depleted. That’s another piece of the book. You probably didn’t get to but the central bank gave away most of its FX reserves. After the first two banks collapsed, central bank gave 500 million euros to prop up the Third Bank. That money disappeared in one day and then the third bank also collapsed. And they, they have never got that money back. That was that was a substantial chunk of Iceland’s FX.

Gene Tunny  00:40

Welcome to the economics explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show. Hello, and welcome to the show. This episode is about Iceland’s secret, the untold story of the world’s biggest con. That’s the title of a book by my guest, Jared nibbler. Jared witnessed the brutal 2008 financial crisis in Iceland firsthand, he worked at one of the banks that eventually collapsed, and later on he worked at the financial markets regulator. His work contributed to the prosecution and conviction of several bank executives. In his book, Jared highlights the dodgy behaviour of bankers leading up to the financial crisis in Iceland and just how bad things got stay tuned until the end of the episode to hear my interpretation of Iceland’s secret, which is relevant to economies worldwide. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy it. Jared Biblia Welcome to the programme. Hey,

Jared Bibler  02:03

thanks so much for having me, Gene. It’s a pleasure to be here. Oh, of course,

Gene Tunny  02:07

Jared. So yep. I’ve been reading your book with much interest, Iceland’s secret The Untold Story of the world’s biggest con. Now, I was in the treasury here in Australia during the financial crisis. And so we had our own challenges here. And I mean, not as much as other places, but that I remember seeing the news about Iceland that I just didn’t realise just how crazy things that got in, in Iceland, and it was great. Your book, really set it all out and had all your personal stories and recollections in it too. So it’s terrific. So to kick off with, could you just give us a flavour please? What was Iceland secret?

Jared Bibler  02:54

Well, I think you have to read the book to see the secret. But the the secret of the of the crash, I think was that we had these banks, which had been very sleepy institutions catering to a population of just around the time at that time in the 90s, about 250,000 people, very sleepy small savings banks, one was called the agriculture bank. One banks really financed the fisheries, and so on. But these are very small institutions. And they were able to grow a Ponzi like doubling in size every year during the during the first decade of the century, for several years, and so they they grew to each become the size of an Enron. And at that time, when they crashed, the population was still only 300. Little over 300,000 people. So we had these, we had these huge Enron sized collapses in one week, in a country with, you know, one 1000 for the size of the US. When Enron collapsed, it was a it was a big story, you know, and it was, there was a task force of 600 federal investigators, I believe, looking into Enron, and there were movies, there were five or six books, there was an Enron musical, I don’t know if you remember. And I was talking to a reader the other day, and he said, Look, this Iceland story was just so much bigger. And what why is why is your book deal now there are a few other books about it. There’s a lot of books in Icelandic about it. But there’s not that much talking about it. I didn’t really want to write this book. But I felt like after a few years, I have to tell this story. And I actually really struggled to tell the story. But first because I was trying to tell the story as an outside, outside, you know, so third person just here’s what happened in Iceland. And a very good friend of mine who helped me with the book. She said, No, you have to tell it through your own, you know, your own walk through the crisis. So that’s, that’s what we ended up doing. Yeah,

Gene Tunny  04:52

because you had experience in a bank, one of the big banks in Iceland prior to the crash, and then you ended up as a regulator, didn’t you investigating what went wrong? Could you tell us? I mean, how did that transition go? How did you go from being the banker and then leaving just before the crash and then to the, to the regulatory agency? Well,

Jared Bibler  05:16

my wife who the book is dedicated to, she had a dream. And, and a prophetic dream, as I think you see in the book, and she told me just to get out of the bank, and I had been in an asset management role, we had been managing money for mainly the pension funds in Iceland. So we had we had funds of private equity funds and hedge fund to funds was my main product. But I was really unhappy with the things I was seeing around me in the asset management department. You know, it’s the standard asset management stuff that people do, you know, if you want a big client to come in you, you price things in a way that all the existing people in the fun pay for that person that come in, and they never know it, right. So there’s a lot of that stuff. And I guess that’s pretty endemic, still in that industry. But that really bothered me. I mean, I was really, I was studying for the CFA, I was signing these ethics statements, and I was saying, so my wife knew that how upset I was, she told me to quit. So I just quit, I didn’t have a job to go to. And that was a Friday that it was my last day the all the banks collapsed, the next two of them collapsed on Monday, and one of them collapsed on Thursday of the next week. Right? Then we were just really, almost penniless. Because at the time, I mean, the crash, how it felt to live through that cannot be overstated. It was it was a horrendous experience. Because we didn’t it at some points, we couldn’t even access the money in our bank accounts. And almost everything that we had was frozen and later hair cut and discounted, we ended up losing our house in the end. And a lot of our friends did as well. So I mean, it was it was a horrendous time, the British had invoked terrorist legislation against the whole country of Iceland, declaring Iceland a terrorist organisation. And, you know, and this is what was barely reported, you know, we were sitting there being called terrorists by Gordon Brown. And that meant that all the payments into the country and foreign currencies were frozen for weeks or months. So that was a very dark winter, people were out on the streets. And the winter in Iceland is not that cold, but it’s dark. You know, it’s in Reykjavik, it’s about zero degrees, most of the time in the winter, but it’s dark. And people would be out on the street in the dark banging pots and pans and in front of the parliament building. And so I finally I didn’t have a job for the for all these months, my wife had a new job. And so we were trying to live on what she was making. And in Iceland, your mortgage payment goes up every month. So the principal balance is recalculated with the inflation of the preceding month, and then the the monthly payment is recalculated each month. So our payments went up something like 40% 50% in a very short time. So then I got very luckily, hired by the regulator, they said they wanted to hire one investigator to help them untangle the mess of the collapsed, you know, the three Enron collapses that we’d had ended up hiring to others, they hired me, another guy who had been in the banks and a woman who was a lawyer. And they just said to us, you know, go investigate the crisis. And so that was about six months after. I eventually, as you see in the book, I eventually got more people. But it took, I think it took 12 months to get my first person to add add to my team. And then eventually, we got we got a nice team together to do these investigations. So yeah,

Gene Tunny  08:48

so I’ve got sort of halfway in the book. So I apologise I haven’t read it all. And I’m still learn Iceland secret. I thought I’d died. Yeah, yeah. What What I found fascinating about the book is just because you’re American, aren’t you? You’re You’re you’ve studied in the States, and you end up in, in Iceland, and the, the culture is different. And yeah, I thought some of those recollections were terrific. And you’re talking about, you know, working with your, your fellow team members, so that that was great. So it’s worth reading for that. So yes. Can I just fix it in time? So we’re talking, we’re talking about October 2008. Is that right? That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. And Lehman Brothers had collapsed a couple of weeks before so you weren’t worried about that?

Jared Bibler  09:40

Oh, everybody was ever Yeah. So for? Well, to put a timeline on the whole on the whole episode, from 1998 was the beginning. I believe of the banks being privatised in Iceland. So the banks had been government owned, more or less. And they were still Hold off in pieces, but not in a, in a way that’s still being criticised today, and in Iceland and still hasn’t really been fully investigated today. Because basically, the powerful politicians gave bank a lot of banks out to people affiliated with those political parties. And so there wasn’t a lot of transparency, there was no, there was apparently foreign interest for lunch bunkie which was the oldest bank, but then the guest that bid was never even really considered. They just wanted to keep it in the family. Keep it keep it national, you know, Icelandic owned. And so that was 98 203 was a sort of beginning of the privatisation wave. And then in oath 203, they floated the ISK on global currency markets. So it was an exchangeable currency. And when that happened, it just things just took off. Yeah, so So the boom years was really I moved there in oh four, which was maybe one year in one, two years into the boom. And the whole thing lasted only a couple of years, really. Because by oh five, according to one, former executive, I believe oh five, he said, a quick thing, bank was already insolvent. And so the only you know, they, they weren’t doing great banking, at any, in my opinion, in any of these years, the banks were not the only way to escape the bad decisions of the year before was to double the bank in size, the next year, and they had a they had big foreign lenders just pumping money into these banks, so that it for a few years, they could borrow as much as they wanted. From European and later American lenders, there was already a mini crisis in 2006, where the currency crash stock market crashed and everything was a bit a bit, you know, up in the air, what would happen. And at that point, the banks actually started open retail savings accounts for retail customers in Europe, in order to collect the funding that they needed. And they were able to then keep the party going. So then I started in LHINs. Bucky in the Asset Management Department in early oh seven. And the subprime in the trade press, people were talking about subprime already, January Oh, seven, I was started to follow it. And things got more and more. At first, we thought this isn’t gonna, this isn’t going to touch us. Now, Icelandic banks barely invested in subprime. They weren’t doing much, they were just making bad loans to their friends, more or less. But though eight was when things were getting more and more dicey in the bank. And by the end by, I think, looking back when Lehman collapsed, the credit markets between banks in the world really froze. And those weeks and the Icelandic banks were on writing on just fumes anyway. And so that was the final straw, but they were not healthy. Now, this is not the story that I’ll tell you today. By the way, my book is not so popular in Iceland. Because Because the story now is that we had a great banking system, even though it was 11 times bigger than our GDP, but we had a great banking system. And and Lehman killed it. When otherwise it would have been fantastic. But yeah, it was Yeah. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  13:26

What I was asking was because you you quit in a period where I mean, did you? Did you ever you had a parent or your wife or her or your partner had a premonition that the bank was just going to go down and you wanted to get out? You should get out as soon as possible is that is that she

Jared Bibler  13:45

actually said? And she never talked like this. She said, Don’t let those eight holes fire you. You need to get out of there. She said, she had a dream that I was being fired and something bad had happened. And she said you need to be the one to quit to get out of there first. So as soon as she said that, I I I went, you know, I think I quit within a couple of days. So yeah.

Gene Tunny  14:09

So it’s interesting you talking about the rock the fact that Iceland floated, visit the kroner the corona, was that in early 2000s, that late in I think it was oh two, I think oh two, right. And so probably liberalised capital flows. And, yes, so you’ve got all of these, all of this lending, what to have any idea what was in the minds of the lenders? I mean, what were they seen in Iceland? What is the story they’re telling themselves? I

Jared Bibler  14:44

have a thought experiment for you imagine if a small Caribbean nation with 300,000 people went to Deutsche Bank just to pick on them because Deutsche lay a lot of money and lost a lot on the Icelandic banks. Majan if a 300,000 person Island went to Deutsche Bank He said our main exports are fisheries and tourism. Yeah. And we’d like to have a great banking system. But they would have laughed, right? They would not have probably went into that. But because it’s this, especially in German because now we live in Switzerland, especially in the German speaking imagination, Iceland is really to lay Iceland is really the, the mythical land of of, well, well, it is. It is the mythical land of the Sagas and Vikings and so on. And so the they were happy to, to to lend into this. They said, Oh, we’re liberalising our banking system were developed Western economy. The interesting thing about No, I, I am an Icelander. So I have, you know, I have the passport. And, you know, we we have probably socially one of the very most developed countries in the world. Certainly for women’s rights, gay rights, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s leading edge. But the economy is not developed to match that. So the economy in those days was a lot of fishing, fish exports, and heavy power exports. And today, we’ve added huge and disgusting levels of tourism onto on top of that, so the cup before the pandemic, I think there were 10 tourists per year for every man, woman and child and in Iceland. And so that has become the, that has become the biggest export, I believe. Gotcha.

Gene Tunny  16:30

And can I ask you about? Yeah, that all of this lending, and where was it going? Was this going into your, into the property market in Iceland? Or what was what was being done with all the money that the banks were borrowing?

Jared Bibler  16:45

Yeah, the first thing they did is, is inflate all the bubbles they could domestically. So property bubble, they had a they had a little mini private equity boom in Iceland, maybe in? Oh, 304 I think where they, you know, did sale and lease backs of, I think who says Smithian, which is the it’s a home improvement chain in Iceland, but like a chain and Iceland maybe has only five, five locations or 10. You know, there’s really only one city in Iceland, which is Reykjavik. Yeah, most people live there. And so, so they did a sale and leaseback of these five or 10 properties, and you know, they did things like that. But then by Oh 405 They were increasingly looking to do investments abroad. And so there was a there were private equity style investment groups in Iceland that went and bought up things like European airlines. They bought a lot of high street shops in the UK, for example, they bought famously based on the really based on the historic relationship between the two countries. This was a big, this was a big win for Iceland. We bought Denmark’s Copenhagen’s most prestigious department store became Iceland owned, which was kind of a big, big faced, because Denmark had been the colonial masters for 700 years and just treat it still today that Danish tend to come to Iceland and bark orders at people on the street and so on. So to buy their department store was just seen as you know, the crown jewels, so they did a lot of very expensive deals in those years. You know, we had pretty low interest rates in those years, and there was a lot of a lot of these deals going on. But a lot of them ended up not being not being great. And so, yeah, so it was it was kind of a family family game where bankers made made loans to their colleagues in this in this connected private equity world of Iceland and they, you know, they went and did deals. The banks, the banks also bought other banks. So, they expanded hugely into Scandinavia. They bought some of the oldest London banks, singer and Friedlander inheritable and you know, they were by the time I think in oh eight, my bank lens bunkie had even opened a branch in Hong Kong, I believe, or Singapore. I mean, they were really they want it to be these globe straddling behemoths.

Gene Tunny  19:13

But a Yeah, yeah, but what happened? I mean, they, they borrowed too much from abroad. They learned domestically and in the, their, their data is they just, they couldn’t pay it back. And then the banks crash, they ran out of cash or liquidity. I mean, well, so what actually happened?

Jared Bibler  19:32

The first thing that I discovered as an investigator, which is which is how the book opens, is I get this letter from the stock exchange. Yeah. And the Stock Exchange says saying, hey, look, on the three days before these banks collapsed, they each seemed to be buying their own shares up on the exchange, and they seem to be doing it with with bank money. And I thought that’s a little bit crazy because they hadn’t announced any Any share buybacks, right. And the volumes on the last three days were huge. It was effectively, they bought the whole market. Every trade that came across the exchange was the bank’s cash on the buying side, keeping the price up. And I thought this is crazy, right. So as you saw in the book, I tried to figure out when that behaviour had begun. So I went back to the Lehman and went back a few weeks to cover Lehman because I thought, okay, probably after Lehman, they got really nervous, and they started trying to manipulate their own stock price, you know, I just wanted to put a book end on the activity, before I wrote up, you know, a criminal case to send to the prosecutor. And I had to keep going back and back and back. I went back to first I thought I was being very bold when I when I covered a six month period. And then it turned out that the activity was the same for the whole for basically the whole six months of April, oh, eight to the to the crash, more or less, they were in the market every day. And many days, they were buying more than 75% of the market for their own shares. And so I went back, we ended up going back to 2004, which is coincidentally when I had moved to Iceland, so for five years, they had been doing this behaviour. Later, when I was closing the research for the book, I came across some court documents where and we had seen indications of this. But there’s court documents where some of the traders openly talk about this behaviour going back to 1998. So from the first days of the banks being privatised by the government, they were already intervening in the market to to and so with my perspective, and of course, I’m biassed because I was the investigator who developed those cases, my perspective is without that share price manipulation, the banks could never have grown the way they did. Because they had such healthy performance on the equity market. One of them was dual listed in Stockholm and and Reykjavik. And so whenever they went to lenders, they could say, look at how great our results we will look. The markets love us, you know, look at our stock is up another 20% another 30% this year, or 100%. I mean, the markets, the Icelandic stock market in those boom years, it was going up 60% A year the whole market only Wow. Right. And, and the bat and that was that that lasted for several years, that was the broad market was 50 to 60% a year. And the banks, but the banks grew so fast, that they ended up becoming seven year 80 or 90% of the market cap because they crowded out everything else. And so when they collapsed, of course, the stock market lost 93%. In 2008, it was basically closed for equity trading after the bank collapse. And so all of our, for example, if you talk about damage to the people of Iceland, all of our pension funds had to be in the equity market. Right. And so, and basically that meant they had to be in the, in the banks. When when I was investigating the the manipulation that the banks did was looking at lists of buyers of the shares. And there were some periods in Oh 708, where the only legitimate buyers of the banking of the bank shares were the Icelandic pension funds. And all the rests were, you know, because, yeah, they were accumulating so many of their own shares each quarter that, you know, and that they were going to be in they had, you know, the big four auditors were, were their auditors. I mean, all this is all big names. You know, the Stock Exchange was called NASDAQ, oh, MX, Iceland, you have KPMG you have EY you don’t have the the big four auditors are in Iceland, they knew that when their books were audited, they couldn’t be sitting on, you know, $200 million worth of their own shares, which they had just bought on the exchange. So they did these complex and runs style machinations at the end of the quarter to offload the, the, the shares. And so they would create, I would find a shell company that British Virgin Islands that had just bought 100 million worth of shares. And so to answer your what one of your questions a few questions ago, what were they making loans to well, by the by Oh 607 their loan book was almost entirely to these bogus companies that they had just created to buy the shares from them. Yeah, so So you know, it doesn’t make any sense at all, but it was uh, I think fake wanted to keep that, that that. I call it shear laundering. I think they wanted to keep that scheme going as long as they could. Yeah. Now

Gene Tunny  24:59

is that all Iceland secret or is Iceland secret something far worse that I’ve yet to discover?

Jared Bibler  25:04

I think I’ll tell you that secret, if you want. I’ll do a spoiler alert. I don’t know. This. That is the secret is the share is certainly a big secret. Because you know, that that was never really reported. This is one of the reasons I wrote that was like, I have to tell this story. I mean, yeah, they basically deceived the whole country. And all the investing world, I mean, London, all the big markets knew about these Icelandic banks that were lending to them, they were doing business with them. And the whole time they had created, you know, an illusion of success based on this market manipulation that they were doing daily behind the scenes, you know, the guys who were doing the manipulation had to do it so much that if if there’s a famous phone call, and one of the court documents where the guy’s late for work in the summer, and the price in Sweden has already dropped a couple of percent, and his boss is calling him saying, Get in here, man, we’re losing, like, you know, if they had to be in there on every trade, to keep up this illusion, and they did this free for for a decade. So I think that’s, that’s, that’s one of the secrets of the book. Well,

Gene Tunny  26:14

I can we can leave it under wraps. Okay, because I don’t I don’t want to ruin any potential sales of your book. And I don’t want to spoil that for myself, too. But I was just wondering, because when I when I saw the title, and then I started radio, then I that must be the seagull you’re talking about. But if there’s something far worse that that really gets me interested,

Jared Bibler  26:35

there is something far worse. Okay. And I would, you know, go ahead. Well, I just want to make the point that a lot of people say, Who cares about Iceland, and I, of course, I love Iceland. So I care about it a lot. But, for example, when people here in Switzerland, read the book, or hear me talk about it, I get a lot, there’s a lot of scared faces in the crowd. Because a lot of a lot of the world’s financial markets are are subject to the same forces and incentives as we had in Iceland, which led to this incredible collapse, which devastated the country. And I think it’s really the story again, I’m biassed, of course, but I think this is really kind of the story of what we may be all facing in the next couple of decades. Because we, we haven’t managed yet. And that and I also people get offended when I say this, but in two or 300 years, I think people will look back on us and the way we structured our financial systems and laugh at the way we laugh at Dutch tulip mania, or, you know, because we have kind of no put in no incentives, or no structures to keep an Iceland from happening elsewhere. Now it’s going to be maybe the nice thing about Iceland is it’s such a small place. It’s such a small population that the scam is very easy to for me to describe to you. I think in a bigger market, it’s going to be more it’s gonna be more subtle. But But still, all the incentives are on the side of of cheating, and building in, in sustainability to our markets. And nobody is really paid good money to, to stop these things can mean you have some window dressing like you have comply. I mean, they stopped some things. But in my experience, when senior management of a bank wants a big deal to go through, that deal is gonna go through nobody’s sitting, nobody’s gonna get paid have a 5 million franc bonus to stop to stop to stop something. This is not how it works.

Gene Tunny  28:41

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  28:47

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Gene Tunny  29:16

Now back to the show. One of the interesting stories in the book is where you’re having to clear or run a transaction, aren’t you or make a transaction or deposit two was at a bank in Europe and trying to remember exactly yeah, it was trying to remember the details but in your manager, he initially said I Yep. Sounds fine to me. Just let it go through then. Later on. Oh, that must be it’s Jarrettsville. Sir, could you tell us about that?

Jared Bibler  29:49

Oh, yeah. So I tried to sprinkle in actually, my dream is to rereleased Iceland secrets sometime in the future with with more of the stories in there but my publishers said, you know, you’re a first time author, you only get 300 pages. Sorry, Jared, but, but I had more of more of those things have I tried to sprinkle in stories in the beginning, which are representative of the culture within the bank? And when actually when other bankers and other countries read this state, none of them says, They all say, oh, geez, yeah, that’s exactly how it is where I work, you know, none of them says, oh, Jared, this, this only happens in Iceland, they all say, Oh, yeah. So the story you’re referring to is we had a, some guys who call themselves a hedge fund. And they wanted our bank. To be basically we were the administrators of the fund, and the custodians of the funds, assets, but they were going to trade. And they had, they had got the investors, and they had, I think 120 million euros come into the fund. And they, as far as I could see, they weren’t hedging anything. They were just buying long positions and in equity, and very few companies. And I think they, I think they had some inside information, basically, on these few of these companies. But as the, as the saga went on, they did more and more crazy things. And one point they said, We’re, we’re investing in a shipping portfolio. I don’t even know what that means. And I was waiting for like the paperwork about because when you do an investment, you know, you know how it is. I mean, there’s there’s a contract, and there’s there’s there was nothing. They said just Just what please, they wrote me like, please help us wire 5 million euros to this account in Norway. Yeah. At at such and such bank, it was one of the biggest Norwegian or Scandinavian banks. So it was a reputable bank, but we didn’t count just had a person’s name. All I had was like an AI ban and a person’s name. And I went to my boss, and I said, I don’t think we should send 5 million customer money out of this fun to this account. We don’t have anything. He said, Why are you always making problems? You know, bring the solutions. And so I just decided, eventually I did it. I sent the money. I mean, I copied him on and and in an email to cover myself. And I said as as we discuss, you know, and as soon as I sent the 5 million, as soon as that went through they, they wanted another five. I mean, within within, as I remember it within a day. I mean, it was very quick. They ended up they ended up sending out 15 in cash. And the other weird thing about this was that it was such a, you know, when you’re looking for fraud, usually round numbers is a good flag, because most things don’t. There’s always a commission or you know, taxes or something, or exchange foreign exchange differences. Things never come out or rarely do they just come out to like 5,000,005. So yeah. So then the fund within a couple of weeks, got into trouble for some other things. Now, I had been trying to warn these guys about about the problems with this fund for more than a year. And they just said, you know, making problems just it’s going to be fine, you know, let it ride. And so you can see more of that in the book, but that they were going to scapegoat me then for this 15 million they went out. Because yeah, when his boss looked at it, and all the transactions that just jumped off the page, they were the biggest ones. And you know, all these zeros, they just jump off the page at you. He said, he said, What’s this? And my boss said, Oh, I don’t know, that looks like something that Jared did. That was that was the weekend. I think that happened on a Sunday. If I recall correctly that night was when my wife had the dream. And that Monday, she woke up and she said you have to get out of there. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  33:53

Was very smart. And that was a Friday. So yeah, there was the Friday that.

Jared Bibler  34:00

Well, I quit. So I put me so that was a Monday in Monday. Yeah, that. Well. That was right after Lehman. I have to go back. And look, it might have even been the Lehman weekend that that happened. It was in September, then I quit when you resign in Iceland, you you resign on the on a month end. Gotcha. So I put in my resignation for 31st of October. Sorry, 35th of September. So I probably put that in within a couple of days, effective 30. September, then I would have needed to work three more months, according to my contract. So So I should have been there October, November, December. But they was that stories in the book too. They basically let me go on the Friday October 3. And then the banks collapsed on the seventh eighth and the sixth, seventh and ninth of October.

Gene Tunny  34:58

So the banks collapsed. This is a day that was at the three biggest banks in Iceland collapsed. Yes. Right. Yeah. And you talked about the the hardship before. But so what did it mean, you know, one could get people weren’t able to get cash they the economy basically stalled? Yeah, it

Jared Bibler  35:18

was. So I’ll try to walk you through it. I mean, it was, it was frightening, because for months, the currency of the currency against the euro had been depreciating. So it’s through the, through the crisis week, the currency depreciated so much that it was it had lost half of its value, since maybe five, six months before that. So everything we were used to like flying to Europe and having vacations and things, everything was now double in price in a very short time. So that had already been going on. And the politicians were just saying, well, the currency will come back. There’s, there’s nothing on the other side, it’s never come back, of course, still today, and then what happened in the crisis is that it actually just, they just stopped trading. Nobody. So outside of Iceland, during the good years, it was 60 or 70 krona to the dollar. And then the offshore rate became something like two or three or 400 to the dollar raw. So anybody offshore who had ISK, they just wanted to dump it, they didn’t care what the rate was. So you had this offshore rate of two or three or 400, whatever it was. And then onshore, we had capital controls, which lasted a decade. So in Iceland, you could buy euros for, you know, for a predetermined rate set by the central bank. And they would basically give you the euros that they had against ISK. This lasted for a long time. And but you couldn’t get them you could only get them if you were travelling. Or if you hadn’t, if you had an invoice. That’s it. Yeah, there was no way to get dollars or euros or anything else for a long time. And of course, that that begat a huge new scam industry. All the bankers who had just been laid off from the banks, not all some of them started faking invoices from foreign companies. And you know, get if they had a relative in the UK, they have the relative send an invoice which said so and so’s consulting company 50,000 British pounds, they would get the, the onshore Icelandic rate, they’d wire the pounds out to the foreign account, the foreign guy would would take the British pounds and buy some Icelandic government bonds from a British guy who didn’t want them and would take the offshore rate. And they’d send the bonds back in in one in a one or two day round trip. They could double their money or triple their money in local currency terms. So that became a whole industry, which ran for about six. Yeah, to try to profit on the capital controls and but what it was really doing was depleting. The what meagre foreign currency reserves we had at the Central Bank, were being depleted. That’s another piece of the book. You probably didn’t get to. But the central bank gave away most of its FX reserves. After the first two banks collapse, central bank gave 500 million euros to prop up the Third Bank. That money disappeared in one day. And then the third bank also collapsed. And they they have never got that money back. That was that was a substantial chunk of Iceland’s FX. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  38:56

And you mentioned the the exchange rate and prior to the crisis, and you tell a story about how I mean teachers and people you would normally expect would be going they’ll be travelling overseas for shopping trips. Yeah.

Jared Bibler  39:10

Yeah. Because I just realised I didn’t really answer your question, the last one about how to live through it, but but to come to the teachers. Yeah, I mean, for those few years after the after the FX trading was free, you know, globally available. There was a huge demand for ISK assets among investors around the world because the yield was so high, you could get an eight or 10% and it was perceived to be a safe place to invest. And so a lot of money just flooded into the country. And that meant that the exchange rate went, the ISK got 20 3040 Maybe 50% stronger in a very short time. So people felt very rich and Um, but things in Iceland are still very expensive because you have almost no competition on retail and wholesale and, you know, maybe one wholesaler for anything you might buy. And so the currency was very strong. But that doesn’t mean that domestic prices are going to go down. They should, but they’re sticky. They don’t go down, right? Yeah, but that means you can go abroad and for and for the savings that you will have on buying, like, say, a laptop computer, you go to Boston to buy it would pay for the trip, the savings would pay for the trip. So that was a calculation that many of us made, people would just go to buy. I was in Boston once and someone had bought four big tires for his SUV in Iceland, and he was putting them on the plane they were putting them on, it’s just luggage with, you know, with a tag just wrapped around the tire and putting them on the belt, he probably saved enough on that to pay for a weekend in Boston. So as if it was a calculation a lot of us made. And so yeah, we felt super rare, we felt like the world was our oyster. And when we would go, also things seemed very cheap. So I went to Boston, and I took out my mom and dad, my brother and his wife for a meal. And even with a generous tip for a meal for the five of us, it cost only a little more than a meal for one person would have cost in Reykjavik at that time. So we just felt they felt like for me, it only lasted maybe 36 months or 24 months, but we felt like kings. Yeah. And then And then yeah, the the, the loss of that was that the times were very desperate in, in especially the autumn of Oh, eight, we had no idea what what the next week was going to bring. I mean, we had the terrorist thing from the UK, which really, that meant that all the companies in Iceland, let’s say that you had a fishing exporting fisheries company that was expecting to be paid for fish that they’d already exported to the UK or to the mate or mainland Europe. The payment would be just frozen in Swift, it would just have to be blocked somewhere in the UK and not allowed to go through because the whole country was considered a terrorist organisation. So

Gene Tunny  42:16

what was going on there? Jared? Was Was there any? Was that legit? I mean, what what’s going on? What were the banks? Did they have? Did they take deposits, so facilitate transactions for some shady people? What was actually going on?

Jared Bibler  42:31

That was just to punish Iceland? There’s many there’s different explanations? I’ve never heard a great one. I mean, Iceland, in England have a long standing tension are overfishing actually, there’s something called the cod wars in the 70s. Which Iceland one. But it meant that the fishing grounds that the English had been using, were no, we’re now claimed by Iceland. So some people say that this was retribution for the cod wars. Others say that, you know, it was retribution, because there was a lot of misunderstanding around savings accounts. And, and, and more generally bank products in the UK, that the Icelandic banks had offered. And so for example, there’s something called Icesave under under EU law, a bank in one country can open a branch in another country, and not be regulated by this by the new country. So so the Icelandic banks, when they were running out of money in oh six, they decided to use this to open online savings accounts in the UK. And take money from retail depositors in the UK, pay them higher interest rates to to lower them and take the British pounds, because they needed, they needed FX they needed foreign currency to keep to keep going. And so there was a there was a big misunderstanding between the two governments on the eve of the crisis, where famously the key was the finance minister, but he was a veterinarian, and he did not speak very good English, he should have had a interpreter. And he also should have had a UK cultural interpreter. Because as you as you know, you know, when, when an Englishman says I’m very concerned, that means like, you’re dead, you know. And so Alistair Darling was on this famous phone call. He says, I’m very concerned about the status of these deposits and so on, you know, I can’t remember the exact words, but the Icelandic guy just as well, well, we’re looking into that. And, you know, dollar darling is like, look, we’re going to talk tomorrow at eight in the morning, I’m going to call you but if this isn’t done, you know, we’re going to take we’re going to take measures, and I think I can’t remember the days how they played out but it was that day or the next that, because they had after 911, they had these new terrorist powers in the UK where they could put on her majesty’s treasury, they could put like al Qaeda on there, and that would just freeze all payments. Okay. So Gordon Brown just decided to put, so they put. So it was like al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Syria, I want to say or al Qaeda in Iraq, there was a whole bunch of terrorist names. And then it said republic of Iceland, Central Bank of Iceland. Financially, they even put the Financial Supervisory as a separate separately from the Republic as its own its own line item. But that just killed us, man, because that was in the middle of it. These countries are ostensibly NATO allies, right. And that just that just devastated us. And so yeah, so those months were just super dark we. Because they’re because of the freezing payments, there wasn’t like no food being imported. So we were eating more and more just locally, and we were anyway, for price reasons, eating only locally grown stuff. We just, I mean, we stopped driving the car. I mean, just I don’t want to sound like these are not complaints compared to what people have going through in Gaza right now, for example, but I mean, our lifestyle just was cut down to just the just getting through which we lived like that for years after, after that. Because the SAT and what is also sorry, the salaries were the same, but the buying power of the of the salary was half of what it had been in real terms. And then they they also raised taxes, the government raise taxes so that the income tax was almost 50%. In the years after the crisis, so I mean, I always tell Swiss people living in Iceland is like paying Zurich prices, but getting a Lisbon salary, you know, you have a quite low salary with high taxes, but then you have one of the most expensive cities in the world. So it’s all, even in the even in the good years. It was a struggle. Sometimes. Things are just unbelievably expensive. And even Swiss people today who go to Iceland as tourists, they say, Wow, it’s so expensive there. Then I say, Yeah, imagine living there and an Icelandic salary. It’s, you know, it’s not easy. Yeah. So

Gene Tunny  47:19

yeah. So during the crisis, you had a big increase in unemployment. Didn’t y’all have to look at what the stats are. But it was a huge economic shock. And it went

Jared Bibler  47:28

up four or 500% the unemployment rate. Right. Yeah, it was a huge shock, because the banks had employed the banks for so huge. I think they employ between them 10 or 12,000 people in a country of only at the time, 300,000 or so. And then you have all the you know, the follow on effects of such a big layoff. So, yeah, the unemployment rate was just just rocketed. And we just tried to Yeah, we just somehow got through it, everyone somehow got through it. But a lot of us lost our houses and, and all the pensions, pension savings that we had thought we had was was was decimated when the stock market dropped like that.

Gene Tunny  48:14

Right. So people are still feeling the effects of it. 15 years later, I would just I mean, people

Jared Bibler  48:20

don’t talk about it. Well, actually, they do. They do talk about it. Yeah, they are. Because they were they were projects like infrastructure projects. It’s almost like it’s, it’s almost though, like if so friend of mine was in Iceland, and said she was trying to talk to people about the crisis, and that nobody would talk about it still, like, people want to forget about it. Basically. There were infrastructure projects and ideas that we desperately need, like expansions to hospitals. There’s no rail infrastructure in the country at all. And the International Airport to Reykjavik is like a, it’s like an hour drive, it should have a train link. So there, there were things that the country needs that have just never been executed. And now they’re put on the back burner for 50 more years or something, who knows. So that’s definitely an effect and they actually closed some hospitals and some birthing centres, which forces people to drive over these, you know, really dangerous mountain passes and stuff in the winter to get medical care. So there were effects like that. And a lot of people lost their family businesses and, and so on. So the biggest effect is that when when the currency lost half of its value, Iceland suddenly became a tourist, you know, hotspot and, and Iceland marketed itself as such. And so that that that began the tourist wave, which continues today, but it’s like, it’s like what’s happened in other European cities but on steroids because the city of Reykjavik, the old towns centre is really only five or six streets. I mean, it’s a very small village. And now and that had very cosy things there like, like an old cafe with doily lace doilies, where the grandmothers drank coffee. And, you know, there was some classic things of old Reykjavik that were there. And almost all of that is gone now. Because it’s all just t shirts stores, or they’re selling like stuffed animal puffins, you know, and at the end, all the neighbourhoods around the old centre, including where I used to live, have become dominated by Airbnbs. So you can even walk around and not even hear the Icelandic language in the nation. And the, the old neighbourhoods are very giving because it’s just become tourists defied. And so that was the response. So people, often I face resistance, people say, Oh, Jared, come on Iceland recovered. And I’m like, well, first of all, nobody, nobody knocked on my door and said, Here, here’s the keys back to your house. But the other thing is that it all it only recovered by transforming into something pretty ugly for my from my eyes. Yeah, yeah.

Gene Tunny  51:19

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s. Yeah, I mean, it really was a huge shock. And I mean, I didn’t appreciate like we we sort of sailed through it. Reasonably. Okay. Here in Australia, there was a little bit of a slowdown, but then we were insulated from a lot of it partly because of mining. Right? Yeah, it was extraordinary to see just how bad things were there. So I’d recommend the book on that count, for sure. Just a couple more things before we wrap up. What happened to the perpetrators? Were some of the people do jail time. Is that correct? That’s,

Jared Bibler  51:51

that’s part of the secret at the end. Yeah, they some of them actually did a few months here and there. We, because the headline of Iceland was it was the only country that prosecuted bankers after 2008. Yes, and that is true. And the cases that you read about in the book are the reason the main reason behind the big prosecutions, but in the end, so in many European, I’m not a lawyer, so this surprised me. But in many European legal codes, you can’t get charged for multiple counts of the same crime. So if you if you did market manipulation, but you did it every day, for 1000 days in a row, which is what they did, when I and the max penalty, if you read the way the law is written, which is a European legal code that Iceland imported. But clearly, the spirit of the law is for someone who did a manipulation, maybe for a day or two or a week or like a single event. And then in Iceland, its maximum of six years in prison for that. So I was naively thinking, Oh my God, these poor guys, like they did it every day for 1000 days. It was gonna be, yeah, up to 6000 years in prison. And people said, No, charity, don’t be silly. Like it’s market manipulation. That’s one thing. And so the sentences that the so we were able to show that a lot with emails and internal documents, we’re able to show that, of course, the knowledge of this multibillion dollar manipulation went all the way to the CEOs of the of the banks, and even higher into the boards, and the ownership. But we were able to show that that went up in the biggest bank to the executive chairman of the board that he was getting daily reports on the manipulation directly from the traders. So they were they were writing these things, and I’m paraphrasing here, but Hey, boss, you know, we bought another XYZ number of shares today, the price is up 1.2%. You know, so that was a daily update to the chairman.

Gene Tunny  54:10

And did they not just not appreciate what they were doing was? I mean, I presume this I mean, this is illegal in Yeah, it sounds it sounds healthy, go. Did they just not appreciate it or they?

Jared Bibler  54:23

That’s what I think the book is, of course, I’m biassed again, but I think the books super important because it gets into a little bit. And you see this now with Sam Backman freed and the FTX trial and so on. The behaviour of white collar scammers, part of their shtick is that they can’t even admit to themselves that they’re doing criminal things. They, even after they’re charged, convicted and they serve jail time. My experience with the Icelandic situation would would lead me to believe that Sambac been freed for example, will probably never have a moment of clarity He, where he says I did some bad stuff. I mean, he should because it would help his soul it would help him like karmically to, to release that right. But he, I hope he does, but he probably will not. Because So, for the very top people who are masterminding the scheme, their justification is always like, Well, we were doing great things with the bank. So whatever it took to keep the bank alive is good. And then the people lower down in the scheme are just following orders. You know, like, like the guards that Auschwitz or something, you know that, and, and many of them are naive. So, some of them knew it, but some of them in my experience actually didn’t even think about. Because Iceland can also sometimes be very hierarchical culture where if your boss tells you, hey, buy all the shares on the market today, you’ll do in, it’s like, oh, my boss told me, you know, I’ll do that. So I think this is kind of a good template story for how these frauds go on. And, and I don’t know if I say this in the book, but the entire business of the of these banks, by the end, was perpetuating, perpetuating the buying of shares in the hiding of shares offshore. And they involved every department. And so, a lot of those people, I think, just just were just doing their job.

Gene Tunny  56:34

That’s how they see it. And so this was an important or this was an essential part of making the banks look much better than they were, and attracting the letting them borrow more from overseas, and then they lend that onto their, their friends or cronies. Okay, that’s

Jared Bibler  56:52

right. That’s yeah.

Gene Tunny  56:55

Yeah. Yeah. So the untold story of the world’s biggest con so. Yeah, I mean, that’s a big call world’s biggest con, but you, you’re confident it is. So you think

Jared Bibler  57:05

maybe it’s maybe it’s been outpaced now by crypto or, you know, but but certainly in the sense of a con that takes down a whole country. I think that scale definitely is still the biggest.

Gene Tunny  57:18

Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty extraordinary. Yeah. Okay, so, Jared, this terrific. It’s really, this conversation has really motivated me to finish the book and make sure I understand all the details as best I can. I think it’s yeah, it’s just extraordinary. What happened, I guess, to end on what do you think the lessons are for the rest of the world? I mean, we talked about how the, you know, you mentioned there could be a certain type of person who’s a white collar criminal, and there’s the quite brazen, I guess, you’ve got to look out for those people. I don’t know how you do that. I mean, you obviously need some sort of regulation. It sounds like the regulator in in Islan, Mae, it probably wasn’t doing the job it should have been doing beforehand. I mean, you discovered that you could actually go and visit these banks and force them hand over documents, which are was very good. So yeah, what are the lessons for the rest of us? Now for the rest of the world?

Jared Bibler  58:15

I think we need to. So this pattern keeps repeating. And my point with the book is that if you let this thing get out of control, it can take down your whole country, because our financial system is not just a playground of of, you know, Sam Backman, freetds and billionaires. But it’s also how we pay for things. It’s also how we save money. And we rely on it to it’s, you know, we take it for granted. But it’s kind of like the air we breathe in our daily lives to get to get groceries to, you know, buy a car or house, whatever. And so those two things, unfortunately, are connected. And the incentives for for having a system that that works well, and is not subject to gaming and collapse, I think are not. We have we have plenty of we have too many regulations probably, you know, we have a lot of people who spend their days checking boxes and things like that, both at regulators and within these institutions. But we haven’t really yet thought about what structure do we want the market? The markets to have? Markets are always created by us, you know, they’re not we, you know, people say, oh, you know, that let the market sorted out. But markets always have rules. You know, I used to work at the Swiss stock market here you have an opening time and closing time you have a cloud closing auction, how that works. I mean, you have the whole thing is rules. And we need to think more about as citizens I think we need to think more about what do we want our banking system to do, what are the outcomes we want? And then how can we best get those incentives, incentivized and I think and again, I’m biassed, but And this is very controversial, but I would like to see someone try this, I would like to see what happens in a country where the country’s regulator regulators would be incentivized to bring in the biggest cases they could, or prosecutors, right? Imagine, imagine if the incentives that bankers get, because if you do a $10 million, or $100 million deal, you get a piece of that as a as a bank employee, if you bring in that business, if I bring in which in Iceland, I brought in three, I don’t know, you can measure the cases different ways. But let’s just say conservatively, three $4 billion frauds. Each of the banks, for example, if you just take the last year, each of them spent about a billion US dollars or more just buying up their own shares on this tiny Icelandic stock market that you’d never heard of. Right. So but my team doesn’t get any, we don’t get any team dinners or anything for that, we just get a salary. So there’s actually, it’s even worse in most regulators. If you are someone like me, who’s a bit of a maverick, who wants to go after things, you don’t last, you won’t have a job, because that’s not the personality that anybody is looking for in those in those institutions, unfortunately. So we need to incentivize that we need to have the same type of risk taking and so on, on the regulation side that we have on the banking side, because otherwise you have a and the same thing with salaries. I mean, if you’re a great regulator, you know, you can always walk across the street to a bank and double your salary. So, so what’s going to make you you know, go after people at that bank or or look too deeply into anything you don’t. So the whole system is kind of really tilted. One one way. I don’t have all the answers to this, but I would really like to have this be in the conversation. And I suspect that after the next financial crisis, which I think is coming, I think it I hope, my hope with writing the book was to get this out there so that we could start to have that conversation. Because since 2008, we haven’t changed enough to keep that from happening again.

Gene Tunny  1:02:10

Yeah, absolutely. Fully agree with you there. Have been talking about this on my show from time to time, so absolutely, fully agree there. Okay, Jared, is there another book coming out anytime soon? I

Jared Bibler  1:02:23

have one but I’m, I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with it. But I’m working on one.

Gene Tunny  1:02:26

Okay. Okay, so

Jared Bibler  1:02:28

you keep that under? Yeah, under under wraps. It’s another secret, it might have secret in the title.

Gene Tunny  1:02:35

If they’re sick if they’re if I still don’t know, Iceland’s secret, I’ll put a segment at the end of this episode just for those who want to know, but I’ll encourage people to read the book. Because I think it’s an enjoyable read. And I love the all the stories and just how you learned about the issues in Iceland’s before the time before you saw teachers going by on buying trips overseas, people were importing BMWs and Mercedes while you are importing your rav4. Stories. Thank you, Jared. That’s, that’s great. Right. Any any final thoughts for wrap up?

Jared Bibler  1:03:13

No, I just really appreciate the time to talk to you. And that was it was lovely to be on your show. Very

Gene Tunny  1:03:20

good. Thanks, Jared. Thanks. Okay, I hope you enjoyed my chat with Jared. Thanks got pretty messed up in Iceland didn’t that. According to Jared, things aren’t much better today. Jared left his job at the regulator in late 2011. After there was a reduction in the resources he had to investigate the misdeeds of the bankers. Unfortunately, the response to Iceland’s financial crisis ended up being inadequate. Several wrongdoers were punished, but they received relatively light sentences and many bankers got away with it. In Jarrods opinion, the regulator’s still don’t have enough power in Iceland. Politicians were unwilling to make tough decisions and apply the level of oversight and enforcement that is required in Jarrods view. That’s possibly because of the close relationships between politicians and bankers and business people in Iceland. Iceland is still experiencing financial scandals. For example, in October 2023 Bjarni Bennett Dixon, a former Iceland Prime Minister, he had to resign as finance minister, there was an irregularity with the privatisation of one of the banks that was taken over by the government during the financial crisis. It turns out is a company owned by his father was one of the purchasers of shares in the bank that was, that was privatised, so that raised a few eyebrows. Okay, Mr. Bennett Dixon, he has a reputation for being a Teflon politician. Though and only a few days after resigning he was appointed as Iceland’s foreign minister. That’s an impressive comeback for sure. From what I can tell what Jared thinks is Iceland’s big secret is this ongoing permissiveness regarding dubious financial dealings. It could be a big secret in in many other countries too. So for those of us in Australia, the US, UK and elsewhere, we need to be vigilant and watch for any signs of financial shenanigans in our countries. Finally, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of Gerrard’s book, Iceland secret. There’s a lot of fascinating and intricate detail about the various financial shenanigans that occurred in the lead up to Iceland’s financial crisis. Jared did a great job with his book, and I’m very grateful to have had him on the show. Thanks for listening rato thanks for listening to this episode of economics explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via contact at economics explore.com Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting outlets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.

1:06:43

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Credits

Thanks to Obsidian Productions for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au. Full transcripts are available a few days after the episode is first published at www.economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Podcast episode

Carbon as an emerging, liquid asset class w/ Michael Azlen, Carbon Cap Management – EP212

With carbon prices becoming more common globally, carbon is an emerging, liquid asset class, according to Michael Azlen, CEO and co-portfolio manager of Carbon Cap Management. Michael shares his insights into investing in carbon markets with show host Gene Tunny. Michael, an experienced investment professional and regular speaker at investment conferences, shares his research on the benefits of diversifying investments across multiple carbon markets. Tune in to learn more about the potential of carbon markets as an investment opportunity. Disclaimer: This is for general information only, and does not constitute investment or financial advice. 
Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored.

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple Podcasts and Spotify.

What’s covered in EP212

  • Carbon markets and investing in an emerging asset class. (0:03)
  • Carbon markets and their correlation with other asset classes. (2:57)
  • Carbon markets and impact investing. (9:20)
  • Carbon markets and emissions trading schemes. (13:42)
  • Carbon market mechanisms and their effectiveness. (20:52)
  • Carbon markets and their potential for investment. (28:19)
  • Climate change impact on asset management industry. (33:35)
  • Final thoughts on carbon markets and investing with Michael Azlen. (38:25)

Links relevant to the conversation

About Michael Azlen and Carbon Cap:

https://www.carbon-cap.com/about-us

Michael’s article on “The Carbon Risk Premium”:

https://www.pm-research.com/content/iijaltinv/25/1/33

Transcript: Carbon as an emerging, liquid asset class w/ Michael Azlen, Carbon Cap Management – EP212

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It was then checked over by a human, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, to see if the otter had missed anything, and with all respect to otters they do miss quite a bit. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Michael Azlen  00:03

By investing across all five of these markets, your overall portfolio volatility really comes down of course because your your nicely diversified, while it doesn’t necessarily impede your return expectations so that’s that’s one of the key observations of our research paper was this this very low cross correlation between carbon markets.

Gene Tunny  00:27

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.

Hello, thanks for tuning into the show. In this episode, you’ll learn about carbon as a liquid emerging asset class. Emissions of carbon dioxide are increasingly being priced globally through various emissions trading schemes, or through other mechanisms that impose carbon prices. To explore carbon markets I talk to a fund manager who is investing in carbon markets globally. My guest is Michael Azlen, CEO and Co-Portfolio Manager of Carbon Cap Management. Michael has 25 years of experience as an investment professional, and he’s a regular speaker at investment conferences worldwide. Also he’s been a guest lecturer in graduate programmes at London Business School for more than 15 years. I’m really pleased to have been able to interview Michael because he has some great insights into carbon markets. For instance, he explains how carbon markets are generally uncorrelated with equities, bonds and real estate, and hence they can help investors diversify in uncertain times. For the lawyers, this is for general information only and none of this should be interpreted as investment or financial advice. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Michael Azlen on carbon markets.

Michael Azlen from Carbon Cap. Thanks for joining me on the programme.

Michael Azlen  02:20

Pleased to be here Gene, thanks for inviting me.

Gene Tunny  02:22

Oh, of course. I’ve covered climate change quite a bit on the show. But I haven’t had anyone who has the expertise in the carbon markets and investing in carbon as an emerging asset class or, or another way I’ve seen it expressed as a liquid asset class. So Michael, to start off with, could you tell us a bit about Carbon Cap, please, you’re the CEO and Co-Portfolio Manager there. What does Carbon Cap do exactly?

Michael Azlen  02:57

Sure. So So Carbon Cap runs the World Carbon Fund. It’s a climate change impact fund. And the Fund invests into the regulated compliance carbon markets around the world. The fund has two objectives. The first objective is to generate a positive return over any rolling 12 month period. So we don’t want to be up every month or every quarter. But over every rolling 12 month period, the objective is to be positive, regardless of the performance of carbon itself. And the second objective of the fund is to have an impact, a direct impact on climate change. And we do this in a number of ways. But the hardest impact is achieved through our commitment to take 20% of the performance fees that are generated. And we use those to purchase compliance carbon permits, again in the regulated market Gene. And we cancel those permits. And in the fund has been running for three and a half years, the total return net of fees to our clients is in excess of 100% now, so very strong returns over this three and a half year period. And therefore, you know, the nice thing about performing it is aligned with direct climate impact. So higher performance means more impact. And that creates a nice alignment of interest between between the investors ourselves as the manager and having an impact on climate change. The fund has grown significantly from the launch, we launched with only 10 million the fund is now $280 million in size. So we’re approaching 300 million and our client base is now moving much more institutional in nature. In terms of impact allocators. The fund holds Article Nine status here in Europe and that that status, Article Nine is the highest level of impact under the European taxonomy. So it’s an uncorrelated absolute return fund with climate impact. So it’s quite a quite a unique fund and I think you know, more and more clients are seeking uncorrelated returns as we’re, you know, the global macro situation is becoming quite difficult. I think the forecast from here out.

Gene Tunny  05:14

Okay, so yeah, I’ve got a few questions based on that. Michael uncorrelated, do you mean uncorrelated with the business cycle with the stock market? What do you mean by uncorrelated?

Michael Azlen  05:24

Yeah, so the background to to Carbon Cap Gene was after I built and sold my previous asset management business to a public company, I then became deeply involved in research onto the into the science of climate change, so nothing to do with carbon. And that led me to enrolling at the London School of Economics and their climate change programme. And this is where I learned about carbon markets. At that time, this was in 2018, carbon was trading in the different markets around the world about half a billion dollars daily. So it’s quite liquid. And I was quite surprised by that. And my first question as an investment professionals was, was your question. What are the what are the statistical properties of the asset class, you know, return and volatility and correlation. When I looked for the research Gene, there was no research on carbon. So I hired a PhD student from the LSE, myself, we collected the data, and we analysed and wrote that up as a full research paper. Now, it did take three years in the peer review process with academic papers. But I’m very pleased to tell you the paper was published last year in the Journal of Alternative Investments. So, so coming back to your question, when you’re asking, you know, what do we mean by correlation? In this sense, if you take the, you know, the daily, weekly or monthly returns of carbon, which is a liquid tradable asset class now, I should mention that, that that liquidity where it was trading half a billion a day, that was in 2018, now we’re trading 4 billion per day. So the liquidity has increased significantly. And and when you look at those correlation numbers over rolling periods, carbon just exhibits effectively no correlation at all to equities, to bonds to real estate to other commodities, it has very unique correlation properties

Gene Tunny  07:18

Right and what about the volatility is it much more volatile than those other asset classes?

Michael Azlen  07:24

So it varies between markets. So you know, today in the World Carbon Fund, we invest in five different liquid regulated carbon markets. And those volatilities vary from probably the lowest volatility market is between 10 to 15% volatility, and the highest volatility market maybe is about a 60% volatility. So there’s quite a difference in volatility in the different carbon markets.

Gene Tunny  07:48

Okay, so I might ask you about those different carbon markets in a moment, there are just a few other things to clear up. You talked about institutional investors, so you’re talking about, what investment banks, so the Goldman Sachs, or Morgan Stanley, you’re not okay, who are you talking about there? Pension funds, perhaps?

Michael Azlen  08:10

Yeah, exactly. So generally, you know, high net worth investors, and then retail investors would be non institutional, and then kind of in the middle ground, you would have family offices and multifamily offices in the middle ground. And then you would move into more institutional, which would be, as you say, professional investment management organisations. So this, these could be other investment management firms that have maybe a multi asset product, or they might run a fund of hedge funds product, and they would be an investor into our fund. And finally, the classic, you know, asset holders like in Australia, the super funds and other big pension funds. So we’re seeing also interest from the bigger pension funds now, because there’s an interesting aspect, not only the return and the low correlation, but the climate impact, and the potential for carbon exposure to give you somewhat of a climate hedge in your portfolio is another another interesting aspect. If you understand that climate change is now impacting equity and bond portfolios by having some carbon it’s somewhat of a hedge against some of those impacts.

Gene Tunny  09:19

Yeah, that makes sense. And can you explain, you mentioned this Article Nine, in the European taxonomy? I’m completely unfamiliar with that. Sorry. Could you explain what what that’s about?

Michael Azlen  09:32

So, Europe a couple of years ago, launched a new taxonomy to identify the level of transparency and impact for funds and they set minimum standards, reporting standards in order to achieve those different article levels and the highest level there of impact is Article Nine. So you know, in an in an effort to create an environment that kind of weeded out greenwashing, they said, let’s put some standards in here. Because you know, I mean, three years ago, every single fund was green in some aspect, right? Even if it really wasn’t green, it could be labelled green. And so Europe brought in this taxonomy and said, now, unless you meet these very strict reporting requirements, you can’t make a green claim. Or more importantly, you know, your fund will be ranked Article Six, Article Seven, Article eight, Article Nine. So there’s a varying degree of reporting, and you it to achieve Article Nine, you must demonstrate meaningful impact in terms of the activities of the fund have to be reported in detail, and you have to demonstrate impact. And so in our case, we have now a three year audit trail where we have purchased carbon permits with those performance fee amounts, and then we just cancel them. And that’s all audited and documented.

Gene Tunny  10:57

Okay, okay I’ll have to look more into that, that’s interesting. I mean, yeah, there have been a bit of concerns about greenwashing, or concerns about just how effective some of these carbon offsets are, whether they’re actually legitimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So I think that’s, that’s fair enough. Righto! I’ve got to ask you about this $4 billion a day of trading. And I mean, you’re involved in this sort of thing. And oh, can I ask first? Actually, you might have mentioned it before. Assets under management, are you do you disclose the assets under management of your of your fund?

Michael Azlen  11:36

Yeah so as I mentioned, we are currently running 280, two eight zero million dollars in the World Carbon Fund.

Gene Tunny  11:44

Gotcha. Because I latched on to that there’s that four billion dollars a day that’s being traded, who’s trading it, and who ultimately needs these carbon permits or these assets? So we’ve got, I mean, what is it that’s being traded? There’s the permit. So in Australia, we I think we call them Australian carbon credit units. So they represent what is it a tonne of co2 equivalent? And then there are also offsets. Can you tell us a bit about that market, who’s in it and what’s been traded, please, Michael?

Michael Azlen  12:13

So this, this is a real area of confusion Gene. So it’s really important that we clarify the difference between various carbon markets because there are actually three very distinct carbon markets. And they’re very, very different. So this is very, very important. So the first market that most people are actually familiar with, and let’s leave the Australian ACCU market. Let’s leave that to the side for a minute. I’m talking globally now. Most people are familiar with what’s called the voluntary carbon market, voluntary, because it means it’s a voluntary participation, a corporate can choose to buy these credits, can choose to buy these offsets. And here Gene terminology, we use the term credit and offset. In the voluntary market, it’s a carbon credit or a carbon offset. In the markets in which we invest, we invest in a completely separate market, the regulated market, the compliance carbon market, where companies must comply, and those are called carbon allowance permits. So in the voluntary market, most it’s called a carbon credit or offset. The normal project here Gene is planting trees, or trying to protect a forest or a mangrove swamp. It’s some type of project related activity. And then an independent party will calculate how much carbon is sequestered from the activity. They give it a rating, and they calculate the tonnes and they issue these credits and offsets. I’m going to give you five key bullet points about this voluntary market very, very important. Number one, it is completely unregulated. Number two, it’s illiquid, it’s it’s not a liquid asset. Number three it’s very small in size. I’ll come back to that. Number four, because it’s all of these different methodologies. It’s very opaque and complex to figure out, well, how did they calculate these credits, how many credits? And number five, I think very important, in the voluntary market, there is effectively an unlimited supply of these credits. This is where Gene you mentioned in the last ,just the last nine months, this year alone, there have been a number of investigative journalist articles that have uncovered practices in that market that have proven to show that some of the projects have not actually sequestered any carbon at all. And I think the key here Gene is that in any market as an economist, you’ll know this when you have a financial asset without any financial oversight, this brings moral hazard into the equation right? So if we can create more credits or offsets through a different methodology, we all benefit within that ecosystem. But there’s no independent oversight of that. So the problem of over crediting and sort of supply has become an issue. And so I think what we’re seeing is corporate buyers of wanting to make a climate impact are now somewhat shying away from that market, because they don’t want to be involved in these in these scandals. So that’s the voluntary market. If I move the lens to the regulated markets Gene, I want to give you five key bullet points about the regulated market. The first one, of course, it is highly regulated, because it is run by governments. Number two, it’s it’s very liquid, it now trades $4 billion every day. Number three, it’s large. So when we compare the size, this market is traded, last year, about 1 trillion with a T dollars, and the voluntary market did about 1 billion. So this is a 1000 times difference in size, not 10 times or 100 times this is huge. And number four, it’s very transparent. Of course, these these markets, because they’re run by the government, so they put all the rules on the website, it’s transparent. And number five and most important Gene, in the regulated market the supply of the permits is capped and every year that supply lower and lower and lower. So in one market, unlimited supply just keeps increasing, and in this market it’s capped and it keeps going down. So it’s quite, there’s quite a big difference between these two markets.

Gene Tunny  16:28

Yeah, gotcha. So you’re talking about the permits that are part of emissions trading schemes, or cap and trade schemes or whatever you want to call it. So what are the major markets, Michael, which economies have these schemes and which economies therefore have these regulated markets, there are these permits that you’re involved in investing in and trading?

Michael Azlen  16:53

So the good news here, Gene, is that not only is there, are there current, currently multiple countries and jurisdictions, but there are at least a dozen new countries that have announced they’re going to launch full Emission Trading Systems, cap and trade systems as you as you correctly identified, so the growth of the asset class is going to be tremendous in the next five years. The current markets that we invest into today are the European emission trading system. Number two is the UK emission trading system, which was established after Brexit more than two years ago. When the UK left Europe, they launched their own emission trading system. The third market is the California carbon market, which is in the state of California. Fourth market is the regional greenhouse gas cap and trade market, which is on the east coast of the United States. And it consists of 11 states together on the East Coast in one block carbon market. And the fifth market we invest in is the New Zealand carbon market, which has been around for a long time, it’s gone through transformations. It’s a small market, but it’s we think it’s quite a well run market and and that’s the fifth market. Um, one thing I want to point out, Europe has is the most liquid market, it trades probably half of that 4 billion daily, 2 billion a day is the European market. So very, very liquid and it was launched in 2005. From 2005 until today, emissions in Europe have dropped by 1 billion metric tonnes per year. That is a big success. And and for this reason, I think because of that success, obviously without impeding economic growth. I mean, that’s quite important, right? I think that is why we’ve had these big announcements in the last well, even the last three months, Brazil is moving legislation to launch a full cap and trade market, India and Japan, Japan, the third biggest emitter in the world. China, of course, launched after doing extensive research on the European market and the California, China launched the world’s biggest cap and trade market two years ago, covers 4.5 billion tonnes of carbon. So it’s massive. South Korea, Mexico should go live next year, they finished the two years of their pilot programme. So we’re expecting that may be the next fund that we could add into the fund. But there’s there’s many more countries I was recently in Singapore three weeks ago and Indonesia just launched their cap and trade market. Most of the Asian Tigers, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, they’re they’re all have plans at various stages, it’s taking time to, but they all have plans to launch cap and trade carbon markets, which is great news.

Gene Tunny  19:51

Right. The US is obviously a major omission from that list of countries. Do you think there’s any prospect of the the US, there are some states out there that you mentioned, is that right? But the whole US there’s no federal cap and trade scheme in the US is there?

Michael Azlen  20:09

No, and I think it’s unlikely we’re going to get a federal scheme, because of the, you know, the polarisation, you know, at the federal level, but but what we’re seeing Gene is, you have the state of California, and then you have 11 states on the east coast. So we already have those 12 states. Three months ago, the state of Washington, the 13th US state launched its own carbon market. That market launched three months ago. And in the last six months, New York State has announced it’s going to launch a full blown cap and trade carbon market probably within 18 months. So things are happening at the individual state level, but I think it’s unlikely we’re going to get federal carbon pricing.

Gene Tunny  20:52

Gotcha. And where’s Australia sit in this? So do you have any thoughts about these, these A double C Us or ACCUs that we have here? Is that something you’re not interested in investing in?

Michael Azlen  21:04

So in the fund, we have a market entry framework that has a number of criteria that a carbon market must pass in order for us to onboard that into the fund. And there’s very practical considerations like access to that market. But then there’s there’s other considerations such as, you know, transparency, country risk, policy risk, currency risk, and items like that. So, you know, on many of those, of course, Australia being a, you know, a Western democracy, there’s no issue, but the actual structure of the ACCU market in Australia is somewhat of a hybrid between the regulated market which has, you know, a cap which gets lowered every year, and the voluntary market, which is unlimited supply effectively. And, and therefore, when we apply those market, market entry, that market entry framework against the Australian market, it simply doesn’t pass it, it’s it doesn’t meet the stringency test, because of the fact that it allows voluntary project supply units to come in of very questionable calculation methodologies. And and really the other thing is Gene, durability. When you have a project that it I think we can measure that it may have sequestered carbon, but but it what is the risk of reversal? And how long will that carbon be stored, if it’s only stored for 10 years and then released back into the atmosphere, well, then you know, that that perhaps hasn’t been a very valid carbon credit. So durability and risk of reversal of the carbon then being re re emitted is very high. And so projects, such as soil carbon and whatnot, they do have this potential for risk of reversal and therefore low durability. Most projects now that I think more corporate buyers are looking at more permanent removal, such as, you know, direct air capture, and other strategies where you can prove long term, you’ve pulled the carbon out, you’ve injected it deep underground, you liquefy it, inject it into a storage well, for very long term durable storage, over 100 years, or maybe even over 1000 years. So you can really demonstrate storage.

Gene Tunny  23:21

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  23:26

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  23:55

Now back to the show.

Now, who ultimately needs these permits, it’s emitters isn’t it? It’s big companies that are polluting. So smelters and power generators, fossil fuel generators. Is that right? They’re the ones who ultimately need it. They’ve got the demand.

Michael Azlen  24:17

Yeah, so in a cap and trade programme, the government controls the total quantity of emissions. But because there’s a limited number of permits, exactly, as you said. And the way they decide who’s in is they normally set a threshold Gene. So in most markets, it’s a 25,000 tonne per year threshold. So any company that emits more than 25,000 tonnes per year they’re notified by the government they’re in, they don’t have a choice. So that’s why we we call it a compliance instead of a voluntary market because you must comply. It means that the government audits you every year, and you must give the government the permits based on the audit. So if you we audit you and you met 2 million tonnes by April of this year, you have to give the government 2 million permits and the government controls the supply of those permits. So that’s a cap and trade. Every year the government, in the case of Europe let’s say, we, we sell at auctions 1.3 billion permits, at the end of the year the companies are audited. And if the total emissions are also 1.3, the companies then give those permits back to the government who destroy them, they they destroy the permit, and that that compliance cycle for one year has now been completed. The second year now the government sells 1.2 billion, destroys those then 1.1, then a billion then 900. So every year the supply of permits is going down. So we know within the ecosystem 1000s of companies, someone must select themselves to stop emitting carbon. And that’s the beauty of the mechanism Gene, it allows the price, the market sets the price of carbon, and that price signal is taken by participants and internalised. What do I mean? They compare the market price of carbon to their internal cost of abatement. In other words, the CEO calls in his head of engineering and says, John, you know, we’re emitting 2 million tonnes a year, it’s $100, that’s costing us $200 million a year. Can you get her emissions down? He says to the head of engineering, right? He’s profit motivated. And the head of engineering then looks at the latest technologies for that industrial process, and comes back and says to the CEO, yeah, we can get it down. But it costs $160 a tonne. Well, that that CEO has a very clear decision, then he’ll he will simply buy the permit for 100. But there will be another company in the ecosystem, where the head of engineering says it’s $40, we can reduce our emissions for 40 bucks a tonne. That’s a no brainer. The CEO chooses then to invest in that low carbon technology and they choose to cut their emissions. So this is the power of the mechanism. It forces what we call the three magic words, least cost abatement. Right, that those are the three magic words, tap and lower the emissions. That’s good, but we want to achieve it at the lowest possible cost. As an economist you will appreciate this is you know, this is a parsimonious solution to to this quite difficult problem.

Gene Tunny  27:17

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, yeah, that’s that’s something that economists would would agree on. I mean, one of the things that’s happened in Australia is because we, we don’t have a carbon price, but yet the politicians have made commitments to try and get emissions down, we end up doing all sorts of things that may not end up being that that least, what is it the least cost of abatement?

Michael Azlen  27:41

Yeah to achieve least cost abatement. Yeah, yeah. So because we want to we all want to cut emissions of course, we’ve seen the terrible impact, but we don’t want to do it at any price, right, we want to do it at the lowest possible cost. And so in a carbon market, as we keep lowering the number of permits, the supply, we know we as long as we have liquidity and price discovery taking place in that market, that that is important. We can be quite confident it’s the companies with the lowest cost they self select themselves to choose to reduce their emissions. And the reason they do it is they make more profit. I mean, they they’re not being green or ESG. They simply are reducing their emissions because they make more profit.

Gene Tunny  28:19

Yeah. Okay. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about the market some of the technical details. Is there a futures market in, in these permits, the derivatives? I mean, what’s the, what’s the market look like?

Michael Azlen  28:34

So in each market that we invest in is slightly different in four of the five markets Gene, there is exchange listed futures and exchange listed options that trade like many other commodities, like oil, or wheat, or corn or, you know, other commodities. And most of the liquidity is in that exchange listed futures market. Most of the trading activity in carbon, probably no one knows the exact number, but I would say 70, or 80% of the trading activity, is those big end users hedging their carbon obligation. And as you said, it’s the power sector. electric utilities, steel, cement, chemicals, glass, these high emitting sectors are the main participants in, in carbon markets.

Gene Tunny  29:18

Gotcha. Gotcha. But they’re not your investors are they or are they? Oh, you’ve got no, no, no. Okay. So, but you’re you are participating in the market, but they’re the ones who ultimately need the permits. Okay. Gotcha. That makes sense. What about foreign exchange risk you mentioned? I mean, what you’re saying there, it sounds really embarrassing for Australia for our ACCUs, those criteria that you set out and how we don’t meet them over here. That’s, yeah that’s quite embarrassing for us, I imagine. You mentioned foreign exchange risk, do you hedge that foreign exchange risk?

Michael Azlen  30:00

In the fund? We do yeah. So where we invest in, you know, in a carbon market and in another currency we hedge that out. That’s, you know, quite common in our industry.

Gene Tunny  30:11

Gotcha. Okay. So we’ve, we’ve talked about, you know, regulated and you’re in the regulated space versus voluntary. I was surprised just how much larger the regulated is than the the voluntary, I suppose it makes sense if it’s, if it’s compulsory. You talked about a euro, the European scheme, and then the UK scheme. To what extent are these markets connected? Can I buy permits in in one scheme and use them in another? I mean, how does that how does it all work? Are they are these markets connected in any way?

Michael Azlen  30:48

So the long term plan, Gene is for carbon markets all to link together. So to give you an example, you know, four or five years ago, Switzerland had its own separate carbon market, and then it chose to link with the EU carbon market. And that is the long term trajectory. I think if we look 10 or 15 years into the future, hopefully, we initially will have maybe regional carbon markets, Asia, North America, South America, that kind of thing. And then eventually, one would hope, one global carbon price and carbon market, and we believe the asset class, you know, now is trading about 70 billion a month, as I mentioned, we think that, you know, when when China, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, when all these markets spin up in the next three to five years, we’ll be trading probably well over, you know, half a trillion a month, I mean, it’s going to be a huge asset class, probably overtaking crude oil as the most heavily traded commodity in the world, probably within five to 10 years. So strategically, I think it’s a very important asset class. One of the very unique things is Gene, they’re not linked yet. So even though the California market the permit covers one tonne, same same commodity as the one tonne in the European market, because there’s no fungibility you can’t bring the permit and hand it in, in Europe, from California. When you look at the cross correlation. It’s zero, effectively. So to give you an example, this year, year to date performance, the European market is about flat on the year, the UK market is down 40% on the year, the California market is up 20% on the year, and the RGGI market on the east coast of the US is up I don’t know about 5% on the year. So you can see just from these numbers, very diverse performance, there’s no cross correlation. So by investing across all five of these markets, your overall portfolio volatility really comes down of course, because you’re, you’re nicely diversified. While it doesn’t necessarily impede your return expectations. So that’s that’s one of the key observations of our research paper was this this very low cross correlation between carbon markets.

Gene Tunny  33:03

Gotcha. Okay. Yeah, I’ll have to, I’ll put a link in the show notes to that. Michael, yeah this has been fascinating. I’ve learned a lot about about these markets. And it’s, it’s, there’s a lot I’m gonna have to follow up on just to make sure I’m as across it as I can. Can I ask you about your, your story how you ended up at Carbon Cap? I mean, you’re you’re in the UK now, aren’t you? You’re, so you’re based in London, you’ve got an office in Mayfair. But you’re obviously, I mean, you don’t have a British accent do you so what, can you tell us a bit about your story?

Michael Azlen  33:35

Yeah, so I’m a Canadian, and worked, began my career with two of Canada’s banks as a proprietary trader. After, I then came to London to do my graduate degree at London Business School. And I’ve actually been teaching now for 18 years on the graduate degree programme at London Business School. The last five years, I’ve been teaching a segment on the impact of climate change on the asset management industry, which is a very, very interesting and fast moving area. I worked in the hedge fund industry here in London in a number of roles. And then I set up my first business, regulated investment management business in 2005. And I was very fortunate Gene to grow that business to a decent size. And we were approached, and I managed to sell the business to a Swiss public company. And it was after that sale, and my earn out period, I had a little bit of time off, but that’s when I became deeply involved in research into climate change itself, nothing to do with carbon, I was, I was quite sceptical of the whole area of climate change, you know, because, to me, the you know, the temperature and weather didn’t seem that bad. And I also had known that the climate had always changed prior to humans being on the planet, quite dramatically right? Humans have only been on the planet 250,000 years or so. And we’ve got paleo climate records way back before then showing great variability in weather and the climate system. So I just sort of wanted to bottom out those two questions. And I’ve now read more than 200 Peer Reviewed papers, I was I was in a fortunate position because I didn’t have to work, I could simply focus on that. And I’m a bit geeky, you know, I like to read these these peer reviewed academic papers, and I fairly quickly, over about two or three months became convinced that the problem is extremely acute. If you’re an empirical person, you just weigh evidence, you just base your decision on evidence. It’s, it’s, you know, the concentration of co2 now in the atmosphere at 425 parts per million. I mean, it’s increased by 50%. And it just keeps climbing higher and higher. And the impacts, I don’t know, if you, you saw the data that came out just a few days ago, on September, me, not only was the month of September, the hottest September on record, but the deviation above the previous record was enormous. So the impacts that we’re seeing now are becoming, you know, massive. I know, in Australia, in particular, there’s been, you know, some some very big impacts both in fires and flooding events. And those are unfortunately likely to continue. So hopefully, you know, we can address this so that, that, that spurred my passion to do something Gene and I was fortunate to be able to get a Swiss private bank to back me to launch my second business. And now we have a very interesting Climate Impact Fund.

Gene Tunny  36:26

Hmm, good one, good one. Can I ask you about this course you are teaching, the impact of climate change on the asset management industry, I mean, I mean, you’re a case study of that, I mean, yes, obviously, you know, carbon now is a liquid asset class or an emerging asset class, as you call it. But are there other impacts that you that you consider in that course? I’m just just interested in what the content of that is broadly and what you see is the, those impacts.

Michael Azlen  36:54

Well, I mean, it’s a, this is a massive area now for, for academic investigation. It began with things like, for instance, looking at a diversified equity portfolio and trying to calculate initially, you know, the carbon footprint of that portfolio as a proxy for you know, the emissions. And then academics began to research well, what is the difference in performance between a portfolio that has a bigger carbon footprint, they call that a brown portfolio, versus a portfolio with a with a less carbon foot a green, and this Brown versus green, if you just Google that, that spread of performance in equities, and in fixed income markets, has been an area of very great research. But things have moved on since then. And now, what the research is looking at is trying to really identify with the actual climate risks that individual corporates are exposed to, either insurance companies in their in their insurance portfolio right with regard to flooding risk, fire risk, things of this nature. You can imagine banks, their lending risk. So in terms of a kind of Basel three stress test, but, but instead of looking at credit quality, we’re now trying to assess are they lending money to companies where those companies have undue climate risk, and therefore, you should factor that in? So it really extends to a pretty wide range. It’s a really fast moving and interesting area.

Gene Tunny  38:25

Gotcha. Okay, I’ll have to have a look at that. I mean, that might be a topic for another episode, I won’t to go into it now because you’ve, you’ve given me, you know, lots of good stuff to think about already, Michael so that’s been that’s been terrific. Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Michael Azlen  38:42

No, I would just like to say, you know, I think everything begins and ends with education and learning about a topic, if you’ve got questions, if this has interested you today, I would direct you to our website, we have an open access website with a research library and we have a section on the website of little educational videos, short snippets, to help people understand how does the, you know, what do you mean by voluntary carbon market? What do you mean by regulated carbon market? And we have information, of course, on the latest science on what’s happening on climate change. So I would encourage people to, if you found today interesting, to you know, do your research and and please use the resources that are available our research paper, I think it is not available on the website, but I would happy, anyone who emails me, I’d be happy to send it and for any, you know, Australian based investors that would be interested in thinking about our fund, you know be of course very happy to have that conversation too.

Gene Tunny  39:43

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I imagine it could be of interest to with yeah, super funds. I mean, we’ve got some big, obviously some big super funds here and we’ve got, I mean, I’m in Queensland here we’ve got a Queensland Investment Corporation, which is owned by the state government. I know that they’ve got, they’re interested in alternative investments, I’m not sure to what extent they’re interested in the carbon market, but anyway, it’s uh, yeah, absolutely if there is a, if there is someone listening right now and investors in Australia or anywhere, yeah, I think I think definitely check out your website, Michael and you know, this is obviously not financial advice, I can’t, this is general information only. But, you know, certainly, this is, it, I think you’re right. It is an emerging liquid asset class, and it’s something that really has to be considered in future portfolios. So, Michael Azlen that’s been terrific. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. So thanks so much for your time and for your insights really, really thought it was great.

Michael Azlen  40:46

Gene, thank you very happy to participate today. Thanks for inviting me.

Gene Tunny  40:50

Cheers.

Michael Azlen  40:51

Cheers. Bye bye

Gene Tunny  40:53

Righto, thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via contact@economicsexplored.com Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting app lets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.

41:40

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Credits

Thanks to Obsidian Productions for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au. Full transcripts are available a few days after the episode is first published at www.economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Podcast episode

EP96 – Managing Government Budgets

Rachel Nolan, a former Queensland Government finance minister, speaks with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny about how government budgets are developed and just how much flexibility governments actually have.

Rachel Nolan is Executive Director of the McKell Institute and is an honorary Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Rachel was a member of the Queensland Parliament for eleven years from 2001, when she was elected as the youngest woman ever. She is a former Minister for Finance, Transport, and Natural Resources and the Arts. Rachel was a member of the Queensland Government’s central budgetary decision making body, the Cabinet Budget Review Committee.

Links relevant to this episode include:

Budget of the U.S. Government

The Federal Budget in Fiscal Year 2020: An Infographic

Economics Explored EP31 Paying for the Coronavirus rescue measures with Joe Branigan (Note we’ve changed the name of the show since we recorded this episode so it doesn’t clash with a popular YouTube channel)

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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