Financial Watchdog: Regulate Cryptocurrencies Now, Or Else

A global financial body says governments worldwide must establish rules for virtual currencies like bitcoin to stop criminals from using them to launder money or finance terrorism.

The Financial Action Task Force said Friday that from next year it will start assessing whether countries are doing enough to fight criminal use of virtual currencies.

Countries that don’t could risk being effectively put on a “gray list” by the FATF, which can scare away investors.

Marshall Billingslea, an assistant U.S. Treasury secretary who holds the FATF’s rotating leadership, said, “We’ve made clear today that every jurisdiction must establish” virtual currency rules. “It’s no longer optional.”

The FATF described how the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have used virtual currencies.

Financial regulators worldwide have struggled to deal with the rise of electronic alternatives to traditional money.

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Former Deputy UK Leader Nick Clegg Takes Post with Facebook

Facebook has hired former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to head its global policy and communications teams, enlisting a veteran of European Union politics to help it with increased regulatory scrutiny in the region.

Clegg, 51, will become a vice president of the social media giant, and report to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Clegg will be called upon to help Facebook and other Silicon Valley stalwarts grapple with a changing regulatory landscape globally. European Union regulators are interested in reining in mostly American tech giants who they blame for avoiding tax, stifling competition and encroaching on privacy rights.

Clegg led the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015, including five years in the coalition government with the Conservatives. He lost his Sheffield Hallam seat at last year’s general election.

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Women-to-Women Business Fund Comes to Britain

A women-to-women investment fund is coming to Britain next month to boost financing for female-owned businesses, its founder said Thursday, as efforts grow to close the gender investing gap.

SheEO has lent more than $2 million to 32 female social entrepreneurs in the United States, Canada and New Zealand to grow their businesses since 2015 in an attempt to address a global gender investment gap.

“Most of the people writing checks and investing are men,” founder Vicki Saunders told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “SheEO wants to fund female innovators with great ideas to create stronger communities and a better world.”

Support for female entrepreneurs

It is the latest venture to support female entrepreneurs around the world, who often face more obstacles than men, including a lack of access to finance, business networks, international markets and role models.

Three out of 10 U.S. businesses are owned by women but they only receive $1 in investment for every $23 that goes to male-led businesses, the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee found in 2014.

A Goldman Sachs-World Bank Group partnership to provide capital to women entrepreneurs in emerging markets reached $1 billion in investments in May.

How it works

SheEO brings together 500 women each year who contribute $1,100 each, which they pool and lend, interest-free, to five women-led businesses of their choice.

The loans are paid back over five years and then loaned out again, creating a perpetual fund that SheEO hopes will grow to $1 billion, with 1 million investors supporting 10,000 women-led ventures.

More than 300 women in Britain wrote to SheEO asking it to launch there, Saunders said ahead of a visit to London where she hopes that 500 female investors will come on board.

Workplace gender equality is in the spotlight in Britain, where just 6 percent of the biggest publicly listed companies are headed by women and pay disparities were revealed at major institutions last year.

Twenty One Toys founder Ilana Ben-Ari, one of the first to get SheEO funding in 2015, said it changed her business, enabling her to push ahead with production and hire staff to help with a stressful workload. Her revenue has now doubled.

“It was easy to get my foot in the door and have a meeting but it was near impossible to have a serious conversation about my business,” she said, describing her efforts to get financing from venture capitalists. “Halfway through that meeting you find out — this isn’t a meeting, this is a date.”

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Data Project Aims to Stop Human Trafficking Before It Occurs

Computer giant IBM Corp., financial services company Western Union

Co. and European police launched a project Thursday to share financial data that  they said may one day be able to predict human trafficking before it occurs.

The shared data hub will collect information on money moving around the world and compare it with known ways that traffickers move their illicit gains, highlighting red flags signaling potential trafficking, organizers said.

“We will build and aggregate that material, using IBM tools, into an understanding of hot spots and routes and trends,” said Neil Giles, a director at global anti-slavery group Stop the Traffik, which is participating in the project.

Data collection, digital tools and modern technology are the latest weapons in the fight against human trafficking, estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global business, according to the International Labor Organization.

The U.N. has set a goal of 2030 for ending forced labor and modern slavery worldwide, with more than 40 million people estimated to be enslaved around the world.

Certain patterns and suspicious activity might trigger a block of a transaction or an investigation into possible forced labor or sex slavery, organizers said.

The project will utilize IBM’s internet cloud services as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning to compare data and to spot specific trafficking terms, said Sophia Tu, director of IBM Corporate Citizenship.

With a large volume of high-quality data, the hub one day may predict trafficking before it happens, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“You can’t do it today because we’re in the process of building out that amount of data and those capabilities, but it’s in the road map for what we want to do,” she said.

While law enforcement is teaming up with banks and data specialists to chase trafficking, experts have cautioned that it can be a cat-and-mouse game in which traffickers quickly move on to new tactics to elude capture.

Also, less than 1 percent of the estimated $1.5 trillion-plus laundered by criminals worldwide each year through the financial system is frozen or confiscated, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Along with IBM and Western Union, participants include Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency; telecommunications giant Liberty Global; and British banks Barclays and Lloyds, organizers said.

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US Stocks Slide on Saudi Arabia, Italy Concerns

U.S. stocks fell more than 1 percent on Thursday as the European Commission issued a warning regarding Italy’s budget and concerns mounted about the possibility of strained relations between the United States and

Saudi Arabia.

S&P 500 technology stocks fell more than 2 percent, as did the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

Wall Street’s major indexes pared early losses in morning trading but reversed course to fall further as European markets closed. Italian bond yields jumped after the European Commission deemed the country’s 2019 budget draft to be in breach of EU rules.

U.S. stocks declined further after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled out of an investor conference in Saudi Arabia as the White House awaited the outcome of investigations into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“It’s a function of a lot of things coalescing into a concern,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Pittsburgh. “The market continues to struggle in the aftermath of the bigger drawdown a week ago.”

Mnuchin’s decision sparked worries of potential strain in U.S.-Saudi relations, especially if Saudi leaders were found to have been involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Investors raised concern that if Saudi Arabia were sanctioned, it could restrict oil supply, prompting a rise in energy prices.

Shares of military contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. also fell on concerns that U.S. lawmakers may block arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

U.S. stocks had opened lower as weak earnings reports from companies such as Cessna business jet maker Textron Inc. and equipment rental company United Rentals Inc. raised concerns about the impact of tariffs, climbing borrowing costs and rising wages on corporate profits.

Textron shares fell 10.8 percent and United Rentals shares sank 14.7 percent, while Sealed Air Corp. shares slid 8.7 percent after the packaging company cut its full-year profit outlook because of higher raw material and freight costs.

Worries about rising interest rates following Wednesday’s release of the Federal Open Market Committee’s minutes from its September meeting also pressured U.S. stocks.

“The market is coming to grips with the reality that the Fed may make financial conditions a little tighter than they originally thought,” said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 417.17 points, or 1.62 percent, to 25,289.51; the S&P 500 lost 47.59 points, or 1.69 percent, to 2,761.62; and the Nasdaq composite dropped 168.31 points, or 2.2 percent, to 7,474.39.

Among the few bright spots was Philip Morris International Inc., which rose 3.4 percent after the Marlboro cigarette maker topped analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit and sales.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a

3.72-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.43-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

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Russian Firms Test Non-Dollar Deals to Sidestep US Sanctions

Several major Russian companies are exploring ways to do deals abroad without using dollars, spurred on by a U.S. threat to broaden sanctions that have impeded access of some Russian firms to the international banking system.

The Kremlin has been pushing companies to conduct more deals using other currencies to reduce reliance on the dollar.

Russian Alrosa, the world’s biggest producer of rough diamonds in carat terms, said it had completed a pilot deal with a Chinese client using yuan in the summer and another non-dollar transaction with an Indian client.

Other companies working on similar transactions include energy firm Surgutneftegaz, agricultural company Rusagro and miner Norilsk Nickel.

Russia’s central bank said this week the amount of non-dollar dealings was growing, with the share of rouble settlements in the Russia-China and Russia-India goods trade now between 10 and 20 percent.

The share was higher in the service industry, it added.

But there are limits to how much business can be shifted.

Major companies still rely heavily on dollar deals and most of Russia’s foreign earnings come from oil sales priced in dollars.

In addition, foreign banks with major U.S. activities may still be wary of business with any entity under U.S. sanctions even if transactions are not in dollars, bankers say.

The United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Washington said in August more measures could follow, after accusing Moscow of using a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.

The new steps, which could be announced in November, may target dollar dealings, U.S. lawmakers have said.

Speed helps

One challenge facing companies dealing in the rouble is the Russian currency’s volatility. Between April 6 and 11, after Washington imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and some of his companies, the rouble lost almost 13 percent of its value against the dollar.

Alrosa said it avoided the fluctuation risk by completing the Chinese deal in a day. U.S. dollar deals tend to take longer due to associated compliance checks required.

“An increase in the speed of operations is an advantage in such an operation,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Alrosa did not give a value for its China and India deals but said the Chinese buyer had bought a lot at its auction of diamonds of 10.8 carats or larger in Hong Kong. Alrosa data indicates that its lots are on average worth about $100,000.

Alrosa said the banker for its Chinese deal was Shanghai office of VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank. An industry source, asking not to be named, said Russia’s biggest bank lender Sberbank worked on the Indian deal.

VTB and Sberbank declined to comment.

The Chinese client settled its purchase in yuan, which VTB converted into roubles and transferred to Alrosa.

“We carried out the transaction itself in one day, in several hours,” Alrosa said, adding that on this occasion the currency move was in the client’s favor.

No currency hedging was required because of the speed of the deal, the company said, but the client had to open an account in VTB’s branch in Shanghai to complete the transaction.

Alrosa said it was also considering settlement for future deals in Hong Kong dollars, adding that other Chinese clients had shown interest in non-dollar transactions.

Non-dollar limits

But there are limits on how much of Alrosa’s business can switch to other currencies. China accounts for just 4 percent of its sales, while India accounts for 17 percent.

Among initiatives by other Russian firms, Surgutneftegaz has been pushing buyers to agree to pay for oil in euros instead of dollars, Reuters reported in September.

Russian farming conglomerate Rusagro told Reuters that some of its trading operations were in yuan and said this would increase with the expansion of business with China.

Russian nickel and palladium producer Norilsk Nickel said it was discussing the option of rouble payments with foreign customers which have rouble revenue, although it said it had not secured deals under those terms.

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