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Jack Dorsey’s payments company, Block, is building a system for bitcoin miners

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Jack Dorsey’s payments company Block (formerly Square) is going to start mining for bitcoin.

In a string of tweets, Block’s general manager for hardware, Thomas Templeton, laid out the company’s plans for next steps.

Templeton says the goal is to make bitcoin mining — the process of creating new bitcoins by solving increasingly complex computational problems — more distributed and efficient in every way, “from buying, to set up, to maintenance, to mining.”

The idea of making the mining process more accessible has to do with more than just creating new bitcoin, according to Templeton. Instead, he says the company sees it as a long-term need for a future that is fully decentralized and permissionless.

“Mining needs to be more distributed,” Dorsey wrote in a tweet in October, when he first floated the idea. “The more decentralized this is, the more resilient the bitcoin network becomes.”

Toward that end, the company is solving one major barrier to entry: Mining rigs are hard to find, expensive, and delivery can be unpredictable. Block says it is open to making a new ASIC, which is the specialized gear use to mine for bitcoin.

The project is being incubated within Block’s hardware team, which is beginning to build out a core engineering team of system, ASIC, and software designers led by Afshin Rezayee.

In terms of the hardware, Dorsey previously tweeted that the company was considering a “bitcoin mining system based on custom silicon.” Dorsey went on to share his thoughts on the need for more of a focus on vertical integration, as well as on silicon design, which he says is too concentrated among a few companies.

Templeton writes that Block also looking to improve reliability and the user experience of mining.

“Common issues we’ve heard with current systems are around heat dissipation and dust. They also become non-functional almost every day, which requires a time-consuming reboot. We want to build something that just works,” Templeton tweeted. “They’re also very noisy, which makes them too loud for home use.”

Democratizing access to bitcoin mining is a big part of the mission statement of this project.

“Mining isn’t accessible to everyone,” wrote Dorsey in October. “Bitcoin mining should be as easy as plugging a rig into a power source. There isn’t enough incentive today for individuals to overcome the complexity of running a miner for themselves.”

The announcement from Block comes just a few months after the U.S. eclipsed China for the first time ever as the world’s top destination for bitcoin miners. The U.S. is also flush with renewable power sources.

Washington State is a mecca for hydropowered mining farms. New York produces more hydroelectric power than any other state east of the Rocky Mountains, and it counts its nuclear power plants toward its 100% carbon-free electricity goal. Meanwhile, Texas’ share of renewables is growing over time, with 20% of its power coming from wind as of 2019. The Texas grid also continues to rapidly add more wind and solar power.

Texas also has a deregulated power grid with real-time spot pricing that lets customers choose between power providers, and crucially, its political leaders are pro-crypto. Those are dream conditions for miners who want a kind welcome and cheap energy sources.

“If you’re looking to relocate hundreds of millions of dollars of miners out of China, you want to make sure you have geographic, political, and jurisdictional stability. You also want to make sure there are private property rights protections for the assets that you are relocating,” said Darin Feinstein, co-founder of cryptocurrency mining operator Core Scientific.

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BUSINESS

Dow futures drop 300 points as investors assess Fed update

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Stock futures fell early Thursday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 turned lower overnight following a Federal Reserve update by chair Jerome Powell, at the conclusion of its two-day meeting.

Futures tied to the Dow declined 311 points, or 0.91%, retracing some of the earlier declines of nearly 500 points. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures slipped 1.12% and 1.36%, respectively.

Some tech shares were higher in extended trading, after continued swings in the regular session. Netflix jumped more than 4% on news that Pershing’s Bill Ackman bought 3.1 million shares. Tesla gained almost 3% following a strong earnings report. Meanwhile, Intel lost 2%, despite strong earnings.

In regular trading, the Dow ended the day down 129 points, after gaining more than 500 points at one point, following the Fed update. The S&P 500 lost 0.2% and the Nasdaq Composite was little changed, with a boost from Microsoft’s post-earnings gain.

The week’s volatility continued on Wednesday and stocks took a turn lower after the Fed concluded its two-day meeting and signaled the central bank would hikes rates to fight persistent inflation. Powell said there’s “quite a bit of room” to do so before hurting the labor market. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield climbed above 1.8% following his remarks.

“While offering some clarity on how the Fed would begin the process of removing policy accommodation, the outcome of the meeting fell short in providing the needed guidance on the timing and magnitude of the shift in policy,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management.

Some investors have started to bet on as many as five rate hikes this year, following Powell’s press conference. Uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of the Fed’s plans to tighten monetary policy had been building since the December meeting.

“Today’s meeting has market participants fully convinced that a March hike is certain, but with Chairman Powell not making any timing commitments, the door is slightly open for a slower moving Fed,” Ripley added.

Upholdings’ Robert Cantwell said the markets experienced a relief rally following Microsoft’s strong earnings report Tuesday night, which appeared to be a “good bellwether” for social media, gaming, software and other Nasdaq categories before the Fed update.

“The market in our view is totally overshooting and losing its mind, creating great opportunities for long term growth investors to snap up lots of great shares because, interestingly, it hasn’t really affected companies that actually carry debt,” Cantwell said of the Fed rates. “Since the end of last year the market has been most aggressively discounting companies that are going to generate more cash in the future than they’re generating today… We’re a little upside down now.”

Thursday is a packed morning for earnings, with Mastercard, Deutsche Bank, Blackstone, Southwest Air and JetBlue all scheduled to report quarterly results before the bell. Danaher, Valero and Northrop Grumman are also set to report.

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European markets set to plummet at the open as investors react to Fed decision

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European stocks are expected to plunge at the open on Thursday as global markets react badly to the latest monetary policy decision from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The U.K.’s FTSE index is expected to open 147 points lower at 7,323, Germany’s DAX down 379 points at 15,071, France’s CAC 40 down 175 points at 6,804 and Italy’s FTSE MIB 675 points lower at 25,907, according to data from IG.

Global markets are reacting badly to the Federal Reserve’s indication on Wednesday that it could soon raise interest rates for the first time in more than three years.

The Fed’s policymaking group said a quarter-percentage point increase to its benchmark short-term borrowing rate is likely forthcoming. It would be the first increase since December 2018.

The post-meeting statement from the Federal Open Market Committee did not provide a specific time for when the increase will come, though indications are that it could happen as soon as the March meeting. The statement comes in response to inflation running at its hottest level in nearly 40 years.

U.S. stocks initially rallied Wednesday even after the Federal Reserve pointed to an interest rate hike coming soon but overnight sentiment has changed.

U.S. stock futures fell Wednesday night; futures tied to the Dow erased earlier gains and declined 398 points, or 1.17%. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures slipped 1.35% and 1.57%, respectively.

Asia-Pacific markets fell across the board on Thursday overnight. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 3.3% while the Topix was down 2.3%. Over in South Korea, the benchmark Kospi dropped 3.13% and in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index and the Hang Seng Tech index dropped 2.56% and 4.61%, respectively. Chinese mainland shares also declined.

Earnings in Europe come from Deutsche Bank on Thursday, as well as Unicredit, LVMH, SAP, Banco Sabadell, easyJet, Diageo and STMicroelectronics.

Renault will provides strategic update on the Nissan/Mitsubishi alliance and, on the data front, Germany’s GfK consumer sentiment figures are due.

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Federal Reserve points to interest rate hike coming in March

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Facing both turbulent financial markets and raging inflation, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday indicated it could soon raise interest rates for the first time in more than three years as part of a broader tightening of historically easy monetary policy.

In a move that came as little surprise, the Fed’s policymaking group said a quarter-percentage point increase to its benchmark short-term borrowing rate is likely forthcoming. It would be the first rise since December 2018.

Chairman Jerome Powell added that the Fed could move on an aggressive path.

“I think there’s quite a bit of room to raise interest rates without threatening the labor market,” Powell said at his post-meeting news conference. After being up strongly earlier, the major stock market averages turned negative shortly following Powell’s pronouncement.

The committee’s statement came in response to inflation running at its hottest level in nearly 40 years. Though the move toward less accommodative policy has been well telegraphed over the past several weeks, markets in recent days have been remarkably choppy as investors worried that the Fed might tighten policy even more than expected.

The post-meeting statement from the Federal Open Market Committee did not provide a specific time for when the increase will come, though indications are that it could happen as soon as the March meeting. The statement was adopted without dissent.

“With inflation well above 2 percent and a strong labor market, the Committee expects it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate,” the statement said. The Fed does not meet in February.

In addition, the committee noted the central bank’s monthly bond-buying will proceed at just $30 billion in February, indicating that program is expected to end in March as well at the same time that rates increase.

There were no specific indications Wednesday when the Fed might start to reduce bond holdings that have bloated its balance sheet to nearly $9 trillion.

However, the committee released a statement outlining “principles for reducing the size of the balance sheet.” The statement is prefaced with the notion that the Fed is preparing for “significantly reducing” the level of asset holdings.

That policy sheet noted that the benchmark funds rate is the “primary means of adjusting the stance of monetary policy.” The committee further noted that the balance sheet reduction would happen after rate hikes start and would be “in a predictable manner” by adjusting how much of the bank’s proceeds from its bond holdings would be reinvested and how much would be allowed to roll off.

“The Fed’s announcement that it will ‘soon be appropriate’ to raise interest rates is a clear sign that a March rate hike is coming,” noted Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “The Fed’s plans to begin running down its balance sheet once rates begin to rise suggests an announcement on that could also come as soon as the next meeting, which would be slightly more hawkish than we expected.”

Markets had been anxiously awaiting the Fed’s decision.

Investors had been expecting the Fed to tee up the first of multiple rate hikes, and in fact are pricing in a more aggressive schedule this year than FOMC officials indicated in their December outlook. At that time, the committee penciled in three 25 basis point moves this year, while the market is pricing in four hikes, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool that computes the probabilities through the fed funds futures market.

Traders are anticipating a funds rate by the end of the year of about 1%, from the near-zero range where it’s currently pegged.

Fed officials have been expressing concern lately about persistent inflation, following months of insisting that the price increases were “transitory.” Consumer prices are up 7% from a year ago, the fastest 12-month pace since the summer of 1982.

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