Data Dive

Joy To The World Edition: Bitcoin, Walmart And The Magic Of Movies

The final countdown to Christmas has begun – and in exactly one week, the counter officially will be at zero. The prepared have been finished for a month, the reasonably forward-looking have been finished for a day and the rest of us have already made our peace with a weekend spent at a local shopping mall.

But even though many like to complain about the final frantic rush to get all the stockings stuffed and hung by the chimney with the requisite levels of care (in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there), it’s the kind of complaining belied by the inherent cheerfulness underneath. Buying presents and wrapping them in shiny paper is a high-class problem to have.

And, as it turns out, even the PYMNTS and commerce ecosystem can’t quite resist the siren song of the joyous season, as it was a very deck-the-halls kind of week out there. Christmas came early for bitcoin as the futures markets opened, and the world promptly lost its mind. Walmart decided that paying its employees in real time – and announcing it right before the holidays – would bring a lot of Christmas cheer, and Costco is making it easier to go to the movies, for when seeing The Last Jedi is the best and only way to recover from all the merriment one has just made.

Bitcoin’s Happy Holidays

Bitcoin managed to break $20,000 per coin after all – so if you had that on your Christmas miracles list for 2017, congratulations, you can check that one off.

The opening of the Cboe Futures Exchange for bitcoin had a hand in making that happen.

Exchanges, incidentally, had their share of hiccups this week. GDAX, a bitcoin exchange, was down and out for a bit on Monday, as it seems the infrastructure supporting the buying and selling of the digital coinage is struggling to keep up with demand. Coin base shuttered the trading of Ethereum twice on Tuesday. Cboe paused all trading twice on its first day open – once for two minutes and again for five minutes – when the futures price shot up 10 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The halts are a feature built to slow the market down in the event of a sharp move in either direction.

“It’s remarkable how back in November, $10,000 seemed like a psychological end-of-the-year target,” said Lukman Otunuga, a research analyst at ForexTime. “With the current gravity-defying bullish momentum, it may be no surprise if bitcoin concludes 2017 on $20,000.”

Otunuga is not alone in his bitcoin enthusiasm. Bitcoin primary investors and Facebook almost-founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss remain solidly convinced of bitcoin’s trillion-dollar future.

“Gold is scarce, bitcoin is actually fixed,” Cameron Winklevoss said in an interview with CNBC. “Bitcoin is way more portable and way more divisible. At a $300 billion market cap, it’s certainly seen a lot of price appreciation, but gold is at $6 trillion, and if bitcoin disrupting gold is true and it plays out … then you can see 10 to 20 times appreciation, because there is a significant delta still. Long term, directionally, it is a multi-trillion-dollar asset – I don’t know how long it takes to get there.”

But boosters weren’t the only enthusiasts out there this week – hackers also took a shine to bitcoin. Betaine, the largest exchange in the world, fell victim to another cyberattack, and in turn suspended trading amid distributed denial of service attacks. DDOS entrails bots were used to overwhelm digital systems, with the hackers’ goal of taking control of the platform and/or requesting a ransom payout to give control back to the website’s owner.

There is also mounting concern about bitcoin speculation setting people up for massive losses, as latter-day bitcoin enthusiasts borrow their way into the market. Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, warned on Tuesday (Dec. 12) that bitcoin has entered the “mania” phase, with some people taking out mortgages just to purchase the cryptocurrency.

In an interview with CNBC, Borg said that bitcoin shares are on the “mania curve” and that there has to be a leveling off at some point. “We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin … people do credit cards, equity lines,” Borg told the newswire. “This is not something a guy who’s making $100,000 a year, who’s got a mortgage and two kids in college, ought to be invested in.”

So, it was a volatile week for bitcoin – but then, that’s every week for bitcoin. However, as of the time of the time of the writing of this article, the price of bitcoin was a shade under $20K at $19,712, and widely expected to get back over the $20K threshold.

Jingle all the way.

Walmart Pays Out Early For Christmas

In the midst of frenzied holiday shopping – and a payday timed “wrong” –workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck can find this time of year particularly taxing.

Walmart is hoping to alleviate that worry, with a new service that will essentially make it easier for workers to get paid in real time.

Last week, Walmart announced that more than 1.4 million workers can now use an app to access a portion of wages for hours they have worked. For the nation’s largest private employer, the goal is to help workers avoid costly payday loans and other debt traps.

“We believe this is the right thing to do, and we are happy to champion it,” Judith McKenna, Walmart’s chief operating officer, said in an interview. She added that workers who are less worried about cash issues “feel more confident and more settled at work.”

Walmart is using an app called Even to make its payments initiative happen. The offering – which securely connects to an associate’s checking account, prepaid account or Walmart Associate Paycard and links to the store’s payroll systems – will help workers better manage their finances.

The Even app pinpoints exactly how much a person can safely spend before his next paycheck, and Walmart pays a fee on behalf of its workers to the technology firm that runs the app.

“Money management is something people across every income level struggle with, in large part because they don’t have access to good tools,” said Jon Schlossberg, CEO of Even. “In real life, if you want to get ahead, you’ve got to make a financial plan, and also have a way to fix the plan when it breaks. Even offers tools for both, together in one app. Working with Walmart and PayActiv gives us the opportunity to put these powerful, easy-to-use financial management tools in the hands of millions of hardworking Americans.”

All Walmart employees can use Even’s financial planning tool, and can obtain eight payments, known as instapays, each year free of charge. They can pay extra to receive more than eight instapays. For most of the workers, the instapays will be deducted from their next paycheck. Workers can take out only a portion of wages that they have already earned during the two-week pay cycle.

Labor groups say the best investment Walmart could make is not in developing a new app, but in increasing wages. The minimum starting wage at Walmart is $9 an hour, which is $1.75 higher than the federal minimum wage, but lower than the starting wage at retailers like Costco, which pays $13 an hour, and Target, which recently raised its entry-level wage to $11 an hour.

Costco’s Cinematic Move

Like bulk shopping? Like movies?

Do we have some tidings of comfort and joy for you!

Movie theater subscription service MoviePass and Fandor, an independent film and documentary streaming service, will promote a limited-time option in conjunction with bulk retailer Costco.

Costco members will have access to an exclusive one-year subscription package, which will cover membership for both the MoviePass and Fandor platforms. Subscribers through the Costco partnership receive instant digital access to Fandor’s library and in-theater experiences through MoviePass.

“MoviePass is ultimately about celebrating our love of movies, whether you stream them at home or experience them on the big screen,” said Mitch Lowe, CEO of MoviePass. “We feel strongly that our subscription model is a major step forward for the industry, and the increased attendance that we’ve seen as a result of the MoviePass service is an encouraging sign not only for theaters, but for the studios and distributors as well.”

The passes will only be available for purchase via Costco’s website for a week – and today (Dec 18) is the last day the promotion is open.

So, what did we learn this week?

Following the bouncing bitcoin has mostly entailed looking up – but keep your eyes peeled, as bitcoin gains have a funny of way of bouncing down as fast as they go up at times. Walmart workers may have a merrier and brighter holiday – or at least one in which shopping is less stressful. And Costco is giving the gift of cinema, which makes sense when you think about all the five-pound drums of popcorn they sell.

Merry Christmas – and we’ll see you next year for the first edition of the Data Dive, 2018.

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