First Mover Asia: Malaysia May Be Asia's Next Crypto Hub; Major Cryptos Decline as Russia Onslaught Intensifies

The country, where CoinGecko was founded, retains the institutional use of English as well as a common-law court system; bitcoin declined for the third day.

AccessTimeIconMar 7, 2022 at 11:51 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:44 p.m. UTC

Good morning. Here’s what’s happening:

Prices: Bitcoin (BTC), ether (ETH) and other major cryptos decline.

Insights: Malaysia has the ingredients to become Asia's next crypto hub.

Technician's take: BTC appears to be oversold on intraday charts, although momentum has weakened.

Catch the latest episodes of CoinDesk TV for insightful interviews with crypto industry leaders and analysis. And sign up for First Mover, our daily newsletter putting the latest moves in crypto markets in context.

And sign up for First Mover, our daily newsletter putting the latest moves in crypto markets in context.


Bitcoin (BTC): $38,311 .2%

Ether (ETH): $2,510 -1.7%

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Cosmos ATOM +1.8% Smart Contract Platform
XRP XRP +0.0% Currency

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Chainlink LINK −4.3% Computing
Polkadot DOT −3.2% Smart Contract Platform
Cardano ADA −2.8% Smart Contract Platform

Bad news continued flowing from the Ukraine on Monday, pushing investors away from cryptocurrency and other higher-risk assets.

At the time of publication, bitcoin was trading at about $38,300, off slightly over the past 24 hours. Ethereum was changing hands just above $2,500, down 1.7%. Most other major cryptos were firmly in the red. It was the third consecutive day of crypto declines, which started late on Friday as faint hopes for a ceasefire or targeted truce to allow civilians to evacuate besieged cities evaporated.

Ukrainian civilian casualties mounted as Russia continued to bomb non-military targets. Delegations from the Ukraine and Russia failed in their latest attempt to negotiate safe passage for citizens of the Black Sea port of Mariupol and other major Ukraine cities that are under bombardment.

Investors worried about rising energy prices that have already increased significantly over the last few months and wider inflationary pressures. The average price of gasoline rose to $4.009 per gallon on Sunday, according to the travel and other services organization, American Automobile Association (AAA). That was not far off the all-time high of $4.11 set in July 2008.

Oil is a tax on everything," Ben McMillan, the chief investment officer for IDX Digital Assets, told CoinDesk TV's First Mover show Monday. "Oil at this level, which we haven't seen for more than 10 years is just a drag on economies globally. So I think the big question really is 'how bad does this war get, how long does it persist.'"

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fell 3.6% and the S&P 500 nearly 3% as equity markets slogged through their worst day in over a year.

McMillan noted that bitcoin had "priced in a lot of bad news" and that "the war in Ukraine certainly didn't help." But he also struck a somewhat upbeat note, highlighting investors recent preference for the two largest cryptos by market cap, bitcoin and ether, over other digital assets.

"We are at a period now below $40,000 where historically we've started to see the buyers come out of the woodwork," he said. "The structural bull case is intact. I think part of that is there was a migration or consolidation within the crypto sphere around core holdings of Bitcoin and Ethereum."


S&P 500: 4,201 -2.9%

DJIA: 32,817 -2.3%

Nasdaq: 12,830 -3.6%

Gold: $1,998 +1.3%


Is Malaysia the Future Crypto Hub for Asia?

Financial centers usually need three things: nice weather, common law and a bilingual workforce.

When people think of financial centers in Asia, Hong Kong or Singapore usually come to mind. The two cities share a lot of similarities as they retain a common law court system, and the workforce has a high command of English as artifacts of Britain’s legacy of colonialism.

Singapore is often called Asia’s crypto hub, and that term makes sense on the surface. The Monetary Authority of Singapore’s regulatory framework has been thought of as a comprehensive approach to crypto that understands the unique complexity of the asset class while Hong Kong takes a fragmented approach that often feels like there’s a square peg in a round hole happening despite everyone’s best efforts.

But we’re forgetting about Malaysia. Also a former Crown colony, Malaysia retains the institutional use of English as well as a common law court system. There’s no erosion of this legacy like in Hong Kong, the beaches are better than Singapore and the cost of living is low.

Yes, Malaysia isn’t spotless and graft-free like the Lion City but it didn’t have Gigachad Lee Kuan Yew at the helm to fight corruption. Sovereign wealth funds get raided (to bankroll the Wolf of Wall Street no less) and police take the occasional bribe. But they know it's wrong and people get prosecuted; parties get tossed at the ballot box in their raucous democracy.

The judicial DNA is in the right place, and the "bones" of the system are solid. A land title, for example, is secure through the use of the Torrens system of title, another fine commonwealth legacy that enshrines property rights through professional surveying and a central registry not a mishmash of fiefdoms. Singapore and Malaysia used to be one, in fact, until Malaysia’s parliament voted to expel the island from their confederation making Singapore the only country to gain independence involuntarily (take that, Taiwan).

One key thing Malaysia has going for it, with the British common law in place, is its ability to pull in case law (law that is based on judicial decisions) when making a regulatory decision. Because of its clarity, case law is always a preferred method of dealing with an evolving landscape that statute or regulation isn’t a precise enough tool to hit. Lawyers who specialize in regulatory affairs in common law jurisdictions get a bit uneasy when authorities decide to use statute to rule by enforcement.

This seems to be going well for Fusang, based in Malaysia’s Labuan territory. Labuan, formed in 1990, is being marketed as Malaysia’s Hong Kong, a midshore jurisdiction that’s in the country but exempt from some of its rules and tax burden. Labuan was a bit underground and not well known until Fusang put it on the map with its digital equities and bond offerings.

“Paper shares today, digital shares tomorrow” is how its CEO Henry Chong puts it, explaining that this isn’t a novel asset class in need of a new set of rules. Clarity is already there, because there are existing securities rules.

Chong thinks there is plenty of clarity on the market about digital assets. Those that say otherwise are complaining about having to follow the rules.

But what Malaysia doesn’t have is the sophisticated capital market of Hong Kong. Kuala Lumpur isn’t synonymous with being a financial center the same way that Hong Kong is. Singapore, looking at the numbers, isn’t even there either.

“In the digital world, geography starts to matter a lot less. Financial centers typically grew up around geography – Hong Kong is a prototypical example. There’s proximity there,” Chong said. “Hong Kong became Hong Kong because people wanted to meet and interact.”

Jurisdictions will start competing more, Chong said, and the case is there for Malaysia to become this next hub.

Chong isn’t the first one to champion this. CoinGecko, a fierce competitor to CoinMarketCap, was founded in Malaysia and continues to operate there while maintaining a presence in Singapore. Malaysia remains free of capital gains tax on crypto, and its educated, English-speaking workforce is quickly making a good impression on stakeholders in the decentralized finance (DeFi) industry.

Hong Kong’s response to COVID-19 has caused a mass exodus that might just be Malaysia’s gain. Published statistics show that since March 2020, 76,000 more people have left the city than arrived, and the tempo of departures has increased in the last week as the City tries to enforce its most restrictive covid rules yet (even its most vocal fans are deciding now is the time to go).

Some are headed back to Europe, others for a staycation in Thailand, and perhaps some to Malaysia. Work will still be the order of business, as remote working is the norm. But the question is, how many will return? This could be what it takes for the industry to consider decentralizing – especially to areas that share the same legal DNA.

Technician's take

Bitcoin four-hour chart shows support/resistance with RSI on bottom (Damanick Dantes/CoinDesk, TradingView)

Bitcoin (BTC) traded lower over the weekend after buyers were unable to break above the $40,000 price level. Immediate support is at $37,000, which could stabilize the pullback, although stronger support is seen at $35,000.

The cryptocurrency continues to trade in a tight price range and is down 2% over the past 24 hours to about $38,000.

Upside momentum is slowing on the daily chart, which points to further consolidation around the current price. Resistance is seen at $45,000.

The relative strength index (RSI) on the four-hour chart is rising from oversold levels, similar to what occurred during the last week of February, which preceded a price jump. Still, the RSI can remain in oversold territory for a few days before confirming an upswing (typically with a reading above 50).

Important events

12:30 a.m. HKT/SGT(8:30 a.m. UTC): National Australia Bank's Business Conditions (Feb.)

12:30 a.m. HKT/SGT(8:30 a.m. UTC): National Australia Bank's Business Confidence (Feb.)

1 p.m. HKT/SGT (5 a.m. UTC): Japan Eco Watchers Survey: Current (Feb.)

1 p.m. HKT/SGT(5 a.m. UTC): Japan Eco Watchers Survey: Outlook (Feb.)

CoinDesk TV

In case you missed it, here is the most recent episode of "First Mover" on CoinDesk TV:

"First Mover" hosts were joined by CoinDesk's Nikhilesh De to discuss the ongoing call from Ukraine's government urging American private businesses to cut operations in Russia. Arthur Falls, a former employee of ConsenSys, gave his side of the story in the controversy surrounding the blockchain company. Ben McMillan of IDX Digital Assets offered market insights. Plus, how are people in Ukraine coping with war? Anton Altement of OSOM weighed in.


On Chinese Social Media, Justin Sun Says He Hopes to 'Strengthen Cooperation' With Russia: The Tron founder has been a prominent supporter of crypto fundraisers for Ukraine during Russia's invasion. But a comment posted only across his Chinese social media sent a more complicated message.

Coinbase Touts Blacklist of 25K Russia-Linked Addresses Allegedly Tied to Illicit Activity: Combating accusations that crypto is an ideal sanctions evasion tool, Coinbase said it has long taken “proactive” steps to root out criminally tied Russians.

Crypto-Fund Inflows Tripled Last Week to Highest in Almost Three Months: A net $127 million went into digital-asset funds during the week ended March 4, with minor outflows in Europe and large inflows in the Americas.

Ukraine Is Buying Bulletproof Vests and Night-Vision Goggles Using Crypto: Some of the military suppliers to Ukraine have crypto accounts, said the Ukraine government.

Dozens of Tokens Tumble as Prolific Developer Andre Cronje Calls It Quits: Investors are running for the exit as a mercurial developer leaves DeFi development behind.

Brantly Millegan Remains a Director of ENS Foundation After Failed Attempt to Boot Him: Millegan was removed as a steward from the DAO and the True Names Foundation, but remains a director at the ENS Foundation.

Longer reads

If Ever There Were a Time for Financial Freedom, It’s Now: With Ukraine raising money online and Russia shut out of the financial system, crypto's liberty proposition was put to the test.

Today's crypto explainer: What Are Music NFTs?

Said and heard

"Never in my life have I seen an international crisis where the dividing line between right and wrong has been so stark, as the Russian war machine unleashes its fury on a proud democracy." (British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for The New York Times) ... "We must go further on economic sanctions, expelling every Russian bank from SWIFT and giving our law enforcement agencies unprecedented powers to peel back the facade of dirty Russian money in London." (Johnson) ... "The total value locked in the Cardano network has increased by $50 million in a week, hitting a lifetime high of $160.79 million, according to DefiLlama." (CoinDesk) ... "I think that’s also why people are skeptical of the [crypto] space. We’ve had this massive techlash in the last two years. Everyone saw how Web 2 started out, with all this liberatory language. And then all the value kind of accumulated at the top, and I think people have been burned by that. It’s like, here we go again. You’re going to save me again." (Artist Holly Herndon in a CoinDesk Q&A)


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Damanick Dantes

Damanick was a crypto market analyst at CoinDesk where he wrote the daily Market Wrap and provided technical analysis. He is a Chartered Market Technician designation holder and member of the CMT Association. Damanick is also a portfolio strategist and does not invest in digital assets.

James Rubin

James Rubin was CoinDesk's U.S. news editor based on the West Coast.