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《经济学人》:加密代币泡沫即将破裂 你准备好了吗?

北京时间4月25日凌晨1点,加密代币众筹项目Gnosis正式启动,仅仅15分钟之后,参与人数超过750人,共募集25万以太币(约合1200万美元)。据官方发布的数据显示,代币平均成本为29.8488美元/枚。项目方占有代币占总量95.81%,投资者占有代币占总量4.19%。按此单价和流通比例计算,Gnosis估值已经超过3亿美元(约20亿元人民币)。

什么是加密代币众筹?

相关阅读:加密代币众筹ICO:首次真正意义上的VC革命

一直以来,"融资难"问题都是阻碍中小型企业发展的首要因素。在这样的背景下,金融机构层层抽贷,风险投资公司更是另有所图,初创公司的发展可谓是举步维艰。然而,近年来兴起的加密代币众筹革命似乎给中小企业带来了一丝希望。

加密代币众筹即"crowdsale",也可称作ICO (Initial Coin Offering),与公开发行股票(IPO)类似,只不过ICO发行的是加密代币。 这种代币在未来可能会有极高的价值,要想使用以太坊区块链和智能合约平台,就必须要用到它们。

如今,众筹(crowdfunding)已经不是什么新鲜事。许多股权众筹平台已经全面运营,但是处于各种原因,并没有达到理想效果。但是这种加密代币的众筹,和传统的众筹有很大的不同:通过ICO,股权价值会从代币平台公司转移至该公司的协议和代币当中。这对于传统的股权投资者来说,无疑是巨大的变革。

2016年,区块链初创公司通过加密代币众筹共募集资金超过2亿美元,此外,进入今年以来,ICO总额已经达到了1.07亿美元。尽管这个数字可能无法与动辄涉及上亿美元资金的Kickstarter等众筹业巨头相比,但它还是显示了ICO这一新兴众筹模式巨大的发展潜力。

一般来说,加密代币众筹项目需要通过区块链平台发行加密代币,启动ICO。投资者则有机会在项目早期获得代币,并兑换成其他数字货币。ICO的项目发起者通常会设置时间限制或募资上线限制,而所发行的代币的数量和价值可以是相对静态的,也可以根据募集的资金额度进行浮动估计。

本文开头所提到的Gnosis就是建立在以太坊平台之上的预测市场(prediction market)项目。它基于下一代区块链网络以太坊平台,构建易用的去中心化预测市场。Gnosis为每一个人预测任何事件提供了开放式平台。如:预测特朗普能否当选美国总统。同时,Gnosis具有极高的安全性能,所有的资金都由合约保管,几乎不存在欺诈风险。通过降低为全球市场创建新应用的门槛,Gnosis将提供最好的用户体验。

"加密代币"是怎么回事?

作为ICO的核心,加密代币的重要性不言而喻。那么什么才是所谓的"加密代币"?

从概念上来讲,加密代币并不是以一般的字符串的形式存在的,而是以区块链账本中记账权的形式存在的。这意味着当用户拥有这些"代币",就相当于拥有一枚可以发号施令的"令牌",可以在总账上创造一个新的账目,然后重新将所有权分配给其他人。部分投资者认为,一共成功的项目将使"令牌"即"代币"的价值在未来得到极大的提升,这也就是购买代币的人一方面是为了使用,另一方面则是为了日后的保值升值。

目前,业内将常见的几类加密代币分为两个类别:内置代币和资产抵押代币。在市场上常见的则是以比特币为代表的内置加密代币。作为最早的一类加密代币,比特币的出现为许多其他种类代币的发展提供了思路。

近年来,以太坊区块链平台已经逐步成为了世界最大的区块链众筹项目。发起者只需通过在平台上进行算法编写,就可以自动创建加密代币,用于在以太坊区块链平台上进行活动。同时,发起者还将发布类似于股权招募策划案的白皮书在网络上对项目进行宣传。

加密代币众筹泡沫能否破灭?

从Gnosis在15分钟内募集1200万美元的"奇迹"不难看出,区块链资产集资正在经历疯狂的增长。然而仅仅在2016年一年里,就有三家通过出售自有电子货币实现快速募资的区块链创业公司:Lisk一个月内募资500万美元,Digix在14小时内集资超过500万美元,就在不久前,First Blood在五分钟内募资超过500万美元。这三个平台都处于非常早期阶段。目前来看,这种趋势还将持续下去,比如Lcomomi也获取了超过500万美元的资金,并高度参与到Golem、ZCash等项目里,公有区块链平台Waves通过众筹获得1600万美元。《经济学人》曾在此前的报道中提到,目前在以太坊区块链平台中流通的加密代币价值已经超过50亿美元。

然而,加密代币众筹产业的发展过热也引发了一系列的问题。首先,随着ICO的不断发展,投资者越来越难深入研究每个ICO背后的可行性。由于每一次交易都是匿名情况下公开进行的,人们很容易就会对投资进行虚假宣传,发布伪造的白皮书误导投资者。同时,由于ICO和加密代币的法律分类仍然模糊,因此即使投资者的权益遭到侵害,目前也无法通过法律途径进行维权。

近几个月,已有多家机构开展行动规范市场行为,加密代币众筹的管控问题有望得到缓解。5月1日,区块链项目加速器Adel开启了首次以反洗钱和提高用户体验为主旨的ICO项目。法律咨询公司Otonomos也宣布将推出专门针对中小企业进行ICO的法律咨询服务。市场调研机构Smith+Crown的行业研究员Matt Chwierut表示,加密代币众筹行业正在由青涩走向成熟,这意味着中小企业在未来进行募资的难度将逐渐加大。

行业监管"任重而道远"

加密货币众筹存在问题的主要原因之一在于监管的缺失,然而目前来看,监管问题仍难以在短时期内解决。

一直以来,美国证券交易委员会(SEC)及其他国家的同类机构一直缄口不提加密代币是否是证券。Coinbase、Coin Center、Consensys和Union Square Ventures等机构提出的框架试图对这个问题进行权衡,但却无法提供明确答案,其中一部分原因是区块链本身不受管制的性质。Coin Center的研究员Peter Van Valkenburgh表示,加密代币应作为货币进行监管,而不应该归到证券类别。对此,美国证券交易委员会等证券监管机构并未给出回应。有内部人士分析称,政府对加密代币众筹监管的"避而不谈"实则在于不愿在该行业发展初期就给予过多的束缚,担心影响创新能力。随着行业发展的成熟,监管机构有望逐步建立完善的管理框架。

ICO的未来

毫无疑问,加密代币市场在未来必将经历繁荣与萧条的更替。有些人认为,ICO这种非常规的融资渠道会使更多团队和项目受益,激发他们创新。而还有些人则称ICO是一个彻头彻尾的骗局,他们甚至将ICO与1717年发生在英国的信用卡大型股票投机活动"南海泡沫事件"相提并论。

目前,金融科技行业正在经历着巨大的变革,只有时间才会分辨ICO是另一个即将破裂的泡沫,还是一种能够创造历史的投资形式。不过,唯一可以肯定的是,加密代币众筹还将在今年掀起新一轮的募资狂潮。

Another bubble is heading fora bust, but may spawn much innovation

WOULD you care to invest in Gnosis, a prediction market where users can bet on outcomes of events such as elections? Or in ZrCoin, a project to produce zirconium dioxide, used to make heat-resistant alloys? How about an "immersive reality experience" called "Back to Earth"?

These are just three of a new wave of what are called Initial Coin Offerings(ICOs).Nearly $250m has already been invested in such offerings, of which $107m alone has flowed in this year, according to Smith+Crown, a research firm. But it was in April that ICOs, or "token sales", as insiders prefer to call them, really took off. On April 24th Gnosis collected more than $12m in under 15 minutes, valuing the project, in theory, at nearly $300m.

ICO "coins" are essentially digital coupons, tokens issued on an indelible distributed ledger, or blockchain, of the kind that underpins bitcoin, a crypto-currency. That means they can easily be traded, although unlike shares they do not confer ownership rights. Instead, they often serve as the currency for the project they finance: to pay users fora correct prediction, as does Gnosis; or for the content users contribute. Investors hope that successful projects will cause tokens' value to rise.

In a way, bitcoin was the first ICO-except that instead of putting money in directly, investors had to buy computing gear to "mine" (ie, mint cryptographically) the tokens. Bitcoin inspired hundreds of variations-"alt-coins". But these involved the tricky business of creating a new blockchain. Today most issuers simply write a "smart contract" on Ethereum, a rival blockchain. This piece of code then automatically creates tokens when it receives "ether", the coin of the Ethereum realm. Issuers typically publish a "white paper" (a prospectus of sorts) and market their undertaking on social media.

As Gnosis shows, such offerings can sell out quickly. The crypto-currency cognoscenti made a lot of money investing in bitcoin and other tokens and have cash to invest (as The Economist went to press, the value of all ether in circulation was nearly $5bn). Less popular projects offer incentives for buying early or a lot. "Back to Earth", whose ICO launched on April 26th, wants to raise 750 bitcoin (almost $1m) by selling Star Credits. Investors who buy coins worth 0.75 bitcoin or more get a special "Golden Ticket", entitling them to special content and, later on, free Star Credits.

But the claims in white papers are mostly unaudited. ZrCoin plans to build a factory in Russia to extract zirconium from industrial waste; cameras on the site are supposed to let investors monitor progress. ZrCoins are backed by the zirconium to be produced. But as in many ICOs, it is unclear why the funds are not raised in conventional ways. And since most ICOs have no link to any particular jurisdiction, it is hard to see what investors could do if issuers abscond with their money. Often they have immediate access to the funds raised.

Even ICO fans fret that an offering will blowup, as did Mt. Gox, an early bitcoin exchange, in 2014. But the market is showing signs of maturing, says Matt Chwierut of

Smith+Crown. More ICOs now use escrow accounts, which makes it harder to take the money and run. Blockchain Capital, a venture-capital firm, has just raised $10m, but it sold its coins in America only to "accredited" investors. On May 1st Adel, an incubator for blockchain projects, will launch one of the first ICOs to comply with anti-money- laundering and know-your-customer rules. Otonomos, which helps firms incorporate, is planning to offer a service giving ICOs a legal home.

Regulators will have to decide how to deal with ICOs. Peter Van Valkenburgh of Coin Centre, a think-tank, argues that if the tokens are mainly used as currencies, they should not be classified as securities. But in March the Ontario Securities Commission warned that issuers may need to meet legal requirements, such as registration and filing an official prospectus. This may be hard to enforce: blockchains know no borders and some ICOs, including Gnosis's, are created expressly to avoid regulations.

America's Securities and Exchange Commission has not said anything yet. Insiders worry it will come down too hard on ICOs, stymying innovation. Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, another venture-capital firm, argues that ICOs help finance projects that today remain unfunded, in particular "protocols"-code enabling computer systems to work together. One example is Storj, a service for decentralized file storage, which has issued tokens on bitcoin's blockchain. Subscribers use the currency to pay for file storage, but can also earn it by contributing storage to the network. They hope such services might one day replace the big centralized ones that dominate the internet. Imagine Facebook had issued a token, says Olaf Carlson-Wee of Polychain Capital, a hedge fund that invests in ICOs. Users could be paid for their posts and thereby share in the firm's wealth.

Forever blowing

Still, before ICOs fulfil this promise, they may well have to endure a cycle of boom and bust. Some liken the ICO craze to the South Sea bubble in the early 18th century in Britain, when promoters raised funds for companies promising the "transmutation of quicksilver into a malleable fine metal" or a "wheel for perpetual motion". Prices soon fell, in particular after Parliament in 1720 passed the "Bubble Act" to rein in "undertakings of great advantage". But the sorry episode was a step toward some rather useful innovations: the modern joint-stock company, for example.


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