June 13, 2021

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Can a Cryptocurrency Break the Buck?

Can a Cryptocurrency Break the Buck?

An anonymous reader shares an opinion piece from Bloomberg, written by Timothy Massad: On Sept. 16, 2008, the day after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the Reserve Primary Fund “broke the buck”: Its net asset value fell below $1 per share. The fund — often called the first money-market fund — held $785 million of Lehman commercial paper that was suddenly worthless. Although the paper represented only 1.2% of the fund’s total assets of $64.8 billion, demands for withdrawals escalated, and the fund lost two-thirds of its assets within 24 hours. This triggered a general run on money-market funds that stopped only when the U.S. Treasury issued an extraordinary guarantee of essentially all money-market fund liabilities. The episode underscored how important that $1 net asset value is to investors.

Certain cryptocurrencies known as stablecoins are today’s economic equivalent of money-market funds, and in some cases their practices should have us worried that they could break the buck, creating significant damage in the broader crypto market. One such stablecoin is Tether. With a market capitalization close to $60 billion, it is almost as big as the Reserve Fund was in 2008. Each Tether token is pegged to be equivalent to $1. But, as with the Reserve Primary Fund, the true value of those tokens depends on the market value of Tether’s reserves — the portfolio of investments made with the fiat currency it receives.

Tether recently disclosed that as of March 31, only 8% of its assets were in cash, Treasury bills and “reverse repo notes.” Almost 50% was in commercial paper, but no detail was provided about its quality. “Fiduciary deposits” represented 18%. Even more troubling: 10% of total assets were in “corporate bonds, funds & precious metals,” almost 13% were in “secured loans (none to affiliated entities),” and the remainder in “other,” which includes digital tokens. Tether separately provided a report from the accounting firm Moore Cayman stating that Tether’s assets exceed “the amount required to redeem” outstanding tokens. But that report provided no description of assets. It appeared to be based solely on management’s accounting, noting that Tether’s policy is to use “historic cost,” and that “the realizable value of these assets … could be materially different.” These facts should put holders of Tether — and other stablecoins — on notice that they may have trouble getting back $1 for each token. “If some of Tether’s investments were to become worthless or decline in value, it would suffer the equivalent fate of breaking the buck,” says Massad. “And if, for any reason, a wave of Tether holders suddenly tried to convert their tokens to cash, we do not know whether Tether could liquidate sufficient investments quickly to satisfy the demand.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.