Why Would Anyone Have Faith In Tether?

I don’t want to get sued for slander so let me explain the reasoning beyond today’s title. After all of the turmoil surrounding Tether on Monday, how can the price be anywhere near the $1 parity level with the US dollar?  After more than a year, how can anyone have confidence in Tether and their common law partners Bitfinex when, for example, Circle, backed be the highly respected Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs offers an alternative?  We should also mention that Circle is just one of many so called stable coins.

It isn’t hard to find a list. Exchanges are feverishly adding stable coins. Singapore based Houbi is adding Paxos Standard Token (PAX), True USD (TUSD), Circle (USDC) and Gemini (GUSD).  

When Stable Coins Cause Instability

Well, the evidence is mounting as the months move along that so called stable coins can have the power of creating anything but stability.  This week’s experience with Tether, Bitfinex and the price explosion of Bitcoin demonstrates that there are still dangers lurking. This is why trust is important.

Monday’s gyrations were not the first questionable moment for Tether.  The coin, which gains its intended stability by being tied on a one for one basis with the US dollar, has been the subject of questionable behavior all year.  

As far back as January trade sources were expressing concern the Tether was responsible for last December’s major price bubble in Bitcoin.  The frenzy over Bitcoin set off speculation across the entire crypto spectrum. But that was just the beginning.

In June Bloomberg reported on a paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, that among other things claimed 60% of last year’s price move in Bitcoin was the result of manipulation surrounding Bitfinex. That directly implicates Tether.

Using algorithms to analyze the blockchain data, Griffin’s team found that purchases with Tether were timed following market downturns and result in sizable increases in Bitcoin prices. Less than 1% of hours with such heavy Tether transactions are associated with 50% of the meteoric rise in Bitcoin and 64% of other top cryptocurrencies.

These findings prompted the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission to step in with a series of subpoenas.

Tether’s coins had become a popular substitute for dollars on cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, and for good reason. They are anonymous, closely tied to the value of the US dollar and can be used in exchange for Bitcoin, Ether or about 10 other cryptocurrencies.  Tether is closely associated with Bitfinex, with whom they share common shareholders and management.

Bitfinex has offices in Hong Kong but it is legally headquartered in the British Virgin Islands. In May they announced plans to move to Zug, Switzerland. Bitfinex has a sorted history of poor security, having lost nearly $100 million worth of Bitcoin from customer accounts. Moreover, while claiming to have total one for one US dollar backing for each Tether, real proof is absent.  

Further Evidence of Manipulation

Over the course of this year, as we have gathered digitally to witness the loss of nearly $600 billion in crypto value, everyone has been looking for the culprit. When I first read of some of the academic studies that blamed the advent of futures trading on the CBOE, I laughed. Honestly, I believed the real cause of the rise and fall of crypto were a well connected group of billionaires that together had the power to move markets.  

Well the folks at Chainalysis have just produced some surprising research results. Their Blockchain Intelligence Platform powers investigation software for some of  the world’s top institutions. These guys don’t do surveys, the have their hands on big data that is able to detect some interesting stuff.

Chainalysis released a new report last week showing that the so called Bitcoin whales are not responsible for price volatility. The study examined the 32 largest BTC wallets, which reportedly represent 1 million BTC, or around $6.3 billion. That is a pretty solid sample size.

The data revealed that the BTC whales are do not act in concert with one another. In fact not only are they a diverse group but about two thirds behave like longer term investors. Instead of being FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) types, on net they have traded against the heard buying on price weakness.

Putting The Pieces Together

The crypto world is bombarded with globally generated news on an hourly basis. But what does all of it mean anyway? Hopefully this article adds some perspective on what and who has been responsible for the direction of crypto prices over the past year.  As more of these weak players are identified and depleted of their business, real investors will have the confidence to return to the market.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

James Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.