Russia intends to use its digital ruble, to be introduced early next year, for payments with its key ally, China. Authorities in Moscow hope other nations will be willing to adopt the Russian digital currency in trade, which will allow the country to circumvent sanctions imposed over the Ukraine war.
The Central Bank of Russia is gearing up to launch settlements with the digital ruble, the new incarnation of the Russian fiat currency that’s now being tested, as early as 2023. According to a statement by a prominent member of the lower house of Russian parliament, the sanctioned nation wants to use it in payments with China, which has become Russia’s main trading partner.
Limited access to the global financial system due to financial restrictions introduced in response to its military invasion of Ukraine is forcing Russia to seek alternative means for foreign trade transactions. Alongside cryptocurrencies, the digital ruble is one of the options Moscow is considering in its efforts to bypass the sanctions.
“The topic of digital financial assets, the digital ruble and cryptocurrencies is currently intensifying in the society, as Western countries are imposing sanctions and creating problems for bank transfers, including in international settlements,” the head of the Financial Market Committee at the State Duma, Anatoly Aksakov, recently told the Parlamentskaya Gazeta newspaper.
The high-ranking lawmaker elaborated that the digital direction is key because financial flows can circumvent systems controlled by unfriendly nations. He added the next step for the central bank digital currency (CBDC) issued by the Bank of Russia would be to introduce it in mutual settlements with China. Also quoted by Reuters, Aksakov emphasized:
If we launch this, then other countries will begin to actively use it going forward, and America’s control over the global financial system will effectively end.
With the loss of markets in the West, including for energy exports, the importance of cooperation with China has increased significantly for Russia. Trade between the two countries has expanded and Russian companies have started issuing debt in Chinese yuan. Beijing is currently conducting domestic trials of its digital version, the e-CNY, and plans to use it in cross-border settlements, too.
Russia is preparing to adopt comprehensive regulations for its crypto market in the coming months, including a new bill “On Digital Currency” that will expand the legal framework established last year by the law “on Digital Financial Assets.” Russian regulators are already developing a mechanism for international crypto payments and the respective draft provisions have been already agreed upon by the central bank and the finance ministry.
Lubomir Tassev is a journalist from tech-savvy Eastern Europe who likes Hitchens’s quote: “Being a writer is what I am, rather than what I do.” Besides crypto, blockchain and fintech, international politics and economics are two other sources of inspiration.
The Bank of Russia has announced plans to connect all Russian banks to the digital ruble in 2024, as it fast-tracks plans to circumvent sanctions. Cross-border integration with the digital yuan and the central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) of other “friendly” countries” will remove the need for Swift, a central bank official said. As well as “gradually connecting all credit organisations”, the Bank of Russia will increase the number of “payment options and transactions using smart
The Central Bank of Russia emphasized that the pilot project aims to better understand the regulatory, legal, and technical aspects of CBDCs, and plans to launch an official digital ruble within a few years. Russia’s central bank’s latest monetary policy said the country plans to connect the digital ruble platform to all banks and credit institutions by 2024.
In March 2024, a new round of elections will be held on whether the current Russian President Vladimir Putin will be re-elected. By then, the digital ruble is expected to have completed customer-to-customer transaction trials and customer-to-business and business-to-customer settlements.
To facilitate the rollout of the digital ruble, the Bank of Russia will also conduct a beta test of the digital ruble-based smart contract with a limited number of participants in 2023. At the same time, it is expected that in 2025, the offline mode of the digital ruble will be completed. The Bank of Russia noted that the Russian economy is increasingly digitized, thus requiring an advanced payment system based on a government-backed digital currency.
VTB Factoring, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned bank, reported the first major deal with digital finance assets. As part of the deal, the bank subsidiary acquired a tokenized debt pool of the engineering company Metrowagonmash, issued via the fintech platform Lighthouse. On Wednesday, June 29, VTB reported the deal on its webpage, claiming it to be the first issuance and placement of digital financial assets secured by cash in the Russian Federation. In the announcement, the bank compares it with the issue of short-term commercial bonds.
n June 2022, the largest Russian bank Sber announced its first operation with the digital financial assets (DFA) to take place in mid-July, after finally obtaining a license from the country’s central bank. While current legislation on the DFA was put in force in 2020, the head of the Financial Markets Committee of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of DFA as a “monetary surrogate” in June 2022.
In February 2022, VTB conducted the first successful testing of the operation with “digital rubles,” a central bank digital currency (CBDC) project of the Bank of Russia. Later, the bank announced its first purchase of DFAs in exchange for the digital ruble. At press time, there is no information on whether the aforementioned deal was made via CBDC.
Yuri Popovich had watched his neighbours’ houses burn down to the ground in Kyiv and he needed a safe place to put his money. So he did what millions of amateur investors have done in recent years: he turned to cryptocurrency. “It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes. There was a big risk of theft, we also had cases of looting. Therefore, I trusted a ‘stable and reliable’ cryptocurrency. Not for the purpose of speculating, but simply to save,” he says.
The digital asset that Popovich chose in April was terra, a “stablecoin” whose value was supposed to be pegged to the dollar. It collapsed in May, sparking a rout in the cryptocurrency market whose victims include Popovich. He lost $10,000 (£8,200). Popovich says his losses were “devastating”, although donations from sympathetic onlookers on social media have helped make up some of the shortfall. He says: “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg, I often have headaches and anxiety.”
Popovich is one of many experiencing the deep chill of the current crypto winter, more than four years after the market’s cornerstone, bitcoin, marked the first digital freeze by tumbling from its then peak. It went on a long tear after that but it has come to a juddering halt, with bitcoin falling below the $20,000 mark at one point this month – far below its peak of nearly $69,000, which it hit last November.
The fall has been sharp and spectacular: an overall market that was estimated to be worth more than $3tn barely six months ago is now worth less than $1tn.
The beginnings of the latest crypto boom held all the hallmarks of being another instance of the “Robinhood economy”, named after the popular American stock trading app. Bored white collar workers, stuck at home because of pandemic lockdowns but awash with disposable income, turned to day trading as a way to pass the time. Subscribers to the r/WallStreetBets forum on the popular online discussion site Reddit doubled over the course of 2020 and then quadrupled in the first month of 2021, as a small army of retail investors flooded into assets as varied as the then bankrupt car rental company Hertz, the troubled video game retailer GameStop and the electric car manufacturer Tesla, pushing the latter from $85 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $1,243 towards the end of 2021.
Cryptocurrencies also benefited from the surge in day trading. Bitcoin soared from a low of $5,000 in March 2020 to more than $60,000 a year later. The currency has had that sort of precipitous increase before: in 2017, it had risen 20-fold, to its then peak of $19,000. But in the latest boom, ethereum, the number two cryptocurrency, had an even more impressive climb, from just $120 to a high of almost $5,000 in 2021.
Cryptocurrency is the name for any digital asset that works like bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, which was invented in 2009. There is a “decentralised ledger”, which records who owns what, built into a “blockchain”, which secures the whole network by ensuring transactions are irreversible once made. In the years since then, a dizzying amount of variations have arisen, but the core – the blockchain concept – is remarkably stable, in part because of the social implications of truly decentralised networks being immune to government oversight or regulation.
Where, 10 years ago, people simply spoke of trading in bitcoin, the space has ballooned. As well as cryptocurrencies themselves, , the sector has developed in a complex ecosystem. It encompasses Web3, a broader selection of apps and services built on top of cryptocurrencies, DeFi, an attempt to bootstrap an entire financial sector out of code rather than contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which use the same technology as cryptocurrencies to trade in objects rather than money.
The flood of money washing into the world of crypto did more than simply inflate the paper wealth of pre-existing shareholders. Instead, it led to a surge of interest in, and funding for, the vast array of projects that aimed to capitalise on the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies. For a generation of new investors, the “decentralised finance” opportunities of the sector were appealing. Built on top of the “programmable money” of the ethereum cryptocurrency, the “DeFi” [decentralised finance] sector is an attempt to expand bitcoin’s anti-establishment ethos to cover the entire economy.
Take the comparatively small sector of the crypto market known as NFTs. A product dating back to 2014, NFTs take the tech used to create cryptocurrencies, but let creators link unique assets to the blockchain, instead of money-like currencies. That means NFTs can be traded that represent works of art, virtual collectibles, or even function as tickets to events or membership of clubs. And like cryptocurrencies, they can be bought or sold in open exchanges, held pseudonymously, and packaged up or securitised in complex financial instruments.
One token, representing years of work by the digital artist Beeple, sold for $69m; another, linked to the first tweet sent by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, was bought for $2.9m. Individual NFTs in the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection – the most consistently desired examples of “profile pic” NFTs, designed to be used as pre-packaged online identity – regularly sold for $1m-$3m apiece. But by the beginning of 2022, the NFT bubble appeared to have already popped. “Floor” prices for large NFT collections had plummeted, and, while many large NFT acquisitions have stayed in private collection, those that have been put back on the market have fared poorly: the Dorsey tweet was withdrawn from sale after achieving a top bid of just $14,000.
And then: the crash
The crypto crisis has played out against the backdrop of wider market problems, as fears over the Ukraine conflict, rising inflation and higher borrowing costs stalk investors. Some market watchers play down the prospect of a crypto crash triggering serious problems elsewhere in the financial markets or the global economy. The total value of all cryptocurrencies is about $1tn currently (with bitcoin accounting for about 40% of the total), which compares with approximately $100tn for the world’s stock markets.
Since November the value of all cryptocurrencies has fallen from $3tn, meaning that $2tn worth of wealth has been wiped out, with no serious knock-on effects to the broader stock market – so far. Teunis Brosens, the head economist for digital finance at the Dutch bank ING, says the traditional financial system is relatively well shielded because established banks – the cornerstones of the financial world that buckled in 2008 – are not exposed to cryptocurrencies because they do not hold digital assets on their balance sheets, unlike during the financial crisis when they held toxic debt products related to the housing market.
“What has happened in the crypto market has caused great losses for some investors and it’s all very painful and not something I want to downplay,” he says. “But it would be overplaying the role that crypto currently has in the economic and financial system if you were to think there could be systemic consequences for the wider financial system or even a global recession directly caused by crypto assets.” To date, the turmoil has been limited to the crypto sector. Digital assets have been hit by some of the same economic issues that have affected the wider global economy and stock markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been affected by concerns over rising inflation and the ensuing increases in interest rates by central banks, which has made risky assets less attractive to investors. This meant that as stock markets declined, so too did crypto assets.
But the collapse last month of terra also hit confidence in cryptocurrencies. In June, a cryptocurrency lender, Celsius, was forced to stop customer withdrawals. And a hedge fund that made big bets on the crypto markets slid towards liquidation. Crypto investors and firms that had made bets on the crypto market using digital assets as collateral were forced into a selling spree. Kim Grauer, the head of research at the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, says: “It was a combination of the stock market plus the kind of excessive reaction that is typical of crypto markets because of these cascading liquidations. In this case the key event was terra.”
She added: “Crypto is not going away. And it has experienced crashes more severe than this crash.” Regulators and various government agencies are looking closely. Harry Eddis, the global co-head of fintech at Linklaters, a London-based law firm, says recent events in the crypto asset market will strengthen regulators’ determination to rein in the industry.“nI think it will certainly stiffen the sinews of the regulators in saying that they’re more than justified in regulating the industry, because of the obvious risks with a lot of the crypto assets out there,” he says.
In the UK, the financial watchdog continues to expand safeguards on crypto products. Its latest proposals on marketing crypto products to consumers could lead to significant restrictions on crypto exchanges operating in the UK. Consumers reported 4,300 potential crypto scams to the Financial Conduct Authority’s website over a six-month period last year, far ahead of the second place category, pension transfers, which had 1,600 reports. The FCA has 50 live investigations, including criminal inquiries, into companies in the sector.
The terra collapse has also heightened regulatory concerns about stablecoins, because they are backed by traditional assets and therefore could pose a risk to the wider financial system. In the UK, the Treasury wants a regime in place for dealing with a stablecoin collapse, saying in May that a terra-like failure could endanger the “continuity of services critical to the operation of the economy and access of individuals to their funds or assets”.
“Even just the top three stablecoins hold reserves totalling $140bn in traditional assets, much of this being in commercial paper and US treasuries. A run on redemptions of the largest coin (tether) could destabilise the entire crypto asset system and spill over into other markets,” says Carol Alexander, the professor of finance at University of Sussex Business School.
Elsewhere, the EU is drawing up a regulatory framework for crypto assets with the aim of introducing it by 2024, while in the US Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the federal government to coordinate a regulatory plan for cryptocurrencies including ensuring “sufficient oversight and safeguard against any systemic financial risks posed by digital assets”. The Federal Trade Commission, the US consumer watchdog, says 46,000 people have lost more than $1bn to crypto scams since the start of 2021.
In general, regulators have been talking tough about cryptocurrencies. The chair of the FCA has called for “strong safeguards” to be put in place for the crypto market, while the head of the US financial regulator has warned consumers about crypto products promising returns that are “too good to be true”, while Singapore has said it will be “brutal and unrelentingly hard” on misbehaviour in the crypto market.
‘I’m sure crypto will bubble again’
Where crypto goes from here is an unanswerable question. For proponents, such as Changpeng Zhao, the multibillionaire owner of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange, the sector is sure to recover – though it might take some time. “I think given this price drop … it will probably take a while to get back,” he told the Guardian last week. “It probably will take a few months or a couple of years.”
For sceptics, however, the plummet could be a lasting wound. “Bitcoin will be around for decades,” says David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain. “All you need is the software, the blockchain and two or more enthusiasts. Unless there’s new stringent regulation, I’m sure crypto will bubble again. But if there’s a genuine consumer bubble, it may not reach the heights of this one. The 2021-22 bubble made it to the Super Bowl. As many a dotcom found out 20 years ago, there’s nowhere to go from there – you’ve reached every consumer in America.”
But one thing both sides agree on is that the dividing line between “survivable downturn” and “cryptoapocalypse” is likely to involve neither bitcoin nor ethereum, but the third biggest cryptocurrency: a stablecoin called tether. Stablecoins are a foundational part of the crypto ecosystem. Their value is fixed to that of a conventional currency, allowing users to cash out of risky positions without going through the rigamarole of a bank transfer, and enabling crypto-native banks and DeFi establishments to work without taking on a currency risk.
In essence, stablecoins function like the banks of the crypto economy, allowing people to park their money safely in the knowledge that it is not exposed to wider risk. Which means that when a stablecoin collapses, it has a very similar effect to a bank failure: money disappears across the ecosystem, liquidity dries up, and other institutions begin to fail in a domino effect. The beginning of the latest crisis in crypto was sparked by exactly that: the failure of the terra/luna stablecoin. The algorithmic checks and balances put in place to keep it stable broke – triggering a death spiral.
And so on 9 May, a stablecoin called UST “depegged”, dropping from $1 to $0.75 in a day, and then falling further, and further and further. Within four days, the luna blockchain was turned off entirely, the project declared dead. A domino effect took out other crypto establishments. Some of the “contagion” has been prevented, in part through huge loans made by Alameda Ventures, the investment arm of 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire. Drawing comparisons to JP Morgan in the panic of 1907, “SBF” has stepped in to support the crypto bank Voyager and the embattled exchange BlockFi, and been loudly calling for support from others.
Unlike terra, tether is a “centralised” stablecoin, maintaining its value through reserves which, the company says, are always redeemable one-to-one for a tether token. The model means it cannot enter a “death spiral” like terra, but also means the stability of the token is entirely a function of how much one trusts tether to actually maintain its reserves. That trust is not a sure thing. Tether once claimed to hold all its reserves in “US dollars”, a claim that the New York attorney general’s office concluded in 2021 was “a lie”.
Tether, and Bitfinex – a bitcoin exchange that shares an executive team with, but is legally distinct from, Tether – “recklessly and unlawfully covered-up massive financial losses to keep their scheme going and protect their bottom lines”, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said at the time. The two companies had transferred money back and forth to cover up insolvency, she said, and had failed to ensure tether was “fully backed at all times”, the investigation concluded.“Te ther has been the timebomb under the market since 2017,” says Gerard.
“It has reduced its market cap by 15bn USDT in the last month, and has claimed that these are redemptions, or a reduction in their holdings of ‘commercial paper’,” she says, referring to one of the key assets that Tether uses on its balance sheet: commercial paper, short-term debt issued by banks and corporations to cover immediate funding needs. Tether, for its part, remains extremely bullish – and has even suggested it may publish a formal audit of its reserves, something it said was “months away” in August 2021.
In late June, Tether announced another expansion: the introduction of the first GBP stablecoin. “We believe that the UK is the next frontier for blockchain innovation and the wider implementation of cryptocurrency for financial markets,” says Paolo Ardoino, the chief technology officer of Tether and Bitfinex. “Tether is ready and willing to work with UK regulators to make this goal a reality.” More regulation, and further market volatility, are a given. Popovich says he is still receiving donations. “I’m extremely embarrassed. Yesterday an anonymous person sent me $50 in the form of cryptocurrency. And I’ve never borrowed anything from anyone in my life. I’m scared and restless.”
Yesterday we talked about the prospects of a digital dollar coming down the pike. It seems clear that global governments will not allow non-sovereign forms of money to continue to proliferate.
The Senate Banking committee’s hearing on the digital dollar two weeks ago was not only a public exploration and introduction to the concept a central bank-backed digital currency, the hearing was also used as a platform to publicly assassinate the viability of the private (“bogus” in the words of Senator Warren) cryptocurrency market (bitcoin, stablecoins, etc.).
With this in mind, the Chinese government has continually tightened control over the crypto market in China, most recently cracking down on cryptocurrency mining in the country. The U.S. Justice Department announced a few weeks ago that it “recovered” $2.3 million in cryptocurrency of the ransom collected from the Colonial Pipeline hack. And today, it was reported that South Korea seized almost $50 million of crypto assets from citizens accused of tax evasion.
So the benefits of the private cryptocurrency market are being deconstructed by governments. Add to that, even after gaining traction, the private crypto market continues to be used primarily as a tool of corruption and speculation. With that, this chart set up argues for a typical bubble outcome (crash).
I founded billionairesportfolio.com — an online investment advisory site that gives the average investor access to sophisticated hedge fund analysis and strategies, all in an easy to understand format. I am also CEO of Logic Fund Management. I started my career with a London-based family office hedge fund that managed money for a French billionaire.
A pair of U.S. congressmen have introduced a bill that would require the Treasury Department to evaluate the digital yuan, digital dollar and the actual dollar’s role in the global economy.
The bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. French Hill (R-Ark.) and Jim Himes (D-Conn.), seeks to ensure the U.S. dollar remains the world’s reserve currency and directs the Treasury Department to publish a report that evaluates current policy and governance around the currency. This report would include details around central bank digital currencies (CBDC), among other issues.
Under the terms of the bill, dubbed the “21st Century Dollar Act,” the Treasury secretary (currently Janet Yellen) would submit a report to the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees that includes “a description of efforts by major foreign central banks, including the People’s Bank of China, to create an official digital currency, as well as any risks to the national interest of the United States posed by such efforts.”
The report would update these committees on the Federal Reserve’s current status in researching a digital dollar. The bill would also require the Treasury Department to develop a strategy for boosting the dollar’s reserve status.
The report would detail “any implications for the strategy established by the secretary pursuant to subsection (a) arising from the relative state of development of an official digital currency by the United States and other nations, including the People’s Republic of China,” the bill said.
Keeping the dollar as the world’s reserve currency would be “good for American companies and workers as well as U.S. global influence,” Hill said in a statement.
Circle claims that each USDC is backed by a dollar held in reserve. USDC reserves are regularly attested (but not audited) by Grant Thornton, LLP, and the monthly attestations can be found on the Centre Consortium’s website. USDC was first announced on the 15th of May 2018 by Circle, and was launched in September of 2018.
On March 29, 2021, Visa announced that it would allow the use of USDC to settle transactions on its payment network. As of June 2021 there are 24.1 billion USDC in circulation.
Credit card giant Visa today announced it is connecting its global payments network of 60 million merchants to the U.S. Dollar Coin (USDC) developed by Circle Internet Financial on the ethereum blockchain. The digital currency is now valued at $2.9 billion.
While Visa itself won’t custody the digital currency, effective immediately, the partnership will see Circle working with Visa to help select Visa credit card issuers start integrating the USDC software into their platforms and send and receive USDC payments. Circle itself is also going through the same Fast Track program. In turn, businesses will eventually be able to send international USDC payments to any business supported by Visa, and after those funds are converted to the national currency, spend them anywhere that accepts Visa.
After Circle itself graduates from Visa’s Fast Track program, likely sometime next year, Visa will issue a credit card that lets businesses send and receive USDC payments directly from any business using the card. “This will be the first corporate card that will allow businesses to be able to spend a balance of USDC,” says Visa head of crypto Cuy Sheffield. “And so we think that this will significantly increase the utility that USDC can have for Circle’s business clients.”
The partnership, in conjunction with an earlier $40 million investment Visa led in a cryptocurrency startup for holding similar assets issued on a blockchain, a recent blockchain patent application for minting traditional currency on a blockchain, and an increasing amount of work directly with central banks, is the latest evidence that the credit card giant sees the technology first popularized by bitcoin as a crucial part of the future of money.
“We continue to think of Visa as a network of networks,” says Sheffield, a five-year veteran of Visa, who took over as head of crypto last June. “Blockchain networks and stablecoins, like USDC, are just additional networks. So we think that there’s a significant value that Visa can provide to our clients, enabling them to access them and enabling them to spend at our merchants.”
Leading up to the partnership, Visa had already onboarded 25 cryptocurrency wallet providers as part of its Fast Track program—including Fold and Cred— each of which can now pilot the USDC integration. Going forward, other cryptocurrency wallet providers like BlockFi, which yesterday announced it will launch its bitcoin rewards Visa next year, will be able to use USDC in the first quarter of 2021.
Visa estimates that $120 trillion in payments annually are made using checks and instant wire transfers, costing as much as $50 each, regardless of the size of the transaction. Since USDC settles on the ethereum blockchain, transactions can close in a little a[s] 20 seconds and, importantly, can be done for nearly free, Visa believes its vast array of merchants could choose to use this nearly instant alternative form of payment. “We worked closely with digital currency wallets to issue Visa credentials,” says Sheffield. “And helping them receive USDC payouts can add additional value for them.”
Visa’s entrance into the digital dollars world is the culmination of two years of work at the credit card giant. At the core of Visa’s evolution is a new understanding of itself as a network of networks, according to Sheffield, some of which Visa owns, like Visa Net, and others it doesn’t, such as the Swift interbank payment network, local ACH networks and now USDC.
On the product side, Visa’s cryptocurrency work is largely focused on its Fast Track program for helping companies obtain credentials for issuing Visa credit cards. Most notably, in February 2020, Coinbase became the first cryptocurrency company to be granted principal membership status by Visa, meaning it can in turn issue cards to others. Relatively few of those companies are using crypto-assets like bitcoin, according to Visa’s global head of financial technology, Terry Angelos. While the majority of the crypto-plays consist of “tokenized versions of fiat,” similar to USDC, backed by traditional currency, issued on a blockchain and spendable via the card.
On the research side, Visa’s work in the area is largely focused on investing in startups and filing patents. Last year, Visa made its first public investment in blockchain by coleading a $40 million Series B in digital currency infrastructure provider Anchorage, which builds technology for storing assets issued on a blockchain. Angelos compares the investment to Visa’s 2015 backing of e-commerce infrastructure provider Stripe, which could go public this year at a $36 billion valuation. While Anchorage is a much earlier-stage startup, founded in 2017, the firm has already developed a number of technological breakthroughs, including privacy-preserving technology called Zether, which JPMorgan used in its own cryptocurrency project.
Especially relevant to today’s news, Sheffield describes Anchorage’s cryptocurrency custody technology as a possibly crucial component for central banks looking to issue digital currencies (CBDCs). While stablecoins like USDC are backed by currency issued by a central bank, a CBDC would be issued directly by the central bank and could lead to a reimagining of traditional finance. While former JPMorgan exec Daniel Masters argues CBDCs could make commercial banks unnecessary, Sheffield says they’ll still have a place in the future of currency issued on blockchains. “We are actively working with commercial banks to help them understand and navigate transitions to digital currency based products.”
On a related note in March 2020, Visa’s research team applied for a patent for technology that could be used by central banks to issue any fiat currency, of which dollars, yen and renminbi are an example. At the time, a spokesperson indicated that the technology was as likely to be used for the creation of a new product, as it was to “protect” its existing businesses. Sheffield further clarified: “We are continuously exploring and filing patents for innovative technologies like digital currency and CBDC.”
On their way to today’s announcement, both Visa and Circle have undergone a number of high-profile crypto-pivots. In October 2019, after making a huge bang by being a member of Facebook-founded Libra Association’s consortium of companies building a stablecoin backed by a basket of fiat currencies, Visa left the organization.
That same month, Circle, which has raised $271 million in venture capital, initiated a fire sale on two of its most valuable assets, starting with cryptocurrency exchange Poloniex, followed by Circle Invest in February 2020. Another product, Circle Pay, no longer lets customers buy or sell bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency and its once-vaunted OTC desk is closed.
As all this was happening, the firm, whose full name is, tellingly, Circle Internet Financial, rebranded its home page with a focus exclusively on stablecoins and central bank digital currencies. Circle founder Jeremy Allaire, whose last company, online video site Brightcove, went public in 2012 and is now valued at $659 million, envisioned the company as a payment rail for the internet.
While his focus was initially on bitcoin, then other cryptocurrencies, USDC is built on top of ethereum, meaning tiny amounts of the cryptocurrency ether are used as “gas” to pay for the transactions. While the drastic changes to the business are notable, the underlying mission appears to have remained the same.
USDC was first minted in September 2018. Unlike bitcoin, it is backed 1:1 by U.S. dollars, which are audited by accounting firm Grant Thornton to ensure the actual amount of the asset in circulation is at least equal to the dollars backing the assets. While exchanges and marketplaces that directly accept USDC as payments (without Visa or another card provider) are responsible for their own AML-KYC compliance, reserves are governed by the nonprofit Centre Consortium founded by Visa principal member Coinbase and Circle, with other members forthcoming.
To help manage all this and open up membership to other companies, the consortium yesterday announced its first CEO, David Puth, the former leader of CLS Bank International, a similarly structured foreign exchange settlement consortium owned by 70 financial institutions.
The first use-case for stablecoins was as an on-ramp and off-ramp for bitcoin investors who wanted to enter or exit positions faster than traditional banks could do with dollars. USDC’s market cap, representing the total amount of dollars in circulation, has been rising with the price of bitcoin since March 2020, when bitcoin started an eight-month, 271% ascension to $19,134, according to CoinGecko. Over the same period, USDC has grown 525% to almost $3 billion today. While the first stablecoin, Tether, is still king with a market capitalization of $18 billion, a number of others are now also competing, including DAI at $1 billion and Binance USD at $662 million.
Then, this March, Circle started offering services to let businesses accept USDC as payment, similar to those that run on FedWire, Swift and ACH rails, starting at about $200 a month. But instead of taking up to three days to close, transactions denominated in USDC and other stablecoins close almost instantly. So far about 1,000 businesses including institutional traders, banks, neobanks, on-demand delivery companies and gaming companies have opened accounts. Allaire says he’s in talks with a number of financial institutions exploring USDC as a possible upgrade to their corporate treasuries.
In June 2020 Circle announced it would start issuing USDC on the faster Algorand blockchain, which settles on average in four seconds, as part of what it describes as a “multichain framework.” In rapid-fire succession the firm then announced the Stellar and Solana blockchains would also be used to issue USDC. Algorand and Solana issuances are already live, with Stellar issuances scheduled to be minted in Q1 2021.
While onboarding to crypto trading markets was the first stablecoin-use case, things are evolving. In March 2020 USDC was approved as a form of collateral for loans issued using the MakerDAO protocol, the industry leader of a new financial category called DeFi, or “decentralized finance,” where services typically offered by banks, like lending, are offered via open-source software that allows individuals to directly connect. Of the $14.5 billion now locked in DeFi platforms according to data tracking site DeFi Pulse, nearly 20% are on Maker, with nearly half of that, or about $403 million worth, now in the form of USDC.
Long before DeFi was called DeFi, though, it went by a different, more illuminative name: DAO, short for “Distributed Autonomous Organization.” After some early high-profile failures the concept was rebranded with the focus on finance. Even the name MakerDAO hearkens back to this earlier, if occasionally overshadowed vision for the future of organizations. Allaire describes that future as a world where everything from contractual agreements to the payment of taxes are built into plumbing that directly connects individuals and enterprises in a wide range of new kinds of business relationships.
“Imagine a capital marketplace that is for anyone who needs capital, or anyone who needs to offer capital that has the same efficiency that Amazon has for e-commerce, the same efficiency that YouTube has for content, effectively, capital markets with the efficiency of the internet, which is essentially zero,” says Allaire. “And that will ultimately return trillions of dollars in value back to the economy, it will reduce costs for every business in the world, it will accelerate the way in which individuals can participate in commercial activity and commerce activity, in conducting their labor and interacting with businesses around the world.” Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Send me a secure tip.
I report on how blockchain and cryptocurrencies are being adopted by enterprises and the broader business community. My coverage includes the use of cryptocurrencies and extends to non-cryptocurrency applications of blockchain in finance, supply chain management, digital identity and a number of other use cases. Previously, I was a staff reporter at blockchain news site, CoinDesk, where I covered the increasing willingness of enterprises to explore how blockchain could make their work more efficient and in some cases, unnecessary. I have been covering blockchain since 2011, been published in the New Yorker, and been nationally syndicated by American City Business Journals. My work has been published in Blockchain in Financial Markets and Beyond by Risk Books and I am regularly cited in industry research reports. Since 2009 I’ve run Literary Manhattan, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to showing Manhattan’s rich literary heritage.
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Liquidity is a topic that always pops up now and then in both the crypto community and beyond. We are sure that there is no crypto enthusiast who hasn’t heard about Bitcoin liquidity. The question is how to calculate liquidity and how to find the most liquid exchange? Let’s dig out the truth, but first things first.
Liquidity is a key parameter of a certain market, which reflects the “saleability” of a certain asset. Making it simple – liquidity reflects the price change, which will be caused by filling the Market order of a certain size. In a perfectly liquid market, one would be able to sell any amount of an asset at the same price without moving it.
Thus, liquidity is an opportunity to sell assets on the market without influencing their price. Liquidity could be measured not only for certain assets but also for the whole market in general. Let’s dig deeper and determine how liquidity affects crypto trading with and what you should know about it.
The liquidity of a cryptocurrency is determined by a number of factors – from its popularity to real-world use cases of the traded asset. To better understand the concept of liquidity, it’s crucial to introduce the Order Book of a certain market. The name says it all – order book is a list of other people’s confirmed desire to purchase a traded asset at a certain limit price. When someone needs to buy or sell the crypto-asset immediately, they will have to place Market orders, which will execute against the available orders in the order book.
How To Detect Liquid Exchange?
For example, someone plans to Buy or Sell 1 BTC having an appropriate amount of USDT and BTC on balance. Let’s review some of the options to do this (it’s worth mentioning that at the time of writing, BTC is worth something around $9,200).
First, let’s look at BTC/USDT pair on the Binance exchange.
In the right section of the trading interface, you can see the above-mentioned order book and the last price at which BTC was bought or sold. From the order book, we can see that the lowest price at which someone is ready to Sell BTC is 9,189.04 and there is 4.026387 BTC available at this price.
If the user will submit a Market Buy order at the moment of the screenshot, her order will be matched against that offer and the last price of BTC/USDT would become $9,189.84, the amount of BTC available at this price will decrease and become 3.206387 BTC. In this case, liquidity on a Binance BTC/USDT pair on the Buy-side was good enough for a 1 BTC order size allowing the trader to Buy the BTC at the best available price.
At the same time, we can see from the other side of the order book that the highest price at which someone is willing to Buy BTC is 9,189.83, but they are willing to buy only 0.693640 BTC at this price. Consequently, if the user submits a Market Sell order for 1 BTC, he will ‘eat’ through 3 levels of the order book. Such an order will consume entire Buy offers at 9,189.83 and 9,189.71 levels and most of the 9,189.47 price level, moving BTC/USDT price to $9,189.47. At the same time, the All Buy orders sitting in the Order Book with the prices of $9,189.83 and $9,189.71 would be 100% filled, while the Buy orders with the price of $9,189.47 would be partially filled for the size of 0.30136 BTC. The average execution price of the 1 BTC Market Sell would be:
0.69364*9,189.83 + 0.005*9,189.71 + 0.30136*9,189.47 = $9,189.72. The difference of $0.11 between the observed best Buy offer in the Order Book at 9,189.83 and effectively achieved the average execution price of 9,189.72is called price slippage. Price slippage represents a loss for the trader due to insufficient liquidity on the Buy side of the Binance order book. Were the trader to send a Market Sell order for the amount greater than 1 BTC, the price slippage incurred would increase substantially.
Besides the direct price slippage implications of exchange order book liquidity, one could also try to derive various trading signals from it. In the example above, since the liquidity of BTC/USDT pair on Binance appears to be better on the Sell-side of the order book, a simple conclusion could be drawn that the Selling pressure is high and that high Level 1 Sell liquidity represents market makers’ opinion that the short-term market price movement will be downwards. However, since this prediction is quite obvious, it might not come to fruition.
Binance, though, isn’t the only exchange on the market. Let’s check what would happen if the same user would try to complete the same orders on let-it-be BitRabbit exchange. Frankly speaking, we’ve never heard of this exchange and strongly don’t recommend using it for trading. One of the reasons, apart from the funny name and doubtful security of the exchange, would be presented below.
On a screenshot, you can see the same market (BTC/USDT) on the BitRabbit exchange. The first notable difference is that the price of BitRabbit is around $30 lower than on Binance. Though, it’s not the biggest problem with this screenshot.
If the user will (for any reason) deposit the necessary funds to purchase and sell 1 BTC worth of assets – the situation will be different compared to Binance.
If she will try to submit a Market Buy of 1 BTC for USDT the order will be executed at the price that is nowhere near the Last Price of $9,163.98. The thing is that all the Sell orders sitting in the whole visible part of the order book aren’t enough to fill the order of 1 BTC. Even more, they won’t even fill a third of it, which means that the average price of 1 BTC purchased on this exchange at Market would be over $9,182, representing a price slippage of almost $20. Remember, that on Binance the price slippage incurred by the same 1 BTC order was just $0.11.
In the case of Market Sell Order of 1 BTC on BitRabbit, the slippage would not be so bad, though the order will ‘eat’ through the first three levels of the order books and fill at fourth – the price will slip less than a dollar.
This simple comparison gives you a basic idea of why liquidity is such an important characteristic of an exchange. If an order of 1 BTC can create a slippage of 20+ dollars, imagine what would happen next time BTC rallies some $500+ in 15 minutes and you are trying to exit or enter a large position on an exchange like BitRabbit.
What Influences Liquidity?
The asset’s presence on several trading platforms increases its liquidity in most cases. The more exchanges have listed an asset, the more opportunities for traders to trade it. So, the trade volume is increasing.
Though, often, listings don’t provide liquidity. It is a typical situation when one of the assets in TOP 50-150 of CoinMarketCap is listed on 10 exchanges, while it has more than $100,000 daily volume only on 1-2 of them.
Though, in general, new cryptocurrencies are characterized by low liquidity due to their absence from major exchanges.
Use cases outside the crypto industry.
A holy grail of every crypto project is wide user adoption though, real adoption was achieved only by a few of the coins on the market. Apart from the obvious BTC use case as a “digital gold” and store of value, Ethereum managed to get some real usage back in 2017, when a boom of Smart Contracts and ICOs occurred. It now seems to gain traction with DeFi.The most recent example of wide enough adoption is Binance Coin, which became a lottery ticket to the IEO hype of 2019. Though, both of these cases still weren’t a “wide adoption outside of the crypto industry” – more like wide adoption inside of it.
The stronger the crypto community scales, the more liquid in general the crypto assets are. This fact is undeniable and the proof is the performance of Bitcoin in 2017, when this coin rapidly gained at price, volume, social media mentions, and Google trends.
However, if the cryptocurrency is new and a sufficient number of crypto enthusiasts haven’t heard about it, then, most certainly, it lacks trust from the crypto community. The asset would be considered of low liquidity or, in the worst case, manipulated by bot trading and fake market making. At the same time, the asset has every chance to change its position, drawing attention to it with marketing activities, constant development, and a solid project team behind the project.
Cryptocurrency Liquidity as an Indicator of Confidence
The liquidity of cryptocurrencies is undoubtedly an important parameter that you should pay attention to when devising your trading strategy.
Think about buying a $10,000 worth of some TOP-500 altcoin, while it’s daily trading volume is $20,000. In the best case, if you don’t want to push the price up to and incur huge slippage, you’d have to accumulate your position over a week or even a few weeks. Illiquid assets often become subjects of speculations, and pump and dump schemes. It is easier for pumpers to influence the price of an illiquid asset by buying or selling a large chunk of the daily volume of this asset. In case, if the asset has low liquidity, this “large chunk” of daily volume would cost the pumpers less money.
Sadly, Pump and Dump schemes are still a thing in the crypto market. As a result, the vast majority of the new crypto traders fall victims to at least one of those schemes. Mainly, if a new crypto enthusiast goes through an experience like this, basically a new crypto market hater would go to social media and spread the word that the whole industry is a fraud.
Current Market Liquidity
One notable thing about crypto markets and industry, in general, is that despite the speculative spikes, one could see a slow but steady adoption. It is reflected not only in the real-world use cases, a growing number of wallets, and on-chain transactions but also in the growing liquidity of the crypto market in general. It can be seen when looking at the crypto trading volume on major exchanges 2020 volumes are much higher than in 2017 or 2018 when BTC was all over the news with an all-time high price of $18,000-$20,000.
Though undeniably growing in general, crypto liquidity is shifting. Some of these shifts represent secular trends such as growing liquidity of derivative and margin exchanges vs the spot exchanges, and some are cyclical, such as periodic shifts from BTC to altcoins (altseason) and back, or the evergreen ‘flippening’ of BTC and ETH.
Liquidity definition including break down of areas in the definition. Analyzing the definition of key term often provides more insight about concepts. Liquidity can be defined as: Availability of resources to meet short-term cash requirements. Liquidity has to do with our ability to pay for short term obligations, whether they be short term debt or operational needs.