Virtual Assets: What Exactly Needs To Be Reported To The IRS?

Investors in digital assets like cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been on a wild ride these last few years. After all, the price of a single Bitcoin BTC -0.8% hit an all-time high of over $65,000 in November of 2021 before sinking to around $20,000 in June of 2022 and staying in that range ever since. In the meantime, the value of many popular NFTs has dropped like a rock or been erased completely.

With that in mind, plenty of crypto investors won’t have to worry about paying taxes on gains this year. With prices cratering and many investors HODLing on to see better days, many won’t have any realized gains to claim.

That said, investors who sell or use crypto and NFTs will still face plenty of scenarios in 2022 that require reporting to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS.gov). You may have even noticed an update on the 2021 Form 1040 from the IRS, which asked this very specific question toward the top of the page last year:

“At any time during 2021, did you receive, sell, exchange, or otherwise dispose of any financial interest in any virtual currency?”You can also expect an updated version of this question on the new Form 1040 for 2022. We know this because the IRS released a draft of the form, which you can find here.

The new question asks the following:

“At any time during 2022, did you: (a) receive (as a reward, award, or payment for property or services); or (b) sell, exchange, gift, or otherwise dispose of a digital asset (or a financial interest in a digital asset)?”

This beefier question is meant to ensure filers consider other digital assets beyond crypto, such as NFTs. It’s also meant to be more inclusive of crypto earned as a reward through various projects, including play-to-earn gaming.

Tax Considerations For Digital Assets In 2022

But, what exactly do you have to report to the IRS? This really depends on your level of involvement with digital assets, as well as how you ultimately sell or dispose of assets you come across this year.

According to attorney Asher Rubinstein of Gallet Dreyer & Berkey, individuals who have received, sold, exchange, gifted, or otherwise disposed of crypto, NFTs and other digital assets this year will need to check the box that says “yes” next to this question on IRS Form 1040. Depending on the level of involvement, further reporting is required, he says.

Rubinstein offers the following examples of situations where you’ll report your crypto involvement to the IRS and owe taxes on gains as a result.

Example#1: You received payment in cryptocurrency. “If you were paid in crypto, that is considered income to you, just as if you were paid in US dollars or your compensation included stock,” says Rubenstein. “You have to report the crypto compensation on your income tax form, IRS Form 1040.”

Example #2: You sold crypto to someone else. Rubenstein says this is considered a disposition in property, just as if you sold stock or real estate. As a result, you are required to report to the IRS the capital gain or loss from the crypto sale. “To properly report gain or loss from crypto, taxpayers should file IRS Form 8949 and Form 1040 Schedule D, which apply to short-term and long-term capital assets,” he says.

Example #3: You exchanged crypto or used it to buy something, like a car or a boat. Rubenstein says to imagine you bought Bitcoin for $5,000 several years ago, and now that single coin is worth $20,000. If you exchanged that Bitcoin for a car worth $20,000, you might feel like you’re making an even swap for two similarly-valued items.

However, the U.S. tax code doesn’t see it that way. In fact, they see that you earned $15,000 in taxable income through the Bitcoin gain. “It’s like buying $5,000 worth of stock and selling it for $20,000,” says Rubenstein.

Example #4: You earned interest in a crypto savings account. You still own the crypto in this scenario, but you lended it to a crypto exchange in return for a fee. With crypto savings accounts, “the fee you earn is taxable income,” says Rubenstein.

Example #5: You used crypto for “staking.” This is when crypto is placed on a blockchain like Ethereum in order to maintain that network. “The reward of more crypto is considered taxable income,” says the attorney.

Example #6: You used crypto to purchase an NFT. Rubenstein says that NFTs are usually bought with crypto, and this opens the door to at least three potential tax events. First, you can be taxed on the gain in value from when you bought the crypto and used it to purchase an NFT. Second, you may owe taxes on the sale of an NFT if you sell for more than you purchased it for. Third, an NFT that generates residual income may require additional reporting and taxable income.

What Do You NOT Have To Report To The IRS?

According to Rubenstein, it’s still possible to own digital assets without having to report detailed information to the IRS. “You don’t have to report income that you have not realized or actually received,” he says.

In other words, owning a digital asset while it appreciates in value is not a taxable event because you haven’t yet received income from the appreciation in value. When you sell the digital asset for a profit, now you have “realized” the income, and that is a taxable event.

If you lose money investing in digital assets this year, that’s another scenario where you won’t owe income taxes. Through a process called tax-loss harvesting, however, you may be able to offset up to $3,000 in gains made on other investments the same tax year.

If you’re curious how that might work, you can read over an IRS frequently asked questions (FAQ) page on digital currency transactions.

If you’re still confused on whether you owe taxes on virtual assets, how much you need to pay or whether you can write off losses against your taxable income (and if so, how much), working with an accountant that’s knowledgeable about crypto when you file your taxes can help.

I’m a personal finance expert that focuses on helping millennials get out of student loan debt and start investing for their future. I also help parents make smart choices about

Source: Virtual Assets: What Exactly Needs To Be Reported To The IRS?

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You can view selected summary graphs, key statistics, and descriptions of the tables and the IRS functions they cover. To download data tables on IRS and taxpayer statistics, visit the relevant section page listed on the left-side navigation column.

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Highlights of this year’s Data Book

  • During Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, the IRS collected more than $4.1 trillion in gross taxes, processed more than 261 million tax returns and other forms, and issued more than $1.1 trillion in tax refunds (including $585.7 billion in Economic Impact Payments and Advance Child Tax Credits).
  • In FY 2021, 80.6 million taxpayers were assisted by calling or visiting an IRS office.
  • IRS.gov received nearly 2.0 billion visits and taxpayers downloaded more than 461.7 million files.
  • Of the taxpayers who participated in the 2021 Comprehensive Taxpayer Attitude Survey (CTAS), 88 percent said it is not at all acceptable to cheat on their income taxes, and nearly all (93 percent) believe it is a civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes. Additionally, most taxpayers (75 percent) are satisfied with their personal interactions with IRS. See the 2021 CTAS Report
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What Is Digital Real Estate? Five Things You Need To Know

When you search in “What is digital real estate” into google, you’re likely going to find guides to obtaining older versions of digital real estate such as domain names, websites, and URLs’.

And this wouldn’t be wrong, as these are still types of digital property that can be bought and sold for a profit. But, in this article, we’re going to chat more about Web3 digital real estate like the Metaverse and protocols like Parcl.

‍This article is mainly for beginners in this space, but feel free to check out our “What is Parcl” article if you want to learn more about our protocol. So, let’s dive into five things you need to know about digital real estate.

‍What is Digital Real Estate?

‍Let’s start with the basics; what actually is digital real estate? Digital real estate can include the ownership of a URL, website, domain name, social media account, and now virtual property in the Metaverse. ‍‍

The buying and selling of which can be highly profitable if you know what you’re doing. Since we’re a Web3 protocol, we’ll focus mainly on the Metaverse and how you can gain exposure to real-world real estate through the use of digital real estate investing.‍

So, what can you actually do with the land in the Metaverse? The main thing you can currently do is buy and sell the virtual property, but on some larger metaverse projects like Decentraland and Sandbox, you can design your own events and play with other users.‍

By designing your own events and games, you can easily monetize this too. You’ll also have the ability to rent out your land to other people if buying outright is too expensive. Currently, the Metaverse is becoming more popular, with large organizations and businesses buying land to advertise their products in both the physical and digital worlds.‍

But, Web3 digital real estate isn’t just the Metaverse.

Is The Metaverse Digital Real Estate?‍

Yes. The Metaverse is digital real estate, but it’s not the only way to invest in this space. You can also invest in digital real estate via Parcl. Our protocol built on Solana allows the average person the ability to invest in the real estate market using synthetic assets.‍

So, we’ve created something called the Parcl price index, which values real estate across the US under certain parameters, which are then tied with a synthetic asset that follows this price movement. Like a derivative in traditional finance, a synthetic asset follows the underlying asset’s price, allowing you to actively trade the asset without ever owning it. Meaning that if you wanted to hedge against the effects that Covid-19 had on the Manhattan property market, you could go short on that area and profit.‍

Parcl allows you to trade your favorite neighborhoods on a detailed or broad level; it’s totally up to you; the same goes for the investment amount. Many people are priced out of investing in physical real estate, but thanks to Web3 technology, Parcl can offer the average person a way to invest in digital real estate to gain exposure to the physical real estate market.

‍If you want to learn more about how Parcl works and why we’re so passionate about leveling the real estate investing playing field, check out our Intro to Parcl article.

‍Digital Real Estate Investing: Is It Profitable?

‍Of course, digital assets are a growing asset class, and that goes for NFTs and not just virtual real estate. We go into detail about the impact NFTs can have on the real estate industry here. But, in summary, the digital asset class is booming and has made plenty of people multi-millionaires over the past few years.‍

The NFT “Everyday’s – The First 5000 Days” sold at a Christie’s auction for $69 million. Not only that but a 500 square metered plot of Decentraland land sold for $2.43 million, making it one of the largest sales on record. So, it’s safe to say that yes, you can make a huge profit from digital asset trading. ‍Where Can You Buy Digital Real Estate?

‍We’ve just determined that investing in digital assets like real estate is profitable, but where do you buy it from? Firstly, you’ve got to have your own wallet to store your land NFT and buy the assets. Check out our phantom wallet setup guide to see how it’s done.‍

When you’ve got your crypto wallet set up, you now need to just put in a bid for the land, this can be done straight from the metaverse project itself, such as Sandbox or Decentraland, or you could use a third-party platform such as OpenSea or MagicEden.

‍If you’re looking to gain exposure to physical real estate through investing in digital real estate, join our Discord or sign up to our newsletter for any updates on when our testnet launches.‍

Is Digital Land Going To Continue To Grow In Popularity?

‍Yes, and we don’t see this slowing any time soon. With people becoming more interested in gaming and the gamers of the early 2000s growing up and obtaining higher paid jobs, this disposable cash is being spent on digital assets like real estate in the Metaverse, gaming items, and avatars for their digital identities.

But, another thing to remember is that it’s not just for people who game; it’s for those that want to profit from this digital gold rush. As the world moves further into the digital era, we’ll see more people buying digital land, creating digital identities to escape the real world, and spending more on in-world items.‍

Not only will it be filled with gamers, but tech giants and other organizations will also begin buying up more land to advertise to millions of users. The virtual floodgates have opened, and there’s no way to close them.

Source: What Is Digital Real Estate? Five Things You Need To Know

Critics by: Sean Peek

How to profit from digital real estate: After buying or making your website, you need to create content on a consistent schedule to attract visitors to your website and generate traffic. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to brainstorm ideas for your blog using words that people are already searching for.

If you’re too busy to write blog posts and promote your website, hire freelancers to write content on your behalf. You can find freelancers from sites like Upwork at affordable prices. Once you’re generating enough traffic to your website, monetize that traffic to generate revenue from your website. Here are a few ways to make money from your web traffic.

  • Advertising: Sell ad space on your website or use an ad network like AdSense to monetize website traffic. When people click on an ad, you earn money.
  • Affiliate marketing: This involves promoting and selling products created by other businesses. Whenever someone buys a product through your affiliate link, you earn a commission off the sale.
  • Selling products: You can also create and sell your own products, like e-books, online courses and software on your website.
  • Sponsored content: Advertisers will often reach out to you to sponsor blog posts that promote their own brands and products. They will pay you to write about their products on your blog.

Eventually, you may start making a profitable income from your website. Then you can decide whether to sell it for a profit or to continue developing the site to use as an income stream. The choice is yours.

The good news is that you don’t have to open your checkbook or empty your bank account to invest in a website or a blog. The bad news is, unlike when you invest in stock or real estate, you can’t expect the value of your digital real estate to go up over time if you don’t do anything. You have to put in the work to make your website more successful and increase its value. Make sure you’re willing to put in the work before you invest if you want to see a financial return.

 

Top Marketplaces to Buy Digital Real Estate

Decentraland: This is one of the largest place marketplaces for digital real estate. It allows you to buy and sell land, estates, avatar wearables and other digital goods. The Ethereum network is the foundation for this digital world.

SuperWorld: This company has created a virtual map of Earth. It allows you to buy real-life plots of land, that now exist in the metaverse. For example, you could buy the Taj Mahal, NYC’s 5th avenue or your own home. Someone already purchased The White House for about $354 USD. In total, it has 64.8 billion plots of land for sale.

Somnium Space: Somnium Space describes itself as “a new virtual reality world.” This includes allowing users to buy and sell virtual land.

The Sandbox: A virtual metaverse where players can play, build, own, and monetize their virtual experiences. It boasts NFT collections by Snoop Dogg, Care Bears and Atari.

Upland.me: This platform is still in beta. However, it will be a digital metaverse where users can buy, sell and trade digital real estate.

OpenSea: Currently the largest NFT marketplace. It has a section for virtual land. Here you can buy and sell land parcels, wearables and names from projects like Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space and The Sandbox.

Keep in mind that things happen quickly in the metaverse. New companies are popping up every day with lofty ambitions of creating a new metaverse. As we saw with Meta Platforms, larger corporations are also willing to pivot. If you want to invest in digital real estate, be sure to do a deep dive into all existing marketplaces.

Related contents:

Engel & Völkers Digital Invest launches strategic cooperation with DFI Real Estate and raises… DGAP

Real estate‘s top digital signature solution, Authentisign, coming to Lone Wolf Transactions… PR Newswire (Press Release)

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Wave Of High-Profile Tech Layoffs Raises Fear Of Recessions–And Stalled Careers–Past

If you’ve been on LinkedIn recently, you’ve likely seen posts about someone being laid off or having a dream job offer rescinded, often by a high-profile, once hot startup. According to the tracker Layoffs.fyi, so far this year, 349 startups have laid off more than 53,000 employees.

Startups looking at the prospect of falling venture capital valuations are scrambling to conserve the cash they have. Just yesterday, OpenSea, the early leader in the once bubbly non-fungible token (NFT) market, cut 20% of its workforce. Earlier this month, virtual office startup Gather let a third of its 90 employees go. Last month, high-flying ID verification unicorn Socure laid off 13% of its employees.

And it’s not just startups. Coinbase, the nation’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, laid off 1,100 employees and rescinded some job offers. Elon Musk’s Tesla is cutting 3.5% of its workforce. Meta has plans to slash hiring of engineers this year by at least 30%.

While most of the layoff news has come from tech companies, the mortgage industry, too, has been slashing away as higher interest rates crush mortgage volume. This week loanDepot disclosed plans to eliminate thousands of jobs. Real estate companies RedFin and Compass have cut about 450 jobs each, and PIMCO-backed First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation let go of more than 75% of its workforce in June, before filing for a chapter 11 bankruptcy a week later.

Despite such high-profile layoffs, unemployment remained at a low 3.6% in June as the economy added 372,000 jobs. Moreover, interviews with recent job–or job offer–losers, as well as hiring managers, suggest that so far at least, most of those cut are landing on their feet with new offers.

Yet the sense of dread is unmistakable, with more consumers now pessimistic than optimistic about the short-term labor market, according to the Conference Board. And the layoffs could just be getting started: Oracle recently considered letting go of thousands of employees as early as August.

“In the tech industry, this is dejà vu all over again,” observes economist Anthony Carnevale, who has been involved with employment and education policy for four decades and is now director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “This is pretty much precisely what happened in the late 1970s, early 80s, when technology was not penetrating American industry rapidly enough and [former Fed Chair] Paul Volcker put on the brakes. We get high interest rates, high unemployment rates, and basically that shuts down technology investment and secondly, it chokes the industry.”

Given the current low unemployment rates, Carnevale adds, it’s still a question whether the slowdown will ultimately “create dislocation of substantial sorts in tech or any other industry.” His answer? “Yes and no,” he says. “The yes is yes, specific technology-based industries might be affected, interest rates being the culprit here. But what we’re seeing in the churn is that people who are seeking jobs are getting jobs. And we haven’t come to the point yet where it’s a classic recession…in which people don’t get jobs.” He noted that in general, wages are increasing — though those increases are generally offset by inflation.

“So what does that mean going forward? It may mean a slowdown in startups and in the expansion of particular technology companies, in even the overall industry if it’s strong enough, but so far, it has not meant that people can’t find jobs,” Carnevale said. “And it does not reflect on the possibilities for college graduates, at least so far, we don’t really see that.”

Indeed, a recent survey of almost 200 employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that almost 90% of respondents will be hiring new graduates for both full-time and intern/co-op positions — up from last spring’s figure of 83%.

But while early-career recruiting is still strong, it can’t erase the memory of what happened in the wake of the Great Recession, with its large jobs loss and unusually slow recovery. Some new grads caught in the undertow experienced what economists call “permanent scarring”—meaning poor economic conditions when they graduated from college contributed to a long-term reduction in their employment prospects.

Again, that’s the scary prospect, but not, as of now, the reality.

Aidan Deery, associate director at the global talent partner X4 Technology, reports that among tech companies, “largely, everyone is still hiring” and “the demand for experienced professionals is at an all-time high.” He adds that those laid off from crypto companies like Coinbase are generally “very employable” and “highly sought after in the finance and technology world.”

Danny, 23, whose last name and former employer are not being included due to a nondisclosure agreement he signed, was let go in June from his engineering job at a sales productivity company. “I know I’ll be able to find a job,” he said, estimating that of the roughly 30 jobs he applied to since being laid off, 8-10 got back to him. “Three of them actually were like, ‘Yeah, just kidding, we’re not hiring for this role.’” Some of the other companies he started interviewing with stopped the process because of hiring freezes. However, Danny has already turned down one offer for reasons including the pay, and says he is still being picky in his job search.

Curio Health, a startup working to improve remote patient care, is among the companies still hiring. CEO Yuchen Wang worries that layoffs among startups may encourage job seekers to look to more established companies for future opportunities, but insists startups will retain their appeal because, “you take a broader responsibility, and you can grow faster and learn more.”

Wang has seen both sides of this job-cutting drama. He himself lost his job in 2001, shortly after earning a Masters in computer science at Georgia State, and in a later role, had to lay off employees himself because a contract did not pan out as well as expected. “These things kind of happen, even if you do everything 100% perfectly,’’ he says. “Treat it as a new start — there are more opportunities ahead than the one you just lost.”

Still, for some job-losers, the new start carries a unique challenge–one imposed by the U.S.’ dysfunctional system for retaining foreign tech talent. Twenty-seven-year-old software developer Amitesh Singh Baghel was laid off in late June while on STEM OPT, a visa program allowing graduate international students to gain work experience in the U.S. in their field. The catch: he lost his job as a software engineer at a data security startup before he completed his visa extension — about two weeks before his employment authorization document was set to expire.

He had been offered other jobs while working there but turned them down out of “goodwill” and because his manager, who also was let go, provided good mentorship. “I had other offers coming, but I chose to stay ignoring the red flags,” such as a manager being fired and not replaced, he said.

“I tried to negotiate. I was like, ‘Instead of giving me the severance pay, keep me on the payroll so that I can finish with the extension process and I’ll still work,’” he said. “I offered them a solution…but they didn’t want to do the extra work, which is understandable. I mean, it’s not their problem.”

And then there’s the experience of Jenna Radwan, 22, who recently earned her BS in Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of San Francisco. She originally accepted a job at San Francisco-based startup Hirect, which helps other tech startups recruit and hire. When she heard Hirect would pay her a base salary of $80,000 plus uncapped commission that could push her total compensation to a multiple of that, she cut short other interviews to accept the offer, “My ears perked up, my eyes got big, and I didn’t even see any of the other companies as even close competition,” she said.

But two weeks before her start date, Radwan got thrown a curveball. Her offer had been rescinded “due solely to the current unforeseen circumstances & drastic turn in the market.” “Due to the very volatile market conditions, the business & leadership team has decided to halt/freeze all forms of external hiring at this time, and we have entered an immediate hiring freeze and a round of layoffs,” reads an email from a recruiter that Radwan shared on LinkedIn. (A spokesman for Hirect confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it had rescinded two job offers due to the slump in tech hiring.)

Radwan was “in shock,” but quickly tapped into her network and reached out to recruiters she’d previously been in the process of interviewing with, and ultimately landed a job as a recruiter at Insight Global. “It was a wild ride but I know that I’m exactly where I am meant to be,” Radwan said, adding that she hadn’t really considered her values in terms of a career before then. “I just thought of money, but I realized that you can have money plus other things, like good company culture, like good job security, like good benefits, like good PTO,” she said.

Her advice for recent grads entering the job market amid the growing fear of offers being rescinded? Do your research, ask questions like how the company reacted to COVID in 2020 (i.e. was it quick to lay off workers?), talk to current employees and take time to weigh all your offers.

If you’re looking for an indication of the current gestalt, it may come from Radwan’s new employer. Insight Global is still hiring. But in June, it surveyed 1,000 workers and found 23% were “extremely worried” about losing their job in the next recession. Or, as Insight put it, the “Great Resignation” is giving way to the “Great Apprehension.”

Katherine Huggins

Source: Wave Of High-Profile Tech Layoffs Raises Fear Of Recessions–And Stalled Careers–Past

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Coca-Cola To Release a Pride Series NFT Collection on Polygon (MATIC)

1
  • Coca-Cola has announced plans to release a Pride series NFT collection to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Coca-Cola will be collaborating with artist and advocate Rich Mnisi.
  • The Pride Series NFT collection will be minted on the Polygon Network (MATIC).

The world-renowned beverage company of Coca-Cola has announced that it will be launching a Pride series NFT collection in celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community. Each NFT will be unique and ‘aims to shine color-filled light on the community’s members and spread a message of Love.Coca-Cola will be collaborating with designer and advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, Rich Mnisi, who hails from South Africa. The team at Coca-Cola further pointed out that Rich Mnisi’s artwork ‘pushes boundaries on the concepts of identity and community.’ They explained:

136 NFTs on the Polygon Network (MATIC).

“Coca-Cola commissioned bespoke Mnisi artwork for this collection to be sliced into individual fragments and dispersed across all 136 collectibles, making each one unique. Our hope with the pieces is to increase visibility by radiating the full spectrum of the community’s colors and spreading a simple message of Love,” the firm said in an announcement last week.

Rich Mnisi and Coca-Cola will collaborate in the creation of 136 NFTs, which are currently being minted on the Polygon Network (eaMATIC). Some of the NFTs are already listed on OpenSea. The Coca-Cola Pride Series NFTs now have a floor price of 1 Ethereum.

In addition, Coca-Cola commissioned the art, hoping each NFT would ‘increase visibility by radiating the full spectrum of the community’s colors and spreading a simple message of Love.’

Furthermore, all proceeds of the initial sale of the NFTs will be donated to charities serving the LGBTQIA+ community. For the first 12 months, the proceeds will be donated directly to OUT, an LGBTQIA+ charity chosen by Rich Mnisi. The organization is the second-oldest in South Arica, professionally serving the LGBTQIA+ community with physical and mental healthcare.

Interestingly, all the funds generated from the initial sale of the 136 NFTs built on the Polygon (MATIC) network, an Ethereum scaling solution, will be donated to multiple charities supporting and fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights. Coca-Cola added that the first charity to benefit will be OUT, the second-oldest LGBT organization in South Africa, which was chosen by Mnisi.

“These free forms represent both love’s permanence and its changing state. They’re to remind us of the power that lies within all of us to choose what love will become. Love is what we make it. Choose to love freely,” Coca-Cola added.

By: John P. Njui

Source: Coca-Cola to Release a Pride Series NFT Collection on Polygon (MATIC) – Ethereum World News

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How Digital Currencies Went From Boom To Collapse

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.

Crypto boom: a new digital economy

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.”

Source: Crypto crisis: how digital currencies went from boom to collapse | Cryptocurrencies | The Guardian

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