Tether Recoups Almost All of Market Value Lost During Crypto Meltdown

Tether’s stablecoin is on the verge of recovering all of the market value lost in the wake of the collapse of algorithmic rival TerraUSD less than a year ago.

(Bloomberg) — Tether’s stablecoin is on the verge of recovering all of the market value lost in the wake of the collapse of algorithmic rival TerraUSD less than a year ago.

The stablecoin operator had assets totaling around $81.4 billion backing its USDT token as of Monday, according to data tracker CoinMarketCap. The amount reached a peak of about $83 billion last May, when the unraveling of Terra prompted investors to dump cryptocurrencies across the board. Tether’s assets had dropped almost 20% in the second quarter of last year. 

The recovery is a testament to the dominant role Tether plays in crypto as a means for conducting transactions and storing value. USDT, the world’s most traded cryptoasset, aims to maintain a one-to-one redemption with the US dollar by relying on a reserve of cash and cash-equivalents. It briefly dropped below $1 when TerraUSD imploded, and again in November, when FTX failed. The quality of assets used by Tether for that reserve have been called into question in the past, and regulators globally have turned the spotlight onto stablecoin issuers.

Tether has benefited this year from banking turmoil that has weighed on rivals such as Circle’s USD Coin, as well as the rally that has sent market bellwether Bitcoin up about 65%. The amount of Tether in circulation typically rises during rallies and flattens or modestly declines in bear markets, according to Alex Thorn, head of research at Galaxy Digital.  

Large investors often referred to as whales have also been exiting profitable trades and parking proceeds in Tether, said Henry Elder, head of decentralized finance at Wave Digital Assets. 

Meanwhile, the evolving US regulatory environment is seen pushing more traders offshore. Tether is based in the British Virgin Islands. Circle, which has seen about a 30% decline in USDC assets this year, is run from Boston. 

“We are seeing a wholesale shift from USDC to other, less US-centric stablecoins,” Elder said. “This will continue to play out as long as the US remains irrationally hostile to crypto in general and stablecoins in particular.” 

A House of Representatives hearing last week that was focused on stablecoins indicated a deep rift between Republican and Democratic lawmakers. That likely bodes poorly for legislation. 

At the same time, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and state regulators have ramped up enforcement actions. Paxos Trust Co. stopped issuing its Binance-branded BUSD stablecoin after a pushback by New York and the SEC.

BUSD’s market cap is down around 60% since the beginning of the year, according to CoinMarketCap. The SEC also declared UST, the stablecoin whose depegging triggered the failure of the Terra-Luna ecosystem, an unregistered security.

“Tether had been a huge benefactor of the enforcement approach in the US, as it not only appears to be isolated from the SEC, but also has not suffered any major incidents as of late, inspiring confidence among investors,” said Conor Ryder, a research analyst at Kaiko. 

Tether has also appeared to profited from the recent wave of financial institutions turning away from crypto clients. That left stablecoins like Tether as one of the few viable alternative options for getting into crypto.

That’s ironic, as Tether is, in many ways, still viewed by many market observers as a black box. Its reserves haven’t been independently audited. Several years ago, it reached a settlement with New York for commingling funds and lying about the reserves; the company didn’t admit to any wrongdoing.

“It is inexplicable to me that people are pouring into USDT,” said Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University. “It is very opaque.”  

–With assistance from Emily Nicolle.

(Updates the market value of tokens in circulation in the second paragraph.)

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