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Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies with a value pegged to a currency or to exchange traded commodities. Many projects today are researching and developing such technology. Issuers distribute stablecoins to customers in exchange for fiat currency such as USD at a 1:1 fixed exchange rate. USD is a desirable medium of exchange and globally accepted unit of account, making it a good choice for a stablecoin. Stablecoins most often take the following shapes.
- Fiat-collateralized: Reserves in a national currency collateralize the creation and issuance of such tokens. The goal is price stability by pegging a token’s value to a reserved fiat value.
- Crypto-collateralized: Cryptocurrencies backing cryptocurrencies. That might sound far fetched or futuristic, but it is possible in the present day. Forget the Gold Standard. Now you can hold a cryptocurrency backed by a basket of cryptocurrencies.
- Seigniorage: These tokens are not-collateralized. Software maintains the price stability.
- Hybrid: When you blend the three basic approaches above – or some assortment thereof – you get a hybrid stablecoin.
Let’s go deeper.
Fully-backed by fiat money at a 1:1 ratio, you might receive $1 of fiat-backed stablecoins in exchange for $1 of fiat money. Custodians (third-parties) typically manage the fiat in such an arrangement. In order to maintain a stable price, fiat-backed tokens may be issued or destroyed as needed. When holders redeem cash with tokens, for instance, the company might wire money to a bank account, then destroy or otherwise remove the tokens from circulation so as to maintain the fiat currency peg.
Tether’s daily volume on January 18 was $189,134,405. Traders use tether as a way to hedge and to convert holdings into the equivalent USD value without having to cash-out. Detractors argue that Tether lacks transparency when it comes to reserves, though the company claims all issued USDT tokens are backed on a one-to-one basis. The CEO of Bitfinex is also the CEO for Tether Limited, which issues Tether.
TrueUSD claims to be more transparent than Tether, while still enabling TUSD customers to exchange USD through an escrow account over which the TUSD team claims to have no control. The company uses smart contracts to ensure the 1:1 parity between real USD reserves in the escrow accounts and the TUSD tokens issued.
Gemini took a different approach than most stablecoins, receiving permission from the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) before creating its USD-pegged stablecoin. Designed to provide traders and institutions with a “regulated” version of tether (USDT), Gemini claims their stablecoin establishes trust through cryptographic proof and regulatory oversight.
Gemini’s ERC20 stablecoin includes an “upgrade feature, an offline approval mechanism for high-risk actions, and a hybrid online-offline approval mechanism for high-risk actions and token issuance that provides the desired level of security and flexibility.”
Gemini links licensed financial institutions and examiners. They form a network of trust that backs the Gemini dollar. This regulated stablecoin is to serve as a medium of exchange and unit of account for centralized and decentralized applications. Gemini has pledged to create a network of trusted and licensed financial institutions and examiners. These implementations combined form the Gemini dollar, a regulated stablecoin that can serve as a viable medium of exchange and unit of account for centralized and decentralized applications.
Gemini’s proof-of-solvency is also a unique selling point requires a trusted third party. It plans to have the audit committee of the board of directors of Gemini engage an independent registered public accounting firm to attest to the underlying US dollar balance.
Paxos Standard is built upon the Ethereum blockchain as an ERC-20 token. Rather than issuing new money to maintain price stability, as past coins have attempted, Paxos Standard provides a more stable representation of existing money with accepted and trusted value. The company posits early use cases for the technology as a payment means; hedge against volatility; contracts for more complicated transactions, and more. Longer term use cases include asset mobility and settlement and ecosystem development.
CENTRE is creating a network scheme to manage the creation, redemption and mechanisms enabling issuing members to mint and burn/redeem asset-backed fiat tokens, ensuring price stability. CENTRE’s fiat-collateralized approach entails a unit of tokenized fiat currency being backed by one unit of reserved fiat. According to CENTRE, Circle will become a “licensed member of the CENTRE network”, but an independent entity will govern and develop CENTRE protocols separate from Circle.
Commodity-backed stablecoins are pegged to a specific value of, say, gold. One token, for instance, might represent one gram of gold. Physical gold is often claimed to be stored in a trusted third party vault. BitShares was one of the first projects to introduce a commodity-backed stablecoin. Backed by real assets and redeemable at the conversion rate of the real asset, commodity-backed stablecoins try to maintain the stable value of gold, while being easily transferred.
Digix Gold Tokens (DGX)
Digix has two tokens. Digix Gold Tokens (DGX) and DigixDAO Tokens (DGD). DGD tokens are used for DigixDAO’s governance model. DGX tokens are used as collateral and a trading pair by other crypto projects like MakerDAO, Kryptono Exchange, Kyber Network, WeTrust, Monolith, and others.
A Digix customer might buy gold through the Digix platform. The vendor then supplies gold and a custodian stores the customer’s gold. Relevant details (vendor, custodian, customer, etc.) are stored on a digital card, and sent to smart contracts so new, gold-backed coins can be minted.
DGX, created by DigixGlobal, is an ERC-20 token backed by physical gold. Fully-audited and stored in a vault in Singapore, the Safe House, each token’s value is fully redeemable and pegged to price of gold. Digix’s Proof-of-Provenance algorithm ensures that each gold bar’s custodianship status is tracked on the Ethereum blockchain. Reserves are audited each quarter.
Backed by other cryptocurrencies, crypto-collateralized cryptocoins can be less stable than fiat and commodity-backed stablecoins because the underlying asset is less stable. Cryptocurrency-backed stablecoins might sometimes be over-collateralized to account for the volatility. While a US-backed stablecoin might be pegged 1:1, an Ethereum-backed stablecoin might be worth 2:1. (US $2 worth of ethereum for US$1 worth of stablecoin). Still, cryptocurrency backed stablecoins are more volatile than stablecoins backed by other assets like commodities and fiat money.
Usually backed by a basket of cryptocurrencies instead of a lone currency, some such stablecoins require users to stake and lock cryptocurrency via a smart contract to create a fixed ratio of stablecoins. Considered a more decentralized alternative to fiat and commodity-backed stablecoin, cryptocurrency backed stablecoins offer quick liquidation from one cryptocurrency to another.
Maker, a smart contract platform based on the Ethereum platform, stabilizes the value of Dai, a collateral-backed cryptocurrency, through a dynamic system of Collateralized Debt Positions (CDPs), autonomous feedback mechanisms, and appropriately incentivized external actors.
Collateralized debt position are smart contracts on the Maker system. CDPs keep track of assets deposited by users so that users can generate Dai. The value of an active CDPs collateral is higher than the value of the debt. Ether is used as collateral for new coins, and must be sent to a CDP, which locks the staked ETH so new DAIs are minted. Dai is designed to be sent to others, used as payments for goods and services and held as savings. MakerDAO also issues MKR token.
Seigniorage-Style stablecoins are uncollateralized and stabilized by algorithms. Algorithms might maintain the value and stability of a coin by controlling the supply of the uncollateralized stablecoin, shrinking and growing it based on certain indicators.
Seignoriage-style coins’ algorithmically governed approach to expanding and contracting a stablecoin’s money supply. New stablecoins are minted to maintain stable prices, when, say, demand increases or decreases.
Technologists claim that stability offered in stablecoins would be a boon to cryptocurrency by minimizing fluctuations of value. A stablecoin theoretically represents a stable means of payment and trade, making it appealing for daily use, and perhaps more palatable for the general public. Yet, stablecoin technology is still nascent, and questions such as how to manage supply and demand in such a way as to create stable value have yet to be fully answered and understood. Of the coins listed here, Digix, Gemini, MakerDAO and Paxos represent under-publicized products on which to keep an eye.
Image: Artem Beli