Navigating the World of Stablecoins: A Beginner's Guide
Cryptocurrencies have been around for over a decade, and their popularity continues to grow. However, one of the biggest challenges of cryptocurrency investments is their volatility. The prices of crypto can fluctuate rapidly, making it difficult to use them as a medium of exchange or a store of value. This is where stablecoins come in.
Definition of Stablecoins
Stablecoins are a type of cryptocurrency designed to maintain a stable value, typically pegged to a fiat currency like the US dollar. They achieve this by using various mechanisms, such as collateralization or algorithmic stabilization, to ensure that the value of the stablecoin remains relatively stable.
Stablecoins have become increasingly important in the crypto market because they offer a way to mitigate the volatility of other cryptocurrencies. This makes them useful for various applications, such as trading, remittances, and as a store of value.
Stablecoins also provide an on-ramp for new users to enter the crypto market, as they offer a more stable and less risky entry point compared to other cryptocurrencies.
In this article, we will dive into the basics of stablecoins, including what they are, how they work, their benefits and risks, choosing the “right” stablecoin, and buying and storing stablecoins securely.
Stablecoins are a relatively new type of cryptocurrency that has gained popularity due to their stable value. In this chapter, we'll look at the different types of stablecoins and how they work.
Types of Stablecoins
There are three main types of stablecoins: fiat-collateralized, crypto-collateralized, and non-collateralized (algorithmic) stablecoins.
Fiat-collateralized stablecoins are backed by a reserve of fiat currency, such as the US dollar. The stablecoin issuer holds a corresponding amount of the fiat currency to ensure that the stablecoin is fully collateralized.
Examples of fiat-collateralized stablecoins include Tether (USDT) and USD Coin (USDC).
Crypto-collateralized stablecoins are backed by a reserve of another cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. The stablecoin issuer holds a corresponding amount of the cryptocurrency to ensure that the stablecoin is fully collateralized.
Examples of crypto-collateralized stablecoins include DAI and BitUSD.
DAI is created when users deposit collateral into a MakerDAO smart contract. The collateral can be any Ethereum-based asset, such as Ether or Bitcoin. The amount of collateral that is required depends on the current value of DAI.
For example, if the current value of DAI is $1, then a user would need to deposit $1 worth of collateral in order to create $1 worth of DAI.
Algorithmic Stablecoin Death Spiral
An algorithmic stablecoin death spiral is a situation in which a stablecoin loses its peg to the fiat currency it is supposed to be pegged to. This can happen for a number of reasons, including:
A loss of confidence in the stablecoin: If investors lose confidence in a stablecoin, they may start to sell it, which can cause the price to fall below the peg.
A large sell-off: If there is a large sell-off of a stablecoin, it can also cause the price to fall below the peg.
A hack or exploit: If a stablecoin is hacked or exploited, it can also cause the price to fall below the peg.
In May 2022, TerraUSD (UST) experienced an algorithmic stablecoin death spiral. This was caused by a number of factors, including a loss of confidence in the stablecoin, a large sell-off, and a hack. As a result of the death spiral, UST lost its peg to the US dollar and its price fell to as low as $0.03. This caused the value of the associated cryptocurrency, Luna, to plummet, and the total market capitalization of the Terra ecosystem to fall from over $40 billion to less than $1 billion.
How Stablecoins Work
Stablecoins use a variety of mechanisms to maintain price stability and ensure that their value remains relatively constant over time. Here are some common mechanisms used by stablecoins:
Price Stability Mechanisms
Stablecoins typically use a price stability mechanism to maintain their value. This can include over-collateralization (where the value of the collateral is greater than the value of the stablecoin), under-collateralization (where the value of the collateral is less than the value of the stablecoin), or algorithmic stabilization.
Token Issuance and Redemption
Stablecoins can be created by issuing new tokens that are pegged to a specific value, such as $1. you can then redeem these tokens for the underlying asset (fiat currency or cryptocurrency) at any time. This ensures that the stablecoin remains fully backed and that you can always convert their stablecoins into the underlying asset.
Centralization vs. Decentralization
Stablecoins can be centralized or decentralized. Centralized stablecoins are issued by a single entity or company and are typically fully collateralized. Decentralized stablecoins, on the other hand, are issued on decentralized platforms and are often backed by a combination of collateral and algorithmic mechanisms.
Benefits of Using Stablecoins
Stablecoins offer several benefits over traditional cryptocurrencies, including lower volatility, faster and cheaper transactions, easy access to crypto markets, and borderless transactions.
Lower Volatility Compared to Other Cryptocurrencies
One of the biggest advantages of stablecoins is their stability compared to other cryptocurrencies. While traditional cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are highly volatile, stablecoins are designed to maintain a stable value, often pegged to a fiat currency like the US dollar.
This makes stablecoins a more reliable and predictable option for users looking to store and transfer value without being subject to the wild swings of the cryptocurrency market.
Faster and Cheaper Transactions
Another benefit of stablecoins is the speed and cost of transactions. Traditional bank transfers can take days and come with hefty fees, especially for international transactions. In contrast, stablecoin transactions can be completed in a matter of minutes and often come with much lower transaction fees.
Easy Access to Crypto Markets
Stablecoins also provide you with an easy way to access the broader cryptocurrency market. While traditional cryptocurrencies can be difficult and expensive to convert to fiat currency, stablecoins provide a bridge between the crypto and fiat worlds.
Users can easily convert their stablecoins to fiat currency or other cryptocurrencies, providing them with greater flexibility and access to the broader crypto market.
Finally, stablecoins offer borderless transactions that can be completed quickly and easily. This is particularly beneficial for individuals and businesses that operate in different countries and need to transfer value across borders. With stablecoins, you can complete transactions quickly and easily without the need for intermediaries or the high fees associated with traditional cross-border transactions.
Risks and Limitations of Stablecoins
While stablecoins offer several benefits over traditional cryptocurrencies, they also come with some risks and limitations that you should be aware of.
One of the main risks associated with stablecoins is centralization. Some stablecoins are issued and backed by a single company or organization, which can pose a risk to you if the company or organization goes bankrupt or is hacked.
Centralization also means that there is a single point of failure, which can lead to instability in the stablecoin's value. You should carefully research the issuer and backing of any stablecoin before investing or using it.
For example, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) had a significant impact on USDC, the second-largest stablecoin by market capitalization.
SVB was a major custodian for USDC, holding approximately $3.3 billion of the stablecoin's reserves. When SVB collapsed, it raised concerns about the security and reliability of USDC.
Another risk associated with stablecoins is counterparty risk. This refers to the risk that the entity backing the stablecoin may default or fail to honor its obligations. This can happen in cases where the stablecoin is backed by a single company or organization.
You should also be aware of the risks associated with using exchanges or platforms to trade or store stablecoins, as these platforms may also pose counterparty risks.
Stablecoins also face regulatory risks, particularly if they need to be fully compliant with local regulations. Governments around the world are still grappling with how to regulate cryptocurrencies, and stablecoins may fall into a regulatory gray area.
This can pose risks to users who may be subject to penalties or legal action for using or investing in stablecoins that are not compliant with local regulations.
How to Choose the Right Stablecoin
Now that we understand the benefits and risks associated with stablecoins, here’s a list of factors you might want to consider while choosing the “right” stablecoin for you.
Type of Stablecoin
As we discussed earlier, stablecoins come in different types, such as fiat-collateralized, crypto-collateralized, and non-collateralized. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you should choose the type that best fits your needs.
Reputation and Trustworthiness of the Issuer
You need to carefully research the issuer and backing of any stablecoin they are considering. Look for stablecoins that are backed by reputable companies or organizations with a track record of financial stability and security.
Token Liquidity and Market Cap
Liquidity and market cap are important factors to consider when choosing a stablecoin. Higher liquidity and market cap indicate a more stable and reliable stablecoin, with less risk of price fluctuations or instability.
Availability on Crypto Exchanges:
Finally, you should consider the availability of the stablecoin on crypto exchanges. A stablecoin with high availability on reputable exchanges can be easily bought and sold, providing flexibility for you.
Popular Stablecoins to Consider
Tether is currently the most widely used stablecoin, with a market cap of over $60 billion. USDT is a fiat-collateralized stablecoin, backed by reserves of US dollars held in Tether's bank accounts. Despite some controversies in the past, USDT remains popular due to its high liquidity and availability on most crypto exchanges.
USD Coin (USDC)
USD Coin is another popular stablecoin, with a market cap of over $14 billion. USDC is also a fiat-collateralized stablecoin, backed by reserves of US dollars held in regulated financial institutions. USDC is known for its transparency and compliance with regulatory requirements. As mentioned above, it did depeg briefly following the SVB collapse, however, it went back to its $1 peg very quickly.
Dai is a non-collateralized stablecoin, meaning it is not backed by any assets but rather stabilized through an algorithmic mechanism. Dai is pegged to the US dollar and maintained through the use of smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. Dai is known for its decentralization and community-driven governance model.
How to Buy and Store Stablecoins
Most major crypto exchanges support stablecoins, making it easy to buy and sell them. Some popular exchanges that support stablecoins include Binance, Coinbase, Kraken, and Huobi.
How to Buy Stablecoins
The process of buying stablecoins is similar to buying any other cryptocurrency. you can buy stablecoins directly on crypto exchanges using fiat currency, such as USD or EUR, or using other cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.
To buy stablecoins with fiat currency, you will need to verify their identity and link a bank account or credit card to the exchange. Once their account is verified, they can purchase stablecoins at the current market rate.
To buy stablecoins with other cryptocurrencies, you can simply exchange their crypto holdings for stablecoins on the exchange. The process typically involves selecting the stablecoin you want to buy and the amount you wish to spend and then completing the transaction.
Best Practices for Storing Stablecoins
Storing stablecoins securely is just as important as buying them. Here are some best practices for storing stablecoins:
Hardware wallets are one of the safest ways to store cryptocurrencies, including stablecoins. They are physical devices that store private keys offline, preventing hackers from accessing them. Some popular hardware wallets include Ledger, Trezor, and KeepKey.
Cold storage involves storing your stablecoins offline, such as on a USB drive or paper wallet. This method provides extra security against online threats but also requires extra precautions to ensure the storage device is not lost or damaged.
Secure Digital Wallets
Secure digital wallets are another option for storing stablecoins. These wallets are software programs that store private keys and enable you to send and receive stablecoins securely. Examples include MyEtherWallet and MetaMask.
You can read more about crypto wallets and how they work in this article.
In a nutshell…
Stablecoins are a unique type of cryptocurrency that offer a range of benefits, including lower volatility, faster transactions, and easy access to crypto markets. While there are some risks and limitations associated with stablecoins, understanding how they work and choosing the right stablecoin can help mitigate these risks.
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