What are stablecoins and how do they work?
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin keep on fluctuating, and the price of assets depends on the market demand and supply. Such coins are not very stable since they sometimes experience downs and ups in prices. Stablecoins were introduced to prevent this volatility.
If you are an investor that uses cryptocurrency, you have probably heard about stablecoins. In 2021, stablecoins were quite popular digital assets since they held about an 8.24% share of the crypto market. Here is everything you should know regarding them.
Introduction to stablecoins
Since Stablecoins were introduced in 2014, they have been gaining popularity among investors. The term “stablecoins” refers to a type of cryptocurrency that is directly connected to the market price of other assets. They are often pegged to the United States dollar or the Euro.
They are also sometimes pegged to other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Bitcoin or to the price of gold. Stablecoins can also be pegged to a stock in a public company. Many people like them since they not only eliminate the volatility of cryptocurrencies but also offer the security and speed of a blockchain.
How do stablecoins work?
Many people consider stablecoins a form of digital cash. Stablecoins are different from other crypto investments since their value remain stable. Ever after were introduced, they have managed to reestablish investors’ faith in digital currencies.
Since stablecoins are tethered to fiat currency, their volatility is negligible. Stablecoins can be exchanged for different volatile cryptocurrencies such as Solana and Ethereum. They are linked to the price of assets through vast reserves or algorithms. A stablecoin can be traded or redeemed for the value of the asset it is pegged to.
Popular stablecoins are often pegged to fiat currencies. Fiat currencies refer to standard currencies that are issued by most nations across the globe. During price volatility, you as a trader can easily exchange a cryptocurrency that may be experiencing fluctuations for a fiat-backed stablecoin.
Stablecoins are not created equal since they utilize different techniques to maintain their values. Before choosing a stablecoin, it is important to understand the risks they carry. You should also know that they are sometimes subject to regulatory scrutiny.
Here are some popular stablecoins
The most popular stablecoin is known as USDT, which is sometimes referred to as Tether. This is among the largest cryptocurrencies in the market since its market cap is $78 billion. It is also the leading stablecoin. Tether started trading in 2015, and BitFinex developed it.
The purpose of creating Tether was to fill the gap between fiat money and cryptocurrencies. Traders often prefer this stablecoin over others, especially when the market is quite volatile. It maintains a 1:1 ratio with the U.S. dollar and can be exchanged with different cryptocurrencies.
This is also considered one of the largest stablecoins. It is an algorithmic and decentralized stablecoin that is built on the Terra blockchain. This stablecoin was established to propose solutions for the issues the stablecoin leaders faced. It promised interchain usage and high scalability. However, the stability of stablecoins was called into question when this stablecoin once depegged from the U.S. dollar.
Coinbase and Circle launched this stablecoin in 2018, and it is now the second largest stablecoin. This stablecoin is redeemable, and it also maintains a 1-to-1 ratio with the U.S. dollar. It has a contract deployed on chains like Polygon and Solana.
Our list of the most popular stablecoins cannot be complete without mentioning DAI. This runs on the Ethereum blockchain. It is the only decentralized stablecoin, and it executes smart contracts on the blockchain automatically to maintain a value that is close to $ 1 USD. The stablecoin can be transferred between different Ethereum wallets.
This is another leading stablecoin that has existed since 2017. By 2021, stablecoin had reached a market capitalization of about $90 billion.
As you already know there are dozens of different stablecoins on the market. Below you can check the market share of the most popular stablecoins as of August 2022
Why are stablecoins used in crypto trading?
The problem with using cryptos such as Bitcoin as a form of payment is that they experience changes in market value. Using stablecoins can help eliminate this since they are often backed by stable assets, meaning their values do not fluctuate. Stablecoins form a crucial part of the overall crypto market.
Due to their stable nature, they can be used for things such as financing, borrowing, or lending. They are a great alternative to regular banking since they promise lower costs and faster transactions. Stablecoins are used to lend since they offer better rates compared to those offered by regular savings accounts. Some people also use them to gain crypto-backed loans in the Defi space.
Traders prefer using stablecoins because they allow one to keep their funds in the crypto ecosystem while storing them in a stable asset when the market is volatile. In the world of cryptocurrency, dealing with fiat money is not always easy due to regulations and restrictions.
Investing in cryptocurrency with hard cash is difficult since most crypto exchanges deal with USD. Stablecoins are a great substitute for dollars since they can help one invest in other cryptocurrencies.
They can mimic the nature of the U.S dollar to help investors sell bitcoins and, in turn, get cash. They are also used in crypto trading since they offer the liquidity that the crypto marketplace requires. Many traders also utilize stablecoins to invest in other assets such as off-chain assets within a decentralized finance protocol.
Some forms of stablecoins are also used in crypto staking. If, for instance, you are a crypto owner, you can lend out your holdings to help execute different transactions and, in turn, earn rewards.
As crypto staking has certain risks, it is important to understand everything regarding the stablecoin you wish to utilize. Some people also use stablecoins to pay salaries in cryptocurrency to save on costs when doing cross-border transactions.
Types of Stablecoins
Though stablecoin cryptocurrencies may have similar algorithms, they are not created equally. Each stable coin uses specific mechanisms. They are often categorized into the following types:
Fiat money often backs this type of stablecoin. As fiat-backed stablecoin is the digital form of the currency that nations use, the value of this type of stablecoin is the same as that of regular currency. This implies that if your currency is $1, the value of each stable coin crypto will therefore be $1. The currency ratio, therefore, remains at 1:1.
Many traders choose fiat-based stablecoin since it is not only fairly stable but also simple. Just because the government backs up fiat currency, they are quite stable. The problem with dealing with fiat money is that you have to abide by certain regulations and rules. For example, for one to purchase stablecoins from issuers, they must go through Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer checks.
Commodity backed stablecoin
This refers to blockchain-based representations of commodities like gold or other valuable metals or gas. Precious metals such as gold have great value and are tradable. Commodity-backed stablecoins are often backed by reserves that are held by a central entity. A stablecoin backed by a commodity such as gold will have a precise value assigned to it. For example, a single gold stablecoin can represent 1 gram of gold.
Due to the value of the gold, it is usually kept in a secure vault. Apart from metals, real estate is sometimes utilized to back such stablecoins. Commodity-backed stablecoin gives investors a chance to invest in a real asset. Holding real assets in a digital form is an alternative to using fiat-backed stablecoins.
Since the assets are tangible, one can redeem them. Commodity-backed stablecoin also offers liquidity. Despite this, one must understand that the price of commodities can sometimes fluctuate. It also needs audit sessions which can take a lot of time.
Cryptocurrency backed stablecoin
Other crypto assets back up such stablecoins. Famous cryptocurrencies that have high market value, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, are often used. Rather than backing these stablecoins with one crypto, a mix of crypto assets is used to prevent the risk of volatility.
Crypto-backed stablecoins are usually overcollateralized to maintain the value fluctuations. Compared to other types of stablecoins, this has a more decentralized system. It is also quite transparent since a ledger system is used to record transactions. This means that you can easily see what is happening.
Compared to fiat-backed stablecoins, these are less stable. If you choose this type, you should therefore be keen on how the crypto asset behind the stablecoin is performing.
Unlike stablecoins that are backed by assets, these utilize a computer algorithm to prevent the value of the coin from fluctuating so much. The use of complex algorithms helps to balance the funds on the blockchain to maintain stability.
Algorithmic stablecoins often function like actual central banks since they utilize a more governed approach to ensure the limiting or expanding of coins on the network. For example, if the demand goes up, new coins are minted to stabilize the hike in price. The objective of this is to maintain a value close to $1.
What are the risks of stablecoins?
Stablecoins may not be as volatile as other types of cryptocurrencies but they still use new technology which may have certain vulnerabilities. It is possible to lose the private keys that can help one access their cryptocurrency. You may lose the private keys through a user error or hack.
Apart from that, they are also associated with counterparty risk. There is the risk of another party that is involved in an agreement defaulting. Unauthorized third parties can also block or embezzle accounts.
There is also the risk of algorithm manipulation. Since decentralized stablecoins are within smart contracts, the algorithm designed to maintain the stability of the currency might fail. A third party can also manipulate an algorithm.
Stablecoins have also been facing regulatory uncertainty from the time of their introduction. For instance, in 2021, a certain report called for more government oversight on these cryptocurrencies. This led to more restrictions that have been affecting some coin holders in different ways. Stablecoins that depend on central entities are also subject to human errors since sometimes audits can fail to notice potential problems.
Though cryptocurrencies have their advantages, they often experience price volatility. If you wish to invest in cryptocurrencies, you can consider stablecoins since they are less volatile. This type of cryptocurrency offers investors price stability since certain assets back them. Take your time to compare the different types of stablecoins before choosing one, and approach them with an open mind.
Are stablecoins worth investing in?
Yes. These are safe sources of investments that you can consider. Dai and Gemini Dollar are some of the safest stablecoins you can pay more attention to.
Is Bitcoin a stablecoin?
No. Though these two are types of cryptocurrencies, they are not the same. They differ in that Bitcoin is volatile in nature while stablecoin is less volatile.
*This article is not to be taken as a financial advise, it is for educational purposes only.
Zornitsa is the Editor-in-chief at Coinlabz. She is involved in researching the impact of blockchain technology and the way crypto is transforming peoples’ perceptions of finances.