In July 2018, research published by John Griffins of the University of Texas at Austin and Amin Shams of the Ohio State University concluded stablecoin issuances “are timed following market downturns and result in sizable increases in bitcoin prices.” The research further claimed that stablecoin flows and subsequent price inflation during 2017 were attributable to a single entity.
Stablecoin issuances do not push up the price of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, according to research funded by University of California Berkeley’s Haas Blockchain Initiative.
In their report, issued Friday, Richard Lyons, U.C. Berkley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer, and Ganesh Viswanath-Natraj, assistant professor of finance at the Warwick Business School, found stablecoins serve as tools for investors to react to market movements and not as drivers of price inflation or collapse. Their analysis of trading data shows flows are consistent with investors using stablecoins as a store of value during periods of risk or price depreciation.
Lyons and Viswanath-Natraj also found “strong evidence” of another catalyst for flows from issuer treasuries to secondary markets: arbitrage trading when stablecoins deviate from their pegs.
Whether stablecoin issuances materially affect the price of cryptocurrencies is no small controversy.
Four months after the Griffins and Shams study was released, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into whether Tether and Bitfinex have used stablecoin issuances to inflate the price of bitcoin.
A related class-action lawsuit was filed against dominant stablecoin issuer Tether and its sister company, Bitfinex, in late 2019. The claimants alleged Bitfinex and Tether «monopolized and conspired to monopolize the bitcoin market,» as well as manipulated the market via stablecoin issuance among other things. A pseudonymous online firebrand known as Bitfinex’d made similar claims about the companies in a series of detailed blog posts several years ago.
Directly contradicting Griffin and Shams, Lyons and Viswanath-Natraj summarize their conclusions by saying:
“We find no systematic evidence that stablecoin issuance affects cryptocurrency prices. Rather, our evidence supports alternative views; namely, that stablecoin issuance endogenously responds to deviations of the secondary market rate from the pegged rate, and stablecoins consistently perform a safe-haven role in the digital economy.”
The industry’s aggregate stablecoin supply has passed $9 billion at the time of writing, according to data from CoinMetrics. At bitcoin’s all-time high in Q4 2017, aggregate stablecoin supply was just over $1.25 billion.
Stablecoins ‘Pose Risk to Financial Stability’ Warns Federal Reserve
Stablecoins could “complement” other payment systems and improve conditions for consumers, but need constant checks, says the United States Federal Reserve.
In its November 2019 Financial Stability Report released on Nov. 15, the Fed highlights stablecoins and their potential impact on the U.S. and beyond.
Fed: Unregulated stablecoins “pose risks”
Rather than dismissing the phenomenon, officials eye potential use cases for the future but insist any stablecoin must adhere to regulatory demands.
“Innovations that foster faster, cheaper, and more inclusive payments could complement existing payment systems and improve consumer welfare if appropriately designed and regulated”, the report explains.
At the same time, the Fed warns:
“However, the possibility for a stablecoin payment network to quickly achieve global scale introduces important challenges and risks related to financial stability, monetary policy, safeguards against money laundering and terrorist financing, and consumer and investor protection.”
It added rare official praise of Facebook’s embattled Libra concept, describing it as an example of stablecoins, which “have the potential to rapidly achieve widespread adoption.”
“A global stablecoin network, if poorly designed and unregulated, could pose risks to financial stability”, it states elsewhere.
Better fractional reserve coin?
The report comes as the Fed takes an increasing interest in digital currency. As Cointelegraph reported earlier this month, the central bank is currently looking for a dedicated research manager for the sphere, as China prepares to launch its state-backed digital currency.
At the same time, a former advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump revealed last month he plans to issue his own stablecoin, which is not fully backed by reserves.
U.S. lawmakers have sought to vet existing stablecoin offerings, notably market leader Tether (USDT), which currently faces a multibillion-dollar lawsuit that Bitcoin figures have broadly dismissed.
This week, Fed chair Jerome Powell meanwhile admitted that the $23 trillion U.S. national debt was no longer “sustainable”, but that the consequences of not paying it off were not critical.