TerraUSD's Struggles Are a Concern for All Markets
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Much more important, if TerraUSD fails it will be a blow to the hopes of many traditional financial institutions that rely on liquidity to maintain stability. That includes central banks, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, derivatives clearinghouses, securities dealers and many others.
TerraUSD is an “algorithmic stablecoin,” meaning it attempts to maintain a $1 market price via an algorithm rather than traditional methods such as backing each token with an actual dollar. TerraUSD can be exchanged for $1 worth of another cryptocurrency, in this case Luna. Therefore, if the price of TerraUSD deviates from $1, arbitragers should force it back.
The Federal Reserve, although it doesn’t officially target the value of the dollar, can use a similar strategy if it wants to influence the currency’s value. If the value of the dollar falls either in terms of purchasing power or foreign-exchange rates, the Fed’s two main policy responses are to raise interest rates to make the dollar more attractive to hold, or to sell assets to soak up dollars, reducing the supply, and pushing up the price. TerraUSD uses mainly the second strategy, selling Luna to reduce the supply of TerraUSD.
The strategy relies on there being a liquid market for the asset being sold — mainly US Treasury securities for the Fed and Luna for TerraUSD. Unfortunately for the Fed, if the dollar’s value is falling, investors may not be enthusiastic about buying Treasuries, which pay off in future dollars and whose perceived credit may be impaired if too many have to be sold to soak up excess currency. TerraUSD has the same issue, the value of Luna is tied to the success of the Terra suite of products, which would be impaired by TerraUSD’s collapse
In a bull market leverage begets leverage. From the perspective of financial engineers there is no strategy that can’t be made better with leverage. Stablecoins are the crypto market’s version of money market funds. They aim to hold parity with the Dollar by buying near-cash items that pay a slightly higher yield than the Fed. Algorithmic stablecoins try to go one better and only trade in their own tokens. That’s great during a bull market. However, the value of any money market instrument is in its ability to redeem at par in times of stress. If it folds at the first sign of trouble it is not fit for purpose.
TerraUSD may be bailed out but its decline is symptomatic of tighter monetary and fiscal conditions. Money market funds breaking the buck tend to set off waves of deleveraging and that is equally true of the crypto sector.
Bitcoin continues to test the 2021 lows near $30000 but will need a clear upward dynamic to confirm more than short-term steadying.
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Ethereum has been holding up better, but it will not sustain outperformance if bitcoin breaks lower.