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Explainer-What are stablecoins, the asset rocking the cryptocurrency market?

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© Reuters. Representations of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Dash, Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin are seen in this illustration picture taken June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

By Elizabeth Howcroft

LONDON (Reuters) – Most cryptocurrencies have a major problem with price volatility, but one sub-category of coins is designed to maintain a constant value: stablecoins.

As cryptocurrency prices plummeted this week, with bitcoin losing around a third of its value in just eight days, stablecoins were supposed to be isolated from the chaos.

But an unexpected collapse in the fourth-largest stablecoin TerraUSD, which broke from its 1:1 dollar peg, has brought the asset class under renewed attention.

Here’s what you need to know:

WHAT ARE STABLECOINS?

Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies designed to be protected from the wild volatility that makes it difficult to use digital assets for payments or as a store of value.

They attempt to maintain a constant exchange rate with fiat currencies, for example through a 1:1 U.S. dollar peg.

HOW IMPORTANT ARE THEY?

Stablecoins have a market cap of around $170 billion, making them a relatively small part of the overall cryptocurrency market, which is currently worth around $1.2 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap data.

But they have surged in popularity in recent years. The largest stablecoin, Tether, has a market cap of around $80 billion, having surged from just $4.1 billion at the start of 2020.

The No.2 stablecoin, USD Coin, has a market cap of $49 billion, according to CoinMarketCap data.

While data on the specific uses of stablecoins is hard to come by, they play a crucial role for cryptocurrency traders, allowing them to hedge against spikes in bitcoin’s price or to store idle cash without transferring it back into fiat currency.

In its biannual financial stability report on Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/financial-stability-report-20220509.pdf warned stablecoins are increasingly used to facilitate leveraged trading in other cryptocurrencies.

From 2018 onwards, stablecoins have increasingly been used in international trade and as a way to avoid capital controls, says Joseph Edwards, head of financial strategy at crypto firm Solrise. The stablecoin Tether in particular is used for trade in and around China and South America, he said.

HOW DO THEY WORK?

There are two main types of stablecoin: those which are backed by reserves comprising assets, such as fiat currency, bonds, commercial paper, or even other crypto tokens, and those which are algorithmic, or “decentralised”.

Major stablecoins such as Tether, USD Coin and Binance USD are reserve-backed: they say that they hold enough dollar-denominated assets to maintain an exchange rate of 1:1.

The companies say that one of their stablecoins can always be exchanged for one dollar.

Asset-backed stablecoins have come under pressure in recent years to be transparent about what is in their reserves and whether they have sufficient dollars to back up all the digital coins in circulation.

Meanwhile TerraUSD is an algorithmic stablecoin. This means it does not have reserves. Instead, its value was supposed to be maintained by a complex mechanism involving swapping TerraUSD coins with a free-floating cryptocurrency called Luna to control supply.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

TerraUSD’s stability mechanism stopped working this week when investors lost faith in Luna, amid a broader downturn in cryptocurrency markets. TerraUSD’s price crashed to as low as 30 cents.

In theory, asset-backed stablecoins should hold firm despite this.

But Tether also broke away from its dollar peg for the first time since 2020 on Thursday, dropping to as low as 95 cents.

Tether sought to reassure investors, saying on its website that holders were still able to redeem their tokens at the 1:1 rate.

WHAT DO REGULATORS SAY?

While regulators globally are trying to establish rules for the cryptocurrency market, some have highlighted stablecoins as a particular risk to financial stability – for example, if too many people tried to cash out their stablecoins at once.

In its stability report, the Fed warned that stablecoins are vulnerable to investor runs because they are backed by assets that can lose value or become illiquid in times of market stress. A run on the stablecoin could therefore spill over into the traditional financial system by creating stress on these underlying assets, it said.

Forex

Yellen: Not legal for U.S. to seize Russian official assets

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen looks on during a U.S. House Committee on Financial Services hearing on the Annual Report of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 12, 2022. Graeme Jennings/

By David Lawder

BONN, Germany (Reuters) -The United States does not have legal authority to seize Russian central bank assets frozen due to its invasion of Ukraine, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday, but talks with U.S. partners over ways to make Russia foot the bill for Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction are starting.

Yellen also said it is likely that the special license granted to allow Russia to make payments to its U.S. bondholders would not be extended when it expires next week, leaving Russian officials a fast-narrowing window to avoid its first external debt default since the 1917 Russian revolution.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine is the central agenda item at this week’s gathering of Group of Seven finance ministers, and Yellen is calling for increased financial support for the war-torn country, which the World Bank estimates is suffering $4 billion in weekly physical damage.

“I think it’s very natural that given the enormous destruction in Ukraine, and huge rebuilding costs that they will face, that we will look to Russia to help pay at least a portion of the price that will be involved,” Yellen told reporters here ahead of this week’s meetings.

Some European officials have advocated that the EU, the United States and other allies seize some $300 billion in Russian central bank foreign currency assets frozen by sanctions. The assets are held abroad, but remain under Russian ownership.

“While we’re beginning to look at this, it would not be legal now in the United States for the government to seize those” assets, Yellen said. “It’s not something that is legally permissible in the United States.”

U.S. Treasury officials have also expressed concerns about setting precedents and eroding other countries’ confidence in holding their central bank assets in the United States.

At the G7 meeting in the Bonn suburb of Koenigswinter, Yellen intends to focus on Ukraine’s more immediate budget needs, estimated at $5 billion a month. On Tuesday she pressed U.S. allies to step up their financial support, while a German government official said the ministers would pledge $15 billion of new budget aid.

RUSSIAN DEFAULT RISKS

Russia has some $40 billion of international bonds and has so far managed to keep current on its obligations and avoid default thanks to a temporary license from the Treasury granting an exception allowing banks to accept dollar-denominated payments from Russia’s finance ministry despite crippling sanctions on Russia.

The license expires on May 25, with the next major payment due that day.

On Wednesday Yellen said Treasury is unlikely to extend the exemption. This could result in a technical default if Russia then resorts to trying to pay in roubles rather than dollars as required under the bonds’ covenants.

“There’s not been a final decision on that, but I think it’s unlikely that it would continue,” Yellen said, adding that a technical default would not alter the current situation regarding Russia’s access to capital.

“If Russia is unable to find a way to make these payments, and they technically default on their debt, I don’t think that really represents a significant change in Russia’s situation. They’re already cut off from global capital markets.”

ECONOMY THREATS

Yellen outlined a number of threats to the global economy ahead of the G7 meeting, including spillovers from the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, which have spiked energy and food prices, and a slowdown in China’s economy due to strict COVID-19 lockdowns. But she said she did not think a “synchronized” U.S., Chinese and European recession was likely.

Yellen said China’s zero-tolerance COVID policies appear to be impeding production of goods, compounding supply chain difficulties that have boosted prices and are contributing to its slowdown in growth.

“As one of the largest economies in the globe, China’s economic performance really has spillover impacts on growth all around the world,” Yellen said, adding that the Treasury was closely monitoring Beijing’s policy responses.

She confirmed that she is advocating within the Biden administration for dropping some U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods that “aren’t very strategic” to limit pain on U.S. consumers and businesses.

She said the G7 finance leaders will discuss further sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine and talk “about how best to design them to shield the global economy from the adverse effects while imposing maximum harm on Russia.”

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Forex

Yellen: Not legal for U.S. government to seize Russian central bank assets

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen looks on during a U.S. House Committee on Financial Services hearing on the Annual Report of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 12, 2022. Graeme Jennings/

BONN, Germany (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that it would not be legal for the United States to seize assets of Russia’s central bank.

Yellen told reporters ahead of a meeting of G7 finance ministers in Bonn, Germany, that the United States and its allies have blocked an estimated $300 billion of assets from Russia’s central bank.

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Forex

Dollar Up, Improving Risk Sentiment Boosts Euro and Pound

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© Reuters

By Gina Lee

Investing.com – The dollar was up on Wednesday morning in Asia. Overnight surges gave the euro and pound a boost in early trading, alongside strong U.K. jobs data and a general improvement in investor sentiment thanks to positive U.S. retail sales data and hopes that China will ease COVID-19 lockdowns.

The U.S. Dollar Index that tracks the greenback against a basket of other currencies inched up 0.07% to 103.25 by 1:22 AM ET (5:22 AM GMT).

The USD/JPY pair edged down 0.15% to 129.19.

The AUD/USD pair inched down 0.07% to 0.7024 while the NZD/USD pair inched up 0.06% to 0.6365.

The USD/CNY pair edged up 0.16% to 6.7488 while the GBP/USD pair inched down 0.03% to 1.2486.

The European common currency touched $1.0563 in early Asia trade, after rising 1.1% overnight, its largest day of percentage gains since March. The pound touched $1.2501 after a 1.4% overnight rally, its best day since late 2020, with data showing that the U.K.’s jobless rate hit a 48-year low.

These gains pushed the dollar index to its lowest in nearly two weeks.

“The pound got a boost from the very strong jobs report yesterday, and on top of that, there has been a slight improvement in the broader risk sentiment in financial markets driven by some positive news out of China on the lockdowns and strong data out of the U.S.,” Commonwealth Bank Of Australia currency strategist Carol Kong told Reuters.

The Chinese city of Shanghai on Tuesday hit a long-awaited milestone of three consecutive days with no new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine zones, with authorities setting out the city’s clearest timetable to date for exiting a lockdown the day before.

On the data front, U.S. retail sales rose strongly in April 2022, with core retail sales rising 0.6%. Retail sales grew 0.9% month-on-month and 8.19% year-on-year. The data also showed that industrial production grew 6.4% year-on-year and 1.1% month-on-month.

Reflecting the improved risk sentiment, equities jumped overnight, and U.S. benchmark Treasury yields were on an upward trend, last hitting the 2.9878% mark. The higher U.S. yields also saw an end to the yen’s small recent recovery, with the Japanese currency sensitive to higher U.S. rates.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell also said at a Wall Street Journal event on Tuesday that the Fed will “keep pushing” to tighten its monetary policy until there are clear signs that inflation is slowing.

Meanwhile, the riskier Australian dollar was generally on an upward trend, boosted by the improved risk sentiment and extending a 0.8% gain on Tuesday. It was also helped by the Reserve Bank of Australia’s latest meeting minutes, published on Tuesday and hinting that the central bank will hike interest rates again when it meets in June 2022.

Cryptocurrency markets were quiet, with bitcoin little changed at around $30,400.

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