TOKYO — More than $275 billion has been wiped off the value of the global crypto market in the space of 24 hours, after the collapse of a cryptocurrency that was supposed to be pegged to the U.S. dollar sparked mayhem.
As of Thursday afternoon in Asia, the total market capitalization of global cryptocurrency was $1.14 trillion, down more than 19% on the same time Wednesday, according to CoinMarketCap. Dozens of digital coins lost a quarter or more of their value, and even bitcoin, the largest and oldest cryptocurrency, was down 14%.
A crisis of confidence among crypto investors has been spreading since the weekend, when TerraUSD became unmoored from the U.S. dollar, which it was supposed to be shadowing. TerraUSD, also known as UST, was one of the most popular “stablecoins,” which are meant to have the same value as a real-world currency and have become a backbone of some crypto trading.
UST’s supposed peg to the dollar was based on a complicated algorithmic interaction with other cryptocurrencies, which turned out not to work.
The price of UST fell as low as 23 U.S. cents on Wednesday, and while it recovered to a level around 60 cents on Thursday, that is far below the $1 peg it is meant to maintain. Do Kwon, the Stanford University-educated developer behind UST, tweeted: “I understand the last 72 hours have been extremely tough on all of you. Know that I am resolved to work with every one of you to weather this crisis, and we will build our way out of this.”
“The snowball effect on the whole market is big,” said Anndy Lian, chairman of the Netherlands-registered crypto trading platform BigONE Exchange. “UST deviates too much from the $1 mark, resulting in more panic in the market. Investors who are already fleeing risky assets amid fears over rising inflation and possibly a recession start to panic sell as bitcoin falls below their expectation.”
Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin, was down more than 20% in 24 hours to Thursday afternoon, while other well-established and popular coins lost even more value. XRP and Polkadot were both down around 30%. Dogecoin, a joke cryptocurrency hyped last year by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, was down by a third, according to CoinDesk.
The collapse of UST has already caught the eye of regulators, many of whom have issued stern warnings about the potential risks to financial stability posed by stablecoins.
In a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said it proved there should be federal regulations. “This simply illustrates that this is a rapidly growing product and there are rapidly growing risks,” she said.
Most popular stablecoins, like Tether and USD Coin, claim to support their peg to conventional currencies such as the U.S. dollar by holding the same amount of fiat currency. Tether traded as low as 96 cents, versus its claimed $1 value, at one point on Thursday.
UST is known as an “algorithmic” stablecoin, using a complex mix of code and a sister token called Luna to stabilize prices. It relied on a mechanism that incentivized investors to maintain the peg, automatically adjusting the supply to maintain value.
Despite its riskier nature, UST gained popularity for a decentralized finance application called Anchor Protocol, which paid out interest in the form of cryptocurrency to users who lent out their UST.
The price began to fall below $1 late last week, after an interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve and a sharp drop in the crypto market. Amid the turmoil, the sister token Luna also sold off. This resulted in the algorithm becoming unable to work properly, breaking UST’s linkage to the dollar.
Additional reporting by Wataru Suzuki in Tokyo and Dylan Loh in Singapore.
Anndy Lian is an early blockchain adopter and experienced serial entrepreneur who is known for his work in the government sector. He is a best selling book author “Blockchain Revolution 2030”.
Currently, he is appointed as the Chief Digital Advisor at Mongolia Productivity Organization, championing national digitization. Prior to his current appointments, he was the Chairman of BigONE Exchange, a global top 30 ranked crypto spot exchange and was also the Advisory Board Member for Hyundai DAC, the blockchain arm of South Korea’s largest car manufacturer Hyundai Motor Group. Lian played a pivotal role as the Blockchain Advisor for Asian Productivity Organisation (APO), an intergovernmental organization committed to improving productivity in the Asia-Pacific region.
An avid supporter of incubating start-ups, Anndy has also been a private investor for the past eight years. With a growth investment mindset, Anndy strategically demonstrates this in the companies he chooses to be involved with. He believes that what he is doing through blockchain technology currently will revolutionise and redefine traditional businesses. He also believes that the blockchain industry has to be “redecentralised”.