Market News - April 12th, 2024

Ripple To Launch U.S. Dollar Stablecoin

Ripple is the latest major player to jump into the $150 billion stablecoin market with the launch of a digital currency pegged to the U.S. dollar. The stablecoin will always be backed 1-to-1 by an equivalent sum of assets — U.S. dollar deposits, U.S. government bonds and cash equivalents — that the company holds in reserve, according to Ripple.The crypto firm said its reserves would be accounted for in publicly available monthly attestation reports. It did not say which firm will audit. 

Ripple is first launching its stablecoin in the U.S., but didn’t rule out offering additional regional products in non-U.S. markets, like Europe and Asia. The move would pit Ripple against stablecoin giants like Tether, which is behind the largest stablecoin USDT, and USDC issuer Circle. 

Payments giant PayPal, meanwhile, launched its own U.S. dollar stablecoin called PayPal USD, a stablecoin backed by U.S. dollars and dollar equivalents that is issued by crypto firm Paxos. But Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said he’s not deterred by the competition. “This market will look different [in future], certainly based on size,” he told CNBC in an interview this week. 

Ripple decided to introduce a stablecoin to the market last year in response to the “depegging” of rival firms Tether’s USDT token and Circle’s USDC. USDT temporarily lost its $1 peg in 2022 amid market instability resulting from the collapse of terraUSD, a popular so-called algorithmic stablecoin. USDC also temporarily slipped below $1 in 2023 after revealing exposure to the collapsed tech-focused lender Silicon Valley Bank. Some critics dispute the source of Tether’s reserves, and have doubts about whether company is sufficiently capitalized to survive a “bank run.” For its part, Tether says its token is fully backed by quality reserves and has always been able to meet withdrawals, even in times of distress. 

There is some uncertainty about the current market leader among U.S. regulators. Ripple is a regulated institution with licenses in New York, Ireland and Singapore, among other countries. Tether is the world’s largest stablecoin issuer, with a market capitalization of $106.3 billion, according to CoinGecko data. Asked about Ripple’s move to launch a stablecoin, a Tether spokesperson told CNBC: “We wish Ripple’s team would have more success with their new stablecoin than they had so far.” Tether is registered with FinCEN, the U.S. financial crimes watchdog, which is not the same as being regulated. The business is required to submit suspicious transaction reports and reports for deals totalling more than $10,000. 

Not giving up on XRP a Ripple stablecoin would also serve a purpose the crypto giant touts as part of its On-Demand Liquidity product, which aims to settle transactions rapidly between banks and other financial firms using the XRP token as a “bridge” currency. Ripple has faced obstacles in finding a use case for Ripple with banks and payment firms. Santander initially wanted to use XRP for cross-border payments, but chose not to after finding Ripple wasn’t active in enough markets yet to support its needs. MoneyGram ended a partnership to use XRP for cross-border transfers after citing increased costs associated with the need for partnerships with exchanges and other necessary counterparties in local markets. 

Ripple insists that it hasn’t given up on XRP as a payment token and that stablecoins would serve as more of a complementary product for the XRP ecosystem. We’ve been using stablecoins in our payment flows for years,” he said. “This is not a new thing for us.” He added that other so-called Layer 1 protocols — blockchain networks with their own tokens — have launched stablecoins and logged growth in overall volume and liquidity. “Our view is, having pools of liquidity that are native to the XRP ledger, they complement and help grow the XRP ecosystem,” Garlinghouse told CNBC. “In fact, the number one request we get from the XRP community is to launch a USD-backed stablecoin on the XRP Ledger.” XRP is up around 13% in the last 12 months, according to CoinGecko data, and is currently trading at about 57 cents. Expecting SEC settlement in the ‘millions’ The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2020 hit Ripple with a lawsuit, claiming the company illegally sold XRP to investors when it should have registered the transactions with the regulator. A court judge recently ruled XRP is not in and of itself a security, but said that sales to institutions should be counted as unlawful securities sales. The blockchain company sold $728.9 million worth of its XRP token to hedge funds and other sophisticated buyers, according to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The recent surge in cryptocurrency prices might lead some prospective investors to believe they've missed the boat

With Bitcoin soaring by about 50% year-to-date and approximately 135% over the past year, it’s easy to feel like the opportunity has passed. However, taking a step back reveals that blockchain technology, the underlying force behind cryptocurrencies, holds immense untapped potential.

While many fixate on Bitcoin’s price appreciation, the true value lies in blockchain’s capacity to revolutionize various sectors. Its applications extend far beyond mere asset valuation, promising increased efficiency across industries. For instance, blockchain can streamline financial services, enhance entertainment and gaming experiences, fortify IT infrastructure, tokenize assets like U.S. Treasuries, modernize real estate transactions, and facilitate seamless value storage and transferability.

Rather than lamenting missed opportunities, prospective investors should contemplate the transformative potential of blockchain technology. Investing in digital assets should signify a belief in blockchain’s ability to reshape the global economy and daily transactions. Embracing a diverse portfolio of digital assets ensures investors capture the full spectrum of blockchain innovation, from macroeconomic transformations to micro-level market interactions.

In essence, the current focus on cryptocurrency price appreciation overlooks the broader implications of blockchain technology. Its impact transcends individual asset performance, offering a paradigm shift in how industries operate and transactions occur.

By recognizing this potential and adopting a strategic investment approach, both new and seasoned crypto investors can position themselves to reap the rewards of blockchain innovation.

BlackRock has expanded its iShares Bitcoin Trust

BlackRock has expanded its iShares Bitcoin Trust by adding five new authorized participants (APs), including banking giants Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Citadel, and UBS, along with ABN AMRO clearing house. This brings the total number of APs to nine, joining existing players like Jane Street Capital, JP Morgan, Macquarie, and Virtu Americas. The move reflects the growing interest in the cryptocurrency market among institutional investors, with popular ETFs typically boasting over a dozen APs.

Goldman Sachs’ involvement is particularly notable, considering its recent skepticism towards cryptocurrencies. Despite its wealth management chief investment officer stating that crypto has “no value,” the bank has decided to participate as an AP for the iShares Bitcoin Trust. This decision mirrors that of JPMorgan, which initially criticized cryptocurrencies but later became an original AP for BlackRock’s IBIT when it launched in January.

The addition of these prestigious financial institutions as APs underscores the importance of APs in the ETF ecosystem. APs play a crucial role in creating liquidity by adjusting the supply of shares in response to market demand, thereby facilitating smooth trading. Given the rapid growth of the iShares Bitcoin Trust, which currently manages nearly $18 billion in assets under management, the involvement of reputable APs is essential for its continued success.

BlackRock’s iShares Bitcoin Trust has quickly gained traction since its inception, attracting billions of dollars from investors in just a few months. The trust’s ability to expand its roster of APs, including major Wall Street players and clearing houses, demonstrates its appeal to institutional investors seeking exposure to the cryptocurrency market in a regulated and accessible manner. 

Overall, the addition of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Citadel, UBS, and ABN AMRO as APs for the iShares Bitcoin Trust reflects the increasing acceptance and integration of cryptocurrencies into the mainstream financial landscape, further legitimizing their role as an asset class worthy of institutional attention and investment.

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