© Bloomberg. Cryptocurrency mining rigs sit on racks at a Bitfarms facility in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) — Traders are increasingly questioning their faith in the cryptocurrency world’s most important dollar peg.
Tether, the digital coin used as a substitute for the U.S. currency on crypto markets around the world, has broken its historically tight link with the greenback. It recently traded for about 95 cents on U.S.-based exchange Kraken. Transactions on Binance, one of the world’s most active Tether venues, implied a price of about 96 cents, according to CoinMarketCap.com.
While that’s a tiny move relative to other cryptocurrencies and not unprecedented for Tether, it’s triggering a fresh round of doubts over whether the so-called stablecoin is fully backed by dollars. Tether jitters prompted some traders to shift into other virtual currencies on Monday, fueling a rally in and shattering an unusually long stretch of calm in crypto markets over the past month.
The company that issues Tether has yet to provide conclusive evidence of its dollar holdings, even though it has repeatedly said that all Tethers are redeemable at $1. That claim helped make Tether the world’s second-most actively traded cryptocurrency: It was used in more than 20 percent of transactions tracked by CoinMarketCap.com over the past 24 hours.
Tether’s latest dip follows renewed speculation over the financial health and banking relationships of Bitfinex, a crypto exchange that shares a chief executive officer with Tether’s issuer. In a Medium post on Oct. 8, Bitfinex dismissed allegations that it was insolvent and said that withdrawals were functioning as normal. At the same time, it said that “complications continue to exist for us in the domain of fiat transactions.”
Many crypto-related firms have struggled to retain banking relationships as regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere scrutinize the industry’s exposure to risks including money laundering, market manipulation and security breaches. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission sent subpoenas to Bitfinex and Tether at the end of last year, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in January.
Bitfinex couldn’t immediately be reached through an external spokeswoman.
“If traders start to flee Tether, it’s a potentially precarious situation, since it accounts for 20 percent of total volumes globally,” said Vijay Ayyar, head of business development at Luno, a cryptocurrency exchange. “It basically implies a lot of volatility ahead.”
Bitcoin surged 5.2 percent to $6,534.66 at 2:27 p.m. Hong Kong time, according to Bloomberg composite prices. Ether jumped 8.4 percent and added 7.1 percent. The Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index climbed 6.4 percent.
Tether’s role as a dollar substitute has made it a huge part of the global crypto ecosystem. The digital coin is easily transferable between virtual currency exchanges and other online platforms because it doesn’t have to travel through the banking system. Stable prices have made it a handy instrument for betting on the direction of other cryptocurrencies, or as a place for traders to park their assets when they want to reduce exposure to market swings.
Given that withdrawals on Bitfinex appear to be working as usual, renewed jitters surrounding the exchange and Tether are “probably a bit of paranoia,” said Timothy Tam, co-founder and CEO of CoinFi, a cryptocurrency research firm. “I believe this will all clear up relatively soon.”
Yet now that traders have several stablecoins to chose from, some may decide to dump Tether in favor of alternatives such as the Gemini dollar, a brainchild of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, said Jehan Chu, managing partner at blockchain investment and advisory company Kenetic Capital. Paxos Standard, another stablecoin linked to the dollar, was trading at $1.08 versus Tether on Binance.
“Faith in Bitfinex’s financial situation and ability to fully back Tether has been a recurring question,” Chu said. “Tether’s stablecoin dominance will only persist if they can settle community criticisms about their lack of transparency once and for all.”
(Updates with latest prices from second paragraph.)