The great crypto ‘ponzi scheme’ finally crashes

These allegations have, nonetheless, been denied by Griffin’s independent market-maker firm Citadel Securities and his hedge fund Citadel.

Even more sensationally, so-called stablecoins, which are supposed to be pegged to specific currencies, such as the US dollar, and trade dollar-for-dollar with them, have collapsed as investors belatedly question the quality of the unstable assets (or collateral ) backing these purportedly safe investments.

The TerraUSD stablecoin, which is remarkably backed by bitcoin, used to trade consistently at $ US1. In the past week, it has plunged 73 per cent to a low of just 27 ¢ after the value of its collateral has dropped like a stone. Some $ US14 billion of TerraUSD value has vaporized as a result.

It beggars belief that these financial products have been pushed on naive consumers – that have little to no financial literacy – without a shred of regulatory protection in place.

The vast crypto Ponzi schemes make the sharemarket boiler rooms in the 1980s and 1990s (popularized by The Wolf of Wall Street) look positively trivial in comparison!

Global regulators, including the SEC in the US, the FCA in the UK, and ASIC in Australia, have all been missing in action as the cryptocurrency Ponzi has exploded.

Terra’s price has collapsed from its US $ 1 peg with the USD to a low of US27c. Source: CoinMarketCap CoinMarketCap

TerraUSD’s market cap has been slashed from $ US18.8 billion to $ US4.75 billion.
CoinMarketCap

As we explained in January in a piece that argued cryptocurrencies could become a 21st century version of the great “tulip bulb bubble”, the key drivers of the crypto craze were interest rates on conventional cash (eg, bank deposits) going to zero during the pandemic, while at the same time governments poured trillions of dollars of cash into households’ savings accounts in an effort to stimulate greater spending, investment and speculation.

Animal spirits were certainly liberated, as all asset classes soared to record highs.

As these forces now reverse as interest rates skyrocket (making cash look suddenly appealing) and governments withdraw their stimulus measures, cryptocurrencies have proven to have little value beyond the “hopium” that investors can convince others to impute a higher price to them.

Five crypto myths debunked

The likes of bitcoin and ethereum were serially spruiked to punters on the basis of several key sales propositions, all of which have been debunked.

The first popular idea was that cryptocurrencies were a tractable hedge against a bout of inflation. And yet since the advent of sustained inflation, these non-income-producing and highly speculative assets have had their valuations torched.

A second narrative was that cryptocurrencies were a powerful portfolio diversifier, protecting investors against declines in the value of other asset classes, such as equities and bonds.

In practice, however, cryptocurrencies have proven to be highly correlated, both with one another and with listed equities, amplifying traditional portfolio risks rather than reducing them.

A third pitch was that cryptocurrencies would serve as an alternative (and presumably safe) store of wealth.

In the first serious inflationary stress test that they have faced, cryptocurrencies have failed miserably, inflicting massive losses on households.

If you were worried about inflation and equity risks, cryptocurrencies have been the worst possible place to hide. You would have been much better off simply putting 100 per cent of your money in the Nasdaq Composite Index.

A fourth angle was that the emergence of stablecoins could protect investors against the extreme volatility of conventional cryptocurrencies by pegging their value to a specific currency, such as the US dollar, and trading $ US1 for $ US1 with that currency.

But as investors tragically discovered this week, stablecoins are also a con, because they have been backed by the most dodgy collateral imaginable: other cryptocurrencies!

Witness the 73 per cent decline in the value of the TerraUSD stablecoin. Even ostensibly safer stablecoins, such as TetherUSD, which is backed by much more secure collateral (eg, corporate and bank bonds), have had their US dollar pegs smashed (TetherUSD, which had always traded at $ US1, tumbled down to US95 ¢ during the week).

TetherUSD also had its USD peg broken, tumbling down to US95c CoinMarketCap

One final idea has been that non-income-producing cryptocurrencies would have some inherent practical use (or utility) that could supplant the traditional bank and credit card intermediated payment system.

That is to say, you could use crypto to buy any manner of goods and services. And yet 13 years since folks started minting and trading bitcoin, it is almost impossible to use it in any normal setting.

A Ponzi scheme built on a Ponzi scheme

The vast crypto Ponzi schemes make the sharemarket boiler rooms of the 1980s and 1990s (popularized by The Wolf of Wall Street) look positively trivial in comparison!

A similar observation applies to the allegedly revolutionary (and associated) blockchain technology, which has yet to be adopted on a widespread basis anywhere.

The one pervasive use-case for crypto has been in the criminal and non-democratic domains where digital currencies have been relentlessly harnessed for money laundering, tax evasion, cyber crime, and to fund many other nefarious and highly illegal activities, including terrorism, Russia’s war against Ukraine, paedophilia, and to help dictators and despots circumvent sanctions.

The most common application of cryptocurrencies is pure speculation. That is to say, people principally use bitcoin and ethereum to buy, sell and provide finance (or lend) against other cryptocurrencies.

It is a world of Ponzi schemes built on other Ponzi schemes that relies crucially on the greater fool theory: that there is always a lesser mortal out there willing to buy some worthless cryptocurrency off you at a higher price.

Another popular application has been to use cryptocurrencies to buy and sell seemingly valueless digital images, aka non-fungible-tokens. Like the crypto used to pay for them, NFTs have been gripped by the mother-of-all Ponzi-induced speculative bubbles that is now sadly unwinding.

Crypto is devoid of any practical use

It bears repeating that cryptocurrencies are not inflation hedges: the only thing they have demonstrated is that they exacerbate inflation risks.

They are not portfolio diversifiers: cryptocurrencies are all highly correlated with one another, and with equities. They are not a safe or stable store of wealth that can be compared to, or compete against, traditional cash instruments, such as government guaranteed bank deposits.

(Un) stablecoins likewise provide no assurance against catastrophic losses, as we have seen.

And to date, cryptocurrencies have proven to be devoid of any practical uses outside of promoting Ponzi schemes, speculating on other digital currencies, trading digital images, money laundering, tax evasion, and supporting highly illegal activities, including the evil kleptocrat Vladimir Putin’s war against a free and democratic Ukraine.

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