A CryptOasis: The Intelligent Investor's Guide to Stablecoins
Say hello to stablecoins, the dependable sibling of the DeFi world. These digital currencies maintain a set price point and offer passive income, serving as a flexible foundation for your crypto portfolio. With three flavors (fiat-collateralized, crypto-collateralized, and algorithmic), stablecoins provide financial security in turbulent markets. However, they aren't risk-free; regulatory scrutiny, asset fluctuations, counterparty risks, impermanent loss, and smart contract vulnerabilities pose potential hazards. Despite these risks, stablecoin liquidity pools can create a strong investment foundation for crypto traders, providing stability, income, and flexibility.
Unlike the wild & untamed crypto markets you often hear about in the media ,stablecoins (often called simply “stables”) are the slow & steady counterpart, aimed at creating calmness in choppy seas. If traditional crypto tokens are the hyper, drug-induced investment banking child of the DeFi world, then stablecoins are the boring brother who got a degree in accounting from Penn, and now works in audit at KPMG.
stablecoins are digital currencies designed to maintain a set price point (usually $1USD) by anchoring them to a reserve of assets like fiat currencies or commodities. They come in three flavors: fiat-collateralized, crypto-collateralized, and algorithmic.
Fiat-collateralized stablecoins: Picture a stablecoin backed by physical assets like the US Dollar or other fiat currencies, held in reserve by a bank. Each stablecoin issued has a 1:1 value peg, meaning users can swap their stablecoins for the underlying asset anytime, no fuss. Tether (USDT) and USD Coin (USDC) are prime examples.
crypto-collateralized stablecoins: These tokens are backed by other cryptocurrencies held in smart contracts. Due to crypto's inherent volatility, more collateral (usually over 1:1) is needed to keep things steady. To create new stablecoins, users deposit collateral into a smart contract, which then issues the stablecoins, just like that. MakerDAO's DAI is probably the best known version of this.
Algorithmic stablecoins: Now, these coins aren't backed by physical or digital assets; they are “Uncollateralized.” Instead, they rely on algorithms and smart contracts to tweak their supply based on market demand, striving for a stable value. If the stablecoin's price skyrockets, the smart contract adds more supply to bring it back down. And if the price plummets, it cuts the supply, driving it back up; not unlike how the Federal Reserve manages the US monetary supply. Ampleforth (AMPL) and Terra (LUNA) are examples of Algo Stables.
By maintaining a stable value, stablecoins offer a level of predictability and dependability that's like a breath of fresh air in the rollercoaster world of crypto. This makes them rather attractive for investors seeking a lifejacket amidst the wild waves of market fluctuations.
The Case for Stablecoin Liquidity Pools
As a crypto Investor, investing in stablecoin liquidity pools offers a chance to earn passive income while keeping a level of stability that other cryptocurrencies in your portfolio would simply never have. You of course sacrifice some yield for the security, but amid financial turmoil, stablecoins hold their ground better than anything else in the crypto space thanks to their underlying assets (or well-designed algorithm).
By investing in a stablecoin liquidity pool you are able to enjoy passive income while sidestepping market fluctuation risks; so in that sense, stablecoin liquidity pools can act as a baseline for your crypto portfolio - just like how traditional traders use money market funds.
In traditional investing, money market funds invest in short-term, low-risk assets like government bonds or certificates of deposit, aiming for stable returns while preserving investors' principal (i.e. the money they invested). Likewise, stablecoin liquidity pools let you earn yield on assets held outside the more turbulent markets. Allocating a slice of your portfolio to these pools creates a safety net, generating passive income and protecting your investment from wild market swings. This baseline strategy helps you surf the unpredictable crypto waves without sacrificing all of your potential returns.
What's more, stablecoin liquidity pools serve as a flexible foundation for your portfolio because they are highly liquid. When the market favors riskier investments, you can swiftly shift funds from stablecoin pools to more volatile cryptocurrencies, seizing potential gains. Conversely, when the market turns grizzly, you can retreat to the safety of stablecoin pools, ensuring a steady income stream and mitigating potential losses.
In the USA & Europe, we have seen a gradual increase in the usage of stablecoins (and the practice of investing them into liquidity pools), but in nations with less stable monetary systems or more government distrust, the use case for these dull arbiters of yield has been even more apparent. That’s because, stablecoins (like all crypto) are international instrumental; so for investors in a country where their financial system is suspect, these tokens act as a way to not only store money safely (outside if the reach of their government), but they also give exposure to currencies that are much stronger than your own (such as the gold old USD).
In this way, stablecoins are providing much needed monetary security to people around the world, precisely because they are dull & dependable.
Pros, Cons, and the Importance of Asset-Backed stablecoins
All that being said, while stablecoins offer a more secure investment than traditional cryptos, stablecoins aren't completely risk-free. Because of their young nature, relative obscurity, and non-government recognized status, stablecoins still have a long way to go to be the de-facto choice for every investor.
Regulatory scrutiny: Asset-backed stablecoins have & do draw the watchful eyes of financial authorities, particularly those backed by fiat currencies. Famously, in 2021, Tether (USDT) faced allegations and was actually fined for insufficient reserves, This not only caused concerns around regulatory actions, but showed cracks in the opacity of some coins.
Changes in the underlying asset's value: stablecoins aim to maintain constant value, but underlying asset fluctuations can still pose risks. This is less problematic in fiat-backed stables, but in crypto or commodity-backed stablecoins this can become a serious issue. When the Price of Etereum took a sharp dive in March of 2020, MakerDAO’s DIA token was hit with price instability as margin calls were put out to increase the number of collateral tokens and replace the lost value.
Counterparty risk: stablecoins backed by physical assets depend on a centralized entity to manage the reserve, introducing counterparty risk. Investors must trust this entity to maintain sufficient reserves and act in their best interest. During the recent banking crisis for example, there were concerns about the liquidity of Circle’s USDC provider bank, causing the price of USDC to dip below 87c per coin, emphasizing the importance of trust and transparency in the physical-world counterparty.
Impermanent loss (aka “Downside Risk”): Liquidity pools can face impermanent loss when asset prices within the pool fluctuate, potentially reducing returns for providers. If the stablecoin's value diverges significantly or other assets experience major price changes, investors may encounter impermanent loss.
Smart contract vulnerabilities: Because stablecoins rely on smart contracts, they can fall prey to bugs and vulnerabilities in the code. In 2022, Alcala's native stablecoin, aUSD, depegged by 99% after hackers exploited a bug in a newly deployed liquidity pool and minted 1.28 billion tokens!
Before investing in stablecoins (or any crypto for that matter), it is vital to consider these factors as they can play a substantial role in potential returns, and risk of loss of capital (parental lecture over).
The good news is that, despite these potential risks, the short history of Stablecoin investing has been a strong one, and through the various price crises of the past few years, Stables have remained remarkably stoic when compared with their non-stabilized counterparts.
Conclusion: Building a Strong Investment Foundation
In the roller-coaster world of cryptocurrencies, a solid investment foundation is crucial to success; and for our industry, stablecoin liquidity pools offer this foundation, providing stability, passive income, and - most importantly - flexibility in an ever changing & volatile market.
Despite these potential risks, with proper understanding and mitigation, investing in asset-backed stablecoin liquidity pools remains a robust foundation for your crypto portfolio, and can be a safe harbor when the crypto market becomes too tough to navigate, or when you simply don’t want to manage the hassle of day-trading.
Integrating stablecoin liquidity pools into your portfolio helps you better navigate the unpredictable world of cryptocurrencies while laying the groundwork for long-term success. So, to all the Web3 natives seeking to sharpen their trading strategies, consider stablecoin liquidity pools as the cornerstone of your crypto adventures.