Deep Dive: What are Stablecoins?

Credit: CoinWire Japan

In a groundbreaking move on August 7, 2023, PayPal, the payments giant, made waves in the world of cryptocurrencies by announcing its own stablecoin, PayPal USD (PYUSD), pegged to the U.S. dollar. This announcement raised curiosity among both newcomers and seasoned crypto enthusiasts about the concept of stablecoins and their significance in the digital currency landscape.

A stablecoin is a unique type of cryptocurrency designed to maintain a stable and consistent value by anchoring its worth to another asset class, such as a fiat currency like the U.S. dollar or even precious metals like gold. In this article, we will delve into the world of stablecoins, exploring their various types, applications, and the reasons why they are crucial in the realm of cryptocurrencies.

The Need for Stability

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum offer numerous advantages, including decentralized transactions without the need for intermediaries. However, they suffer from a significant drawback — extreme price volatility. The prices of cryptocurrencies can fluctuate wildly, making them unsuitable for everyday use. People generally expect stability in the value of their money for security and financial planning.

In contrast, fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar have relatively stable values, with gradual changes over time. This stability is absent in the crypto world, where daily price fluctuations are the norm. To address this issue, stablecoins were introduced to provide a bridge between the benefits of cryptocurrencies and the stability of traditional fiat currencies.

The Essence of Stablecoins

At their core, stablecoins aim to mitigate price volatility by tethering the value of cryptocurrencies to more stable assets, most commonly fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar. These stablecoins are backed by a reserve of assets equal to the total value of the stablecoin in circulation. For example, if there are one million units of a stablecoin in circulation, the issuer maintains a reserve of one million dollars in a traditional bank to back it.

However, there is a more intricate type of stablecoin that utilizes collateral in the form of other cryptocurrencies rather than fiat. MakerDAO, a prominent stablecoin issuer, employs a mechanism known as “Vault,” which locks up a user’s cryptocurrency collateral. Once the collateral is secured, users can borrow freshly minted dai, the stablecoin associated with MakerDAO.

A third category of stablecoin, known as an algorithmic stablecoin, lacks collateral entirely. Instead, the coin’s supply is adjusted by creating or burning coins to maintain its value at the target price. For instance, if the stablecoin’s value drops below the desired target, the algorithm will automatically burn a portion of the coins to increase scarcity and push the price back up. Although challenging to implement successfully, entrepreneurs continue to explore this concept.

Diverse Collateral Options

Stablecoins come in various forms, each with its own collateral backing. The most common types of collateral include:

  1. Fiat: Fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar are the most prevalent form of collateral for stablecoins. The U.S. dollar is especially popular, but some companies are experimenting with stablecoins pegged to other fiat currencies, such as the Turkish lira.
  2. Precious Metals: Some stablecoins are tied to the value of precious metals like gold or silver, providing stability through tangible assets.
  3. Cryptocurrencies: Surprisingly, some stablecoins use other cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum’s native token, ether, as collateral. This approach leverages the inherent value and stability of cryptocurrencies themselves.
  4. Other Investments: Certain stablecoins, like Tether’s USDT, have evolved over time to include a mix of collateral assets, including commercial paper and accounts at federally insured banks.

Popular Stablecoins in Action

To gain a better understanding of the dynamic stablecoin landscape, let’s explore some of the most prominent stablecoins:

Tether (USDT)

Launched in 2014, Tether (USDT) is one of the oldest and most widely used stablecoins. It holds a top position in the cryptocurrency market by market capitalization. Initially designed for quick transfers between exchanges to exploit price differences (arbitrage), USDT has also found use in international remittances, enabling Chinese importers in Russia to bypass stringent capital controls in China.

Tether Ltd., the issuer of USDT, faced legal challenges regarding the alleged cover-up of an $850 million shortfall using funds from Tether. Ultimately, the case was resolved in 2021, with Tether and Bitfinex required to pay $18.5 million and provide quarterly reports on Tether’s stablecoin reserves for two years.


USD Coin, launched in 2018 by Circle and Coinbase through the Centre Consortium, is another popular stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar. It operates as an open-source protocol, allowing individuals and companies to integrate it into their projects. In 2021, Circle announced plans to go public through a $4.5 billion SPAC merger, indicating growing interest in the stablecoin ecosystem.


Dai, running on the MakerDAO protocol within the Ethereum blockchain, was created in 2015 as a stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar and backed by ether. Unlike other stablecoins, MakerDAO aims for decentralization, relying on Ethereum smart contracts to maintain its stability. However, there have been challenges, including issues with the smart contracts that led to an $8 million loss in 2020.

Drawbacks of Stablecoins

While stablecoins offer stability, they are not without their drawbacks. Some key considerations include:

  1. Counterparty Risk: When reserves are stored with a third party, there is a risk that the entity may not possess the claimed collateral, potentially undermining confidence in the stablecoin.
  2. Loss of Decentralization: Cryptocurrencies were created to eliminate the need for trusted intermediaries. Some stablecoins reintroduce the ability to halt transactions, contradicting the core principles of decentralization.
  3. Regulatory Concerns: Stablecoins have attracted regulatory scrutiny due to their potential to impact traditional financial systems. Regulators worldwide are closely monitoring their development and use.

Key Takeaways

Stablecoins have emerged as a crucial bridge between the volatile world of cryptocurrencies and the stability of traditional financial assets. They offer a variety of collateral options, including fiat currencies, precious metals, and even other cryptocurrencies. While they bring stability, they also face challenges such as counterparty risk and regulatory scrutiny. As the crypto landscape continues to evolve, stablecoins will play an increasingly significant role in facilitating adoption and everyday use of digital currencies.

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