Tether

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Tether Ltd.
Tether logo.jpg
Founded 2014
Headquarters British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, Isle of Man (formerly)
Key People Brock Pierce, founder; JL van der Velde, CEO; Giancarlo Devasini, CFO; Stuart Hoegner, General Counsel
Employees 5-10
Products Tether (USDT)
Twitter @Tether_to
LinkedIn Profile
Facebook tether.to
Website tether.to

Tether (USDT) is a cryptocurrency that was designed to have a 1:1 exchange rate with the U.S. dollar (USD) in order to make it easier to liquidate cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or buy cryptocurrencies with fiat currency.[1] The company that created Tether, Tether Ltd., is closely tied to the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex.[2][3]

Background

Tether was founded in 2014 by Brock Pierce. It started in the Isle of Man, but later moved to the British Virgin Islands. The company is also incorporated in Hong Kong.[4][5] Tether was originally called "Realcoin," but the name was changed to "Tether" to avoid brand confusion with other altcoin projects of the same name.[6][7]

Originally, Tether used bitcoin's blockchain to record and verify transactions. In June 2017, Tether transitioned to using Litecoin instead.[8]

Tether's founders and executives are the same executives of the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex.[9]

On May 31, 2019, Bitfinex announced that it planned to launch support for USDT on the Lightning Network.[10]

Overview

The basic idea behind Tether is simple: create a "stablecoin," or digital asset that is designed not to fluctuate in value, then use this coin as a medium for cryptocurrency-to-fiat currency and fiat currency-to-cryptocurrency transactions. According to the company's web site, each Tether coin in circulation is pegged to an equivalent amount of real-world fiat currency. As of first quarter 2018, there were approximately 2.2 billion Tether (USDT) coins in circulation. The creators of Tether say they have at least this much in fiat currency backing the coins, but this claim came under a great deal of scrutiny since 2017.[11]

Tether is a popular cryptocurrency, used by many exchanges as an intermediary currency to help protect traders from volatility. It is also used to aid in transactions between exchanges and to engage in margin trading.[12]

Issues of Transparency

Tether's official website asserts that its platform was "built to be fully transparent at all times."[13] Despite this, the company has not complied with public pressure to publish clear proof that its fiat currency reserves contain at least enough money to back each USDT coin in circulation with an equal amount of U.S. dollars. A large number of concerned users on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit began publicly calling for this proof in April 2017 when news surfaced that the Bank of Taiwan and Wells Fargo would no longer be assisting in Tether's transactions.[14]

A document was released on Tether's website on September 28, 2018 that purported to summarize Tether's liquid assets. The company that provided the consulting report was an accounting firm called Friedman LLP. After the document was released, Tether confirmed it had cut its ties with Friedman LLP. The document stated that as of September 15, 2018, Tether Ltd. had $442,984,592 and €1,590 in multiple bank accounts. Unfortunately, the names of the banks associated with these accounts were blacked out on the report. This made it very difficult to verify the information published in the report, which cited an amount of USDT in circulation at the time similar to the amount of money in each account.[15][16]

Research provided by the cryptocurrency research website BitMEX suggests one of the banks in the report could be the Puerto Rico-based Noble Bank.[17][18]

Tether Ltd. has received subpoenas from the CFTC; representatives from Tether have declined to comment on this subject.[19]

On June 20, 2018 Tether reported that it had hired Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, a U.S. law firm, to review the adequacy of its U.S. dollar reserves and the firm reported that there were sufficient holdings on June 1, 2018.[20] Tether has said it is still seeking an auditor to conduct a full audit.[21] 

In November, Tether released a letter of confirmation from the Bahamas-based Deltec Bank & Trust Ltd., which stated that the bank held $1,831,322,828 for Tether. The form included what appeared to be a signature without an accompanying printed name.[22] Jean Chalopin, the chairman of Deltec, sent a message to Coindesk saying that the letter is authentic. The bank itself did not issue an official statement.[23]

In March 2019, Tether updated the terms on its website, saying that, contrary to what the company has said for years, USDT is not backed 100 percent by fiat currency reserves, but by a combination of fiat reserves and "cash equivalent" holdings, which may refer to other cryptocurrencies.[24]

On April 30, 2019, the general counsel of Tether and Bitfinex, Stuart Hoegner, wrote in an affidavit sent to the New York Attorney General's (NYAG) office that Tether was no longer backed 1:1 by cash and cash equivalents (short-term securities). It said that Tether's cash holdings amounted to approximately $2.1 billion, which accounted for roughly 74 percent of all USDT in circulation. According to Hoegner, the affidavit was filed to support an Order to Show Cause, or a legal plea to modify the NYAG ex parte order filed the previous week. The ex parte order required Bitfinex and Tether to produce a large quantity of documents by May 3, 2019. Another attorney representing Tether, Zoe Phillips, wrote in a memorandum of law in support of Tether and Bitfinex that Tether does not need to hold $1 for every USDT issued; Phillips said that the NYAG's statement was "wrong on multiple levels."[25][26]

Price Manipulation

On May 18, 2018, Tether increased the number of USDT coins in circulation by 250,000,000.[27] In January 2018, Tether had increased the number of tokens in circulation by 850,000,000. Both instances coincide with bitcoin price increases. Along with existing public concerns over the company's transparency issues, this has caused concerns about price manipulation. Some believe the company does not actually possess enough USD to back all USDT tokens in circulation.[28]

An anonymous report released in January 2018 concluded that "Tether printing moves the market appreciably." Using data available on Tether's own website, the anonymous author of the report demonstrated an apparent relationship between the price of bitcoin and the minting of new USDT tokens.[29] Another study released on June 13, 2018, made similar claims. This study, titled "Is Bitcoin Really Un-Tethered?" was published by University of Texas, Austin professor John M. Griffin and graduate student Amin Shams. The 66-page report concluded that there was substantial evidence that Tether had been used to "pump" the prices of certain cryptocurrencies like bitcoin in certain instances and that the price increases in those instances could be accounted for by typical market behaviors.[30][31]

Tether's price falls below $1

In October 2018, Tether experienced the most significant price decrease in the coin's history, which coincided with a significant price increase for nearly every other cryptocurrency in the market, including other stablecoins like Gemini dollar. The price decrease was broadly speculated to be the direct result of widespread loss of confidence in the coin, due to long-standing issues regarding the coin's lack of transparency, as well as recent accusations of insolvency against Tether's partner firm, Bitfinex.[32][33]

In December 2018, Tether was in the top 5 cryptocurrencies by market cap, according to CoinMarketCap.[34]

New York State Injunction

On April 24, 2019, New York State Attorney General obtained an injunction against Bitfinex and Tether as well as their affiliates and iFinex, which operates them, to cease fraudulent activities in dealings with New York residents. A hearing on the injunction was scheduled for May 3, 2019.[35]

In a statement announcing the injunction against Bitfinex and Tether, the attorney general said that Bitfinex had attempted to cover up the "apparent loss" of $850 million by removing up to $900 million of Tether's cash reserves. The lost money was a combination of client and corporate funds. Executives of Bitfinex and Tether then allegedly created "conflicted corporate transactions" to hide the transfer of these funds, and credited Tether's cash reserves through the Panamanian firm Crypto Capital Corp. According to James' statement, Bitfinex never signed a contract or other agreement with Crypto Capital while doing this. Correspondence between a senior executive of Bitfinex and representatives of Crypto Capital included the senior executive saying that "this could be extremely dangerous for everybody...BTC could tank below 1K if we don't act quickly." The statement also said that none of these actions were disclosed to investors.[36][37] Bitfinex said the statement was made in "bad faith," and that both Tether and Bitfinex were financially strong.[38]

In an affidavit filed with the New York Supreme Court, Tether's general counsel, Stuart Hoegner, stated that as of April 30, 2019, Tether had cash and cash equivalents of about $2.1 billion which represented approximately 74% of the value of outstanding Tether tokens. Morgan Lewis partner Zoe Phillips, a lawyer who represents Tether, asserted in a memorandum of law that Tether is not required to hold fiat currency on a one-for-one basis with Tether.[39]

On May 16, Judge Joel Cohen of the state of New York's Supreme Court ordered Bitfinex and Tether execs and employees stop loaning Tether’s reserves to Bitfinex due to the ongoing investigation by the New York AG into Bitfinex and Tether.[40] On May 21, The Block published a story on the trial after obtaining a court transcript in which representatives from Tether admitted that some of their "cash equivalent" reserves included holdings of bitcoin.[41] The same day, lawyers representing Bitfinex and Tether asked Judge Cohen to stay the NYAG's request for documents, claiming the request "onerous," as the companies "have nothing to do with New York investors - the businesses do not allow New Yorkers on their platforms and do not advertise or otherwise do business here."[42]

The "Tether Mafia," AKA Tether "Whales"

According to cryptocurrency research firms like Coin Metrics - as well as a large number of independent users on Twitter - there are only about 318 wallet addresses that hold about 80 percent of all USDT in circulation. These "whales" (who hold approximately $1 million worth of USDT each) are colloquially referred to as the "Tether Mafia" by some Twitter users. Some have speculated that the so-called Tether Mafia can, and has, influenced the price of bitcoin and other digital assets directly in the past. John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, Austin, told Bloomberg that the "concentration of Tether suggests that control of Tether is in the hands of a few central players who can swing bitcoin prices, and have a vested interest in doing so. It also suggests that many exchange players have a vested interest in keeping the Tether game going." Market analyst Sid Shekhar, fo-founder of TokenAnalyst, also said that the intensely centralized nature of these holdings create extreme price volatility whenever large amounts of Tether enter the market.[43]

Yuan-backed stablecoin

In August 2019, a Chinese trader with ties to Tether siad that Tether was planning on launching a stablecoin tied to the yuan.[44]

Key People

  • Brock Pierce - Founder (no longer with the company)[45]
  • JL van der Velde - CEO
  • Giancarlo Devasini - CFO
  • Stuart Hoegner - General Counsel[46]

References

  1. All you need to know about tether, the cryptocurrency that could have 'devastating' effects on the market. CNBC.
  2. All you need to know about tether, the cryptocurrency that could have 'devastating' effects on the market. CNBC.
  3. Tether Case, Explained. Cointelegraph.
  4. Brock Pierce Announces Dollar-backed Cryptocurrency 'Realcoin'. Coindesk.
  5. All you need to know about tether, the cryptocurrency that could have 'devastating' effects on the market. CNBC.
  6. Brock Pierce Announces Dollar-backed Cryptocurrency 'Realcoin'. Coindesk.
  7. Realcoin Rebrands as 'Tether' to Avoid Altcoin Association. Coindesk.
  8. What is Tether?. Cointelegraph.
  9. WHY TETHER'S COLLAPSE WOULD BE BAD FOR CRYPTOCURRENCIES. Wired.
  10. Bitfinex Plans to Launch Lightning Network Support for Stablecoin Tether: Report. Cointelegraph.
  11. Tether Might Still Be Crypto's Ticking Time Bomb. Coindesk.
  12. WHY TETHER'S COLLAPSE WOULD BE BAD FOR CRYPTOCURRENCIES. Wired.
  13. About Us. Tether.
  14. Tether Case, Explained. Cointelegraph.
  15. WHY TETHER'S COLLAPSE WOULD BE BAD FOR CRYPTOCURRENCIES. Wired.
  16. Memorandum Regarding Consulting Services Performed. Tether.
  17. Research Suggests Tether Has Banking Relationship with Puerto Rico-based Noble Bank. CCN.
  18. Tether: New financial data released by Puerto Rico. BitMEX.
  19. U.S. Regulators Subpoena Crypto Exchange Bitfinex, Tether. Bloomberg.
  20. FSS1JUN18 Account Snapshot Statement. Tether.
  21. Cryptocurrency firm Tether releases law firm report attesting to U.S. dollar reserves. Reuters.
  22. Crypto Firm Tether Says It Has $1.8 Billion in Bahamian Bank. Bloomberg.
  23. Deltec Chairman Says Tether Letter on Bank Relationship Is ‘Authentic’. Coindesk.
  24. Tether's U.S. Dollar Peg Is No Longer Credible. Forbes.
  25. Tether Says Stablecoin Is Only Backed 74% by Cash, Securities. Bloomberg.
  26. Tether Lawyer Admits Stablecoin Now 74% Backed by Cash and Equivalents. Bloomberg.
  27. Tether Mints $250 Mln of New USDT Tokens, Rekindles Controversy. Cointelegraph.
  28. All you need to know about tether, the cryptocurrency that could have 'devastating' effects on the market. CNBC.
  29. Quantifying the Effect of Tether. The Tether Report.
  30. New Report Blames Tether for Bitcoin’s Bull Run. Bitcoin.com.
  31. Tether Used to Manipulate Price of Bitcoin During 2017 Peak: New Study. Bloomberg.
  32. Crypto Markets Roiled as Traders Question Tether's Dollar Peg. Bloomberg.
  33. Price of 'Stable' Cryptocurrency Tether Tanks to 18-Month Low. Coindesk.
  34. You know things are bad when Tether is in the cryptocurrency top 5. Financial Times.
  35. EX PARTE ORDER PURSUANT TO GENERAL BUSINESS LAW §354. Supreme Court of the State of New York County of New York.
  36. Crypto Market Roiled by New Allegations Against Tether, Bitfinex. Bloomberg.
  37. Cryptocurrencies Lose $10 Billion on Tether Cover-Up Allegations. Bloomberg.
  38. Bitfinex Responds to New York Attorney General's Actions. Bitfinex.
  39. Tether Lawyer Admits Stablecoin Now 74% Backed by Cash and Equivalents. CoinDesk.
  40. Tether Lawyer Admits Stablecoin Now 74% Backed by Cash and Equivalents. CoinDesk.
  41. Tether admits in court to investing some of its reserves in bitcoin. The Block.
  42. Bitfinex Argues Why Judge Should Dismiss NYAG Case in Latest Court Filings. Coindesk.
  43. Just 318 Crypto Addresses Control 80% of Tether. Bloomberg.
  44. Tether to Issue Stablecoin Backed by Yuan in Belgian Bank: Insider. Coindesk.
  45. Former Child Actor Brock Pierce Vows To Give Away $1B From His Crypto Fortune. Forbes.
  46. About Us. Tether.io.