Permissionless blockchains, which support the most popular cryptocurrency networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum, have shown that it is possible to transfer value without relying on centralized trusted third parties, something that is new and remarkable (although perhaps most clearly useful for less developed financial markets). What makes permissionless blockchains able to transfer value without relying on a small number of trusted third parties is the combination of several components that all need to work together. The components themselves are not particularly new, but the combination of these components is more than the sum of its parts. In this post, we provide a high-level overview of these components and how they interact, taking Bitcoin as an example.
Stablecoins are digital assets whose value is pegged to that of fiat currencies, usually the U.S. dollar, with a typical exchange rate of one dollar per unit. Their market capitalization has grown exponentially over the last couple of years, from $5 billion in 2019 to around $180 billion in 2022. Notwithstanding their name, however, stablecoins can be very unstable: between May 1 and May 16, 2022, there was a run on stablecoins, with their circulation decreasing by 15.58 billion and their market capitalization dropping by $25.63 billion (see charts below.) In this post, we describe the different types of stablecoins and how they keep their peg, compare them with money market funds—a similar but much older and more regulated financial product, and discuss the stablecoin run of May 2022.