Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the FT Cryptofinance newsletter. This week we’re taking a look at a potential new crypto arms race
Singapore has given blockchain firm Paxos an in-principle green light to issue a stablecoin — a kind of crypto token pegged to a hard currency.
The firm plans to launch the cryptocurrency through its new Singaporean entity. It will be pegged to the US dollar and fully backed one for one by the dollar and cash equivalents.
Close followers of the crypto sector will remember Paxos as the issuer behind BUSD, the Binance-branded stablecoin that has faded to near-irrelevancy ever since falling foul of New York regulators earlier this year.
Nevertheless the Paxos approval marks a potential change of fortune for the crypto sector’s record in Singapore, after the collapse of several high-profile projects in the city state, including crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital and stablecoin operator Terraform Labs.
Singapore state-owned investor Temasek was also forced to write off its $275mn stake in former industry bellwether FTX after the exchange’s famous collapse into bankruptcy a year ago. Temasek has said its trust in FTX’s former chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried — now convicted of fraud and other charges — appeared “misplaced”.
Readers of this newsletter will know that the UK has already laid its stablecoin cards on the table, setting out guidelines to regulate the digital tokens in a bid to try to facilitate their use as a payment option for everyday goods and services.
So Singapore’s fresh embrace of a key digital assets market one week later might lead you to believe the international stablecoin arms race is heating up, especially as the large shadow cast by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and its crypto crackdown appears to be here to stay.
While it’s tempting to suggest that the US’s actions on crypto open the door for the sector to boom elsewhere, the available data doesn’t seem to back up the claim.
There is little compelling evidence to suggest demand exists for dollar-pegged stablecoins in Singapore, or even in Asia as a whole.
Identifying the parts of the world where stablecoin interest is highest is a challenge: crypto traders often use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to disguise their location from the prying eyes of regulators or governments that don’t take kindly to crypto trading.
Interest in the market can still be gauged by measuring the largest trading pairs between the world’s sovereign currencies and largest stablecoins. If, for example, one of the top fiat trading pairs for Tether — the world’s largest dollar-pegged token — is the Singaporean dollar, it would be fair to deduce that traders from the city state represent one of the stablecoin’s most popular markets.
But, according to numbers provided by industry data platform CCData, the top five trading pairs for Tether’s USDT token are the US dollar and the euro, followed by the Turkish lira, Thai baht and the British pound.
The outlook for Singapore’s stablecoin push doesn’t improve when you look at Circle’s USDC stablecoin, the second-largest token of its kind with roughly $24bn circulating in the market. Predictably, the US dollar and the euro lead the way, trailed this time by the pound, baht and the Australian dollar.
Other notable stablecoins include DAI — an algorithmic cryptocurrency much like the failed Terra token of 2022 — and BUSD, which, despite hemorrhaging market share since its issuance was banned by the New York State Department of Financial Services, still remains the fifth-largest stablecoin in the market.
Significant trading pairs for these tokens again offer little encouragement for a city state trying to reassert its grip on crypto markets: the Korean won, Brazilian real and Mexican peso all make notable entries for these tokens, while the Singaporean dollar is nowhere to be seen.
Paxos’s push into Singapore, according to Paxos’s head of strategy Walter Hessert, is fueled by its ambition to “open the financial system to everyone, introducing significant opportunities to global markets and billions of users”.
But since its $188bn peak in April last year, the stablecoin market cap has fallen roughly 33 per cent to $126bn today. So while Paxos tries to break new ground in Singapore, it is doing so in a market that is not expanding.
What’s your take on Singapore’s most recent crypto moves? As always, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebuild or retreat: those are the choices left facing the crypto industry following the downfall of Sam Bankman-Fried. Some signs point to an industry ready to kick back into gear, including a potential SEC-approved bitcoin spot ETF. But when you zoom out, you find an industry that has been gutted by scandals, a retail market that has not returned, and crypto’s staunchest advocates calling for a “parallel establishment”.
Crypto media group The Block was sold to venture capital firm Foresight Ventures this week, in a move that secures the news outlet’s future after its former chief executive was shown to have taken secret loans from Bankman-Fried. The Singapore-based investor took a majority stake in The Block: a person familiar with the matter said it was investing $56mn for 80 per cent.
Remember Tornado Cash, the crypto platform that had sanctions imposed by the US for allegedly laundering $7bn worth of crypto funds for North Korean hackers? Well, its users this week appealed against the US Treasury’s decision to penalise the platform, challenging the government’s jurisdictional reach over it. Yesha Yadav, law professor at Vanderbilt University, told me the appeal “makes it clear that there is a great deal at stake for decentralised finance”.
Soundbite of the week: US legislation can’t fix crypto crime
During a congressional hearing on illicit activity in the digital assets industry, president of consulting firm Dynamic Securities Analytics, Alison Jimenez, said US legislation aimed at reeling in the crypto sector may not protect consumers against bad actors in the space.
“US legislation still doesn’t change the underlying features of cryptocurrency. I’m concerned that we might have great rules, and if the US institutions follow them that’s wonderful, but US citizens and customers will still be victims of those external organisations that are going to come here . . . we might be able to adjust and limit some of the issues we see within exchanges but [crypto] is not going to stop being a useful tool for criminals.”
Data mining: Another fake news price bump
BlackRock’s foray into the crypto space continued this week after the world’s largest asset manager filed with the SEC for a spot ethereum exchange traded fund.
The price of ether jumped modestly as a result, but you might also recall when the price of bitcoin surged a few weeks ago on inaccurate reports that BlackRock’s application for another spot ETF tracking bitcoin had been approved by the SEC.
This week, the speculative nature of the crypto market was seen again when yet another faked filing hit the crypto market, this time for a iShares XRP Trust registered in Delaware. A BlackRock representative told the FT it had not filed for an XRP Trust, but the price of the XRP briefly surged nonetheless.
FT Cryptofinance is this week edited by Laurence Fletcher. Please send any thoughts and feedback to email@example.com.