The Stablecoin Stability Myth: Debunking Misconceptions and Understanding the Mechanics

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  • Fiat-collateralized stablecoins maintain stability by holding fiat currency reserves in a secure custodian or bank account.
  • Stablecoins have undoubtedly reshaped the landscape of digital assets, offering stability and utility in a volatile market environment.
  • The stability of fiat-collateralized stablecoins is contingent on the financial health and trustworthiness of the issuer.

Stablecoins have emerged as a prominent player in the digital asset space, promising stability and reliability in a volatile market. Pegged to fiat currencies or other assets, stablecoins have gained traction to facilitate transactions and provide a hedge against cryptocurrency market fluctuations. However, such digital assets are not immune to risks despite their name, incredibly since stablecoin stability is often misunderstood. Adrian Orr, the governor of the New Zealand central bank, has expressed significant concerns regarding digital assets, particularly stablecoins. He emphasized that stablecoins cannot substitute for real fiat money and cautioned against relying on them. We delve into the stablecoin stability myth, debunking common misconceptions and shedding light on the underlying mechanics of these digital assets.

The Promise of Stability: Understanding Stablecoins

As their name suggests, stablecoins are cryptocurrencies designed to maintain a stable value relative to a specific asset or basket of assets. Unlike traditional cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, known for their price volatility, stablecoins aim to provide users with a reliable medium of exchange and a store of value.

There are several stablecoins, each with its mechanism for maintaining stability. The most common types include fiat-collateralized, crypto-collateralized, and algorithmic stablecoins.

Fiat-Collateralized Stablecoins

These stablecoins are backed by fiat currency reserves, such as the US dollar or the euro, held in bank accounts. For every stablecoin issued, a corresponding unit of fiat currency is held in reserve, ensuring that the stablecoin’s value remains pegged to the underlying fiat currency.

Crypto-Collateralized Stablecoins

In contrast to fiat-collateralized stablecoins, crypto-collateralized stablecoins are backed by a reserve of other cryptocurrencies. These stablecoins rely on over-collateralization, meaning that the collateral value exceeds that of the stablecoins issued to maintain stability.

Algorithmic Stablecoins

Algorithmic stablecoins use algorithms and smart contracts to adjust the stablecoin supply dynamically in response to changes in demand, aiming to keep the stablecoin’s price stable. These stablecoins do not rely on traditional collateral but instead use mechanisms such as seigniorage shares or algorithmic rebasing to achieve stability.

Adrian Orr’s Stablecoin Criticisms

Adrian Orr criticized the perceived stability of stablecoins, labelling them as “the biggest misnomers” and “oxymorons.” He pointed out that stablecoins do not always maintain a stable value and highlighted their reliance on the financial health of the entity backing them. This critique sheds light on the misconception surrounding stablecoins, emphasizing the risks associated with their fluctuating values and dependence on the stability of the banking entity.

In his discussion on Bitcoin’s limitations as a currency, Adrian Orr challenged the notion of its utility as a mainstream currency. He argued that Bitcoin falls short in fulfilling the fundamental functions of a currency, particularly as a reliable means of exchange, a stable store of value, and a unit of account. Despite its popularity and alternative uses, Orr emphasized that Bitcoin cannot effectively replace or complement traditional central bank money, raising questions about its suitability for widespread adoption in everyday transactions.

Moreover, Orr underscored the essential role of fiat currencies like the New Zealand dollar. He attributed their credibility to the backing of legislative authority and oversight from reputable institutions such as independent central banks. By highlighting the importance of maintaining low and stable inflation, Orr emphasized central banks’ responsibility to ensure the stability and reliability of fiat currencies. This emphasis on the role of fiat currencies contrasts with the perceived benefits of digital assets like stablecoins and Bitcoin, suggesting a preference for established monetary systems governed by regulatory oversight and institutional stability.

Debunking the Stability Myth

Despite their name and intended purpose, stablecoins are not immune to volatility or systemic risks. Several factors contribute to the misconception of stablecoin stability:

Reliance on Issuer’s Financial Health

The stability of fiat-collateralized stablecoins is contingent on the financial health and trustworthiness of the issuer. If the issuer experiences financial difficulties or lacks transparency, it can undermine the stability of the stablecoin. The terra collapse is a stark reminder of this.

Counterparty Risks

Fiat-collateralized stablecoins are subject to counterparty risks associated with the custodian or issuer holding the reserve assets. Under insolvency or mismanagement, users may face difficulties redeeming their stablecoins for the underlying assets.

Market Dynamics

Stablecoins, especially those pegged to fiat currencies, are susceptible to market dynamics and external factors that can impact the value of the underlying assets. Economic instability, regulatory changes, or geopolitical events can lead to fluctuations in the value of fiat currencies, affecting the stability of fiat-collateralized stablecoins.

Liquidity Risks

Stablecoins rely on liquidity in the underlying markets to maintain their pegged value. In times of market stress or low liquidity, stablecoins may deviate from their intended peg, leading to price volatility and liquidity challenges for users.

Understanding the Mechanics: How Stablecoins Work

To truly understand stablecoins and their stability mechanisms, it is essential to delve into their underlying mechanics:


Fiat-collateralized stablecoins maintain stability by holding fiat currency reserves in a secure custodian or bank account. The collateralization ratio, or the ratio of reserves to issued stablecoins, determines the strength and solvency of the stablecoin.

Redemption Mechanisms

Users of stablecoins should have confidence in their ability to redeem their stablecoins for the underlying assets at any time. Transparent redemption mechanisms and regular audits of reserve holdings help mitigate counterparty risks and ensure stability.

Governance and Transparency

Issuers of stablecoins play a crucial role in maintaining stability through transparent governance structures and regular reporting on reserve holdings and operations. Community-driven governance models enhance trust and accountability within the stablecoin ecosystem.

Algorithmic Stability Mechanisms

Algorithmic stablecoins rely on algorithmic mechanisms to adjust the stablecoin supply and maintain stability. These mechanisms may include automated buy and sell algorithms, seigniorage shares, or algorithmic rebasing to stabilize the stablecoin’s price.

Navigating the Complexities of Stablecoin Stability

Stablecoins have undoubtedly reshaped the landscape of digital assets, offering stability and utility in a volatile market environment. However, it is essential to recognize that stablecoin stability is not a given subject to various risks and misconceptions.

By understanding the underlying mechanics of stablecoins and the factors influencing their stability, users can make informed decisions when engaging with these digital assets. Transparent governance, robust collateralization, and adherence to best practices are essential for maintaining strength and trust within the stablecoin ecosystem.

As the adoption of stablecoins continues to grow, regulators, issuers, and users must work together to address challenges and ensure the integrity and stability of stablecoin markets. Through education, transparency, and innovation, stablecoins can fulfil their promise of providing a reliable medium of exchange and store of value in the digital age.


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Kudzai G Changunda
Kudzai G Changunda
Finance guy with a considerable interest in the adoption of web 3.0 technologies in the financial landscape. Both technology and regulation focused but, of course, people first.
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