DEFINITION of Tether (USDT)

Tether is a blockchain-based cryptocurrency whose cryptocoins in circulation are backed by an equivalent amount of traditional fiat currencies, like the dollar, the euro or the Japanese yen, which are held in a designated bank account. Tether tokens, the native tokens of the Tether network, trade under the USDT symbol.

BREAKING DOWN Tether (USDT)

Tether belongs to a new breed of cryptocurrencies called stablecoins that aims to keep cryptocurrency valuations stable, as opposed to the wide swings observed in the prices of other popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. That would allow it to be used as a medium of exchange and a mode of storage of value, instead of being used as a medium of speculative investments. (See also, Is Stablecoin the Answer to All Cryptocurrency Problems?)

Tether specifically belongs to the category of fiat collateralized stablecoins, that is – a fiat currency like the US dollar, the euro or the yen, backs each cryptocoin in circulation. Other stablecoin categories include crypto-collateralized stablecoins, which use cryptocurrency reserves as collateral, or non-collateralized stablecoins, which don’t have any collateral but operate in a way similar to that of a reserve bank to maintain the necessary supply of tokens, depending on the economic situation.

Tether was specifically designed to build the necessary bridge between fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies and offer stability, transparency and minimal transaction charges to users. It is pegged against the U.S. dollar and maintains a 1-to-1 ratio with the U.S. dollar in terms of value. However, there is no guarantee provided by Tether Ltd. for any right of redemption or exchange of Tethers for real money – that is, Tethers cannot be exchanged for U.S. dollars. 

According to CryptoCompare data cited by The Wall Street Journal, 80% of all bitcoin trading is done in Tether, and the stablecoin is a major source of liquidity for the cryptocurrency market.

Tether was launched as RealCoin in July 2014 and was rebranded as Tether in November by Tether Ltd., the company that is responsible for maintaining the reserve amounts of fiat currency. It started trading in February 2015.

Controversy

In November 2017, it was allegedly hacked with $31 million worth of Tether coins stolen, after which a hard fork was performed. In January 2018, it hit another hurdle as the necessary audit to ensure that the real world reserve is maintained never took place. Instead, it announced it was parting ways with the audit firm, after which it was issued a subpoena by regulators. Worries about whether the company, accused of a lack of transparency, has enough in reserves to back the coin have been pervasive.

In April 2019, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused iFinex Inc., the parent company of Tether Ltd. and operator of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, of hiding a loss of $850 million dollars of co-mingled client and corporate funds from investors. Court filings say these funds were given to a Panamanian entity called Crypto Capital Corp. without a contract or agreement, to handle customers-withdrawal requests. Bitfinex allegedly took at least $700 million from Tether’s cash reserves to hide the gap after the money went missing.  

In a statement, the companies said the filings "were written in bad faith and are riddled with false assertions." "On the contrary, we have been informed that these Crypto Capital amounts are not lost but have been, in fact, seized and safeguarded. We are and have been actively working to exercise our rights and remedies and get those funds released. Sadly, the New York Attorney General’s office seems to be intent on undermining those efforts to the detriment of our customers."

Tether token can be transacted on popular cryptocurrency exchanges that include Binanace, CoinSpot, BitFinex and Kraken. (See also, What Is Kraken?)