The cryptocurrency market has crashed this week, with Bitcoin hovering between $US28,000 and $US30,000 in the last two days—less than half the value of the all-time peak it hit in November—and Ethereum just over $US2,000, which is likewise less than half the value of its November peak. A significant portion of the blame is being assigned to a cryptocurrency called TerraUSD.
TerraUSD is one of the largest of what are called 'stablecoins', meaning that it's supposed to retain a value close to that of a fiat currency—in this case, the US dollar. Cryptocurrency investors see stablecoins as a kind of checkpoint in the crypto game, "safe" places to store their investments when they're not buying into more volatile currencies. And yet, this week TerraUSD's value fell to 30 cents at its lowest, and right now is still just over 80 cents. As FastCompany (opens in new tab) pointed out, TerraUSD "typically fluctuates by just thousandths of a percent."
Unlike some other stablecoins, TerraUSD is pegged to a cryptocurrency rather than directly to the fiat currency it's supposed to maintain parity with. In the case of TerraUSD, it's pegged to Luna, which is built on the same blockchain. Reserves of TerraUSD and Luna are algorithmically created and destroyed to maintain their relative value, bouncing less than a cent in either direction to make them worth buying and selling—with trades between them also helping to stabilize their worth.
Until this week, when Luna's value dropped by over 75%, dragging down the value of TerraUSD with it. At which point, TerraUSD's creator, Do Kwon, opened his reserves, $US3.5 billion worth of Bitcoin he'd bought to prop up TerraUSD, and sent a shockwave across the already volatile cryptocurrency market. As Reuters reported, crypto assets have shed $800 billion in market value in a month (opens in new tab), and the Wall Street Journal pointed out that NFT sales are flatlining (opens in new tab) too.
As for why Luna's value fell, that's kind of unclear. CoinDesk (opens in new tab) traces it to "a series of major withdrawals from Anchor Protocol", a market for stablecoin trading, as well as major TerraUSD withdrawals from the Curve stablecoin market. Conspiracy theories (opens in new tab) about it being an "attack" that was "deliberate and coordinated" have spread throughout the crypto community.
Meanwhile, it's been revealed that before creating TerraUSD, Do Kwon was co-founder of a failed stablecoin called Basis Cash (opens in new tab), under the pseudonym "Rick Sanchez", after the character from Rick & Morty. Which is honestly a perfect cap to put on the whole baffling thing.