Inflation and deflation are common economic terms that can be a bit confusing. They aren’t always addressed in school, but they affect our lives in so many ways. While the causes and consequences of inflation and deflation can be complicated, their definitions are surprisingly simple. Here is what you should know about these two terms and their role in a greater economy.
What is inflation?
In the simplest terms, inflation occurs when the price of goods and services goes up over time. It can happen slowly, over decades, or with sudden and devastating effects. Not every economist agrees on the reasons for slow, gradual inflation. It’s often tied to factors like market demand or the availability of certain goods and services.
Inflation in action
A current example is the inflated price of backyard swimming pools, pool filters, and pool maintenance supplies. With COVID-19 precautions closing many local swimming pools, more people than ever decided to put up backyard pools this summer. This increase in demand forced the price of pools and supplies up; another factor was the scarcity of some pool supplies since they have traditionally been manufactured in countries that slowed or shut down production due to COVID. The combination of increased demand with a short supply led to a deep inflation in the cost of these goods.
There’s more to the story, however. When both the cost of goods goes up, and the value of the local fiat goes down, it’s often referred to as “hyper-inflation,” especially when both happen in a short time frame. Unlike standard inflation, which experts aren’t always able to attribute directly to a source, economists tend to agree on the cause of hyperinflation.
The most common cause is a sudden and excessive growth of a country’s money supply. How does this happen? The Fed usually plays a role in making more money available in a strangled economy. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for governments to step in and tinker with interest rates or offer economic cash infusions (stimulus payments) in an attempt to stop the financial bleed that frequently happens with long periods of hyperinflation. Unfortunately, the bandaids for hyperinflation can often make problems worse.
How can you know if we’re in a period of inflation or hyper-inflation?
While the Fed aims for a rate of 2–3% per year inflation, this isn’t always manageable. Venezuela, for example, has seen inflation rates of 200,000% in a single year, an obvious sign of hyperinflation. It doesn’t have to be that severe to be counted, however; experts define anything above a 50% annual inflation rate to be a form of hyperinflation.
What is deflation?
The exact opposite of inflation, deflation, is the decrease in the cost of goods and services. It is usually accompanied by an increase in the value of the fiat. While some see this as a pleasant situation, deflation can be difficult for lenders who rely on climbing interest rates to make money on the cash they lend. Too much deflation or inflation can hurt essential industries. It can also harm consumer confidence over time, as people can get used to seeing prices go lower and actually hold on to their money waiting for the absolute best price. This can further aggravate the deflation cycle, something we saw during the Recession of 2008.
Remember, the role of government, unemployment, natural disasters, and technological advances can impact the cost of products we buy. Further, in the U.S., inflation doesn’t always happen across the board; consumer categories such as food and housing may see inflation over time, while items like electronics or clothing may see deflation during the same period. While consumers can’t always do much to affect inflation or deflation, we can better prepare our investment portfolios to secure our individual economic futures.
Competition drives markets. In traditional financial markets, however, competition is limited to the production of goods and the buying and selling process. With Bitcoin, competition plays a far-deeper role. The minting of new bitcoin, as well as the processing and verification of transactions, are all made more efficient, accurate, and secure, thanks to competition. It’s no surprise, then, that game theory plays a pivotal role in the inner workings of the Bitcoin ecosystem.
A brief explanation of game theory
Game theory models the strategic interaction between players in a scenario with set rules and outcomes where the players are rational and looking to maximize their payoffs. In effect, it’s a more detailed, nuanced way of looking at how incentives affect how things get done.
For example, if your job is to shovel 100 pounds of stone into a hole and you’re all alone and have all the time you want, there’s no game theory involved. On the other hand, if someone else is given the same task and you’re each working with the same pile of stones, the dynamics of the situation change.
They change further if only the person who shovels the most gets paid. And, naturally, if you get paid according to how much you shovel, the outcome of your actions would change in yet another way. Each of these situations will be impacted by game theory and its many models.
Although Bitcoin seeks to espouse concepts like “fairness,” “transparency,” and others that are often incongruent with competition, game theory still plays a primary role in the Bitcoin universe.
How does game theory apply to Bitcoin mining?
Bitcoin mining involves solving math problems that are used to create new bitcoin and verify transactions. To continue with the stone shoveling example, if you have as long as you want to move the pile of stones, you may choose to take your time. Your shovel may move slower than if someone else were involved in the task because then the speed at which you shovel would determine whether you get paid more, less, or at all.
The fact that multiple miners compete to verify transactions and generate coins gives Bitcoin an inherent efficiency: The job gets done faster. To dig a little deeper, three types of game theory driving this process include zero-sum theory, congestion theory, and the Nash equilibrium. Let’s take a closer look at how these concepts work.
Bitcoin mining and zero-sum theory
Zero-sum theory dictates that the “winner” gets the spoils and everyone else walks away with nothing. In the mining of bitcoin, the first person to solve a problem gets the value associated with completing the task. Everyone else gets nothing. If you could take a snapshot of the nanosecond a particular hash is found, you would see one user getting rewarded for their work and the others getting nothing.
However, because the Bitcoin system requires so many problems to be solved all the time, in reality, many miners can earn a relatively steady income. The strategies they use are governed by two other game theory concepts — the congestion theory and the Nash equilibrium.
Bitcoin mining and congestion theory
Congestion theory stipulates that the amount each player gets depends on the resources they choose and how many other players choose the same resources.
For example, imagine there are two stations with trains heading to the same destination, and each train can hold only 10 people. One train station is five miles closer to the destination. If there are 100 people, and everyone goes to the closer station, one train will have to go back and forth 10 times. On the other hand, if some of the passengers go to the closest station and others go to the station farther away, there will be less congestion, and everyone will arrive at the destination sooner.
In Bitcoin mining, many of the decisions of the miners depend on congestion theory. If there was only one miner, all the spoils would go to her or him. On the other hand, Bitcoin is open to all, so each miner has to decide whether they will get in the game — and add to the congestion — knowing that more people are bound to get in the game, decreasing their chance of winning.
Once a miner decides to get involved, they then have other decisions to make regarding the equipment they choose. Faster equipment provides an advantage, similar to getting on the closer train. However, the quicker the equipment, the more electricity it takes to run, which increases the cost of mining.
If a miner’s earnings won’t sufficiently offset the cost of electricity, they may choose not to get involved. They may also choose to forego setting up a mining system and join a mining pool instead, where the electricity costs are absorbed by multiple participants. Congestion theory dictates which “train” each miner takes, as well as when and how they get involved.
In addition, the way the decisions of each miner affects the others is governed largely by another game theory concept: the Nash Equilibrium.
Bitcoin mining and the Nash Equilibrium
In the Nash equilibrium, named after mathematician John Nash from the movie A Beautiful Mind, each “player” recognizes that while they have similar goals, not everyone can get exactly what they want. Therefore, some will choose to settle for a less-desirable outcome, satisfied with the fact that they are at least getting something. All players agree to proceed, happy to share the spoils.
For example, continuing with the stone shoveling scenario, you may be stronger and faster than the other shoveler. Both of you agree to shovel for the same amount of time, but you get 70% of the money while the other shoveler only gets 30%. The other person could protest, but realizing that something is better than nothing, they agree to the terms. At this point, an equilibrium is established. At the end of the day, you both earn money and walk away satisfied.
The worldwide community of miners also follows Nash equilibrium principles. Some miners have more money than others and can afford to purchase the latest mining computers, capable of solving specific hashes faster than older models. Other miners may not have as much money, but they live in areas where electricity is less expensive. They can, therefore, spend less than wealthier miners who live in areas where electricity is more costly. Some live in places where it will never be profitable to mine, so they join a mining pool instead.
Each miner recognizes that their limitations dictate how much they will get. At the same time, all agree to participate, satisfied with their portion at the end of the day — even if it’s just a small fraction of a bitcoin.
How miners are incentivized
Zero-sum theory, congestion theory, and the Nash equilibrium only work because of the ways miners are incentivized and dissuaded from cheating the system. Before mining rewards are approved, the technical infrastructure enforces the “trustless” nature of the Bitcoin network. If miners do not adhere to protocol rules, their block submission will be rejected by other nodes in the blockchain. All network nodes including other miners verify the ledger entries packaged into a new block. If entries are considered invalid, or the block hash doesn’t meet network requirements, the miner’s result will be rejected and the 6.25 BTC will be awarded to another miner.
While the block rewards are enticing at current BTC valuations, there are other financial implications that compel miners to either continue or suspend network operations. No miner will win the worldwide competition each time a new block is added (~every 10 minutes), so they must weigh the probability of profitable successes. There are other factors to consider, too. For example, some miners may decide to bow out when electricity becomes too expensive. Others however, may have a longer time horizon and decide to accept the risk of energy expenditure, calculating that miner attrition will increase their chances of winning new block rewards. In other words, fewer miners in the network means more chances for the remaining miners to profit. For those adopting this viewpoint, the potential of solving enough blocks to maintain business profitability outweighs the risk of any short-term loss related to high energy costs.
How bitcoin is distributed
Every block consists of many small transactions. When a block is mined, the winning miner is awarded 6.25 bitcoin plus all transaction fees for each transaction they were able to package within the block. The more blocks you are able to solve, the higher your reward. In other words, you get a bigger piece of the pie. Hunger for more slices of pie incentivizes miners to purchase more powerful equipment or move to areas with lower electricity costs.
Game theory and the surety of the Bitcoin network
The Nash equilibrium helps motivate miners to do more than generate new bitcoin. Each miner has no choice but to play a role in making sure the network functions as it should. This is a part of the “pile of stones” each miner agrees to shovel.
In a Nash equilibrium, although the individual participants would like to either get more rewards or a different type of reward, they agree to settle with getting something of value rather than nothing. The Bitcoin network compels miners to play by an agreed set of rules to add transactions to the distributed ledger, or their work will be summarily rejected. At the same time miners add security to the network by expending expensive energy that chains each new block to the preceding block via a well established mathematical algorithm.
Each miner is, therefore, a generator of new bitcoin liquidity as well as an auditor, checking the details of network transactions. Even though each problem solved involves a zero-sum game and congestion theory dictates how each miner approaches the task, everyone works in a happy Nash equilibrium.
In the end, game theory is an underestimated, yet essential, element of the Bitcoin network. As each miner plays their role, historical transactions are kept secure and new transactions unanimously approved, which helps maintain Bitcoin’s position as the number one digital currency in the worldC
When your Loan-to-Value ratio (LTV) exceeds 90.91%, we stabilize your loan by converting all of your volatile assets into stablecoin (USDC).
At this point, you will notice that your USDC wallet reflects the total US Dollar value of your combined portfolio. Each collateral wallet balance will show $0. Don’t panic!
How Do I Convert Back to My Original Assets?
To get your original assets back, you will need to manage your LTV and restore the health of your loan to a safe state (83.33% LTV or lower). To do this, follow these steps.
Navigate to the Loan Status page or click “Manage LTV” in the notification module on the dashboard.
2. Manage your LTV by either depositing more crypto or making a one-time payment in the Manage LTV Module.
3. We recommend curing your LTV to a healthy state (<70%), but as long as you have managed it to 83.3% or below, you will be eligible to convert.
4. Navigate back to the Loan Status Page. You will see that your LTV has dropped, but you are still being held in Stabilization Mode.
5. In the Manage LTV module, you will notice that you are now eligible to convert. Click “Convert Now” to convert back to your original assets or to a mix of any assets we accept as collateral.
6. The convert tool will default to the percentages of your original collateral mix. You may edit this and convert back to a different collateral mix if you’d like.
7. Click “Next” to review the details of your conversion and then click “Convert Now” to confirm. Once confirmed, you will have successfully reverted back to your asset mix of choice.
Still have questions about stabilization?
Please call our support team at +1 (720) 575–2272.
Legal Notice: Please be sure to review your Loan Agreement for additional information. The liquidation or conversion of pledged assets could result in adverse tax consequences. You should consult your tax advisor in order to fully understand the implications associated with pledging digital assets as loan collateral. Notwithstanding a general policy of giving you notice of margin deficiency, we are not obligated to do so. We may convert or liquidate pledged assets in your account without notice to you to ensure that minimum maintenance requirements are satisfied. If Salt Lending sells or converts some or all of your assets, such transactions made on your pledged collateral assets are accepted or rejected in Salt Lending’s sole discretion and may be at prices higher or lower than your initial acquisition cost. In the event of a liquidation or conversion, Salt Lending may choose to sell some or all of your assets to an affiliate of Salt Lending at applicable market rates.
This new model will allow SALT to distribute risk, enhance security, reduce interest rates, fund loans more swiftly, and focus on expanding its suite of wealth preservation products
We’re excited to announce Fireblocks, a platform that secures digital assets in transit, as our first partner for securely storing and transferring customers’ collateral assets. The partnership with Fireblocks marks a shift in SALT’s business model from self-custody to a more distributed custody approach that will allow us to onboard additional partners in the future and add greater flexibility for capital providers. This new approach also enables us to distribute risk, fund loans and conduct transactions more quickly, and provide customers with enhanced security for their cryptoassets, as well as lower interest rates on crypto-backed loans.
“When SALT was founded in 2016, custody wasn’t where it is now, so we built a proprietary custody solution to keep our customers’ collateral assets safe,” said Justin English, CEO of SALT. “Now that the industry has matured and companies like Fireblocks have come to the forefront, we’re excited to work with them to streamline our operations and expose their networks to our suite of wealth preservation products. They have a proven ability to safely and securely store and transfer collateral assets and to do so swiftly, which will inevitably allow us to provide faster service to our customers and focus more on product development.”
The move toward third-party custody solutions will also enable SALT to provide greater security and flexibility to capital providers that may prefer to work with a specific custodian, provided the custodian meets our rigorous security standards.
“MPC has quickly become the industry standard among the largest and most trusted institutions in the digital asset space,” said Michael Shaulov, CEO and co-founder of Fireblocks. “We’re proud to partner with the SALT team to help them strengthen security, reduce costs and expand operations as they move into the next stage of their growth.”
Fireblocks meets these security standards by combining multi-party computation (MPC) with Intel SGX technology to create a proprietary, defense in-depth approach to digital asset security — this allows organizations to accelerate operations without relying on physical hardware or slow, manual processes.
“Security is our top priority as we make this shift to be commensurate with our growth and distribute risk among trusted custodians,” said Dirk Anderson, chief technology officer at SALT. “The primary reason we’ve chosen Fireblocks as our first partner is because of their approach to MPC technology. Not only does it meet our security standards, but it will grant us more flexibility and increase the speed at which we can conduct transactions. This means we can fund stablecoin loans much faster and reduce the turnaround time for returning customers’ collateral assets once their loan has matured.”
From a customer standpoint, the biggest and most exciting changes to note are increased security, faster services, and the offering of lower interest rates. Aside from these changes, the customer experience will largely remain the same. Just as they do now, borrowers will still be able to make deposits and withdrawals, and will be able to continue tracking the health of their loan via our Loan-to-Value monitoring and real-time notification systems.
“We believe working with Fireblocks and other custody partners in the future is in the best interest of both the business and our customers,” said English. “Not only will we be able to offer more competitive interest rates, but we will have the time and resources to focus on expanding our offerings to include products that are designed to help our customers build and preserve their wealth.”
SALT, the pioneer of crypto-backed lending, offers a way for individuals and businesses to use their cryptoassets as collateral to secure a fiat or stablecoin loan without having to worry about credit checks. SALT offers flexible loan terms and accepts multiple cryptoassets as collateral including cryptocurrencies, stablecoins, and tokenized gold. SALT also offers competitive interest rates and does not charge origination or prepayment fees. As cryptocurrency becomes more widely adopted and additional real-world assets become tokenized, SALT’s mission is to offer solutions that make it possible for people to securely hold, manage, and borrow against their cryptoassets. Founded in 2016, SALT is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. For more information, visit www.saltlending.com or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.
All SALT loans are subject to KYC, AML, and other Terms, Conditions, and Restrictions. Please see saltlending.com/terms and FAQ for additional information. Loan options and terms may not be available in your jurisdiction, for your loan amount, and/or collateral type. SALT Loans are subject to jurisdictional limitations and other restrictions. SALT may not be able to offer a loan to all borrowers. SALT loans are originated by Salt Lending LLC. NMLS #1711910. NMLS Consumer Access (https://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/).
Fireblocks is an enterprise-grade platform delivering a secure infrastructure for moving, storing, and issuing digital assets. Fireblocks enables exchanges, custodians, banks, trading desks, and hedge funds to securely scale digital asset operations through the Fireblocks Network and MPC-based Wallet Infrastructure. They have secured the transfer of over $70 billion in digital assets and have a unique insurance policy that covers assets in storage & transit. For more information, please visit www.fireblocks.com.
Cryptocurrency is a disruptor. Not only has it changed the way we conduct business, but it has changed the way we think. The most obvious manifestation of how cryptocurrency has disrupted our thought patterns is in the way we think about money — about who issues it, how to transact with it, how to put it to work and how to keep it safe. It also has changed the way we think about our government, our right to privacy and our financial freedom. What’s less obvious is how cryptocurrencies are disrupting the way we think about and participate in asset-based lending. The advent of Bitcoin catalyzed the creation of a myriad of cryptocurrencies, many of which became viewed as assets, yet at the time, there was no way for crypto investors to unlock the value of these assets without selling them. This is the problem SALT’s founders set out to solve in 2016 and in doing so successfully, made asset-based lending as we once knew it a thing of the past.
Creating a New Asset Class
As Bitcoin began to experience wider adoption following its release in 2009, it became clear that some investors were purchasing crypto to trade on a daily basis while others were choosing to invest long-term, viewing Bitcoin more as an asset than as a spendable currency. As more investors adopted this long position and began to think of cryptocurrencies as an asset class in their own right, the term “HODL” emerged in 2013 on a bitcoin-talk forum and has since become one of the most commonly used words in the crypto vernacular. This HODL culture has grown significantly over the years and has evolved to where investors are buying, selling and trading these assets not only for themselves but on behalf of others. This activity has taken the form of crypto portfolios and crypto funds, which offer access to this new asset class for individuals and allow them to diversify their portfolios while eliminating some of the overhead of learning how to purchase and safely hold cryptoassets. By providing a way to collateralize cryptoassets to secure a cash or stablecoin loan, SALT provides opportunities for individuals, businesses and capital providers to build and preserve wealth.
How to Lend Cryptoassets
As the first-ever crypto-backed lender, SALT has developed the technology and processes required to successfully lend against cryptoassets, giving borrowers a way to unlock the value of these assets without selling them. Take Bitcoin for example. It’s one of many cryptoassets we accept as collateral on our platform, yet it makes up more than 80% of the collateral securing our loan book.
What makes Bitcoin a strong form of collateral? The answer lies in Bitcoin’s combined characteristics. Like gold, Bitcoin is scarce, fungible, divisible, transferable and durable. It is also extremely liquid given it is traded on global exchanges every day. Additionally, as a decentralized asset, Bitcoin is highly secure. All of these properties make Bitcoin both a viable asset and a highly efficient form of collateral that has piqued the interest of some of the largest financial institutions in the world.
One thing to note is Bitcoin’s volatile nature, which can pose challenges specifically for the ABL market. However, SALT’s risk management technology effectively manages this volatility. Our technology includes real-time loan-to-value (LTV) monitoring, margin call and liquidation triggers, real-time notifications and the safekeeping of assets through institutional grade custody solutions. For example, our loan-to-value (LTV) monitoring system tracks the prices of assets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing borrowers with the ability to monitor the health of their loan in real-time. If, during periods of heightened volatility, a borrower’s collateral declines in value and their LTV breaches our margin call threshold, we protect the borrower by issuing a margin call that prompts them to take action to restore the health of their loan. Actions borrowers may take include paying down principal or depositing additional collateral to recalibrate their LTV to an appropriate level (70%). If no action is taken and asset prices continue to decline, SALT has the ability and the right to liquidate collateral assets to preserve lender capital. The overcollateralized nature of our loans combined with our risk management technology and ability to liquidate assets enables us to protect the lender, and as a result, we’ve experienced zero losses of principal to date.
Choosing a Crypto-Backed Lender
SALT’s business model is attractive to crypto investors (e.g. traders and asset managers) and businesses (e.g. mining operations and exchanges) for a few reasons. First, we provide access to liquidity, offering loans ranging from $5,000 to the millions. Typical use cases include businesses seeking working capital to fund operational costs and large capital expenditures, or investors seeking leverage, diversification or risk management. Second, since our model is asset-based and requires overcollateralization, we do not rely on a borrower’s credit profile and can fund loans within 24 to 48 hours, assuming the borrower meets our strict AML/KYC requirements. Third, customers know their assets are safely and securely held with institutional-grade custody providers for the duration of their loan. Fourth, our loan process is straightforward and customizable. We allow borrowers to lend against a single cryptoasset or a portfolio of cryptoassets and offer flexible loan terms, including durations ranging from three to 12 months, LTVs up to 60% for individual loans or up to 70% for business loans, and competitive interest rates ranging from 5% to 12% depending on the borrower’s jurisdiction, loan amount and LTV. While we are no longer the only crypto-backed lender in the world, we are one of the few that incorporate a human element into our business model. Unlike completely automated lenders, SALT offers both phone and online support, and assigns each customer a loan support specialist at the time of loan origination. These human touches positively impact a borrower’s experience with the platform; they know that by choosing SALT, they will always have the option to speak with someone about their financial needs.
The Evolution of the Crypto Market and Tokenization
Since SALT’s founding in 2016, the crypto lending market has grown exponentially. According to a report from Credmark, the crypto lending market reached $8 billion in total lifetime loan originations as of Q4/19 and has since surpassed $10 billion following Q1/20. These numbers not only indicate the growing demand for liquidity among crypto holders but also the growing interest among capital providers to get involved in the crypto market. For example, we’ve witnessed an influx of both crypto native (BitGo Prime and Genesis Capital) and traditional financial institutions (Silvergate) that provide leverage and liquidity vehicles at the institutional level.
Another thing to consider regarding the evolution of the crypto market is that as the world becomes tokenized, the very definition of the term “crypto market” is changing. With the emergence of companies like Paxos and Harbor, we’re beginning to see increased tokenization of real-world assets like gold and real estate. At SALT we already accept Pax Gold (a gold-backed cryptoasset) as collateral on our platform and our vision for the future goes well beyond our current collateral scope.
The Role of Alternative Investments
As crypto becomes more widely accepted, a growing number of people are assessing their own risk profiles and determining the best way for them to participate in the crypto market. For those with lower risk profiles, the market has evolved in recent years to offer individuals or businesses indirect exposure to this new asset class. As previously mentioned, crypto portfolios and crypto funds are part of this evolution along with alternative investment companies like Cadence (portfolio company of Coinbase Ventures). Cadence is a securitization platform for private credit that grants access to exclusive high yield, short term investments traditionally reserved for institutions. In February 2020, we partnered with Cadence to offer prospective investors the opportunity to gain exposure to cash flows associated with a portfolio of underlying loans collateralized by cryptoassets. The first note of $500,000 was oversubscribed in five days and we have since worked with Cadence to issue $2.9 million in notes to investors to date. As more companies like Cadence provide structure, liquidity and indirect exposure to alternative asset classes like crypto, we expect to see even greater demand from investors seeking attractive risk adjusted returns.
Opportunities for Institutional Investors
There’s no doubt cryptocurrency has changed the way we think about asset-based lending. It has formed a new asset class and also has catalyzed the trend of broader tokenization — a trend that will inevitably expand the universe of collateral options and have a meaningful impact on the ABL industry. If you’re a decision maker at an institution and are interested in learning more, email [email protected] to discuss opportunities to build and preserve wealth in this rapidly evolving industry.
China’s central banking system officially launched large-scale testing of what could be the world’s first digital sovereign currency. The People’s Bank of China, the nation’s central bank, is working with main banks in major cities, with a focus on digitizing the renminbi. During this trial, users register their mobile phone numbers for access to digital wallets. Through that access, they can use digital currency, issued by the central bank, to withdraw and transfer money, and to pay bills.
If this test is successful, it means that China could be one of the first countries to develop and maintain central banking digital currency, or CBDC. But China’s move toward CBDC doesn’t necessarily mean that other countries’ central banking systems will, or can, automatically follow. Moving an economy from bills and coins — whether physical or virtual — to 100% digitization isn’t something a country just does. Furthermore, there is the question of whether central banks can — or should — work directly with consumers and businesses, in direct competition with commercial and investment banks.
As such, the CBDC reality is a few years away.
Defining Digital Currency And Central Banks
Mention the words “digital currency” and the first thought that might come to mind is Bitcoin.
Certainly, Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, and other cryptocurrencies are digitized value exchanges, which can be used to buy goods and services. But cryptocurrencies and central banking digital currencies are two very different sides of the digital coin. While cryptocurrencies are privately developed and distributed, CBDCs are government-backed sovereign currency systems, complete with appropriate denominations. In other words, think digitized fiat currency, overseen by the central banks.
Much like cryptocurrencies, however, CBDCs are recorded on digital ledgers, which keep track of ownership and transactions by users with ledger accounts. But unlike cryptocurrencies, these ledgers would be overseen by central banks, which would also issue the currencies and process transactions.
Speaking of central banks, these institutions have big-picture monetary goals for the nations in which they operate. The above-mentioned People’s Bank of China, as well as the U.S. Federal Reserve, Bank of England, Deutsche Bundesbank, and others are responsible for national monetary policies. They also deal with the nation’s commercial and investment banks, as lenders of last resort. They aren’t in business to work with consumers or businesses.
For example, the Bank of England conducted general business and consumer banking activities during the 17th and 18th centuries. And, in the United States, a highly successful post office savings bank system operated from 1911 through 1967, using the post office network to offer government-backed deposit accounts and other financial services. In many cases, postal banking performed central banking functions — such as funding two world wars — before the Federal Reserve stepped in to determine national monetary policy.
Digital Sovereign Currency Structure: The Theory…
Researchers and scholars have been pondering the idea of centralized digital currencies for a few years. The most recent study along these lines was released in June 2020 by the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia, and entitled “Central Banking Digital Currency: Central Banking for All?” Led by University of Pennsylvania economist, Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, the authors explored whether a central bank, such as the U.S. Federal Reserve, could successfully implement a 100% digital sovereign currency structure, which could realistically compete with commercial financial institutions without too much disruption.
The authors determined that, in theory, and absent any kind of financial panic, a digital conduit between central banks and consumers might be effective in optimizing fund allocations. Furthermore, a direct-to-consumer sovereign digital currency could help streamline and potentially eliminate current time-consuming and costly payment systems.
Bardon and Levin also suggest that central banking systems could offer digital currencies to the general public through specially designated accounts, opened in partnership with commercial banks. The banks could keep corresponding amounts of commercial funds in segregated reserve accounts at the central banks. Furthermore, setting up a CBDC infrastructure would be a straightforward process. Thanks to the internet, brick-and-mortar branches wouldn’t be necessary.
But the BIS cautions that jumping on the CBDC bandwagon right now will mean bumps in the road, mostly in the forms of security, convenience and accessibility. The current coins-and-bills banking system has sophisticated infrastructures in place to handle peak demands for money, and can support potential bank runs. Then, there are the questions about privacy and potential data breaches. Take for example, a situation in which the Federal Reserve issues $1 million to an individual’s stablecoin address. That individual then spends $100 from the same address at an online retailer.
Right now, with the way most blockchain technology functions, that retailer can look at that stablecoin address and see without question that there is nearly $1 million in the account. Cryptocurrency proves that while blockchain technology is great for anonymity, it is far from private. We must find a way to bring the same level of privacy to CBDCs as we currently experience with traditional banking, so that it is both private and public in all of the right ways. Until then, CBDC will likely remain more of a futuristic vision than become a reality.
And, from a larger-picture perspective, Fernández-Villaverde and his colleagues caution that the move to CBDCs could give central banking systems monopoly power, siphoning business away from commercial banks. Commercial and investment banks are set up to support maturity transformation — in other words, using consumer and business deposits for longer-term loans, such as mortgages. Central banks don’t have the capacity to do this; such a lack could be dangerous to economic policies.
Keeping It Cash … For Now
Though the Chinese central bank is experimenting with sovereign-backed digital currency and centralized ledgers, the CBDC concept isn’t close to implementation. Even China is phasing in CBDC very slowly. Coins and bills will be with us for a while longer, at least until security, accessibility and privacy issues — not to mention potential monopolization scenarios — can be worked out.
Still, the increasing use of cryptocurrency continues to prove that digital mediums of exchange are workable. As the People’s Bank of China continues working with sovereign-backed digital exchanges, other central banks will likely examine their own regulatory, legal and technical risks to determine the feasibility of CBDCs.
From business closures to event cancellations and stay-at-home orders, the coronavirus pandemic has had its way with the United States. Millions are unemployed, and millions of small businesses struggle to stay afloat in the punishing economic downturn.
The Federal Reserve, or “the Fed,” has been making headlines as it tries to limit the pandemic’s economic damage, including by lending $2.3 trillion that the government called for in its relief package, dubbed the CARES Act. This action has left many Americans wondering where the Fed got so much money, what the Federal Reserve can and can’t do, and what power the Fed has over our nation’s economy.
What Is the Federal Reserve, anyway?
It’s essential to define what the Fed is to understand its role in our economy. The Federal Reserve is America’s central banking system. Before the Federal Reserve, people panicked their bank would fail when a neighboring one closed its doors. Hordes of customers would run to withdraw their money, ultimately causing those banks to go belly up, too.
After a particularly terrible panic in 1907, Congress stepped in to create the Federal Reserve in 1913 through the Federal Reserve Act. The initial goal was to avoid these bank runs and provide banks with emergency funding. But today, the Federal Reserve System takes other measures to ensure the health and stability of the economy and a secure banking system.
How does the federal reserve work?
The Federal Reserve Act created a decentralized bank that functions without government financing or approval but still protects both public and private interests as a mixed organization.
It has three key entities:
1. Board of Governors
At the heart of the Fed is the Board of Governors, made up of seven officials appointed by the government and confirmed by the Senate. It acts as an independent federal agency, and its job is to direct the monetary policy — the money supply and interest rates. Its goal is to make sure we maintain a stable economy.
2. Reserve Banks
There are 12 Federal Reserve Banks spread throughout the U.S., each one having nine directors. Six directors are elected by commercial banks and three by the Board of Governors, protecting interests from both parties.
Reserve Banks are structured similarly to private corporations. They oversee member banks and carry out the monetary policy in their region. Reserve Banks act independently, but the Board of Governors supervises their actions.
These banks also have other vital roles like distributing currency to other banks, placing money into circulation, acting as a bank and fiscal agent for the U.S. government, and providing critical information about their local, national, and international economies to the Federal Open Market Committee.
3. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC):
The FOMC is a committee comprising the Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York President, and four members from the other 11 Reserve Banks, who serve for one-year terms.
The FOMC’s primary role is to determine whether the Federal Reserve should buy or sell government bonds, known as Open Market Operations (OMO), to maintain the economy’s stability. It also establishes a target federal funds rate, which is the interest rate banks charge one another for overnight loans.
Where does the Federal Reserve fit into the government?
The role of the Federal Reserve within the government can seem confusing since it has public and private aspects. The Fed is accountable both to Congress and the public and maintains transparency in all its operations.
Ultimately, the Fed is a product of the government because it was created by an act of Congress, which still oversees the whole system and can amend the Federal Reserve Act at any time.
But Congress created the Fed to work autonomously and to be shielded from political pressures by using a privatized structure for the Reserve Banks. It also keeps a hands-off approach by letting the three entities carry out their core responsibilities independently of the federal government.
Can anyone override Federal Reserve decisions?
There isn’t a formal legal power that can supersede the Fed’s monetary policy decisions. Still, the Federal Reserve Act allows the Treasury to “supervise and control” the Fed where jurisdictions overlap.
But the Treasury hasn’t needed to do this because a system of checks and balances keeps the Fed’s operations transparent and answerable to the public and Congress. Just because the Fed can influence the economy, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to follow the rules.
Independent public accounting firms audit Reserve Banks annually. The Board of Governors also gets audited by its Office of Inspector General and an outside auditor. The Board of Governors annually publishes the results on its website.
The House of Representatives and the Senate hold the Fed accountable by requiring it to report twice a year on its monetary policy and economic decisions. Fed officials also deliver speeches throughout the year to the public so that everyone understands the reasoning for its decisions and actions.
Does the Federal Reserve print money?
If you’re a Bitcoiner, or you spend a decent amount of time on Twitter, you’ve most likely seen the “money printer go brrrr” meme that went viral in March of this year. It cropped up in response to the Fed’s announcement on March 12, 2020, that it would offer $1.5 trillion in short-term loans to banks to help combat “unusual disruptions” in financial markets as a result of the coronavirus. The meme, while more of a social commentary than an accurate depiction of the Fed’s responsibilities, expresses frustration regarding the government’s role in inflation and the devaluation of the US Dollar — as evidenced by the meme’s numerous likes and shares, many Americans share this same sense of frustration. While the meme is accurate in many ways, it unintentionally brings to light the common misconception that the Fed prints money. In reality, printing money is the responsibility of the U.S. Treasury. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints paper currency, while the U.S. Mint makes coins. The Treasury oversees both offices.
While it doesn’t print money in the literal sense, the Fed does buy cash as needed from the Bureau at cost to put into circulation, but the monetary base in circulation and at central banks typically stays the same.
The Fed manages the money supply by creating and destroying money. It swaps old, ragged bills for fresh ones or adds and deducts from digital balances. But it also manipulates the amount of money in circulation. The FOMC decides on whether to add or remove cash from the economy by buying or selling government bonds and other securities. This influences the amount banks will lend out and keep on deposit, which then affects interest rates.
That being said, where the misconception holds some truth is in the way the Fed puts more money into circulation; the Fed can’t print money, but it does have the power to essentially create money out of thin air. As a banker’s bank, it does so by making “large asset purchases on the open market and adding newly created electronic dollars to the reserves of banks.” In exchange, the Fed receives large amounts of bonds including US Treasury securities, mortgage‐backed securities, corporate debt and other assets. Rather than paying for these bonds in cash or gold bars, the Fed instead credits the account of the bank selling the bonds so that digital money moves from one place into the other.
The process is like taking out a personal loan of $10,000 at the bank. The bank doesn’t give you a suitcase full of cash. What you get is a credit that shows up as some numbers on a screen, reflecting your new account balance.
Because the Fed operates digitally, it can create money with a few keystrokes and use it to purchase assets or lend money. On a televised interview with “60 Minutes,” Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “To lend to a bank, we simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account they have with the Fed. So it’s much more akin, although not exactly the same . . . to printing money, than it is to borrowing.”
The Fed did this when it promised to lend Americans $2.3trillion, as called for in the CARES Act for economic relief and stability across the nation for those who were struggling because of the pandemic.
What can the Federal Reserve do or not do?
If the Fed can make money but not print it, what other actions is it able to take or is prohibited from taking?
What can the Federal Reserve do?
The Fed is an emergency lender for banks in financial distress, so it can lend money to failing banks to keep them afloat. But the Fed’s core responsibility is to manage the money supply, which has far-reaching effects on regulating the financial market.
It’s permitted to use four main tricks to change the amount of money in the economy:
1. Changing the reserve requirement
The Fed dictates what percent of deposits banks have to keep on hold. It usually ranges from zero to 10 percent and is currently set at zero because of COVID-19. The more banks have to keep on reserve, the less there is to go out into the market.
2. Changing interest rates on reserves
The Fed pays commercial banks interest rates on their required and excess reserves, a rule that went into effect in 2008. When the Federal Reserve wants to speed up the economy, it lowers the interest rate so that banks have less of an incentive to hold on to money.
3. Changing the discount rate
The Fed encourages and discourages banks from borrowing money from it by raising or lowering its lending interest rates. When the discount rate is low, banks borrow more to lend to each other and the public.
4. Conducting open market operations
The FOMC decides how many bonds to buy or sell. When it wants more money in the market, it buys these bonds from banks to put more money into their account. When it wants to slow down the economy, it sells the bonds to take away bank money.
This is the Fed’s most common tactic to influence the economy. For example, from 2008 to 2009, it bought over a trillion dollars of government bonds to inject money into the stumbling financial market. This lowered interest rates on short-term loans to almost zero percent.
But the recession went too deep. So, the Fed did something it hadn’t done before. It started buying long-term assets from banks in a process that’s known as quantitative easing (QE), boosting the money supply further and stimulating lending and investment.
What can’t the Federal Reserve do?
The Fed can only indirectly influence the nation’s economy. This means it does not have the power to take any of the following actions:
Set the federal funds rate
The federal funds rate is the amount of interest banks charge to lend their excess cash reserves overnight to each other. Banks frequently do this to meet the Fed’s reserve requirement.
While the Fed can’t set this number directly, the FOMC sets a target federal funds rate depending on what direction it wants the economy to go. Then, it works within what it’s permitted to do to influence banks and reach the benchmark rate.
Set the prime rate
Banks use the prime interest rate for commercial and consumer borrowing for things like credit cards and personal, car, and home equity loans. Banks often set the prime rate based on the Fed’s target federal funds rate.
Hike up mortgage and student loan rates
Mortgages and student loans are long-term assets whose rates are determined more by market-driven factors than FOMC decisions.
That said, the Fed purchased mortgage-backed securities to lower long-term rates on mortgages in 2008 so that banks wouldn’t need to borrow from each other to meet the reserve requirement. But these actions still affect federal funds rates significantly more than mortgage and student loan interest rates.
Use taxpayer money to fund its operations
The Fed doesn’t get any funding from taxpayers because its money comes from interest accruals on government securities and treasuries purchased through its OMO. There are other sources, too, such as foreign currency investments. After paying its expenses, the Fed turns any extra money over to the U.S. Treasury because it’s not operated for profit.
What’s the potential impact of the Federal Reserve’s powers on the economy?
Although the Fed can only work behind the scenes to stabilize the economy, it exerts a massive influence on its operations.
For example, the Fed can speed up or ease the economy by manipulating the money supply to increase or decrease consumer spending. It starts by influencing bank lending rates through selling and buying government bonds.
When banks have more excess reserves, there’s more to lend to the public, so interest rates are lower. Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money, which is then spent on goods and services. More consumer spending generally means a better economy, while “even a small downturn in consumer spending damages the economy” and can even lead to a recession. Below is how the Fed’s actions impact specific aspects of the economy.
The Fed uses a trickle-down effect to influence interest rates. Remember, they can’t set federal funds or prime interest rates, but they can bend them to their will through OMO.
The Fed buying back government bonds from banks leaves more money for banks to play with while selling them means banks have to be more cautious about lending out their reserves. The economics of supply and demand shows excess cash in the market will drive down the interest rates banks charge to each other and the public, while a lack of money has the opposite effect.
The Fed also raises or lowers the discount rate and reserve requirements to change the interest rates commercial banks ultimately offer customers.
Inflation and deflation
When federal funds rates drop because of the Fed’s actions, prime rates usually drop with them. Consumers then borrow money for business and personal purposes to take advantage of lower interest rates. With greater amounts of money in their pockets, people spend more on goods and services, creating a spike in demand.
The larger demand pushes wages and costs higher to meet the production necessary to keep up with supply, causing a ripple effect. Prices increase across sectors, leading to reduced purchasing power. This is inflation and explains why a dollar today is worth less than a dollar last year.
Some annual inflation is good. It’s a sign the economy is doing well because consumers are spending. The Fed has a target core inflation rate of two percent. When inflation goes above or below the benchmark amount, the Fed steps in and works within its limits to move the needle toward inflation or deflation.
Although directing the U.S. monetary policy for the nation’s economic benefit is a crucial part of the Fed’s job, it also has foreign concerns.
Financial crises within our borders often have a global impact. The 2008 recession strained international markets because many countries have at least some assets and liabilities dominated by the dollar, causing them to sometimes borrow and lend in dollars.
To address the dollar scarcity, the Fed started swapping currencies with foreign economies in dire need of U.S. currency — over 583 billion dollars’ worth — at a predictable and fixed rate to keep struggling foreign banks afloat and prevent their economies from plummeting.
The Federal Reserve: A system of the People, by the People, and for the People?
The Federal Reserve’s power and influence over our economy leaves many asking if it’s an unconstitutional entity. Though Congress takes a laissez-faire approach to the Federal Reserve, the system teeters between public and private domains.
The effect of its present monetary policy decisions on the future economy could determine which direction future reform sways. It could also decide if the century-old institution modernizes into a structure more accurately reflecting the concerns and voice of the people, and one maintaining greater transparency while ensuring the long-term economic stability of the nation.
ICYMI: SALT Announces Justin English as Chief Executive Officer
In case you missed it, we recently announced that Justin English has been named chief executive officer at Salt Blockchain Inc., parent company to SALT Lending. Co-presidents Rob Odell and Dustin Hull, who have been working together for the past six months to fill the CEO role and onboard English, will remain co-presidents and will continue to support SALT in their respective roles as chief product officer and chief financial officer.
As operations at SALT carry on, it is not lost on us, as a company nor as individuals, that Black Americans continue to fight for racial justice. We are committed to hearing, learning from, and supporting our Black customers & communities in this fight for a more inclusive world.
We want to thank everyone who watched & participated in Bitcoin Magazine’s Halving live-stream celebration with us last month. To address some of the questions that came up from the event including questions regarding the SALT token, our CPO Rob Odell sat down with one of their team members for a follow-up video. You can learn more about the changes we’ve made to the SALT token from our blog post, New Changes Add Value for SALT Supporters.
Get $50 in bitcoin for you & your friend when they take out a crypto-backed loan. To learn how you can refer your friends, check out our blog post Pass the SALT, Grow Your Wallet.
Black Lives Matter
As operations at SALT carry on, it is not lost on us, as a company nor as individuals, that Black Americans continue to fight for racial justice. Until racism is eradicated completely, we are committed to hearing, learning from, and supporting our Black customers & communities in this fight for a more inclusive world. As we reflect internally on the immediate changes SALT can make to support this mission, we have proactively chosen to make Juneteenth a company holiday to honor the significance of June 19, 1865.
Salt Lending LLC: Salt Master Fund II, LLC – NMLS 1711910
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