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Terra, Celsius: The crypto crashes in 2022 explained

Jesse
5 mn

There is seldom a dull moment in the cryptosphere. In a matter of weeks, crypto winters can turn into bull runs, high-profile celebrities can send the price of a cryptocurrency to an all-time high and big networks can go from hero to bankruptcy. While we await the next bull run, let’s dissect some of the bigger moments of this year so far. 

In a matter of weeks, we saw two major cryptocurrencies drop significantly in value and later declare themselves bankrupt. Not only did these companies lose millions, but millions of investors lost immense amounts of money. 

As some media sources use these stories as an opportunity to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about the crypto industry, in this article we’ll look at what affected these particular networks. This is not the “norm” when it comes to investing in digital assets, these are cases of not doing enough thorough research. 

The Downfall of Terra

Terra is a blockchain platform that offered several cryptocurrencies (mostly stablecoins), most notably the stablecoin TerraUST (UST) and Terra (LUNA). LUNA tokens played an integral role in maintaining the price of the algorithmic stablecoins, incentivizing trading between LUNA and stablecoins should they need to increase or decrease a stablecoin's supply. 

In December 2021, following a token burn, LUNA entered the top 10 biggest cryptocurrencies by market cap trading at $75. LUNA’s success was tied to that of UST. In April, UST overtook Binance USD to become the third-largest stablecoin in the cryptocurrency market. The Anchor protocol of the Terra ecosystem, which offers returns as high as 20% APY, aided UST's rise.

In May of 2022, UST unpegged from its $1 position, sending LUNA into a tailspin losing 99.9% of its value in a matter of days. The coin’s market cap dipped from $41b to $6.6m. The demise of the platform led to $60 billion of investors’ money going down the drain. So, what went wrong?

After a large sell-off of UST in early May, the stablecoin began to depeg. This caused a further mass sell-off of the algorithmic cryptocurrency causing mass amounts of LUNA to be minted to maintain its price equilibrium. This sent LUNA's circulating supply sky-rocketing, in turn crashing the price of the once top ten coin. The circulating supply of LUNA went from around 345 million to 3.47 billion in a matter of days. 

As investors scrambled to try to liquidate their assets, the damage was already done. The Luna Foundation Guard (LFG) had been acquiring large quantities of Bitcoin as a safeguard against the UST stablecoin unpegging, however, this did not prove to help as the network's tokens had already entered what's known as a "death spiral".

The LFG and Do Kwon reported bought $3 billion worth of Bitcoin and stored it in reserves should they need to use them for an unpegging. When the time came they claimed to have sold around 80,000 BTC, causing havoc on the rest of the market. Following these actions, the Bitcoin price dipped below $30,000, and continued to do so.

After losing nearly 100% of its value, the Terra blockchain halted services and went into overdrive to try and rectify the situation. As large exchanges started delisting both coins one by one, Terra’s founder Do Kwon released a recovery plan. While this had an effect on the coin’s price, rising to $4.46, it soon ran its course sending LUNA’s price below $1 again. 

In a final attempt to rectify the situation, Do Kwon alongside co-founder Daniel Shin hard forked the Terra blockchain to create a new version, renaming the original blockchain Terra Classic. The platform then released a new coin, Luna 2.0, while the original LUNA coin was renamed LUNC. 

Reviewing the situation in hindsight, a Web3 investor and venture partner at Farmer Fund, Stuti Pandey said, “What the Luna ecosystem did was they had a very aggressive and optimistic monetary policy that pretty much worked when markets were going very well, but they had a very weak monetary policy for when we encounter bear markets.” 

Then Celsius Froze Over

In mid-June 2022, Celsius, a blockchain-based platform that specializes in crypto loans and borrowing, halted all withdrawals citing “extreme market conditions”. Following a month of turmoil, Celsius officially announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July. 

Just a year earlier, in June 2021, the platform’s native token CEL had reached its all-time high of $8.02 with a market cap of $1.9 billion. Following the platform’s upheaval, at the time of writing CEL was trading at $1.18 with a market cap of $281 million. 

According to court filings, when the platform filed for bankruptcy it was $1.2 billion in the red with $5.5 billion in liabilities, of which $4.7 billion is customer holdings. A far cry from its reign as one of the most successful DeFi (decentralized finance) platforms. What led to this demise?

Last year, the platform faced its first minor bump in the road when the US states of Texas, Alabama and New Jersey took legal action against the company for allegedly selling unregistered securities to users. 

Then, in April 2022, following pressure from regulators, Celsius also stopped providing interest-bearing accounts to non-accredited investors. While against the nature of DeFi, the company was left with little choice.  

Things then hit the fan in May of this year. The collapse of LUNA and UST caused significant damage to investor confidence across the entire cryptocurrency market. This is believed to have accelerated the start of a "crypto winter" and led to an industry-wide sell-off that produced a bank-run-style series of withdrawals by Celsius users. In bankruptcy documents, Celsius attributes its liquidity problems to the "domino effect" of LUNA's failure.

According to the company, Celsius had 1.7 million users and $11.7 billion worth of assets under management (AUM) and had made over $8 billion in loans alongside its very high APY (annual percentage yields) of 17%. 

These loans, however, came to a grinding halt when the platform froze all its clients' assets and announced a company-wide freeze on withdrawals in early June. 

Celsius released a statement stating: “Due to extreme market conditions, today we are announcing that Celsius is pausing all withdrawals, Swap, and transfers between accounts. We are taking this necessary action for the benefit of our entire community to stabilize liquidity and operations while we take steps to preserve and protect assets.”

Two weeks later the platform hired restructuring expert Alvarez & Marsal to assist with alleviating the damage caused by June’s uncertainty and the mounting liquidity issues. 

As of mid-July, after paying off several loans, Celsius filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

Final Thoughts

The biggest takeaway from these examples above it to always do your own research when it comes to investing in cryptocurrency or cryptocurrency platforms. Never chase “get-rich-quick” schemes, instead do your due diligence and read the fine print. If a platform is offering 20% APY, be sure to get to the bottom of how they intend to provide this. If there’s no transparency, there should be no investment. 

The cryptocurrency market has been faced with copious amounts of stressors in recent months, from the demise of these networks mentioned above (alongside others like Voyager and Three Anchor Capital) to a market-wide liquidity crunch, to the recent inflation rate increases around the globe. Not to mention the fearful anticipation of regulatory changes. 

If there’s one thing we know about cryptocurrencies it’s that the market as a whole is incredibly resilient. In recent weeks, prices of top cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have slowly started to increase, causing speculation that we might finally be making our way out of the crypto winter. While this won’t be an overnight endeavour, the sentiment in the market remains hopeful.