“What happens when the world and the U.S. dollar is in a continual state of quantitative easing?” Can BTC find a new and unexpected role for itself?
Reserve currency is money held by central banks or treasuries usually for international transactions. Argentina is not going to be able to purchase a Boeing 737 MAX passenger jet, for example, with its highly inflationary peso; it will have to pay with U.S. dollars, which is why Argentina keeps dollars on hand — i.e., in “reserve.”
A second basic function is to support the value of a national currency. If the Brazilian real, for instance, plummets during an economic contraction, Brazil’s central bank could bid it up again by purchasing reals with dollars that it holds in reserve.
Could Bitcoin (BTC) fulfill these key functions of a reserve currency? “I certainly think so, in the future at least,” Franklin Noll, a monetary historian and the president of Noll Historical Consulting, told Cointelegraph. Bitcoin’s electronic nature makes it well suited for settling payments. “If gold was used in the past to do so, this digital gold should do the job as well, if not better.”
Meanwhile, these are unusual times. When markets crashed amid the COVID-19 crisis in March, Bitcoin followed suit. “BTC did not perform well,” Sinjin David Jung, managing director at International Blockchain Monetary Reserve, told Cointelegraph. But in early 2021, the world is facing a different circumstance, one marked by extensive stimulus spending — especially in the United States — and if the dollar falters, according to Jung:
“BTC’s position is almost like the ‘last resort reserve currency’ in holding value if the increase of the U.S. dollar supply becomes the only tool for avoiding financial depression while paradoxically resulting in supercharging the market.”
“The U.S. dollar is still king”
But challenges remain, and Bitcoin probably won’t supplant USD anytime soon. Said Noll: “The current problem with Bitcoin — as with gold — is that few, if any, goods or debts are denominated in Bitcoin.” Furthermore, according to him: “It’s hard to see a future where a significant amount of the world’s trade is denominated in Bitcoin. The U.S. dollar is still king.”
Jonas Gross, project manager at the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center — a think tank associated with the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management — sees little chance that BTC will be used as a reserve currency by any industrialized country in the near future. “Skepticism remains very high,” he told Cointelegraph, referring to a recent statement made by European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde that called for global regulation of BTC because of money laundering concerns, among others.
That said, “the U.S. dollar’s dominance as the world’s reserve currency could indeed be threatened,” continued Gross. China is in advanced testing of its central bank digital currency — i.e., its digital currency/electronic payment project — which could be launched as early as 2022, and foreigners might be allowed to access and use it for transactions. In that event, Gross added:
“It would be possible to use a digital version of the yuan for global payments easily and conveniently — transaction costs could be reduced, and the digital yuan would ‘flow across borders’ quite easily.”
China’s yuan will have to go some distance to catch the dollar, however. USD accounted for 60.46% of the world’s allocated foreign exchange reserves as of Q3 2020, followed by the euro (20.53%), Japanese yen (5.92%) and U.K. pound sterling (4.50%), according to the International Monetary Fund. The yuan was only fifth (2.13%).
Just six dominant reserve currencies since 1450
Campbell Harvey, professor of international business at Duke University, told Cointelegraph that as the rates of borrowing in the United States rise, “the riskier it [USD] becomes as a reserve currency. At some point, it is too risky, and alternatives are sought.” Indeed, economic history teaches that global reserve currencies do not last forever.
In August, business intelligence firm MicroStrategy announced that it had adopted Bitcoin as its primary treasury reserve asset. At the start of 2021, former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper raised the ante, suggesting that not only companies but governments might use crypto as a reserve, albeit as part of a “basket of things” that also included gold and fiat.