Does Howard Lutnick Know ‘the Truth’ About Tether?

Speaking at Davos, the Cantor Fitzgerald CEO says the stablecoin issuer has the money to back USDT. Maybe it’s time we all started to believe in Tether, despite the “truthers”?

AccessTimeIconJan 17, 2024 at 9:13 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 8:07 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJan 17, 2024 at 9:13 p.m. UTCUpdated Mar 8, 2024 at 8:07 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJan 17, 2024 at 9:13 p.m. UTCUpdated Mar 8, 2024 at 8:07 p.m. UTC

Fresh in from the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland: Howard Lutnick, chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, has reiterated claims that Tether has the money the stablecoin issuer claims to have. Cantor has been a Tether custodian since late 2021, and as such has been able to examine portions of the stablecoin issuer's balance sheet, Lutnick said.

It’s unclear how much or what percentage of Tether’s funds Cantor manages. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Lutnck said "I manage many, many of their assets.”

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"From what we've seen, and we did a lot of work, they have the money,” he added.

Lutnick referenced the conspiracies that have long plagued the world’s first and largest stablecoin issuer, namely, that its USDT stablecoin is backed by air. “There has always been a lot of talk, 'Do they have it or not?' So I'm here with you guys saying we've seen it, and they have it,” Lutnck said.

Over and above the fact that Cantor Fitzgerald, a storied financial firm founded in 1945, is tying its reputation to Tether and inviting controversy, Lutnck’s comments are significant because he is perhaps the only person outside of crypto with a reputation to lose willing to speak out in favor of the offshore stablecoin king.

His remarks came days after a UN report singled out USDT as the preferred vehicle for money laundering in Southeast Asia. Tether – whose market cap is four times as much as its next largest competitor, USDC – has denied those allegations, noting “the traceability of Tether tokens and the proven record Tether has of collaborating with law enforcement,” in its statement.

Of course, this is not the first time Lutnick has backed up Tether. And there is certainly a financial incentive for Lutnck to try to dispel the rumors around its client (Lutnik is the majority owner of Cantor). The Block, citing an unnamed source, reported that Cantor holds "the vast vast majority" of Tether's reserves.

That is a lot of coin. USDT, which is growing at an unmatched rate compared to rival stablecoins, has a market cap above $90 billion. If there is a dollar or dollar equivalent held in reserve backing the $99.5 billion+ of USDT in circulation, that means Cantor has a lot of assets to potentially use to earn revenue.

This isn’t necessarily to discount what Lutnick said, but it is relevant. I mean, Lutnick pledging that the assets exist isn’t exactly the “concrete evidence of Tether's financial strength” that Tether CEO Paolo Ardoino wants it to be.

So what would “affirm the robustness of [Tether’s] reserves,” as Ardoino put it? Well, an actual audit.

The quarterly attestations Tether provides (which were first mandated by the New York Attorney General, after the company was found to have lied about its reserves, and are now offered proactively by Tether) offer only a glimpse into the the systemically-important (or “Too Big To Fail”) stablecoin. But an attestation doesn’t conclusively prove that the assets are always where they are supposed to be.

Tether has been claiming it will supply an actual audit for years. When I spoke to Ardoino for CoinDesk’s Most Influential series last November, he was cagey about saying anything specific about this. To be fair, auditing firms have been remiss to get involved in the crypto industry, or take the risk of auditing a firm like Tether.

So until that happens, and a legitimate auditor bites the bullet, it’ll be a “he says, she says” situation.

That said, at this point, it is absolutely time for the so-called Tether Truthers to give up the game. For years, skeptics have been able to get away with saying just about anything they want about Tether, wantonly connecting dots and raising questions out of nowhere. For instance, it was once a popular trope that Tether was responsible for driving up the price of bitcoin (BTC), by inflating the market with counterfeit dollars.

It is conclusively true that Tether has lied about the nature of its reserves. The company also had a shady backroom deal with sister company Bitfinex, after the popular exchange was hacked. Its executives have been evasive, and there’s reason enough to distrust their statements.

However, just because someone lied doesn’t mean they’re always lying. It’s perfectly reasonable for a company in as lucrative a business as Tether to eventually clean up its act. And everyday that USDT continues to trade, with every new blockchain it expands onto and with every new corporate backer like Cantor it gets, is another reason for it to mature.


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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.