Nouriel Roubini, a blockchain basher who famously called Bitcoin “the mother of all bubbles,” is working to develop a suite of financial products including a tokenized asset intended to act as a “more resilient dollar” in the face of higher inflation, climate change and civil unrest.
Roubini, nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his bearish views, sees room for an asset-backed digital coin that could help protect against higher prices and benefit from soaring demand for land and commodities, as well as a loss of confidence in fiat currencies. He’s working with Dubai-based Atlas Capital Team LP, which he joined two years ago as co-founder and chief economist, to create the new products.
In doing so, Roubini is tapping into growing concerns over the pace of inflation as well as speculation about the longer-term outlook for the dollar, with prominent financial voices including Bridgewater Associates LP’s Ray Dalio and Credit Suisse AG strategist Zoltan Pozsar having argued the U.S. currency risks gradually losing its reserve status.
The greenback’s lofty position could be in jeopardy as the U.S. “prints too much money and adversaries start de-dollarizing,” Roubini said in an interview. “We recognized that America’s dollar reserve currency could be at risk and are working to create a new instrument that’s effectively a more resilient dollar.”
Unlike many cryptocurrencies, Roubini stresses that the coin would be backed by real assets — a mix of short-term U.S. Treasuries, gold and U.S. property (in the form of real estate investment trusts, or REITs) that’s expected to be less affected by climate change.
That could appeal to large investors such as sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and even central banks who hold large reserves of dollar-denominated assets, or who are looking for an alternative to the usual mix of stocks and bonds, he said. Atlas has approached Persian Gulf funds including the Qatar Investment Authority, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Kuwait Investment Authority, according to people familiar with the discussions. KIA officials could not be reached for comment, and the other funds did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The plan is to build an index and offer total return swaps to large investors, before expanding to an exchange-traded fund and eventually offering a tokenized version, Atlas co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Reza Bundy said in an interview.
“Our goal is to create a global store of value,” the CEO said. “This is something akin to a substitute for Treasuries, or a digital asset that has payment features in it.”
Atlas Capital said it’s working with Mysten Labs, the web3 developer founded by former Meta Platforms Inc. (Facebook) engineers and backed by Andreessen Horowitz, to develop the technology for the “United Sovereign Governance Gold Optimized Dollar,” or “USG.” A spokeswoman for Mysten Labs confirmed the collaboration.
Offering the product in the form of a tokenized security creates a “digital rail” to reach a larger swath of people without access to stable currencies, Roubini said. “There’s a financial inclusion opportunity, where they lack exposure to the dollar and have a need for stable portable value that replaces the dwindling value of their own local currency,” he added.
The S&P 500 has slumped almost 16% this year while the Bloomberg Treasury Index has dropped 9.6%, inflicting pain on the traditional portfolio mix of 60% stocks and 40% bonds. Meanwhile, the Bloomberg Dollar Index is up more than 6% in the same period — bucking early predictions of its demise. Gold is up almost 2% in 2022.
Roubini’s involvement in digital assets may surprise many market participants. The economist, who’s also CEO of Roubini Macro Associates LLC, has previously condemned blockchain as “the most overhyped — and least useful — technology in human history,” although he’s also argued that central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) could be useful.
Most cryptocurrencies “are not even assets as they are not backed by anything — only vaporware — and don’t provide either income or use or other utility services; so they are purely speculative asset bubbles,” Roubini and the Atlas team wrote in a note summarizing the project.
“The future of money is likely to be central bank digital currencies,” the note said. “Whether these CBDCs will be decentralized — based on public blockchains — or more likely centralized — and based on private permissioned blockchains or clubs of trusted financial institutions — remains to be figured out. But certainly the future of money is digital and away from cash (banknotes and coins).”
Atlas is aiming to launch the new index later this year.
You can read an excerpt from the Atlas note summarizing the USG project below.
“Could this new international store of value — USG — evolve over time with features that make it also a international means of payment and unit of account, i.e. a true international reserve currency? To start with, the role of the US dollar as the key global reserve currency remains strong but it is subject to several risks: first, inflation and debasement of the US dollar; second, the large US twin fiscal and current account deficits imply — over the medium-long term — a much weaker dollar; this is a variant of the Triffin’s Dilemma about the global reserve currency needing to be also the currency of the increasingly largest international debtor country. Third, geopolitical rivalry between the US and China may lead to a bi-polar international monetary system where the Chinese currency becomes an important alternative to the US dollar. If the three above risks were to materialize even a digital e-dollar that is still based on a fiat system would be at risk given inflation and debasement risks and geopolitical regime changes.
Thus, over time central banks and private sector agents may want to consider using as a means of payment and unit of account an asset that is already a good store of value of wealth against a variety of shocks. Being on digital rails such a USG digital asset would be certainly very flexible to be used in international financial transactions. It is true that USG value would fluctuate over time based on the return on the underlying assets; so it is not automatically an obvious means of payment or unit of account.
However, one can notice that in a world of CBDC any of such digital moneys may have interest rate bearing features as digital cash allows to pay either a positive or negative interest on such digital money balances; and indeed already today excess reserves of commercial banks, a component of base money, can earn positive or negative returns depending on the stance of monetary policy.
Thus, the future of digital money — CBDCs — is a future where money — historically a zero interest bearing assets — can become an asset with positive or negative rate of return. In that context, an interest bearing CBDC that may not provide an hedge against inflation — let alone other financial, political, geopolitical, environmental risks — could over time find competition from an interest bearing digital store of value that may start to be used as an international means of payments and — eventually — even as a unit of account that is inflation proof.”