Tether General Counsel Tells CNBC Audit Is ‘Months’ Away

21 July 2021

An audit for Tether, issuer of the largest stablecoin USDT, could be “months away, not years,” the company’s Stuart Hoegner said in an CNBC interview on Wednesday.

A day after rival stablecoin issuer Circle released more data about the assets behind USDC, Tether executives went on CNBC’s online show “Tech Check” to answer questions about USDT. 

CTO Paolo Ardoino and General Counsel Hoegner were interviewed on one of the financial news network’s online shows to take tough questions from Deirdre Bosa. The host pelted them repeatedly with questions about the origin of Tether’s commercial paper and its stalled token issuances even as other stablecoins continue to grow. [A small amount – a little more than $100,000 worth – was issued hours before the interview.]

When asked about audits, Hoegner responded that one could be forthcoming in months, rather than years.

Bosa: "Quick question just to follow up on the audit. To go back a tiny little bit, I know that you said you would be thrilled to be the first crypto company and stablecoin to go through an audit. Do you have a date in mind?"

Hoegner: "We don't at this time, no, but we are reaching back a couple of years for the financial audit and that is in process."

Bosa: "Okay, do you think that's years away?"

Hoegner: "Months, not years."

Bosa: "Only months away?"

Hoegner: "Yep"

Tether promised audits as far back as 2017, but has yet to produce one. The company even hired New York-based accountants Friedman LLP that year to produce reports, but the relationship was dissolved in early 2018. No audit has ever been issued, though Tether published an attested report in March, 2021. An audit is generally considered to be a far more intensive accounting procedure than an attestation.

Despite amounting inquiries demanding more transparency from Tether, Hoegner said in the CNBC interview that “We’re happy now with our relationship with Moore Cayman, by extension more global, and we are getting the attests and the market is getting the information and the transparency that it needs to make good, efficient decisions about what to hold.”

While CNBC often has CEOs and CFOs on to discuss their companies, Tether’s top brass are notoriously camera shy. A Financial Times story a week ago about Tether/Bitfinex CEO Giancarlo Devasini is one of the few from a major publication to even mention his name. Ardoino and Hoegner, however, are regular commenters on Twitter, frequently defending the stablecoin, particularly against criticism about the quality of the assets they say back the token with $64 billion in market cap and often the most traded cryptocurrency on any given day. 

It’s particularly notable that Ardoino and Hoegner appeared on CNBC. Jim Cramer, host of the network’s popular show, “Mad Money,” has repeatedly criticized Tether for its relative opaqueness when it comes to disclosing its assets. For instance, a week ago, he called USDT crypto’s “Achilles Heel” and continued to rip into the stablecoin as recently as Tuesday

It should also be noted that the interview was online, with fewer than 1,000 people watching rather than on the cable network’s regular TV programming, which often gets multiples of that viewership. Nonetheless, the interview lasted about a half an hour. 

Highlights of Ardoino and Hoegner’s appearance include:

Commercial Paper 

  • The Tether executives didn’t answer Bosa’s question of whether Tether holds any Chinese commercial paper, but Hoegner said that the portfolio contains “international commercial paper.” The commercial paper is “overwhelmingly rated A2 or better,” he said, reiterating a previous statement
  • When asked who rated the commercial paper, Hoegner said, “That's S&P, Fitch. That's across multiple … we rated that across multiple rating agencies.” 
  • The executives refused to disclose more details about the commercial paper Tether holds, saying that the company doesn’t identify its “commercial partners” and wanted to respect “the privacy of its banking partners.” 
  • Financial Times earlier reported that the largest players in the U.S. commercial paper market were not aware of Tether’s participation. In response to that, Hoegner explained Tether’s operation, saying, “We maintain accounts and a number of banks, financial institutions, they request quotes for commercial paper offerings from their banks, who in turn request those brokers and other counterparties, both direct from issuers and on secondary markets.” 

Circle’s Disclosure

  • When asked their thoughts on Circle’s disclosure on Tuesday, Hoegner said, “We're happy to see them follow in our footsteps and try to approach our level of transparency and disclosure that we've been putting out there in the marketplace.” Tether, once the most opaque stablecoin issuer, issued its first attestation report in March this year, while most other stablecoins issuers started such efforts in 2018 and 2019. Tether revealed the breakdown of its reserves as part of its settlement with the New York Attorney General’s office.
  • Bosa asked if Tether is worried that Circle’s higher percentage of cash and cash equivalents would draw investors away from Tether. Hoegner said, “Not at all. That has been public for some time. We maintain cash, for example, that has many multiples above our single biggest redemption thus far, as well as above our biggest 24 hour period of redemptions. So we're quite comfortable with our portfolio as a whole.”
  • “We have never refused a redemption to a customer,” according to Ardoino.

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