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Stablecoin Mechanics 3: Circle of Life

Circle issues USDC. Generally USDC is accepted to have proper backing, KYC their clients sensibly, and just all around work “fine.” What we are going to show here is that while those things are not problems some of the flows are “weird.”

This explores a single example focused around address 0xAca8946112172569378a1047E9C67151b063658f. Here is every USDC transaction for this address:

So that’s weird right. Obviously we just randomly guessed this address and found something interesting. Open etherscan and mash the keyboard, on repeat, until something funny appears.*

So there are 40 transfers of 500k each into the wallet, and 1 transfer for 20mm out. Ready for some excitement? This graph includes 10 of those inflows, the 1 outflow, and shows an interesting circle:

0x55fe, orange in the lower-left with lots of connections, is the USDC treasury. 0x28c5b, the blue lower-left wallet, is known to Circle as they issue directly. It’s also — and this was found by Matt Ranger —probably Alameda Research as it matches this article.

The flow into 0x18fc, lower right, looks like this:

You can probably guess the rest of the circle. But that’s not what is interesting. The interesting part is the other 15mm USD. Here’s 0x945e2 from the top-left:

All those arrows pointing out of 0x18fc in the lower-right? Somehow they come back in at the top-right as exactly 15mm split into 30 500k transfers.

People in crypto like to “zoom out” so we did:

The first plot is the circle at the center-right. Weird huh, all those batches of intermediary addresses. Colouring comes from clustering on the graph. That helps figuring out who is connected to what and such. We use a standard hierarchical clustering algorithm.

Notice not everything is unwound and nothing labelled in the graphic? That’s because we are very bad with data analysis.

Let’s look into the 10 purple wallets up top:

And load 0x0e2c0:

You probably saw that coming. Of course the other 9 are the same. Most of those long lines in the big plot are transfers of exactly 500k and somehow feed back where we started. Again to employ a common phrase: probably nothing.

All this action took place between October 2018 and early January 2019. Stablecoins really have a different circle of life.

* An Exercise For The Reader

If your keyboard is rated for 100 million clicks and you randomly choose addresses how many non-empty ones do you expect to find before the keyboard breaks?

Hint: it’s 0.

What if you owned every keyboard on earth and wore them all out?

Hint: it’s still 0.



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