The chart below shows a good move up in the S&P500 (an Index of the US stock market) and Ethereum. Both moves occured right in the 10:11-10:12AM EST time frame. The top chart is Ethereum from GDAX and the bottom is the S&P500 (SPX).
Clearly there are good sized traders out treating Ethereum and Bitcoin as an asset class like equities…
Its more than apparent that hedge funds and banks are pushing into the Bitcoin and crypto markets. Today I noticed that both Bitcoin and Ethereum prices gapped up at 9:30AM EST. Coincidentally thats when the US stock markets open for trading. Forgive the terrible notation in the GDAX charts below, I was in a rush.
There is no obvious reason why the two would be linked, I suspect it has something more to do with some traders who have algorithms for the US stock markets. When their machines flip on they also have Bitcoin and Ethereum in their portfolios, so they begin trading them, too.
I don’t currently have the time to backtest this, but I wanted to post something as a reminder.
There is a lot of action in Bitcoin and Ethereum trading – intra-day volatility can be huge. One thing that is frequent in crytpo trading is buy or sell “walls”. I great example happened today on the GDAX exchange.
You can see at the bottom section of the chart below you have an aggregate of buy and sell volume at various prices. On the left in green is the amount in total that people are willing to buy at various prices. On the right in red is the amount sellers are wishing to unload. As you can see there is a massive amount of Ethereum for sale around $230 ETHUSD. This is almost 8,000 ETH units for sale at $230/ETH which is roughly $1.8 million USD.
For the price of Ethereum to move over $230 there needs to either be very strong buying demand to “tear down that wall”, or the large seller(s) need to pull back.
Buy and sell “walls” is something you will see frequently in crypto trading.
ReformedBroker.com posted a note on his blog explaining how and why he purchased his first Bitcoin. I’d summarize it as “Bitcoin doesn’t seem to be going away so I best try it out.” He doesn’t offer much insight or new perspective, just seems to be capitulating and accepting that there just could be a future in cryptocurrency.
This guy is a financial advisor with a large blog following. This is how he describes himself:
We help people align their investments with their financial goals and manage portfolios for them. Our clients range from high net worth households to corporations to retirement plans to charitable foundations. For younger investors and those just getting started, we’ve created the Liftoff automated advisor – a simple, low-cost way to access a professionally managed portfolio selected just for you.
So you are now free to dump all of your crypto-currencies because this surely marks an all-time top.
But I thought I’d mention it anyway.
For those who are curious about why and how, I’ll just say the following…
I’m old enough to realize that just because I don’t see a use for something, that doesn’t mean I won’t be proven wrong by others who do. At the current moment, I don’t see the financial industry use for Bitcoin other than some marginal activities like settling commodity trades that are very far divorced from my day to day existence. I understand the benefits of these things – the blockchain acting as verification that the counterparty has made payment instantly, etc. I’ve probably read all the stuff that you have. I’m skeptical.
I also think it’s hard to imagine the IRS, Treasury etc allowing anonymous transactions without any reporting becoming a global standard for US persons.
But I’m willing to look beyond that because the goddamn thing won’t go away. I was talking with Justin Paterno (StockTwits) the other day and his attitude toward it is pretty much where I am – “Anytime something just refuses to die, you probably have to pay attention to it.” Bitcoin, if it were complete and utter nonsense, probably should have died already. But 7 years since it burst into the public consciousness – with all of the attendant volatility and criminal activity you’d expect to come along with something so new and unproven – and it’s still here. Despite the hacking and stealing and malfunctions and crashes, it’s still a thing. It’s the f***ing rooster. Ain’t found a way to kill me yet…
Anyway, I’m not a disruption hippie or an early adopter or a visionary or an evangelist. But I’m too curious to not experience Bitcoin ownership for myself. Oh, by the way, I don’t see myself trading it on price swings, more on that in a second.
So I used Coinbase, which from what I gather is the “safe” way to buy, sell and store. We’ll see. I began with a small amount of money so if they hack the site tonight and empty everyone’s wallets, I won’t feel it. The process was fairly simple.
First you create an account and connect it to your phone and email. They text you a code to verify and send you an email to confirm. No big deal. Then you connect a bank account, which only takes a second. From there, Coinbase makes two small deposits into your bank (pennies, don’t get excited) over the next 48 hours. You log back in and report what those tiny deposits were so it can verify the connection to your bank. Once that’s done, you can transact.
I bought some BTC, although ethereum and litecoin were also on the menu. I look at those other two like silver and bronze to Bitcoin’s gold. But I’m just making that up. Ethereum (ETH) might one day be better because it allegedly has some technological advantages, but I’m a newb so I’m starting with the more established fake thing rather than the less established fake things.
Anyway, I expect a lot of volatility and I really don’t know what I will ultimately do with my digital thing. Maybe I will add to it or maybe I will buy ETH also at some point. It went up 8% today I think so already I’m a genius 😉
I think at this stage in the game, it’s important to be open-minded and not afraid to lose money or look foolish. I’ve invested into way dumber things in my life. And as far as what the future holds – if the disruption hippies turn out to be right, and the 21 million BTC that will eventually be the limit are out there in public hands, it’s hard to imagine them not appreciating in price. Especially if they become more institutionalized and embedded into enterprise scale transactions – which is what the banking industry seems to be leaning toward from what I read and hear. I like the idea of scarcity and owning something that is finite by design.
And yes, I am aware of the possible split in the community, I have no opinion about it and nothing worthwhile to add. I’ve factored this risk in mentally. The resolution of this scaling problem may turn out to be a powerful upside catalyst just as easily as it could lead to a panic. Brexit-esque.
One other thing. On the Silk Road two thousand years ago, you needed gold to settle transactions. Because from Korea to the Asian Steppe to the Mediterranean, there had to be one thing whose value was never questioned. Gold facilitated trade and liquidity from one end of the known world to the other. My opinion is that this property of the element – it’s universal acceptance – remained in force for centuries…until it was disrupted by the internet. Once computers arrived, we had instant access to values and prices of goods around the world. Gold’s role in global liquidity and verification suddenly mattered less. No one realized it at the time, but gold as a currency had been permanently disrupted by the microchip and the operating system.
The Information Technology Revolution began in the early 1980’s when the computer became first a ubiquitous business tool and then eventually a household appliance. It should come as no surprise when I tell you that this moment also was the inflation-adjusted high for gold, still unsurpassed almost 40 years later.
Blockchain technology may have just permanently disrupted traditional currencies. It’s obvious to me that even if this is true, we will not know it for sure until decades have gone by.
Todays Bitcoin and Ethereum bloodbath was more or less expected ahead of the (potential) coming Bitcoin “Segwit” event. While this is causing major moves in the short term I think its prescient to remind the cryptocurrency community that Wall Street is on its way. In the past we posted about what some of the roadblocks are, but with todays Bitcoin and cryptocurrency bloodbath we thought maybe some positive predictions were due.
First, trading in “traditional” (stocks, options, bonds, etc) Wall Street products is flat, at best. There is nothing indicating that those traditional volumes will pick up either. (See JPM trading revenues, weak). [Note, other areas of banking appear to be strong – I am referencing the trading sector specifically]
Take a look at US stock and options volume for example. Yes, there is some deviation month to month but its been flat for years.
Below is Bitcoin 7 day average volume. I’d suspect most would argue that this volume will continue to grow over time – if not in Bitcoin than certainly in other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum or Dash.
This offers opportunities not just in trading – but in services for trading:
Cryptocurrency clearing and storage
Research and Analysis
“Smart Routing” and algorithmic trading
It would be easy to argue that as more large entities enter the space, more technology is built and more capital flows in. While today Bitcoin prices are getting hammered, we’re in the first inning of a game that most likely will not end in our lifetimes. Reminder: this isn’t investment advice, just an offering of perspective.
What follows below is rampant speculation. Do not take any of this as investment or trading advice.
Bitcoin vs Ethereum Price Charts
We originally posted this analogy comparing the first (2013) exponential ramp in Bitcoin to the Ethereum price ramp of the last few months. This isn’t a prediction, but I find it quite interesting. You could make a case that Ethereums price is tracking this initial run of Bitcoin.
This chart of stock market bubbles (or any investment mania, I suppose) is well known, and seems applicable here. If I had to toss a guess, we’re in the bull trap phase. Ethereum is right around ~$200 now and I’d speculate that round numbers often prove to be support areas.
Another interesting thing about this analogy – the Bitcoin hard for is 20 days from now. There was 20 days between the “Bull Trap” phase and “Return to Normal” in the Bitcoin price bounce. If Bitcoin forks on August 1st that could have a major price impact on all cryptocurrencies and drive real “Fear” into the crypto market.
We’ll keep updating this chart to keep an eye on this analogy. While I believe in Ethereum long term, the Bitcoin fork and Ethereum ICO’s it could make for a bumpy road in the short term.
First, some caveats. I spot checked exchange websites to verify these prices. It appeared like I could trade the Bitcoin/USD pair on each of these exchanges. How the exchanges adjust their local currency into USD could cause the price differences. For example, the Chinese exchange might use a delayed quote to adjust their price from Yuan to USD for advertising purposes. Then, when you try to trade you’ll see a different quote. What follows below is just a thought exercise – do not take it as anything more.
Want to make ~10% of your money instantly?
Buy bitcoin on Poloniex and sell on LakeBTC. Poloniex lists themselves as a Wilmington, DE company whereas LakeBTC is Chinese. So if that geographical difference bothers you, then flip to GDAX or Gemini vs Poloniex where the arbitrage is closer to 5%.
Why is the Price Difference Between Bitcoin Exchanges so Big?
There is no real linkage between various Bitcoin Exchanges. Historically stock exchanges didn’t have linkages either and it was market participants who made their living arbitraging between exchanges. As more arbitrage players step in the price spread between exchanges shrinks. More players, more competition, smaller (aka “tighter”) spreads.
Why haven’t arbitrage players/market makers jumped into Bitcoin?
Well, many have. There are players in the arb game already but there are some challenging barriers to entry.
Exchanges often have API’s which allow you to connect and with a bit of code you could be on your way. Now the fun part.
Bitcoin wallets are local to the exchange.
There is no “central” wallet (that I’m currently aware of) which all the exchanges connect to. If you are trading on OKCoin you have to have a bunch of funds on that exchange. If you want to arbitrage against Gemini you need funds there, too. What happens if you buy a bunch Bitcoin on OKC and then need to sell a bunch on Gemini? Suddenly you’d be out of cash on OKC and flush with cash on Gemini. You then need to either transfer cash or Bitcoin to OKC so you can buy more on that exchange.
Great, lets transfer more cash to OKC:
This can be time consuming – will the exchange take in the funds instantly? When arb’ing time is of the essence. Additionally, many exchanges won’t take US customers. Some find ways around this of opening local companies and local bank accounts. Enter in the issue of currency.
If you’re primarily in USD’s you might have to account for the currency conversion to the local exchnages currency. OKC is in China, so you have to get USD into Yuan and factor that into your arbitrage. When the price spread is $200 between exchanges this might not matter much – but when that spread gets tighter it may become a problem.
Option two: send Bitcoins from Gemini to OKC: Generally this is cheap and efficient. BUT, Bitcoin has been known to have some network issues that slow down the transfer of Bitcoin from one wallet to another. Particularly when the prices are really moving fast. As an arbitrager its when markets are moving fast that you’re most likely to have to move Bitcoin between wallets. Lets say you need funds at OKC immediately because you sold some at Gemini – a 5 minute delay in sending coins could wipe out your arbitrage.
Keep in mind – most arbitrage players want to trade on many exchanges simultaneously not just two. You can see how this could get confusing quite quickly.
These problems are solvable, but far from trivial.
Enter Bitcoin Exchange “counterparty” risk.
Alright, you need to keep a bunch of funds distributed to all the various exchanges on which you trade. As any long time Bitcoiner will tell you, keeping funds on an exchange brings a lot of risk. You’re exposed to everything from hackers hitting the exchange (see Poloniex) to the people that own the exchange just deciding your funds are theirs (see Mt. Gox). Certainly exchanges are getting better and more secure as they evolve. Buy lets say the Konim exchange messed up your wire transfer. They’re Turkish – do you speak Turkish? There are also plenty of stories involving US Banks which aren’t wild about your evil cryptocurrency related money transfers. So they hold up your funds.
These and others are all risk that you have to consider.
All that aside, it appears there is money to be made. Its also a safe bet that more players are going to pile in, technology will improve and the price difference between exchanges will close up. For most of us normal “buy and hodlrs” that means more efficient markets.
The paper does point to issues with Bitcoin and eludes to the upcoming forking issue and states that Ethereum “is about to eclipse Bitcoin in value.”
Countless times they point to the “lack of governance” in Bitcoin as a hindrance and that is part of why they like Ethereum. The paper is all about “governance” and “stewardship”. Its about what needs to be done to guide Bitcoin and Ethereum along.
My question is: Why try to come in and govern something which you have no rights to govern? This sounded to me like a takeover. “We need to build this framework and step in to make Bitcoin right.” Well, why not just make your own currency then? If the WEC is so pervasive and powerful then copy the Bitcoin code and launch your blockchain.
Vitalik Buterin co-Founder of Ethereum is a brilliant man who launched a revolutionary product. Fortunately, he seems like a pretty stand up guy. Very, very easily he could flip and then the whole Ethereum game is over. Yes, concise leadership can be a great thing when the leader is making the right calls.
Bitcoin doesn’t have that head coach. But why does bitcoin have to be the final answer? If you just closed your ears to the blocksize debate I’d say Bitcoin is and will probably be an incredible success. I would also say that Bitcoin was the first major global launch of a blockchain product. Since when has the first launch of anything been the final answer?
Too often it seems that people want one answer in the crypto space. “We need to take over Bitcoin” or “Ethereum will replace Bitcoin”. Why? Whats wrong with 10,000 different blockchains and currencies? One answer means its easier for governments or large players to step in and control the game. If you want that then just keep your fiat at your bank down the street.
Hedge funds and Wall Street firms have been slow moving into trading and investing in cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin. There are some
indicators that sentiment is shifting such as JP Morgan (and others) joining the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance and Goldman Sachs initiating research coverage of Bitcoin.
Assume for a second that sentiment is suddenly 100% positive and that all the “scam” and “crime” stigma has left the building. So, whats the problem?
Regulation of Bitcoin, Ethereum
Party of the beauty and attraction of crypto is the decentralization and lack of regulation. There are many reasons why this is beneficial. But if you’re a big bank or managing billions of dollars, regulation matters. First, Bitcoin is not “legal” in all countries. Just look at what China did a few months ago when they started “regulating” Bitcoin. As per wikipedia: “While private parties can hold and trade bitcoins in China, regulation prohibits financial firms like banks from doing the same.” Not only is there (outside) risk of the US doing this, but if you’re a fund thats has Chinese investors or does business with China this clouds the water.
Most assets are also considered collateral. If I have $10 million in gold I can bet that the bank I deal with would consider that an asset against which I can borrow. Does every bank see Bitcoin in that same light?
A lower risk, but still foreseeable is the risks of regulators such as the SEC or FINRA coming after you for engaging in (for example) an investment used to launder money. Maybe you buy Monero and build up a large position and
those assets are seized because the FBI thinks they were used in some hacking blackmail scheme. Probable? Probably not. Possible? Sure.
The facts are that until a regulator “green lights” Bitcoin and/or Ethereum its going to be tough for large institutions to trade or invest.
When Might Regulators Weigh In?
I’ve been watching the SEC’s ruling on the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF launch. Its taken years for a ruling, and earlier this year it was initially rejected. However in April the SEC decided to take another look. I think its a bit underestimated the impact that approval would have to the price of Bitcoin. This would give not only a regulatory stamp of approval, but paves the way towards clearing and settlement of Bitcoin at an institutional level.
Clearing and Settlement is a Major Problem
Take stock or ETF trading as an example. When funds (or anyone as a generalization) trade publicly listed stock that stock clears through a central clearing house called the DTC. If I am a hedge fund and have my assets at say, Goldman Sachs (your “prime broker”), I can trade stock with JP Morgan. JPM sends the stock to my account at Goldman through the DTC. Its a pretty seamless process and universal to US stock trading.
Now, lets say I’m a hedge fund and I want to buy $1 million Bitcoin. Buying is easy enough – you go to one of the exchanges, wire money and buy your Bitcoin. The problem is there is no way to get your Bitcoin back to your prime broker. No, a wallet even with vaulted cold storage wouldn’t work. The risks associated with that are high, but the mechanics of trading in and out are a huge hindrance. If the fund needs to immediately raise assets by selling Bitcoin they need to have immediate access to those coins. While yes, you can work out the mechanics if you are a small fund or “crypto” is your dedicated business. But for large institutions who want to simply invest in crypto this is a major hindrance.
How Could Clearing Change?
One possible way is for clearing houses/prime brokers like Goldman or Morgan Stanley to have some type of central clearing wallet. Linked to that wallet would be “sub-wallets” for each fund that owns Bitcoin. Therefore if I go to Gemini Exchange and buy 1000 Bitcoin, I tell Gemini to send that Bitcoin to Morgan Stanley on my behalf. Morgan Stanley then has custody and can allocate the Bitcoin to my funds sub-wallet. This “sub-wallet” concept seems to peripherally exist and I’d imagine banks could pay someone to hash it out rather quickly.
If the Bitcoin ETF launched this would circumvent all of this, because you could just buy the ETF and it would clear via the DTC like all other stocks and ETFs. (Yes, I am aware the GBTC exists, but the premium on that product is absurd). To this point I think this clearing/custodial aspect is probably one of the problems the SEC is having with the product.
In the End
I’m confident these issues will be worked out. The fact that they haven’t yet makes (in my opinion) Bitcoin and Ethereum such an interesting investment at the moment. The door is currently cracked open to big investors, but eventually we could see a real flood of assets.
The alternative title for this post was set to be “Coinbase: Spread ’em!”, but its probably best to tone it down.
For those in the US, Coinbase is arguably the most convenient and mainstream way to purchase Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin. They link to your bank account and will allow you to buy and sell crypto with the click of a button. They offer relative security in that they have “grade A” investors like the New York Stock Exchange. (This would be in comparison to some non US exchanges owned by…???) I personally use Coinbase and have recommended them to friends.
Coinbase is superficially a retail application that routes orders to their exchange, GDAX which offers more advanced functionality.
According to CoinMarketCap, GDAX is the 7th largest crypto exchange by volume.
With the recent price explosion in crypto, CoinBase has had many issues with downtime. Often when markets were at the jumpiest users would see the following screen:
Uptime aside, I think its important for users to really understand the price they are paying for this convenience and security.
How [I Speculate] Coinbase Works
Coinbase does not give users the ability to place limit orders – for that you have to use GDAX. Coinbase gives you a live price at which you can buy or sell the crypto of your choice. That price comes from GDAX, and that is where they “source liquidity” (i.e. actually buy or sell). When you buy they then pull money from your bank account or credit card. This opens Coinbase up to two principal points of risk
Price Risk – Coinbase guarantees you a price for a few seconds, during which the actual price could move. Coinbase still has to grant you the quoted price, even though the price may have changed between when they quote you and when you click “Buy”.
“Funding” Risk – Your crypto is not available under Coinbase has received the funds from your bank. However you could probably find ways to cancel the funds transfer and stick Coinbase with the crypto you bought. This leaves them with unwanted inventory and the associated risk. Coinbase caps how much you can buy or sell, and you need special permission for higher levels to greatly mitigate this risk.
This risk is baked into the price when you receive a quote and pay their fee. It appears in two places:
Crypto Pricing (Not Very Transparent): They “spread” you, meaning they increase the price over (buying) or under (if selling) where the actual market is trading. For example, the actual mid point price for Bitcoin might be $2,000, but Coinbase will sell you Bitcoin for $2,010. Note that if you use GDAX you can place limit orders and have better control of your price.
I surmise that when markets get really crazy, spreads widen out. Meaning the price Coinbase is quoting you will be father away from where actual market is trading. This is what happens in stock and options trading: market makers widen their bid/ask quotes to reduce their risk.
Here is a real time example using Coinbase on iOS:
Buy 1 Bitcoin:
Coinbase Offer Price: 2284.65
Coinbase Fees: $34.04
Simultaneous market on GDAX:
GDAX: Bid $2,268 x Ask $2,273
Therefore Coinbase is going to sell me 1 Bitcoin at $2,318.91, then simultaneously buy on GDAX for a worst case $2,273. They clear $45 from the trade or about 2%. For the security and convenience of using Coinbase, I’d argue thats not a terrible price.
Its possible that they also have a matching engine which would pair or match my buy order off against another Coinbase user that is selling. This means that they could fill both of our orders “mid market” (halfway between the GDAX bid/ask) which would be a price of $2,270. That adds a few more dollars of profit for them.
Not a bad business.
The Flash Crash
Last week Ethereum [ETH] prices “Flash Crashed” on the GDAX/Coinbase exchange. Price went from ~$320 to $0.10 and then back to the $300’s in seconds. Heaps of money were made and lost, and Coinbase is sorting it out trying to make it right. Clearly, this was not a good thing. Yet, even “mature” exchange (like the NYSE) can flash crash and have outages. The important thing is that Coinbase is trying to make it right and that in the end will build trust. How did it happen? From Coinbase:
On 21 June 2017 at 12:30pm PT, a multimillion dollar market sell was placed on the GDAX ETH-USD order book. This resulted in orders being filled from $317.81 to $224.48, translating into a book slippage of 29.4%. This slippage started a cascade of approximately 800 stop loss orders and margin funding liquidations, causing ETH to temporarily trade as low as $0.10.
Our initial investigations show no indication of wrongdoing or account takeovers. We understand this event can be frustrating for our customers. Our matching engine operated as intended throughout this event and trading with advanced features like margin always carries inherent risk.
We are continuing to conduct a thorough investigation and will keep customers updated with any resulting actions. With that in mind, it is important to note that these trades are final in accordance with our GDAX Trading Rules (Section 3.1). Honoring properly executed orders is critical to maintaining the integrity of an exchange.
In response to the large price movement we decided to temporarily halt trading of ETH-USD. Once we confirmed all systems were operating correctly, we restored trading in accordance with our Downtime Process(Section 5).
Because there really isn’t a linkage between global crypto exchanges I think the fallout was pretty minimal. Had other exchanges traded more in lockstep with GDAX we may have seen sustained issues from this event.
For US investors and those abroad with access to Coinbase I think they are best of pure from a purely “retail” or buy and hold (HODL) perspective. For active traders or those a bit more technologically inclined GDAX is a better alternative. Gemini is another US exchange which merits mentioning here as a US based competitor to GDAX. These platforms offer better security and a more regulated environment than not US competitors and while that may come at a slight cost, its valuable insurance.