The bitcoin flash crash to $0.01 in June 2011

Abstract: We look at the events surrounding the bitcoin price rally in June 2011 to $32 and the following temporary flash crash down to $0.01, on the MtGox exchange. We look at the incompetence of MtGox and examine the causes of the crash. We then look at the political battle and uncertainty which occurred in the aftermath of the crash.

Bitcoin price from May 2011 to 18 June 2011

(Source: YouTube, MtGox, BitMEX Research)

Overview

If one likes price volatility and scandals, the summer of 2011 was an exciting time for Bitcoin. Over the course of a few days, bitcoin plummeted in value from a peak of $32 to just $0.01 on the MtGox exchange, a trading platform based in Tokyo, which was dominant at the time. This was after a recent rally, with bitcoin trading at around $2 a couple of months earlier. The crash down to $0.01 is now a famous part of Bitcoin history.

In this piece, we look at the cause of the crash and its aftermath. Although the major exchange of the time, MtGox, was shown to the community to be largely negligent, which may not have been the best advertisement for Bitcoin. In our view the engaging nature of the events which occurred that summer, ironically made a significant contribution to the level of interest in the space.

MtGox security issues & the context of the event

There was significant uncertainty surrounding the hack at MtGox which caused the June 2011 price crash and the issues surrounding it were never fully explained. The Bitcoin community was riddled with rumours about whether MtGox was solvent and how much bitcoin was stolen.

Thanks to a report published in 2017 by Kim Nilsson, we now have a relatively strong understanding of what occurred in 2011 and the damage that this caused to MtGox.  Ironically, despite the huge impact on the market and the company’s reputation, in terms of MtGox’s solvency, this event was largely insignificant compared to other security incidents. For many however, a new window into MtGox was opened up, which illustrated a severe lack of monitoring systems, governance, controls and security measures.

The  table below lists some of the major security incidents at the MtGox exchange, with the June 2011 hack highlighted in green. This incident may have only directly cost the exchange 2,000 bitcoin, an inconsequential amount, compared to roughally 837,000 bitcoin of total losses.

List of known MtGox losses

Date Incident name Description USD lost BTC lost
20 Jan 2011 Liberty Reserve withdrawal exploit 50,000
30 Jan 2011 Liberty Reserve withdrawal exploit 2 A user supposedly withdrew US$2billion from their account which never existed. Although it seems no wire transfer actually occurred and therefore there may have been no losses
1 March 2011 Wallet theft 1 Hackers obtained the MtGox wallet.dat file from the server. This is believed to be the withdrawal transaction. As at 19 July 2018, the stolen 80,000 bitcoin has never been moved. 80,000
22 May 2011 Wallet theft 2 Somebody is believed to have accessed a wallet containing 300,000 bitcoin, which was kept unencrypted on a public drive. The thieves decided to return 297,000 bitcoin, keeping a 1% fee. The return transactions are believed to be for 280,000 and 17,000. 3,000
19 June 2011 Price crash to $0.01 Hacker gained access to Jed McCaleb’s administrative account, and sold bitcoins to crash the price, to withdraw as many bitcoins as possible within the US$1,000 per day limit. Other users who purchased bitcoin at low prices may have also withdrawn funds. 2,000
11 Aug 2011 Bitomat Took over the debts of Bitomat after the company deleted its private keys 17,000
Sept 2011 Database hacked A hacker gained write access to the database and inflated balances to withdraw funds 77,500
Sept 2011 Wallet theft 3

A hacker obtained the main wallet.dat file again and began withdrawing funds in October 2011.

MtGox appears not to have noticed this.

603,000
October 2011 Incorrect deposits The change from the above hackers withdrawal transactions were incorrectly booked as new MtGox deposits, totalling 44,300 bitcoin. This resulted in customers seeing new deposit balances in their accounts. In some ways the hackers therefore caused more damage to MtGox than the value of coins which were stolen. Some of these errors were corrected, so the net impact may be around 30,000 bitcoin. 30,000
28 Oct 2011 Destroyed bitcoin

A software bug caused funds to be sent in such a way that they could not be redeemed.

Example of such transactions can be found here & here

2,609
May & Aug 2013 US law enforcement seizures Federal agencies in the US seized funds from MtGox’s Dwolla account due to allegations the exchange was not complaint with US regulations. 5,000,000
May 2013 Coinlab dispute Coinlab sued MtGox in a dispute over a licensing agreement. 5,000,000
2011 to 2013 Willy Bot MtGox trading program designed to make up some of the above losses, but actually ended up making things worse. 51,600,000 22,800
Total 61,650,000 837,909

(Source: Cracking MtGox, BitMEX Research)

Overview of the events in June 2011

In the weeks leading up to 19 June, many users of MtGox were reporting that their accounts had been hacked. At around the same time a database of MtGox users, including an MD5 hash of their passwords (with an unclear/inconsistent salt policy) was leaked and made available. Many passwords were identified. Some traders used the same credentials at the rival exchange, Tradehill, who also experienced security issues. Despite this, MtGox did not suspend trading, a decision which many traders questioned.

On 19th June 2011 (3am on 20th June Tokyo time), there were large sell orders on the exchange and the price crashed from around $17.50 to $0.01 and trading continued at this level for several minutes before recovering. This lead to a high degree of uncertainty, with some assuming there may be a problem with the Bitcoin network.

It now seems likely that what actually happened was that a hacker may have obtained access to the account of Jed McCaleb, the founder of MtGox who sold the exchange to Mark Karpeles around three months earlier. This account appears to have retained administrative rights to the database and therefore the hacker was able to manipulate account balances and grant themselves a large number of bitcoins on the MtGox system. The hacker is the likely to have begun selling some of these coins.

Due to the poor management of MtGox, in our view it is unlikely that the company were aware of this, even in the aftermath of the hack, and therefore the explanations provided at the time of the events were incomplete or inaccurate.

The withdrawal limits

At the time, MtGox had a daily withdrawal limit of US$1,000, this applied to both bitcoin and USD (via Dwolla). This meant that the hacker (or any others who benefited from the hack by buying bitcoin at low prices), would be unable to benefit by withdrawing the funds, except within the US$1,000 limit. However, the US$1,000 bitcoin limit was based on the market price of bitcoin on the platform and since the price fell to $0.01, in theory the maximum each user could withdraw was 100,000 bitcoin, certainly not a small amount.

Fortunately, however, MtGox appeared to also have a bitcoin based withdrawal limit, that many users were unaware of. As the Mark Karpeles said at the time:

2011-06-20 00:16:43 MagicalTux the btc withdrawal limit saved us

(Source: IRC, Note: MagicalTux is the CEO & owner of MtGox, Mark Karpeles)

Mark then mentioned that only 2,000 bitcoin were withdrawn in the aftermath of the event, which was a relatively positive result for MtGox.

Got about 2,000 BTC out

(Source: IRC)

There was widespread scepticism about this number at the time, with many believing much more was stolen. Ironically, this 2,000 bitcoin figure now seems about right, although MtGox had lost far more in other incidents. However, due to the price crash and suspension of trading, this incident was very public at the time and resulted in the the incompetence of the MtGox platform being exposed to the community.

The rollback debate

Many trades took place at the artificially low price of around $0.01 during the crash. Some traders & investors were unhappy at missing out on the price rally from around $1 to $32, and therefore had buy orders waiting in the system, all the way down the order book to $0.01. To them, this crash is exactly what they were waiting for. To the dismay of many of these traders, in the aftermath of the incident MtGox said they would reverse the trades which occurred during the crash:

The bitcoin will be back to around 17.5$/BTC after we rollback all trades that have happened after the huge Bitcoin sale that happened on June 20th near 3:00am (JST). One account with a lot of coins was compromised and whoever stole it (using a HK based IP to login) first sold all the coins in there, to buy those again just after, and then tried to withdraw the coins. The $1000/day withdraw limit was active for this account and the hacker could only get out with $1000 worth of coins. Apart from this no account was compromised, and nothing was lost. Due to the large impact this had on the Bitcoin market, we will rollback every trade which happened since the big sale, and ensure this account is secure before opening access again.

(Source: MtGox)

After this announcement there was significant debate in the community as to whether the rollback should occur. Obviously many participants in the debate had a financial interest in the outcome and this was no doubt effecting their views. In many ways, there were some parallels between this rollback and the 2016 DAO “rollback” on the Ethereum network, with some similar arguments being made.

Supporting the rollback Opposing the rollback
  • Most traditional exchanges tend to roll back trades in exceptional circumstances, particularly if trades occur at extremely unusual prices. The prices in this instance were certainly extreme.
  • The bitcoin were stolen and therefore users should not benefit from stolen goods.
  • The bitcoin may never have existed and may only have been entries in MtGox’s database and therefore it may not be possible to deliver the coins.
  • MtGox should take responsibility and compensate all parties involved. In particular MtGox did not act appropriately in the weeks prior to this event when many users reported that their accounts were hacked and they allowed trading to continue.
  • MtGox had no policy with respect to the matter and should therefore honour the trades.
  • If MtGox reverse the trades in this case, then users may not trust them again.
  • Reversal is an arbitrary process, would MtGox reverse trades if a much smaller amount of money was stolen? This is one rule for the rich and another for the poor.
  • Although there are some examples of major traditional exchanges reversing trades in exceptional circumstances, there are examples where they have not done so.
  • Honouring the trades is more consistent with the no bailout, dog eat dog, 24×7 uptime, immutability type culture in the community, which was in some ways more prevalent at the time than it is today.

The community appeared to be split on this issue, with some even favouring a vote to decide.

The trader who bought 260,000 bitcoins for US$2,622

The day after the incident, a trader called “Kevin”, claims to have purchased around 260,000 bitcoins during the crash and was arguing that he should be able to keep the coins. As he explained:

I had around $3,000 USD in my MtGox account, from earlier sales I’d made. I looked at the market stats, and realized that there were tons of orders to buy BTC at $0.01 that would likely eat up any remaining bitcoins this seller had on the order. I figured if I put a buy order in for $0.0101, my order would execute first and I could buy a huge amount of bitcoins

(Source: Bitcointalk)

Kevin posted what he claimed to be the trade confirmation:

06/19/11 17:51  Bought BTC 259684.77 for 0.0101

Kevin then went on to explain the likely reason behind the price crash, which was that the seller was trying to manipulate the price down so that they could withdraw more coins within the US$1,000 limit. In our view this part of Kevin’s story is likely to be an accurate explanation for the price crash. This logic contradicts the claim from MtGox that the person who conducted the hack was also the buyer of the bitcoin.

I could place a reasonably sized sell order for $0.001, crash the market again, and withdraw probably all of the bitcoins, since they’d be valued at $0.001 each and would fit under the $1,000 USD limit. I also decided against this, when I realized that whoever placed the gigantic sell order was probably doing so for the exact same reason

However, some have doubted the accuracy of Kevin’s story, claiming the volume of trades he claims is not consistent with the MtGox feed. The feed appeared to show trading volume of only 55,000 bitcoins during the crash past $0.0101 and only 238,000 bitcoins traded in the period. Only 3,000 bitcoin seem to have been traded at the $0.0101 price. These figures are lower than those implied by Kevin, although Kevin’s trades could have been excluded from this data for a variety of reasons. The feed was also notoriously unreliable and it was not clear if there was a precise definition of some for the information in the feed. In our view, there is no reason to believe the whole truth of any of the parties involved in this incident, but Kevin’s explanation for the crash itself seems plausible to us.

MtGox price feed during the crash

(Source: BitMEX Research, MtGox. Note: Volume in bitcoin)

The proof of reserves

The MtGox exchange was down for several weeks and many users were becoming anxious about the solvency of the platform. There was uncertainty over the amount of bitcoin which were lost and users were concerned about a run on MtGox, eventually leading to the exchange going into liquidation and users losing funds. In an attempt to reduce some of these concerns, as the chat log and bitcoin transaction show below, MtGox attempted to prove it had access to a significant quantity of bitcoin, by conducting an onchain transaction on 18th July 2011.

IRC Chat log – 18 July 2011

(Source: IRC Logs)

(Source: blockchain.info)

At the time, the above action seemed to settle the nerves of many of the traders.

Conclusion

A few weeks after these events, after many false starts, trading at MtGox eventually resumed and the bulk of the trades were reversed. However, to this day, as far as we are aware, MtGox has not been able to provide a coherent explanation for what occurred. The lack of a consistent narrative from MtGox lead many to believe that MtGox had poor monitoring and controls of its systems and that the company was run negligently. Many concluded “never to trust MtGox again”.

Unfortunately, however, MtGox somehow continued to dominate the exchange ecosystem for another three years. However one views the conduct and transparency of some of the platforms and players in the ecosystem today, we can at least conclude that things have  significantly improved from 2011.

 

Tether: Puerto Rico financial data quarterly update

Abstract: Following our earlier research pieces on Tether, financial information from Q1 2018 has been released by the financial regulators in Puerto Rico, providing more evidence of the impact of Tether. In addition to this, a source close to Tether has confirmed to us that the speculation in our initial report is correct.

After our earlier speculation that Noble Bank in Puetro Rico was Tether’s primary reserve bank, a few months later in May 2018 Bloomberg released an article further substantiating our claims. As Bloomberg put it:

According to three people with knowledge of the matter, Noble Bank International, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, took over banking duties for Bitfinex last year.

In addition to the above, BitMEX Research has also now spoken to people close to Tether, who have also confirmed the reliability of most of the claims in our February 2018 report. Our initial discovery was based on the disclosure of data from the financial regulator in Puerto Rico, who have recently provided the latest update, for the quarter ended March 2018. In our view, the data continues to support our initial speculation.

New Financial Data for Q1 2018

Bank deposits in the International Financial Entities (IFE) category, which includes Noble Bank, were $3.5 billion, up 6.9% in the quarter. Total assets in the category were $4.1 billion, up 7% in the quarter. This moderate growth coincides with a the moderate increase in the volume of crypto-coin trading, which has likely resulted from the continued growth of the Tether balance and crypto-coin ecosystem, moderated by crashing crypto-coin prices in the quarter. In the quarter, the value of Tether in issue increased by 62.7% to $2.3 billion.

We have updated the chart below from the version in our earlier piece, which compares the Tether balance with the deposits in the banking category in Puerto Rico which contains Noble Bank.

Puerto Rico’s IFE aggregate deposits versus the Tether balance in millions of USD. (Source: IFE Accounts, BitMEX Research, Coinmarketcap)

 

Cash as a percentage of total assets (an indication of full-reserve banking) also increased in the quarter, from 85.8% to 91.0%. This also indicates crypto-coin or Tether-related activity, as we explained in the previous piece.

Puerto Rico’s IFE aggregate cash balance as a percentage of total assets. (Source: IFE Accounts, BitMEX Research)

 

In the quarter the regulator appears to have changed the name of the Tether balance, to “Deposits, money market investments and other interest-bearing balances” from “Cash in banks“. We do not view this as suspicious.

 

Calling the Curve

The BitMEX Bitcoin / USD 28 December 2018 futures contract, XBTZ18, recently began trading. The following trade ideas assume that spot in the short term will continue to fall and bottom in 3Q2018, and then aggressively rebound into 4Q2018. This scenario also assumes that trader sentiment will not fall out and enter a protracted bear market.

However, if you have very high conviction in that scenario, the riskiest and potentially most profitable strategy would be to:

  1. Go short XBTU18 from now until you believe Bitcoin has bottomed.
  2. Cover the short XBTU18, and then go long XBTZ18.

The reason to go short the 3m initially is that it should be more responsive to spot movements due to its lower time value. It is also more liquid so panicked speculators and hedgers will use that futures contract. Its annualised basis should trade at a steeper discount than XBTZ18.

You go long XBTZ18 on the rebound because it has more time value. If the market does perform as you expect, speculators will bid up the backend of the curve. A lot of things can happen by the end of December. Given that Bitcoin is a call option, the future implied volatility has a greater probability of causing the price to rise rather than fall. The more time value housed in the instrument you are trading, the better change the long convexity can work in your favour.

If you believe this a credible sequence of events, but want to reduce risk, a spread trade is advisable. The reduced risk comes at a the cost of reduced profit potential.

  1. Go short XBTU18 vs. long XBTZ18 from now until you believe Bitcoin has bottomed.
  2. Replace the above short XBTU18 with a short on XBTUSD

Because you expect the sell pressure to happen at the short-end of the curve, the term structure will steepen causing the profit made on the short XBTU18 position to offset losses on the long XBTZ18 position. The term structure chart shown above shows the current curvature of the BitMEX Bitcoin / USD futures markets. It is relatively flat, which indicates now is the time to enter into this spread trade.

This is a price neutral trade; however, be aware that each position is margined separately. Unrealised profit from the short XBTU18 position cannot be used to offset unrealised losses from the long XBTZ18 position.
The second trade is a funding plus long 6m basis trade. As the market rebounds, the swap will be pushed into a premium which means shorts will receive funding. The long end of the curve will also get bid up in annualised basis terms due to the greater time value. You earn money from the swap funding, and futures basis appreciation. Again this trade is price neutral, and you must be cognizant of each positions’ margin.
The reason why I prefer the use of spread trades to express directional moves is that if my prediction is wrong, it does not destroy my capital base. The more conviction around the prediction, the more leverage I employ on each leg to juice up my return on equity.

The Volatility Blues


The anguish experienced by traders worldwide during the $20,000 to $6,000 slide further proves that recently experienced losses matter more than gains. The financial media and many traders forget that 18 months ago the price was $1,000 and then in the fall of 2015 the price was $200.

Jonny-come-lately traders / investors were eviscerated by the recent moves. To make matters worse, the volatility collapsed alongside the price. For crypto, this is deadlier than white wine and painkillers.

But what about adoption? One of the major facets of Bitcoin preventing further adoption is its high volatility. In a pure Bitcoin economy, how can people trade Bitcoin against real goods if its value violently fluctuates? The underwater trader laments that the market just doesn’t get the “fundamental” value of this new transaction network. Well, what transaction network’s monetary token do you know increased 20x in value in under one year? None. Therefore, the driving force is not about current utility but intense speculation on future utility.

Changing the way in which humans use money is an extremely long and difficult process. This process by its nature must be chaotic. Money and the means by which it is handled is personal and sometimes religious. If you tell a society that tomorrow things will be done differently than how they were done over the past 200 years, there will be an intense reticence to change. A violent upheaval is necessary. Therefore, if Bitcoin is to be used in any productive manner, the period leading up to this new epoch must be extremely volatile.

Bitcoin is a call option on a new monetary system. The most important option pricing input is the underlying asset’s implied volatility. As the above chart illustrates, the realised 30-day annualised volatility crashed alongside the price. When volatility returns, the price will go higher.

We Have Been Here Before

The nuclear bear market of 2015 started in January when the price broke $300. For the next 10 months, the price traded between $200 and $300. While that is a 50% range, the daily movements were very slight.

Without volatility, many traders, investors, and market commentators wrote off Bitcoin. Why should one care about an asset that has crashed over 80% from its recent all-time high, and has barely moved since?

Traders returned to the market because the volatility re-emerged. If Bitcoin can gyrate 100% in annualised volatility terms in a 30-day period, then quick gains can be made. The FOMO “investors” who believe they can change their lot in life with little effort and in little time took us from $200 to $20,000. There were not many things that fundamentally changed about the adoption of Bitcoin in real commerce from 2015 to 2017.

Return to $20,000

The path to parity will not begin in earnest until volatility rises materially. People need to be excited again. 10% pump & dumps in one day will bring back the good times. The real questions are what catalyst will start the party again, and how long will it take.

During the 2017 bull market, the effect of global macro events on Bitcoin was forgotten. For 2H2018, a global macro event will have to prove that Bitcoin is a safe-haven asset. In 2015 Greece almost told Frau Merkel to do one, but chickened out at the crossroads. Bitcoin responded positively when the market believed Greece could actually liberate itself. If a similar type scare happened later this year, would Bitcoin regain its safe haven status?

With the Fed, ECB, and BOJ effectively flatlining or outright reducing their balance sheets, cracks in the financial markets will show later this year. Money printing has never led to prosperity in the long run, and when you shut off the tap the ghosts and ghouls of the financial markets will play.

The MSM Still Loves Bitcoin

Thankfully the mainstream financial press loves talking about crypto. The personalities of the leading figures are larger than life. Even at Bitcoin $6,000 and Ether $400 a whole cadre of individuals are generationally wealthy, and are making interesting life choices the media can’t stop covering. In 2015 no one was watching, in 2018 everyone is.

In order to prove their prescience, MSM outlets will fall over themselves attempting to call the bottom in Bitcoin.  The foolish many who believe these pundits actually can divine the future will attempt to knife catch. Many will fail, but if enough try, some will succeed. These successful retail punters will be paraded on the airwaves as trading gods. This will further increase the FOMO, volatility, and price appreciation.

Nothing goes up or down in a straight line. I still haven’t seen enough pain and anguish to believe we are done bloodletting. In true Bitcoin fashion, the price will go to the level no one thinks is possible and rebound faster than traders can work up the nerve to BTFD.

A brief history of Stablecoins (Part 1)

Abstract: In this piece we look over the history of distributed stablecoins, focusing on two case studies, BitShares (BitUSD) and MakerDAO (Dai). We examine the efficacy of various design choices, such as the inclusion of price oracles and pooled collateral. We conclude that while a successful stablecoin is likely to represent the holy grail of financial technology, none of the systems we have examined so far appear robust enough to scale in a meaningful way. The coins we have looked at seem to rely on “why would it trade at any other price?” type logic, to enforce price stability to some extent, although dependence on this reasoning is decreasing as technology improves.

Overview

Distributed stablecoins aim to achieve both the characteristics of crypto-coins like Bitcoin (censorship resistant digital transactions) and the price stability of traditional financial assets, such as the US Dollar or gold. These systems are distinct from tokens such as Tether, where one entity controls a pool of US Dollar collateral, ultimately making the system centralised and thus susceptible to being shut down by the authorities.

Along with the somewhat related idea of distributed exchanges, distributed stablecoins have been referred to as the “holy grail” of financial technology, due to their very strong potential benefits. In our view the transformative nature of such a technology on society would be immense, perhaps far more significant than Bitcoin or Ethereum tokens with their floating exchange rates. Distributed stablecoins could have the advantages of Bitcoin (censorship resistance combined with the ability to transact electronically), without the difficulties of a volatile exchange rate and the challenge of encouraging users and merchants to adopt a new unknown token. Such a system is likely to be very successful and therefore it is no surprise that so many people have attempted to launch such projects:

List of stablecoin projects

Name Type Launch Date White paper link
BitShares (BitUSD) Crypto-collateralized 21 July 2014 White paper
Nu (NuBits) Crypto-collateralized 24 Sept 2014 White paper
Steem (SteemUSD) Crypto-collateralized 19 April 2016 White paper
Corion Non-collateralized 14 Oct 2017 White paper
MakerDAO (Dai) Crypto-collateralized 27 Dec 2017 White paper
Alchemint Crypto-collateralized Sept 2018 White paper
BitBay Non-collateralized Sept 2018 White paper
Carbon Non-collateralized n/a White paper
Basis Non-collateralized n/a White paper
Havven Crypto-collateralized n/a White paper
Seignoriage Shares Non-collateralized n/a White paper

The technical challenges involved in creating such systems are often underestimated. Indeed constructing a distributed stablecoin system, which is robust enough to withstand cycles or the turbulence and volatility linked to financial markets may be almost impossible. For instance perhaps most forms of fiat money, even the US Dollar itself, have not even achieved that, with credit cycles putting US Dollar bank deposits at risk. A stablecoin system which builds on top of the US Dollar is therefore never going to be more reliable than traditional banking, in our view.

In economics there is a concept of money supply, with risk and the potential inflationary impact increasing as the number of layers increase. One could add this stablecoin systems on top, as a new high risk layer:

  • M0 – Notes & coins plus deposits at the central banks
  • M1 – Money on deposit in a bank current account (including M0)
  • M2 – Money on deposit in a bank savings account (including M1)
  • M3 – Money in a money market account (including M2)
  • MZM – Money in all financial assets redeemable on demand (including M3)
  • MSC (Synthetic Crypto Money) – Money inside synthetic crypto stablecoin systems  (including MZM)

However advanced or sophisticated the distributed stablecoin technology is, we believe the token is likely to be less robust than the layers above it in the money supply tree.

In this piece we review some of the most prominent and interesting attempts at building these synthetic US Dollar type systems. BitUSD in 2014 and then a more recent project, MakerDAO (Dai).

 

Case study 1: BitShares (BitUSD) – 2014

Factbox
Coin Name BitUSD
Launch Date 21 July 2014
Crypto collateral Yes
Price oracle No

The first stable coin we will discuss is BitUSD, a stablecoin on the BitShares platform. BitShares was a delegated proof of stake (DPOS) platform launched in 2014 by:

  • Daniel Larimer (The primary architect behind EOS and Steem),
  • Charles Hoskinson (the former Ethereum Foundation CEO & Cardano architect), and
  • Stan Larimer (Daniel’s father).

BitShares is just one in a long line of decentralised autonomous corporation (DAC) type platforms released by Daniel Larimer, as the below image shows:

(Note: Daniel Larmier’s company Invictus Innovations launched a number of token/DAC platforms including Protoshares, Angelshares and BitShares. The black arrows represent Protoshares coin holders being granted tokens in the new chains, which Invictus Innovations promised to deliver on all new DAC platforms. Source: BitSharestalk)

 

BitUSD Marketing material

(Source: Introduction to BitShares Youtube video)

BitUSD System dynamics

Pools of Funds Description
Bitshares The native currency of the BitShares platform
Bitshares held as collateral Separate pools of Bitshares  held as collateral, used as backing for the stablecoin.
BitUSD The stable token, designed to track the value of the US Dollar

 

Groups of Participants Description
BitUSD holders Investors and users of the BitUSD stable coin. Holders of BitUSD are able to redeem the tokens for the Bitshares held in collateral.
BitUSD creators Those that create new BitUSD, by selling it into the market (creating new loans), by posting BitShares as collateral. This loan may be for a small period of time, after which it needs to be rolled over or have its collateral topped up to the initial margin level.
Traders Those exchanging BitUSD for Bitshares, and vica versa, on the platform’s own distributed exchange. There is therefore a Bitshares vs BitUSD market price.
Block producers Bitshares block producers/miners have a role of spending the BitShares backing BitUSD, something they are only entitled to do if the value of the BitShares is less than 150% of the value of the BitUSD it is backing (based on the BitUSD vs BitShares exchange rate on the system’s own distributed exchange). The miner can then uses the Bitshares to redeem/destroy the BitUSD. (After the launch the 150% margin level was increased to 200%)

 

Price Stability Mechanisms Price Direction Description
Investor psychology (Unclear/”Why not trade at $1?”) Both directions There does not appear to be a specific price stability mechanism in the BitUSD system. One can redeem and create BitUSD, however the price this transfer occurs at is determined by the BitUSD vs BitShares price in distributed exchange, which is not linked to “real USD”. In a way the price references itself. There is therefore no direct mechanism keeping the price of BitUSD at $1, but the argument put forward is “why would it trade at any other price?” In our view this logic is weak.
BitUSD redemption (indirect) Positive Should the value of the collateral currency (BitShares) fall, any BitUSD holder can redeem the BitUSD and obtain $1 worth of BitShares, assuming the market price of BitUSD is still worth $1 and there is sufficient BitShares held in collateral.

This stability mechanism protects the integrity of the system only in the event that the value of BitShares falls and the BitUSD market price remains at $1. It does not directly stabilize the price of BitUSD around $1, in our view. If the price of BitUSD deviates from $1, this mechanism may not help correct the price.

In our view, it is important to draw the distinction between a mechanism designed to protect the value of collateral and that of a mechanism which directly causes the price of the stablecoin to converge.

Weaknesses

Exposure to a fall in the value of collateral – BitShares was a new, untested and low value asset, and therefore its value was volatile. If the value of the token falls by 50% sharply, in a period spanned by one of the loans used to create BitUSD, there may be insufficient collateral and the peg could fail.

Lack of a price oracle – In our view one of the most controversial aspects of this design is the absence of any price oracle mechanism, providing the system with real world exchange rates. However any price oracle system is challenging to implement and may introduce several weaknesses and avenues for manipulation. We will talk more about this in part 2. In our view, the only real way around this may be that any stablecoin system may require a price feed from a distributed exchange, which can in theory publish a distributed price feed from real world US Dollar transactions. The distributed exchange in BitShares did not allow “real USD”. A distributed exchange system like Bisq, without a central clearing could in theory allow “real USD” prices and provide a distributed price feed.   Therefore stablecoins may eventually be considered as a layer two technology on top of liquid and robust distributed exchange platforms, should these systems ever emerge.

Manipulation – Trading volume in the Bitshares vs BitUSD market on the distributed exchange platform was low, it was therefore possible for block producers to manipulate the market by causing the value of Bitshares to fall relative to BitUSD, enabling them to obtain Bitshares at a discount.

Lack of any price stability mechanism – The main weakness of the system is the lack of any mechanism to move the price towards $1, other than the “where else would it trade?” logic.

Daniel Larimer’s defence of the system

In Daniel’s view, the mechanism of BitUSD creation is analogous to how USD are created in the economy, in that financial institutions lend them into existence.

It’s the same way dollars are created in the regular banking system. Dollars are learnt into existence backed by collateral, in the case of the current banking system the collateral is your house. In the case of our system its shares in the DAC itself.

(Source: Lets talk Bitcoin episode 129)

 

In a way Daniel is correct here, however as we explained in the introduction to this piece, these synthetic dollars are far less reliable than those created by more traditional banks, and can be considered as a whole new layer of risk, as they are even further away from base money. In addition to this, when obtaining a bank loan, the bank typically has a legal obligation to provide the customer physical cash should they demand it. While such an outcome for BitUSD holder is possible, its not a legal obligation for the creators of BitUSD. Although obviously banks typically do not have the cash in reserve to pay back their deposits, we think the fact they have a legal obligation to do so is an important distinction to draw when comparing BitUSD to US Dollar banking deposits.

In response to the supposed weakness of a lack of a price peg, Larimer argues in favor of his “hypothesis that the price feed is unnecessary” as follows:

It implements automatic margin calls, such that if the price moves against someone who is effectively short, it forces them to cover and buy it back in the market and that creates a peg. The market peg works on the premise that all market participants buy and sell based on what they think market participants will be buying and selling in the future. The only rational choice is to assume that it’s going to trade based on the peg in the future. If you don’t believe that they you have to decide on which way it’s going to go, up or down. And if you don’t have a way of saying you abstain from the market. If you don’t think it works you sell the shares and get out, as the systems going to fail in the first place. So its a self reinforcing market peg, that causes the asset to always have the purchasing power of the dollar.

(Source: Lets talk Bitcoin episode 129)

 

In our view this idea that a price of $1 is the “only rational choice” is a weak argument. It is basically saying that if the price is not $1, then what will it be? This logic may hold true for some periods, but it is not sustainable and will not scale, in our view.

Conclusion

The volume of BitUSD in existence was a lot lower than many had hoped, in some periods there was only around $40,000 in issuance. At the same time liquidity was very low and the price stability was weak, as the below chart illustrates. The main architect of BitUSD went on to propose a new stablecoin SteemUSD in 2017, this time including a price feed system. Therefore we consider BitUSD as an interesting early experiment, it did not achieve what was hoped nor did it build a robust stablecoin.

(Source: Coinmarketcap)

 

Case Study 2: MakerDAO (Dai) – 2017

Factbox
Coin Name Dai
Launch Date 27 Dec 2017
Crypto Collateralized Yes
Price Oracles Yes (indirect)

The next stablecoin we look at is Dai, which exists on the Ethereum platform. This system is highly complex, with four relevant pools of funds and six possible stability mechanisms. There are currently around $50 million worth of Dai in issuance and the peg seems to be holding up reasonably well.

System dynamics

Pools of Funds Description
Ethereum Ethereum is the native token of the Blockchain platform used for Maker & Dai
Pooled Ethereum Ethereum is placed in pools used as collateral for issuance of the Dai token. These are often referred to a collateralized debt positions (CDPs)
Dai Dai is an ERC-20 token that is generated by collateralizing pooled Ether. Dai is the stablecoin token, designed to be valued at $1.
Maker The Maker token is MakerDAO’s governance token. It is used to vote on various initiatives that pertain to the stability of the ecosystem. It is also mandatory to possess during the collateral unlocking process. During such a process, a stability fee is garnered from the user, where payment is accepted exclusively in Maker. Maker is also an ERC-20 token.

 

Groups of Participants Description
Dai Creators An individual who sends Ethereum to a smart contract, locking up Ethereum in exchange for Dai. These people are also known as CDP owners.
Dai Holder/User A Dai holder may or may not be a Dai creator. They may invest in or use the Dai stablecoin token.
Maker Token Holders Maker token holders vote on several functions and parameters of the MakerDAO system. They manage aspects such as stability fees and liquidation ratios, as well as having responsibility to nominate other groups.
Keepers These traders monitor the Dai collateral and if it falls to an insufficient level, purchase the collateral in an open auction, by spending Dai.
Oracles Price feed producers submit price information that is aggregated and used to select a given price for both Maker and Ethereum (but not Dai itself). These agents are nominated by MakerDAO token holders.

In order to prevent manipulation, there is a one hour lag between the price publication and when it impacts the system. In addition to this a median type mechanism is used to select the price, which involves ignoring the highest and lowest prices. In our view this may not prove to be robust enough if the oracles have a conflict of interest and try to engage in manipulation.

Global settlers This is another group nominated by the MakerDAO token holders. This group can unwind the entire Dai system, by giving Dai holders the right to redeem their collateral at a fixed price.

 

Price Adjustment Mechanics Price Direction Description
Dai Redemption Positive The primary stability mechanism is the ability, in theory, to redeem Dai for $1 worth of Ethereum. Redemption can only be conducted by CDP owners (unless there is insufficient collateral). If the price of Dai falls, CDP owners need to either use Dai they currently hold or buy it in the market, and then they can redeem/delete Dai for $1 worth of Ethereum based on the price feed provided by the price oracles.
Dai Creation Negative To complement the Dai redemption process, the mechanism to prevent the price of Dai climbing too high, is the ability of Ethereum holders to create new Dai, by placing Ethereum inside of CDPs.
Target rate (Not active) Both directions There is a “Target Rate Feedback Mechanism” (TRFM), which appears to be another price stability mechanism in the system. However, it is not yet active nor have several specifications of the mechanism been worked out yet.

The the idea is that a target rate is set by the MakerDAO token holders. The target rate is essentially a spread which applies to the creation or redemption of Dai, designed to correct the price.

CDP liquidation (indirect) Positive There is a mechanism by which traders/keepers can redeem the Ethereum collateral held by another CDP. This can only occur if the value of this collateral falls to an insufficient level to backup the Dai, in this case 150% of the value of Dai. This should incentivise CDP owners to keep topping up their CDPs to ensure there is a large buffer of Ethereum.

This is a necessary mechanism to ensure the integrity of the system and ensure the value of the collateral is always sufficient. However it is not clear if this directly keeps the value of Dai at $1. This mechanism can be thought of as a building block on the stability mechanism, which merely ensures the level of collateral is sufficient. Other redemption systems are needed to make this meaningful, in our view.

Global Settlement Positive This mechanism can be triggered at any time. The triggering essentially gives all Dai holders an option to convert back to a fixed value of Ethereum, worth $1 according to the oracle price feed, at the time of the triggering (or whatever price is possible given the total level of collateral in the system). The difference between this and normal redemption, is that the price is fixed and its open to all Dai token holders and not paired to a particular CDP.

The idea is that this mechanism can be used as a threat against CDP holders, to ensure they keep redeeming Dai in the event the price falls, rather than holding out for an even lower price.

Global settlement can also be used in the event of bugs or other emergencies.

MakerDAO token issuance (indirect) Positive MakerDAO token holders act as the buyer of last resort. If the collateral (pooled Ethereum) in the system were to drop below 100% collateralization, MakerDAO is automatically created and auctioned on the open market to raise additional funds to collateralize the system. Hence, if the system becomes undercollateralized, Maker holders absorb the damage.

Again this mechanism protects the value of collateral, but does not directly help the price of Dai converge to $1, in our view.

Analysis of the core stability mechanism – Dai redemption

The primary stability mechanisms appear to be the ability of CDP owners to redeem if the price of Dai is too low and for people to create new Dai if the price is too high. For example if the price of Dai falls to 80 cent, CDP owners could purchase Dai in the market and redeem it, unlocking $1 worth of Ethereum and making a nice profit. This is how the system should work under normal circumstances.

The above appears to be a robust stability mechanism which should keep the price of Dai at or near $1. However, the theory may only work if CDP owners expect the price of Dai to correct back to $1. If the price of Dai has fallen to 80 cent, CDP owners may be reluctant to redeem if they expect the Dai price to fall further to 60 cent, as such a price would enable them to make even more profit. There is no guarantee that once the price reaches 80 cent, it won’t continue to fall.

Therefore the stability mechanism could depend somewhat on the power dynamics between two groups, Dai owners and CDP owners. These two groups are essentially trading against each other in the market, Dai owners are selling of Dai and CDP owners are the potential buyers. If the power balance shifts towards CDP owners, such that they are well capitalised, patient, collaborative and determined, this group could outmaneuver the Dai token holders, drive the price down, and then buy it back and make a large profit. This may seem unlikely, but in our view the stability mechanism may not work in all market scenarios. Although we consider Dai as superior to BitUSD, in some limited ways, the Dai peg relies on market psychology and investor expectations, in the same way as BitUSD. Therefore the Dai peg is also weak and unlikely to scale.

The global settlement system can mitigate the above risk. If CDP owners are successfully manipulating the price of Dai down too far, this could trigger global settlement. Dai holders would then get around $1 of Ethereum back. Therefore the threat of global settlement may keep the price of Dai up. However again the effectiveness of this threat depends on the determination of the various groups, the CDP owners, MakerDAO token holders and global settlement activators.

Conclusion

We consider Dai to be one of the most sophisticated and advanced stablecoins systems which has been produced so far. In our view, when digging into Dai’s stability mechanisms, there is no one powerful mechanism which ensures stability. Instead we have a complex network of systems, which to some extent reference each other and use circular logic.  One could claim this complexity was created to obfuscate the lack of a strong and clear stability mechanism, but it is more likely to be an indication of an experimental trial and error type approach to the design of the system.

Therefore the system is still reliant on investor expectations and psychology, although to a lesser extent than the BitUSD. While the stability systems in place could work, at least for a while, we think they are not robust enough to withstand market turmoil or some types of power imbalances between Dai holders and CDP owners. Therefore, the search for the holy grail continues.

 

Waiting for Godot


“Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.” 
― Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

The crypto community has been waiting for a variety of Godots since its inception. For traders, our Godot is the mythical Institutional Investor. When they get involved in a big way, our bags will transform into Lambos, and we will live happily ever after. When they get involved, liquidity will magically improve and the market will “behave” as it is supposed to.

Many crypto commentators including myself, proclaimed 2018 as the year institutional investors get involved in a big way. This flood of new money would help support a Bitcoin price above $10,000; and take us to Valhalla in short order.

With northern hemispheric summer approaching, are institutional investors actually flocking to our new space? News of a Goldman and JP Morgan crypto trading desk aside, what is the best proxy for insto interest in crypto?

The CME and CBOE Bitcoin futures contracts trading volumes are the best proxy. Both of these contracts are USD margined and settled. Anyone who trades these contracts obtains Bitcoin price exposure without ever touching Bitcoin. At BitMEX, our contracts are margined and settled in Bitcoin. That means to trade, you must own Bitcoin. Most instos love the idea of Bitcoin, but are terrified of actually buying, storing, and transferring it.

The Numbers



The above graphs show the USD trading volumes of the CME, CBOE, and BitMEX Bitcoin / USD contracts YTD.

The first takeaway is that BitMEX dominates. BitMEX’s retail client base, trades multiples of the insto client base of the CME and CBOE. BitMEX retail traders for the most part would find it very difficult to open an account with a broker that offers connectivity to the CME and CBOE. These brokers will require relatively high account minimums. The lower leverage offered and higher contract notionals at the CME and CBOE mean that even if a typical BitMEX client had connectivity, they would not be able to afford to trade even one contract.

It is clear from this data that retail traders still dominate the flows. Anecdotally, if you hang out long enough in Telegram, WeChat, Reddit etc. you will hear traders talk about spot movements triggered by quirks of a particular derivatives market. Friday settlement for OKex quarts on many occasions has completely whipsawed the market. Trading behaviour is also affected by an upcoming large funding payment on the BitMEX XBTUSD swap. What there is scant mention of, are market changes in response to the CME or CBOE expiry.

Tomorrow Is Another Day

The CME and CBOE volumes point to tepid involvement by instos. The Jan to May MoM CAGR is 3.94%. However, that will change. As banks gin up their trading activities over the next 6 to 12 months, they will begin hand-holding their clients in their crypto baptism. If a bank is going to take the reputational risk by publicly announcing the creation of a trading desk, they will do whatever they can to generate business to justify the risk. The easiest product to trade is the one that doesn’t require anyone to actually touch the underlying asset.

An easy win for a newly minted trading desk is to provide risk pricing on CME and CBOE listed futures. A client wants to trade a chunky block immediately; the sell-side desk will quote a two-way and clear their risk on-exchange over the trading day. The client gets instant liquidity in excess of the screen, and the bank can take healthy bid-ask margins on meaningful flow.

As volumes and open interest grows, the interplay between the USD settled and Bitcoin settled derivatives markets will lead to profitable distortions in the market. Before that happens, interested traders should read the BitMEX vs. CME Futures Guide. The non-linear components of the BitMEX products complicates things, but ultimately means there will be profitable arbitrage and spread trades between the two universes.

Money Launderers Use Property, not Bitcoin

​For some, crypto-coins have a bad reputation: “it facilitates money laundering” is a common belief. Enlightened Hodlers retort that Bitcoin is a terrible way to launder money: it has a public ledger and relative illiquidity vs. the USD. While USD is the preferred method of account, which USD assets do money launderers favour? Pro-Tip: It ain’t Bitcoin.

In these modern times, washing $1 million of crisp cocaine-tainted Benjamins is no easy feat. If you walk up to a teller and attempt to deposit into a bank, they most likely will turn you away or call the police. You could call Saul in New York’s diamond district and attempt to wash it through precious stones; but, fencing those diamonds at close to par will prove difficult.

Governments always want more money parked in their jurisdictions. However, sometimes they have to play the coy mistress and profess their desire to stop terrorist financing (except for the Saudis). Below I will show that the property market is the preferred washing machine for the world’s unclean cash.

I will take a look at the real estate purchase and holding disclosures in Hong Kong, where China launders its money, and the United States where the world launders its money. I will look at both through the lens of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). We will step into the shoes of our average USD millionaire Zhou from China. How would he clean his cash, and keep the eye Xi from knowing where his loot is?

Chinese people are under no illusion about the rapacious nature of their government. While many have benefited handsomely over the past 30 years, one wrong political misstep could send them back to the countryside penniless. The complete lack of financial freedom means that Beijing, if it wants to, can completely bankrupt you on a whim with no due process.

America, the home of the free, decided that it needed to know where all the financial assets of its tax donkeys globally reside. They required any financial institution to report on the assets of any American. China and many other countries also thought this was a great idea. Hence, the Common Reporting Standard was born. The CRS allows member countries to share financial data between themselves. Under the CRS, China can call up Hong Kong and request information on any Chinese national.

There were two very interesting developments in the history of the CRS:

  1. America failed to ratify the CRS. Which means, for example, that America is not obliged to share financial data on Chinese people with assets in America with China. Things that make you go ‘Hmmmm…’ for $200, Alex – America wants all countries to follow FACTA and inform on Americans, but it won’t return the favour. I wonder where all those assets held by non-Americans will end up?
  2. Hong Kong exempted property from the assets deemed reportable.

As this SCMP article notes, Chinese people rushed to convert bank deposits into property. Property is one of the best generators of economic activity. Many jobs are created on the back of a property boom. From a policy perspective, anything a government can do to encourage an increase in the property stock will make it look like it knows how to run a successful economy.

That’s the date the country falls in line with the Common Reporting Standards, or CRS – a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)-type regime developed in response to a G20 request, aimed at combating cross-border tax evasion and protecting the integrity of the international tax system. The Chinese government pledged to join in with CRS in 2014.
Details on financial assets held by foreign individuals within mainland China will also start being collected.
The agreement means information will be exchanged with tax authorities in 100 countries and regions from next year, including Hong Kong.
The city has been considered a tax haven for many mainland investors, as there is no capital gains tax levied here. But now they are being forced to convert those financial investments into property, prior to the July deadline to avoid declaring any financial assets held abroad, to the Chinese authorities.

When it comes to the US, the National Association of Realtors is hell-bent on property purchases being exempt from KYC / AML regulations. FinCEN recognised that property became a blatant cash washing machine in certain hot markets, and imposed some disclosure requirements in August 2017.

Set to expire on February 23, 2017, FinCEN discovered that a significant portion of the reported covered transactions in the latest GTOs were linked to possible criminal activity by the individuals revealed to be the beneficial owners of the shell company purchasers. As a result, FinCEN is extending the current GTOs for an additional 180 days, until August 22, 2017, and may consider permanent data collection requirements later this year for more cities.

The GTOs require certain title companies to identify natural persons with a 25 percent or greater ownership interest in a legal entity purchasing residential real property without a bank loan or similar external financing in the following geographic areas meeting specific transaction thresholds:

  • $500k and above – Bexar County, Texas
  • $1m and above – Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, Florida
  • $1.5m and above – New York City Boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island
  • $2m and above – San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties, California
  • $3m and above – New York City Borough of Manhattan

This is a step in the right direction to fight those evil money launders at the very high end of the market, but for your average Zhou with a few million big ones to stash, it is still business as usual.

America remains the favoured place to stash cash away from Beijing’s prying eyes, or, indeed, those of any other government bent on stemming capital flight. As long as someone stays below those investment limits, he or she can expect to have little difficulty obtaining a clean bank account and making a property purchase with cash.

Let’s Try With Bitcoin

It is clearly easy to wash and hide a few million USD in the liquid property markets of Hong Kong and America. What about using the favourite monetary boogeyman, Bitcoin?

Assume you want to move $1 million in cash into Bitcoin.

There are two options: either you can open an account on an exchange, or trade over-the-counter (OTC) with a dealer.

Any exchange that can handle this sort of volume has a serious banking relationship. Their bank will require extensive KYC / AML checks on all accounts. If the purpose is to hide the flow of funds, this is suboptimal. Presented with a subpoena, the exchange will be obligated to present the customer details.

If you can’t use an exchange, perhaps an OTC dealer would trade with you. Unfortunately the large dealers also must follow KYC / AML regulations. They again have banking relationships to maintain.

The major liquidity sources are exchanges and compliant OTC dealers. There are dealers who will onboard a client without KYC checks; however, their spread vs. the market will be extremely aggressive. A 20%+ vig to clean your money, assuming they can handle your size, is to be expected.

Washing money through the crypto capital markets is very difficult if you are unwilling to provide KYC information. Property is much easier, and vested interests from the government to the real estate brokers want you involved. They will do all they can to alleviate KYC / AML reporting requirements. Satoshi ain’t the biggest illegal finance enabler: no, it’s Uncle Sam.

Bitcoin Economics – Deflationary Debt Spiral (Part 3)

Abstract

This report is the third in a three part piece on Bitcoin economics. In the first piece, we looked at common misconceptions with respect to how banks make loans and the implications this has on the ability of banks to expand the level of credit in the economy. We analysed the inherent properties of money which ensure that this is the case and evaluate the impact this could have on the business cycle. In part two, we considered why Bitcoin might have some unique combinations of characteristics, compared to traditional forms of money.  We explained the implications this could have on the ability of banks to engage in credit expansion. In this piece (part three), we examine the deflationary nature of Bitcoin and consider why this deflation may be necessary due to some of Bitcoin’s weaknesses. We also look at how Bitcoin could be more resilient to some of the traditional economic disadvantages of deflation than some of Bitcoin’s critics may think.

 

Click here to download the pdf version of this report

 

Bitcoin’s deflation problem

One of the most common critiques of Bitcoin and related crypto-coin systems, is the supply cap (in the case of Bitcoin 21 million) and the associated deflationary nature of the system, which could be damaging to the economy. Critics have argued that history has taught us that a finite monetary supply can be a poor economic policy, resulting in or exacerbating, economic crashes. Either because people are unwilling to spend appreciating money or because the real value of debt increases, resulting in a highly indebted economy. Bitcoin proponents are often called “economically naive”, for failing to have learnt these economic lessons of the past.

In this third piece on Bitcoin economics, we explain that the situation may be more complex than these critics think, as Bitcoin is fundamentally different to the types of money that came before it. There may be unique characteristics about Bitcoin, which make it more suited to a deflationary policy. Alternatively, limitations or weaknesses in Bitcoin could exist, which mean that too much inflation could have negative consequences not applicable to traditional forms of money. In our view, these issues are often overlooked by some of Bitcoin’s economic critics.

A selection of quotes about Bitcoin’s inflation problem

The supply of central bank notes can easily expand and contract. For  a  positive  demand  shock  to  bank  notes  (shifting  from  consumption/investment  to money: i.e. it is a  deflationary  shock),  the  central  bank increases money  supply  by  buying  securities and  foreign  currencies.    For  a  negative  demand  shock  to  bank  notes,  the  central  bank absorbs money in circulation by selling securities and other assets.  In case of [Bitcoin], the latter operation is not included in its protocol. That is  to  say,  the  cryptocurrency  protocol  usually  includes  the  currency  supply  rule,  but  does  not  have  a  currency  absorption  or  write-off  protocol. Can we reduce this irreversibility?

– Mitsuru Iwamura (“Can We Stabilize the Price of a Cryptocurrency?: Understanding the Design of Bitcoin and Its Potential to Compete with Central Bank Money”) – 2014

 

The point is that by not building in an inflation, of say 2% per annum in the global supply of Bitcoins, you almost doom it as a currency, because people will start hoarding it, knowing that it’s going to be worth more next year than it is this year

 –  David Webb (51 minutes into the video) – 2014

 

More broadly, a hard supply cap or built-in deflation is not an inherent strength for a would-be money. A money’s strength is in its ability to meet society’s needs. From my perspective, Bitcoin’s built-in deflation means that it does a poorer job than it might at meeting society’s needs. Maybe I will be proven wrong. We shall see.

 –  The Economist (“Bitcoin’s Deflation Problem”) – 2014

 

The currency’s “money supply” will eventually be capped at 21m units. To Bitcoin’s libertarian disciples, that is a neat way to preclude the inflationary central-bank meddling to which most currencies are prone. Yet modern central banks favour low but positive inflation for good reason. In the real world wages are “sticky”: firms find it difficult to cut their employees’ pay. A modicum of inflation greases the system by, in effect, cutting the wages of workers whose pay cheques fail to keep pace with inflation. If the money supply grows too slowly, then prices fall and workers with sticky wages become more costly. Unemployment tends to rise as a result. If employed workers hoard cash in expectation of further price reductions, the downturn gathers momentum.

 – The Economist (“Money from Nothing”) – 2014

 

Our current global system is pretty crap, but I submit that Bitcoin is worst.  For starters, BtC is inherently deflationary. There is an upper limit on the number of bitcoins that can ever be created (‘mined’, in the jargon: new bitcoins are created by carrying out mathematical operations which become progressively harder as the bitcoin space is explored—like calculating ever-larger prime numbers, they get further apart). This means the cost of generating new Bitcoins rises over time, so that the value of Bitcoins rise relative to the available goods and services in the market. Less money chasing stuff; less cash for everybody to spend (as the supply of stuff out-grows the supply of money).

 –  Charlie Stross (“Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire”) – 2013

 

Nevertheless, there is still the 21m limit issue. If the limit is reached, the future of Bitcoin supply has to go down the path of fractional reserve banking, since only re-lending existing coin, or lending on the basis that settlement can one day be made in Bitcoin — a la conventional banking practice — can overcome the lack of supply

 Izabella Kaminska – Financial Times (“The problem with Bitcoin”) – 2013

 

 

So to the extent that the experiment [Bitcoin] tells us anything about monetary regimes, it reinforces the case against anything like a new gold standard – because it shows just how vulnerable such a standard would be to money-hoarding, deflation, and depression.

–  Paul Krugman (“Golden Cyberfetters”) – 2011

 

While Bitcoin has managed to bootstrap itself on a limited scale, it lacks any mechanism for dealing with fluctuations in demand. Increasing demand for Bitcoin will cause prices in terms of Bitcoin to drop (deflation), while decreasing demand will cause them to rise (inflation). What happens in each of these cases? Let’s start with deflation, because right now demand for Bitcoin is on the rise. What do people do when they think something’s value will be higher tomorrow than it is today? Well, they acquire and hold on to it! Who wants to give up money that’s constantly rising in value? In other words, rising demand causes demand to rise further. Irrational exuberance at its finest. Deflation begets deflation, ad infinitum, or at least until something breaks.

The Underground Economist (“Why Bitcoin can’t be a currency”) – 2010

 

Deflation and the deflationary debt spiral

Many economists have been debating the advantages and disadvantages of inflation for decades. Nevertheless, this primary point of contention is one of theory; economists, from differing schools of thought have a variety of views on the topic.  It is fair to say that the current economic consensus is that deflation is an undesirable economic phenomenon, while moderate inflation of around 2% per annum is desired. Those with Austrian school leanings, who oppose centrally managing inflation towards a certain positive target, tend disproportionality to support Bitcoin and gold’s somewhat deflationary nature.

One of the primary drivers for the negative view on deflation appears to be the 1929 great depression and the idea of a deflationary debt spiral. The theory is that during a period of economic recession and deflation, the real value of debt increases. Such an increase compounds the misfortunes of an already weak economy. Economist Irving Fisher is often credited with formulating this theory, as a response the financial crises of 1837, 1873 and the 1929 great depression.

Then we may deduce the following chain of consequences in nine links:

  1. Debt liquidation leads to distress setting and to
  2. Contraction of deposit currency, as bank loans are paid off, and to a slowing down of velocity of circulation. This contraction of deposits and of their velocity, precipitated by distress selling, causes
  3. A fall in the level of prices, in other words, a swelling of the dollar. Assuming, as above stated, that this fall of prices is not interfered with by reflation or otherwise, there must be
  4. A still greater fall in the net worths of business, precipitating bankruptcies and
  5. A like fall in profits, which in a “capitalistic,” that is, a private-profit society, leads the concerns which are running at a loss to make
  6. A reduction in output, in trade and in employment of labor. These losses, bankruptcies, and unemployment, lead to
  7. Pessimism and loss of confidence, which in turn lead to
  8. Hoarding and slowing down still more the velocity of circulation. The above eight changes cause
  9. Complicated disturbances in the rates of interest, in particular, a fall in the nominal, or money, rates and a rise in the real, or commodity, rates of interest.

Evidently debt and deflation go far toward explaining a great mass of phenomena in a very simple logical way

 – Irving Fisher (1933)

 

Is deflation as bad as these critics claim?

To the extent that critics accuse Bitcoin supporters of being economically naive, they may not always be entirely correct or they could be missing some nuances. Firstly, one does not need to be an Austrian economist to question whether deflation (supply cap) is always undesirable. Deflation could be bad in some circumstances, but it may depend on the characteristics of the economy and the type of money used in society. The social sciences are not like maths or computer science, nobody really knows the right answer to a high degree of certainty and opinions in the academic community change over time. Furthermore, economic circumstances can change over time, which can result in a different set of dynamics, where different inflation policies are optimal. Therefore a hard rule, fixed for all time, such as “deflation is always bad”, may not be the correct philosophy. For example, maybe Fisher’s view on inflation was correct for the economy in the 20th century, however by 2150 technology may have fundamentally changed to such an extent, such that another inflation policy may be more appropriate for society.

Bitcoin has different characteristics and the deflationary debt spiral argument may be less relevant

As we explained in part 1 and part 2 of this piece, Bitcoin possesses properties which are fundamentally different to the traditional money used in the economy such as the US Dollar or gold backed systems. Traditional money, such as the US Dollar are based on debt, which is an inherent property of fiat money. Alternatively Bitcoin may have properties which make it resilient to credit expansionary forces, such that the money is not inherently linked to debt. Therefore in the event of an economic crash and deflation, in a Bitcoin based economy, the impact of increases in the real value of debt could be less significant than one may think. This could make the deflationary debt spiral argument less relevant in a Bitcoin based economy.  In our view, it is likely that many of the Bitcoin critics may have overlooked this point when evaluating the disadvantages of Bitcoin’s deflationary monetary policy.

Disadvantages of inflation unique to Bitcoin

In addition to Bitcoin having some potential advantages, which could make it more resilient to the disadvantages of deflation, Bitcoin’s critics may also have overlooked some of Bitcoin’s weaknesses, which may make it more vulnerable to inflation:

  • Arbitrary environmental damage – Another common criticism of Bitcoin is the environmental damage caused by the energy intensive mining process. Although as we explained in the second part in our series on mining incentives, this issue could be overestimated since miners have a uniquely high level of choice with respect to the geographic location of their mining operations. This flexibility could reduce environmental damage as miners may use failed energy projects rather than investing in new ones.  However, it is still important to note that, the negative environmental damage caused by Bitcoin does seem to be a significant negative externality.  Mining incentives are made up of transaction fees and the block reward (inflation). Therefore increasing inflation increases the level of environmental damage and increases the negative externality. If a 2% inflation policy is decided upon, this could mean at least 2% of the value of the system is spent “damaging” the environment per annum. The inflation policy decision is somewhat arbitrary and the more inflation is selected the greater the extent of environmental damage. There may even be parallels here with the existing financial system. The policy of central banks to stimulate the economy, to achieve their inflation targets, could also be said to cause an arbitrarily high level of environmental damage, at least in the eyes of some critics. Although the link between inflation and environmental damage in a Bitcoin based system is more direct and measurable.  Instead of continued inflation, in Bitcoin the block reward halves every four years until mining incentives are driven entirely by transaction fees. This means that the level of environmental damage will be driven by the market, in that it could represent the amount that users are willing to pay for security, rather than an arbitrarily high level of environmental damage which would be the result of an inflationary monetary policy.
  • Aligning the interests of miners and users – Miners are currently primarily incentivised by the block reward rather than transaction fees. This results in a number of potential problems in the ecosystem, for example perhaps the interests of miners and users are not well aligned. Miners could, for example, exclude transactions from blocks, against the interests of users. Miners may be less likely to take this kind of action if they are primarily incentivised by transaction fees, something Bitcoin’s deflationary policy ensures will eventually become reality.
  • Inability to generate coin value – The supply cap can be considered as a key selling point of Bitcoin for investors and is likely to have helped generate investor interest which may have been necessary to bootstrap the system. If a perpetual inflationary policy was chosen, Bitcoin may not have been able to succeed to the extent it has, even if the deflationary policy is inferior from an economic perspective.

The irony of this debate – economic criticisms are only relevant if Bitcoin is a tremendous success

Much of this discussion focuses on the economics of Bitcoin, assuming Bitcoin is widely adopted, such that the inflationary dynamics have an impact on society. In our view this is an unlikely outcome and perhaps should be considered even more unlikely by Bitcoin’s critics. In our view, Bitcoin may satisfy a useful niche, that of making both censorship resistant and digital payments, but it’s unlikely to become the main currency in the economy. Therefore the debate about Bitcoin’s deflationary nature should be considered as largely irrelevant anyway. Hence it is therefore somewhat odd that some critics use this as an argument against Bitcoin.

This point is similar to one Paul Krugman made in his 2013 “Bitcoin is Evil” piece. Although Mr Krugman is widely derided in the Bitcoin community, most notably for his 1998 comment that “by 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s”, we consider the distinction he draws in the quote below as both accurate and sensible:

So let’s talk both about whether BitCoin is a bubble and whether it’s a good thing — in part to make sure that we don’t confuse these questions with each other.

Paul Krugman – “Bitcoin is Evil” – 2013

 

Perhaps Satoshi thought that having a finite supply cap and a deflationary bias, may help the system succeed, even if from society’s point of view, moderate inflation would be more utilitarian. From a system design perspective, producing a working payment system should be the priority, since a system which does not succeed, even if it’s hypothetically beneficial to society, is ultimately useless.

Conclusion

We conclude that rather than being driven by economic naivety, some Bitcoin supporters may have had a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between debt, deflation, the properties of money and credit expansion than the critics think. In contrast one could argue it’s the economic mainstream’s lack of understanding of the relationship between money and debt, and the potential ability of Bitcoin to somewhat decouple the two, which is the most prevalent misunderstanding. Indeed to many, Bitcoin’s ability to decouple debt from money and thereby result in a deflationary climate without the deflationary debt spiral problem is the point, rather than a bug.

However, even if Bitcoin has solved this economic problem, perhaps it’s naive to think Bitcoin would result in a more prosperous economic system. Bitcoin is a new and unique system, which is likely to cause more economic problems, perhaps unexpected or new ones. After all there is no perfect money. It just may not be correct to apply the traditional economic problems of the past, to this new type of money. Although it may be more difficult, identifying Bitcoin’s potential economic problems may require more analysis and a stronger understanding of the underlying technology.

Ironically, if one thinks these economic problems associated with deflation have a remote chance of being relevant, like the critics indirectly imply, that would mean Bitcoin has a significant chance of becoming widely adopted and hugely successful. In that case, perhaps the sensible thing to do is buy and “HODL”.

 

List of 44 Bitcoin fork tokens since Bitcoin Cash

Abstract: Although in 2018 Bitcoin may have somewhat moved on beyond this issue, in this sixth piece on consensus forks and chainsplits, we provide a list of 44 tokens which seem to have forked away from Bitcoin since the Bitcoin Cash split.

(Source: gryb25)

From late 2015 to the end of 2017, there was significant focus and analysis in the Bitcoin community about a chainsplits, finally resulting in the launch of Bitcoin Cash and then a plethora of other tokens. We have already covered some of topics related to these splits, in the five articles below:

In this sixth piece we list 44 Bitcoin forked tokens.

List of Bitcoin forked coins since Bitcoin Cash

Name URL/Source Fork Height
Bitcoin Cash https://www.bitcoincash.org 478,558
       Bitcoin Clashic http://bitcoinclashic.org (Forked from Bitcoin Cash)
       Bitcoin Candy http://cdy.one (Forked from Bitcoin Cash)
Bitcoin Gold https://bitcoingold.org 491,407
Bitcore https://bitcore.cc 492,820
Bitcoin Diamond http://btcd.io 495,866
Bitcoin Platinum Bitcointalk 498,533
Bitcoin Hot https://bithot.org 498,777
United Bitcoin https://www.ub.com 498,777
BitcoinX https://bcx.org 498,888
Super Bitcoin http://supersmartbitcoin.com 498,888
Oil Bitcoin http://oilbtc.io 498,888
Bitcoin Pay http://www.btceasypay.com 499,345
Bitcoin World https://btw.one 499,777
Bitclassic Coin http://bicc.io 499,888
Lightning Bitcoin https://lightningbitcoin.io 499,999
Bitcoin Stake https://bitcoinstake.net 499,999
Bitcoin Faith http://bitcoinfaith.org 500,000
Bitcoin Eco http://biteco.io 500,000
Bitcoin New https://www.btn.org 500,100
Bitcoin Top https://www.bitcointop.org 501,118
Bitcoin God https://www.bitcoingod.org 501,225
Fast Bitcoin https://fbtc.pro 501,225
Bitcoin File https://www.bitcoinfile.org 501,225
Bitcoin Cash Plus https://www.bitcoincashplus.org 501,407
Bitcoin Segwit2x https://b2x-segwit.io 501,451
Bitcoin Pizza http://p.top 501,888
Bitcoin Ore http://www.bitcoinore.org 501,949
World Bitcoin http://www.wbtcteam.org 503,888
Bitcoin Smart https://bcs.info 505,050
BitVote https://bitvote.one 505,050
Bitcoin Interest https://bitcoininterest.io 505,083
Bitcoin Atom https://bitcoinatom.io 505,888
Bitcoin Community http://btsq.top/ 506,066
Big Bitcoin http://bigbitcoins.org 508,888
Bitcoin Private https://btcprivate.org 511,346
Classic Bitcoin https://https://bitclassic.info 516,095
Bitcoin Clean https://www.bitcoinclean.org 518,800
Bitcoin Hush https://btchush.org 1st February 2018
Bitcoin Rhodium https://www.bitcoinrh.org Unknown
Bitcoin LITE https://www.bitcoinlite.net Unknown
Bitcoin Lunar https://www.bitcoinlunar.org Unknown
Bitcoin Green https://www.savebitcoin.io Unknown
Bitcoin Hex http://bitcoinhex.com Unknown

(Source: BitMEX Research, Forked coin websites, findmycoins.ninja)

Please note it is very important to handle these new fork tokens with caution. In particular, we would strongly advise you not to import your Bitcoin private key into any new fork token wallets without first spending the Bitcoin to a new output associated with a different private key after the token snapshot point, so that your Bitcoin is not at risk.

 

 

BitMEX Downtime, May 17 2018

Today, May 17, 2018, the BitMEX trading engine encountered several separate and heretofore unpredictable problems, causing feed latency and downtime in spurts throughout the day.

Disks mounted to the main trading engine hardware degraded sharply in performance at roughly 10:00 UTC. This degradation caused feed latency during scheduled archive and reindex jobs, which caused significant backpressure. Disk I/O operations were running at roughly 1/20 of their expected rate.

BitMEX runs redundant drives, but in this case, both drives were simultaneously exhibiting this degraded behavior. We had no choice but to schedule a maintenance downtime to replace them. Unfortunately, backpressure reached critical levels faster than we expected and we moved up our timetable.

At no point was data integrity compromised by this problem, but restoring the machine to a functional state with nominal disk performance took longer than expected to execute and verify.

After this action was complete, we restarted trading. Unfortunately, another problem was uncovered during the next archive, where a reindex job combined with a previously rare request pattern led to unexpected index regeneration and symbol revalidation on specific tables. This led to another backpressure scenario, with similar symptoms.

We have identified and fixed multiple contributing factors to the above behavior. The trading engine team will be closely monitoring engine performance throughout the day while continuing root cause analysis for the slowdowns.

Why UPs?

BitMEX is proud to launch its first optionality products: UPs and DOWNs. This marks a very significant milestone in the product development history of the platform. With futures, swaps, and now options, BitMEX is inching closer to the goal of offering all manner of derivative products for the crypto-coin industry.

Why UPs and DOWNs?

UPs or Upside Profit Contracts, and DOWNs or Downside Profit Contracts are similar to call and put options. One of our biggest strengths at BitMEX is in engaging with the community and listening to our customers, and we have heard the roar for such products as the level of sophistication grows in this industry.

Why Now?

The liquidity profile of Bitcoin derivatives trading has changed dramatically over the past 12 months. The BitMEX XBTUSD Perpetual Swap is now the most heavily traded instrument in the entire crypto trading industry. Average daily trading volumes are in the billions of USD notional.

Before non-linear products like options are viable, linear products (Perpetual Swaps and Futures) must be sufficiently liquid. Given the liquidity profile of XBTUSD and the quarterly Bitcoin / USD futures contracts, we now believe there is sufficient liquidity in order to launch a successful options product.

What’s the Use Case?

Imagine Bitcoin is currently trading at $10,000 and you believe that by the end of the week, it will move 10% higher to $11,000. However, you don’t want any exposure to the price unless it hits your target. Also, you do not want your position to be liquidated before your target is reached, irregardless of the intra-week spot movements. For example, if the price drops to $5,000 but recovers to $12,000 by the settlement date, you will still profit and will not be liquidated.

Hence, you want the ability to participate above your target of $11,000 on the long side. The UPs product allows you to express this view, however this “optionality” comes at a cost which is the premium you pay to the seller of the option.

Why Can You Only Buy?

Selling naked (i.e. unhedged) options is one of the fastest and easiest ways to financial ruin given the potential for unlimited losses. On BitMEX, traders are limited to the margin they deposit on the platform, hence if the seller of the option cannot make good on potential losses, then socialised loss systems will need to be put in place which we want to avoid. As a result, we require sellers of the options to post the full notional value of the UP or DOWN contract.

Because no leverage is offered to sellers, it is very expensive from a capital perspective to make a market. In order to guarantee tight spreads at sufficient size, the BitMEX affiliated anchor market maker will be the only entity allowed to sell options initially.

Many of you may have concerns that the BitMEX affiliated entity is the sole market maker, however here are some points to consider:

  1. As further discussed below, one cause of the engine overload issue is that we have many market makers constantly updating quotes on currently listed products. This consumes a vast amount of precious engine capacity. Until our engine performance is fixed, we refrain from listing any new product that exacerbates the issue. (E.g. this is one of the reasons why we delisted a number of our quarterly altcoin futures contracts, since the volumes they generated did not justify the engine resources consumed.) Hence, if only one market maker quotes on the UPs and DOWNs product, then the impact will not be meaningful on the engine.
  2. The UPs and DOWNs products need to be fully margined. That is, buyers must pay the premium in full and sellers must post the full notional of the option in margin. That means that irregardless of where the price settles, neither buyers nor sellers will ever be liquidated. If the contract settles in the money, buyers are assured they will always receive their profit. Furthermore, this means that the anchor market maker cannot manipulate the UP or DOWN market in any way to liquidate any customer. 
  3. The anchor market maker is tasked with keeping a tight market so that buyers can enter and exit trades as they wish throughout the contract’s length. We want to increase liquidity, having wide markets or an empty order book is not in BitMEX’s interest.
  4. As we respond to customers’ feedback about the products, changes will be made to the UPs and DOWNs contracts. The anchor market maker will be able to adjust to the new product structure faster than any third party. That means that we can fail fast, and relaunch the product quickly with guaranteed liquidity.

What Are We Doing About Engine Performance?

At BitMEX, our top priority is improving the performance of our engine. In a detailed blog post, BitMEX Technology Scaling: Part 1, our CTO Samuel Reed explains in detail the issues we face and what we are doing to resolve these issues. However I will reiterate some points here.

The solution is not as simple as adding more servers or more engineers. The engine has a maximum throughput that is constrained by risk checks and calculations which are performed on each order, position, trade or price change so that we can maintain mathematical consistency on a platform that allows for 100x leverage. We have a two-pronged strategy to solve for this unique problem that BitMEX experiences:

  1. Optimise as many existing functions as possible to obtain efficiency gains. We have been rolling out improvements weekly; however, that extra capacity is consumed very quickly as the demand increases to match engine performance improvements.
  2. Re-architect the engine from the ground up so that the aforementioned issues can be scaled horizontally which will allow for more products and more users without overload issues. This work is ongoing, it won’t be solved overnight, but we are working towards this goal.

I want to emphasise that we will not list any products that worsen engine performance until we increase capacity sufficiently.

Additionally, we are scrutinizing which API users cost us the most in resources. Further API rate limits on traders with non-optimal Quote / Trade ratios are forthcoming. I remember how hard I fought as a CEO to convince traders to provide liquidity on our platform. This action pains me deeply and further sharpens my focus on finding a solution to this problem so that anyone who desires to provide liquidity may do so.

Launching the UPs and DOWNs products does not mean that BitMEX has forgotten or ignored the overload issue. Rather, we must continue to launch and test new products within reason so that in a year’s time we have another wildly successful product like XBTUSD.

If you are a talented engineer who believes he or she has a solution to this problem, we want to hear from you / hire you. Please reach out to us via the careers page or email, and a senior member of staff will review your qualifications or suggestions.

– Arthur Hayes, CEO and co-founder