Bitcoin Economics – Credit expansion and the characteristics of money which make it possible (Part 1)

Abstract: In this piece on economics, we look at 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 analyze the inherent properties of money which ensure that this is the case and the impact this could have on the business cycle.

 

Dynamics of Credit Expansion

The core characteristic of the traditional banking system and modern economies, is the ability of the large deposit taking institutions (banks) to expand the level of credit (debt) in the economy, without necessarily needing to finance this expansion with reserves.

An often poorly understood point in finance, is the belief that banks require reserves, liquidity or “cash”, in order to make new loans. After-all where do banks get the money from? It is true that smaller banks and some financial institutions do need to find sources of finance to make new loans. However, in general, this is not the case for the main deposit taking institutions within an economy.

If a main deposit taking institution, makes a new loan to one of their customers, in a sense this automatically creates a new deposit, such that no financing is required.  This is because the customer, or whoever sold the item the loan customer purchased with the loan, puts the money back on deposit at the bank.  Therefore the bank never needed any money at all. Indeed there is nothing else people can do, the deposits are “trapped” inside the banking system, unless they are withdrawn in the form of physical notes and coins, which rarely happens nowadays.

Please consider the following simplified example:

  1. A large bank, JP Morgan, provides a mortgage loan to a customer, who is buying their first home, for $500,000
  2. JP Morgan writes a check to the mortgage customer for $500,000
  3. The mortgage customer deposits the check into his deposit account, at JP Morgan
  4. The mortgage customer writes a new check, for $500,000 and he hands it over to the seller of the property
  5. The seller is also banking client of JP Morgan and as soon as she receives the check, she deposits it into her JP Morgan bank account

 

Illustrative diagram of a new home mortgage with one dominant bank in the economy

As one can see, the above process had no impact on the bank’s liquidity or reserves, the bank never had to spend any “cash” at any point in the above example. Of course, the seller of the property does not necessarily have to have an account with the same bank as the one which provided the loan.  However large deposit taking institutions, such as JP Morgan, HSBC or Bank of America, have large market shares in the deposit taking business, in their local markets.  Therefore, on average, these large banks expect more than their fair share of new loans to end up on deposit at their own bank. Actually, on average, new loans in the economy actually increases the liquidity for these large banks, rather than decreasing it.

The accounting treatment of this mortgage, for the bank, is as follows:

  • Debit: Loan (asset): $500,000
  • Credit: Deposit (liability): $500,000

The bank has therefore increased its assets and liabilities, resulting in balance sheet expansion.  Although from the point of view of the home seller, she has $500,000 of cash.  The above transaction has increased the amount of loans and deposits in the economy. From the customer’s point of view, these deposits are seen as “cash”. In a sense, new money has been created from nothing, apart from perhaps the asset, which in this case is the property.  In the above scenario, M0 or base money, the total value of physical notes and coins in the economy, as well as money on deposit at the central bank, remains unchanged.  M1, which includes both M0 and money on deposit in bank accounts, has increased by $500,000.  Although the precise definition of M1 varies by region.

Cash reserves from the point of view of a bank are physical notes and coins, as well as money on deposit at the central bank.  The ratio between the level of deposits a bank can have and its reserves, is called the “reserve requirement”.  This form of regulation, managing the reserve requirement, leads to the term “fractional reserve banking”, with banks owing more money to deposit customers than they have in reserves. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, in most significant western economies, there is no regulation directly limiting the bank’s ability to make these loans, with respect to its cash reserves.  The reserve requirement ratio typically either does not exist, or it is so low that it has no significant impact.  There is however a regulatory regime in place that does limit the expansionary process, these are called “capital ratios”. The capital ratio, is a ratio between the equity of the bank and the total assets (or more precisely risk weighted assets). The bank can therefore only create these new loans (new assets) and therefore new deposits (liabilities), if it has sufficient equity.  Equity is the capital investment into the bank, as well as accumulated retained earnings.  For example if a bank has $10 of equity, it may only be allowed $100 of assets, a capital ratio of 10%.

 

The credit cycle

To some extent, the dynamic described above allows banks to create new loans and expand the level of credit in the economy, almost at will, causing inflation. This credit cycle is often considered to be a core driver of modern economies and a key reason for financial regulation. Although the extent to which the credit cycle impacts the business cycle is hotly debated by economists.  These dynamics are often said to result in expansionary credit bubbles and economic collapses. Or as Satoshi Nakamoto described it:

 

Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve

 

Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates (a leading investment firm), appears to agree that the credit cycle is a major driver of swings in economic growth, at least in the short term, as his video below explains:

 

 

The view that the credit cycle, caused by fractional reserve banking, is the dominant driver  of modern economies, including the boom and bust cycle, is likely to be popular in the Bitcoin community.  This theory is sometimes called Austrian business cycle theory, although many economists outside the Austrian school also appreciate the importance of the credit cycle.

However, there are alternative views.  For example another successful investment firm, Marathon Asset Management, identifies the “capital cycle” as the main driver of the business cycle, rather the credit cycle.  In their view a cycle emerges with respect to investment in production, as the below diagram illustrates.

 

The capital cycle

Source: Capital Account

 

The fundamental cause of the credit expansionary dynamic

The above dynamic of credit expansion and fractional reserve banking, is not understood by many. However, with the advent of the internet, often people on the far left politics, the far right of politics or conspiracy theorists, are becoming partially aware of this dynamic, perhaps in an incomplete way. With the “banks create money from nothing” or “fractional reserve banking” narratives gaining some traction. The question that arises, is why does the financial system work this way?  This underlying reasons for this, are poorly understood, in our view.

Individuals with these fringe political and economic views, may think this is some kind of grand conspiracy by powerful elite bankers, to ensure their control over the economy. For example, perhaps the Rothschild family, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, the Bilderberg Group, the Federal Reserve or some other powerful secretive entity deliberately structured the financial system this way, so that they could gain some nefarious unfair advantage or influence? Actually, this is not at all the case.

The ability of deposit taking institutions to expand credit, without requiring reserves, is the result of inherent characteristics of the money we use and the fundamental nature of money. This is because people and businesses psychologically and for very logical practical reasons, treat bank deposits in the same way as “cash”, when they could alternatively be considered as loans to the bank. This enables banks to then expand the amount of deposits, knowing they are safe, as customers will never withdraw it, since they already think of it as cash.

Bank deposits are treated this way for perfectly reasonable and logical reasons, in fact bank deposits have some significant advantages over physical cash. Bank deposits are simply much better than physical cash.  It is these inherent and genuine advantages that cause fractional reserve banking, not a malicious conspiracy, as some might think.

 

Advantages of bank deposits compared to physical notes and coins

Factor Bank deposit Physical cash
Security

Keeping money on deposits in financial institutions, increases security

The money is protected by multiple advanced security mechanisms and insured in the unlikely event of theft

Large physical cash balances at home could be vulnerable to theft or damage

Physical cash cannot be insured and storage costs can be expensive

Electronic transfers Using the banking system, it is possible to quickly send money effectively over the internet or by phone, across the world at low cost and at high speed If physical cash is used, then a slow, inefficient, insecure physical transfer must take place
Convenience

Using a banking system to manage your money, can result in a convenient set of tools. For example the ability to use money using your mobile phone or on your computer

Precise amounts can be sent so there is no issue with receiving change

Handling cash is often a difficult and cumbersome process. Precise amounts cannot be specified and one may need to calculate change amounts
Auditability Traditional banks offer the ability to track, control and monitor all transactions, which can help prevent fraud.  This improves reporting and accountability With physical cash, effective record keeping is less automated, increasing the probability of fraud

 

Bitcoin Economics – Credit expansion and the characteristics of money (Part 2)

Abstract: In this piece we look at why Bitcoin might have some unique combinations of characteristics, compared to traditional forms of money.  We examine the implications this could have on the ability of banks to engage in credit expansion.

 

The main features of the different types of money

Despite the strong advantages of bank deposits mentioned in part 1 of this piece, namely the ability to use it electronically, physical notes and coins do have some significant benefits over electronic money.  The following table aims to summarize the main features of the different types of money, bank deposits, physical cash and Electronic Cash (Bitcoin).

 

Features of electronic bank deposits, physical notes & coins and electronic cash

Feature Bank deposit Physical cash Electronic Cash
Advantages of physical cash
Funds are fully protected in the event the bank becomes insolvent or inaccessible*
It is difficult for the authorities to confiscate funds
Funds can be effectively hidden from the authorities
Transactions cannot easily be blocked
Transfers can be highly anonymous
Transfers can be irrevocable
Transfers can occur instantly ? ?
Payments can occur 24×7 ?
Transaction fees are zero ?
Payments work during power outages or when communication networks are down
Money can be used without purchasing or owning a device
Anyone can use the system, without seeking permission
Advantages of electronic systems
Payments can be made over the internet
Change does not need to be calculated
Payments can easily be recorded
Funds can easily be secured to prevent theft ?

Note: * Physical cash still has a potential problem with respect to the solvency, related to the policy of the central bank which issues the currency

 

Due to the strengths mentioned in the above table, physical cash will always have its niche use cases. However, on balance, banking deposits are superior to physical cash, for the majority of users.  The ability to use bank deposits electronically is particularly compelling, especially in the digital age.  As we explained in part one of this piece, it is this ability to use the money electronically that ensures there is always high demand for bank deposits, giving banks the ability to freely expand the level of credit.

 

The unique properties of Bitcoin

Bitcoin shares many of the advantages of physical cash over electronic bank deposits.  Although Bitcoin does not have the full set of advantages, as the table above demonstrates.  However the key unique feature of Bitcoin, is that it has both some of the advantages of physical cash and the ability to be used electronically.

Bitcoin aims to replicate some of the properties of physical cash, but in an electronic form, an “electronic cash system”.  Before Bitcoin, people had to make a binary choice, between physical cash or using a bank deposit.

Although technically physical cash is a kind of a bank deposit, a deposit at the central bank, physical cash still has unique bearer type properties which could not be replicated in an electronic form.  For the first time ever, in 2009, Bitcoin provided the ability to use a bearer type asset, electronically.  The the simple table below illustrates this key unique feature of Bitcoin and blockchain based tokens.

 

The binary choice in legacy finance & the new option Bitcoin provides

Bearer type instrument Electronic type instrument
Physical Cash (Notes & Coins)
Electronic money (Bank Deposit)
Electronic Cash (Bitcoin)

 

Therefore Bitcoin can be thought of as a new hybrid form of money, with some of the advantages of physical cash, but also some of the advantages of bank deposits.

 

Bitcoin’s limitations

Although Bitcoin has inherited some of the strengths of both traditional electronic money systems and physical cash.  Typically Bitcoin does not have all the advantages of either electronic money or physical cash, however it is uniquely positioned to be able to have subset of the features of each.  This provides a new middle ground option.

For example, Bitcoin may never have the throughput of traditional electronic payment systems or the ability to use without electricity such as with physical cash.  Although as technology improves, Bitcoin may slowly develop more strengths and gradually improve its capabilities, to narrow the gap.

 

The implications of these characteristics on credit expansion

Understanding the dynamics of these characteristics, can be useful in evaluating the potential economic significance of Bitcoin, should the ecosystem grow. Bitcoin has at least six properties which provide some level of natural resilience against credit expansion, which traditional money does not have. This is because the advantages of keeping money on deposit at a bank are not always as pronounced in Bitcoin, compared to the alternatives.  However, Bitcoin is certainly not immune to the same credit expansionary forces which exist in traditional systems, indeed people can keep Bitcoin on deposit at financial institutions just like they can with physical cash.  Bitcoin may merely have greater resistance to the same credit expansionary forces.

At the core of our reasoning, is looking the advantages of bank deposits compared to physical cash, which are the characteristics that enable large banks to freely expand credit and evaluating to what extent they apply in Bitcoin.  As the table below shows, the advantages of keeping money on deposit at a bank are less significant in the Bitcoin world, therefore we think Bitcoin does have some unique resilience against the forces of credit expansion.

 

Physical cash vs bank deposits compared to Bitcoin vs Bitcoin deposits

Factor Physical cash compared to deposits Bitcoin compared to Bitcoin deposits
1. Security

Keeping money on deposits in financial institutions, increases security relative to keeping large physical cash balances at home, where the cash is vulnerable to theft or damage

Bitcoin can potentially allow a high level of security, without putting the funds on deposit at a bank

For example Bitcoin can be concealed or encrypted

2. Electronic transfers

Using the banking system, it is possible to send money effectively over the internet or by phone, across the world at low cost.

If physical cash is used, then a slow, inefficient, insecure physical transfer must take place

Bitcoin can allow users to efficiently transmit money over the internet, without using deposits at financial institutions
3. Convenience

Using a banking system to manage your money, can result in a convenient set of tools. For example the ability to use money using your mobile phone or use your computer.

Precise amounts can be sent so there is no issue with receiving change

Bitcoin can allow users to make payments on a mobile phone or without manually calculating change amounts.  Deposits at financial institutions are not required
4. Ability to redeem deposits In the traditional banking system, withdrawing physical cash from a financial institution is a long administrative process which takes time.  Banks therefore do not need to worry about keeping large quantities of physical cash in reserves Bitcoin can allow users to withdraw money from deposit taking institutions quickly, which may encourage banks to ensure they have adequate Bitcoin in reserve at all times
5. Auditability

Banks offer the ability to track and monitor all transactions, which can help prevent fraud and improve accountability.

Physical cash cannot offer this

Bitcoin’s blockchain or other electronic databases can allow users to effectively audit and monitor transactions, without using third party financial intermediaries
6. “Hybrid banking”

In traditional banking models there are only two fundamental choices:

1. Physical cash which provides full user control of the money

2. Money on deposit at a financial institution

This is a binary choice with no middle ground options, forcing consumers to make a difficult choice with no compromise option available

Bitcoin allows a wider spectrum of deposit and security models, resulting in a more complex credit expansionary dynamic.

For example:

1. 2 of 2 multi-signature wallet, where the bank holds one key and the user holds another key; or

2. 1 of 2 multi-signature wallet, where the bank holds one key and the user holds another key

 

The economic consequences of less credit expansion

The consequences of the lower level of credit expansion this analysis implies, does not really say much about whether this potentially new economic model will be more beneficial to society, nor does it say much about whether Bitcoin will be successful or not. The former is something that has been heavily debated by economists for decades and the latter is a separate topic, in our view.  Although, despite decades of economic debate, perhaps Bitcoin is sufficiently different to the money which came before it, such that the debate is required again, with new very different information.  For example inflation  or deflation, caused by cycles of credit expansion, may have very different consequences in a Bitcoin based financial system, than on one based on bank deposits and debt.  A key problem with deflation in a debt based money system, is that it increases the real value of debt, resulting in a downwards economic spiral.  For non debt based money systems like Bitcoin, it is less clear what the implications of deflation are.

Although Bitcoin may not necessarily result in a superior economic model, we think this analysis may suggest that Bitcoin may have some properties that make the economic model somewhat unique or perhaps interesting, compared to the possible models that came before it.  Therefore it does look like an area worth examining.

To many, the ultimate objective of Bitcoin is to become sufficiently dominant, such that there is a significant decrease in credit expansionary forces, which can neutralize the credit cycle and therefore the business cycle.  Although, this should be considered as an extremely ambitious objective, which we consider as extremely unlikely.  And even in the remarkable circumstance that Bitcoin grows to this scale, other  unforeseen economic problems, particular to Bitcoin, may emerge.

Policy on Bitcoin Hardforks (Update) and SegWit2x (B2X)

Anyone can create a chain fork of Bitcoin at any time. The possibility of a SegWit2x hardfork (B2X) in November 2017 requires that we, once again, clarify our position on any and all potential hardforks.

 

BitMEX Hardfork Policies

At BitMEX, our top priority is protecting the assets of our customers. In order for us to effectively do this, we insist that any Bitcoin hardfork includes the following:

  • Strong two way transaction replay protection, enabled by default, such that transactions on each chain are invalid on the other chain.
  • A clean break, such that the new chain cannot be “wiped out” by the original chain.
  • A modification to the block header, such that all wallets (including light clients) are required to upgrade to follow the hardforked chain.
  • A change in address format, to prevent people inadvertently sending coins to an address on the wrong chain.
  • New P2P network magic bytes, to ensure a functioning and reliable node network for the both coins.

Strong replay protection and wipeout protection, in particular, are considered absolutely crucial.  Should a hardfork not follow these policies, we will not support the new coin. To be clear, we do not intend to access or keep these coins. The administrative overhead of distributing any and all hardforked coins (including Bitcoin-based distributions like Byteball/Lumens) is prohibitive and BitMEX will not monitor or maintain balances of hard-forked coins.

Additionally, support of any forked currency is solely at the discretion of BitMEX. While we may snap users’ margin balances at the time of the fork in case we decide to distribute, there is no guarantee that it will be safe, desirable, or practical to do so. If this concerns you, you should withdraw your funds before any given fork and handle the split on your own.

 

SegWit2x (B2X) – BitMEX Policy

The SegWit2x (B2X) proposal is aimed at increasing the blocksize. It is scheduled to take place in November 2017. This change is incompatible with the current Bitcoin ruleset and therefore a new coin may be created.  

Proponents of this new coin hope it becomes known as Bitcoin, however which coin is known as Bitcoin is not up to the proponents of the new token. Investors and traders may decide which coin has the highest value.  In order for this process to work smoothly, strong two way  transaction replay protection is necessary.

It is our understanding that the SegWit2x proposal does not include two way transaction replay protection, enabled by default. Therefore BitMEX will not be able to support SegWit2x.

As such, BitMEX will not support the distribution of B2X, nor will BitMEX be liable for any B2X sent to us.  This policy applies even if the SegWit2x chain has the majority hashrate. Therefore, it is up to our users to withdraw their Bitcoin’s from BitMEX prior to the fork if they wish to access B2X.

BitMEX considers any and all contentious hardfork tokens as altcoins. The .BXBT and .BXBTJPY indices will remain unchanged and will not include B2X.

The SegWit2x (B2X) Hardfork – Protecting Yourself and Your Coins, Part 1: Coin Splitting

Abstract: The upcoming SegWit2x hardfork lacks replay protection.  In this piece we look at what you can do to protect yourself, by analyzing various ways you could split your coins.

 

Overview

SegWit2x (B2X) is a proposal to double Bitcoin’s capacity limit. This is an increase in the maximum block weight to 8MB from 4MB.

The upgrade is an incompatible with Bitcoin’s current consensus rules (known as a hardfork), which means it is likely to result in a new coin, such that Bitcoin holders prior to the fork will receive both original Bitcoin (BTC) and SegWit2x coin (B2X) after the fork. In many ways this is similar to the recent Bitcoin Cash hardfork (also an increase in the blocksize limit to 8MB). A key difference is that unlike Bitcoin Cash, B2X does not include strong transaction replay protection. Therefore many users could lose funds, on the other hand, those that do successfully protect their funds could make positive investment returns.

The hardfork is expected to occur on around Saturday 18th November 2017. (Block number 494,784)

 

Why bother splitting?

The SegWit2x split will result in two coins, the existing Bitcoin (BTC) and a new “spin-off” coin SegWit2x (B2X). This is likely to lead to significant price volatility, which may present investment opportunities. Due to the lack of replay protection, whatever your view on the situation or your investment strategy, it is sensible to split your coins as soon as possible, to ensure as much flexibility as possible and also to protect your coins.  Many users are likely to intend to send only one of the two coins in a transaction, but accidentally send both, which may result in an irrecoverable loss of funds.  If you do not split, you could be one of these users incurring losses.

Unfortunately the lack of strong replay protection may also present an opportunity for scammers/attackers. For example scammers could repeatedly deposit and withdraw from exchanges, hoping to find any weaknesses. If any exchange has not implemented replay protection, attackers are likely to exploit this quickly, which could make the exchange insolvent. In addition to this, individual users could be targeted by scammers. Scammers could sell the victim Bitcoin, knowing their wallet is following the wrong chain or scammers could acquire Bitcoin from a victim who is expected to replay coins on both chains to the buyer.

These kind of losses and attacks could damage the reputation of the ecosystem, therefore a contentious hardfork without strong replay protection is a high risk event with potentially significant negative consequences. However, there are actions you can take to protect yourself.

 

Splitting your coins

When the hardfork occurs, your Bitcoin will exist separately on both chains BTC & B2X, in the same output. Since the B2X hardfork does not contain transaction replay protection enabled by default, when spending your coins, in either chain, the transaction could be replayed on the other chain.  Therefore the prudent thing to do is split your coins, so that your BTC and B2X exist on different outputs on each chain, which means that your transactions can no longer be replayed.

Unfortunately this is not a simple process and many people are unlikely to be able to achieve this. You cannot split your coins prior to the hardfork, however a prudent strategy may be to prepare how you plan to split beforehand, for example moving your coins to a different wallet before the split occurs. For many users this is not likely to be easy, however if you act fast, there could be investment rewards, if you are able to sell the spin-off coin before others have a chance to do so.

 

Which wallets to use

In order to split your coins, you would either need to manually construct your own transactions or use two wallets, one for BTC and one for B2X, since most wallets will not allow you to broadcast two conflicting transactions. You will then need two separate wallets, to receive the coins on each side of the split.

Unfortunately two full node wallets are likely to be necessary to protect your coins, for example Bitcoin Core for BTC and BTC1 for B2X. A full node wallet means it verifies all the consensus rules on the entire blockchain. Two fully verifying nodes may be needed because:

  • On the BTC side you may need a wallet that enforces the 4 million unit weight limit (which B2X plans to breach), and;
  • On the B2X side you need a wallet that enforces the coin wipeout protection rule, which requires non witness data in the first B2X block to be greater than 1MB.

You need to ensure each respective wallet enforces each of these rules, to make sure your wallets does not follow a different chain to the one on which your coins are located on.  Otherwise your coins could disappear from your wallet.

In order to prudently prepare for the hardfork, it might be a good idea to run full nodes of each client on a separate computer. The syncing process can take several days, therefore perhaps you could start to run the nodes before the fork, as you may want to be ready to split your coins and spend them as soon as possible.

 

The splitting methods

Method 1: The trial and error approach

The most basic way of splitting is to run a BTC client and a B2X client, import your private keys, and then try to send your coins to yourself, to two different outputs on each chain. Either both transactions confirm, in which case you succeeded, or the same transaction occurs on both chains, and you simply try again.

The trouble with this method is that it could be expensive, in terms of both time and money. Many people may try this approach and therefore network congestion could be high, and the more failed attempts occur the more one needs to pay in fees. In addition to this, at least one of the two chains is guaranteed have minority hashpower, which could increase the block interval in the short term, resulting in more transaction congestion and you would need to wait for your transaction to confirm on both sides of the split to ensure you are protected.

Unfortunately, the trouble with B2X, is not only did this fork not implement strong replay protection, so that BTC transactions are valid on B2X and vica versa, but B2X also uses the same network magic as BTC. Therefore, by default your B2X wallet will broadcast its transactions to the BTC network, making transaction replay likely.

 

Method 2: Locktime

Locktime is a transaction field, which ensures a transaction is only valid after a certain block height. By default some wallets, including Bitcoin Core, add the current block height to the locktime field for their transactions. There are several motivations for this transaction type, one of which is to reduce the incentive for miners to orphan the current leading block, in order to get more fee income, by scooping up the fees from transactions already confirmed in the last block and the transactions in the memory pool. This is expected to be a potential problem in the future when the block reward is low.

One could try to use this feature to split BTC and B2X coins. For example, if the BTC chain has a 5 block lead over the B2X chain, you could send a BTC transaction with the current block height as the locktime, therefore this transaction will be invalid on B2X for the next 5 blocks. If the transaction confirms on BTC, you could then send another different transaction spending the same output on the B2X network, before the 5 block period is over. This could also work the other way around if B2X has the block height lead.

This method sounds complicated, and involves monitoring both chains. However, using the Bitcoin Core wallet this may happen by default and can be combined with the trial and error method described above. In theory, all you need to do is see which chain is in the lead, with respect to block height, and then send your transaction on that chain first.

 

Method 3: The “official” opt in replay protection

The B2X chain is considering adding opt in replay protection. This essentially means B2X client defines a subset of existing valid transactions and then prohibits these transactions on the B2X chain. Therefore you could send a transaction in this format on the BTC network and it would be invalid on B2X, resulting in a successful split.

However, this could be technically challenging to do, as it is not clear if any BTC wallets will support this feature and there may not be enough time for wallets to implement this for ordinary users. In addition to this, it is not known what type of opt in replay protection B2X will use or if this feature will be enabled at all. The official B2X client appears to have gone through the following iterations:

  • Initially there was no opt in transaction replay protection
  • A method of replay protection using OP_Return was merged into the codebase
  • A new replay protection method, banning transactions with an output to a particular P2SH address was merged
  • Problems were found with the latest method, which could apparently result in the loss of funds. Therefore a few days ago this opt in replay protection was removed from the B2X client

Therefore it is not clear what the opt in replay protection for B2X will be and it’s possible there could be no option here at all.

 

Method 4: Taint the coins with already split coins

Somebody else may have successfully been able to split their coins. They could then send you an output from their split coins. You could then use this output as an input for your new transaction. Since this input only exists on one chain, your transaction would be invalid on the other chain. Ideally this could be the coinbase reward from a block mined after the split, that way you can be sure your transaction can only occur on one side of the split, regardless of any potential re-orgs.

This process seems easier than the above methods, although you must ensure you get your coin control in your wallet arranged correctly to ensure you spend the desired transaction input. This method requires waiting for somebody else, therefore it could be slow, which may be a problem if you want to split as soon as possible.

 

Method 5: Let an exchange do it

You could send your coins to an exchange which supports both BTC and B2X, the exchange could then handle the split for you. You need to check if the policy of the exchange is to split your coins before the split or to also split coins sent to them after the split.

A disadvantage of this policy is that your need to take counterparty risk, which you may not want to do with your long term savings.  Taking such a risk could be particularly problematic during a high risk, high volume period such as a chain split without strong replay protection, which may present operational challenges for the exchanges. This method also goes against a common narrative or mantra in the Bitcoin community, which is you should always control your private keys, especially during a hardfork.

Although an advantage of sending your coins to the exchange before the fork, is that you may be able to trade the two coins very quickly, perhaps even faster than those doing the above split methods. This could provide you better investment opportunities.

 

Conclusion

Perhaps the best strategy is to combine the above methods. After reviewing the policy of the exchanges, you could send some of your coins to an exchange of your choice before the fork and then attempt to split the remainder of your coins using method 2 explained above.

However, despite all this advice, it’s probably likely that the overwhelming majority of Bitcoin holders will take no preparatory action for the split. Therefore if you do any above, you are probably well ahead of the majority, which could hopefully lead to some financial rewards or at least help you avoid losses.

The SegWit2x (B2X) Hardfork – Protecting Yourself and Your Coins, Part 2: Investment Strategies

Abstract: The upcoming SegWit2x hardfork is likely to lead to price volatility.  In this piece we look at some potential investment strategies which could allow you to capitalize on the event.

 

Strategy 1: Do nothing

The most popular investment strategy following the split is likely to be to take no action and remain a holder of both BTC and B2X. This is probably the most prudent approach, as your assets may be protected whichever coin becomes more valuable. Most people may pursue this strategy out of laziness rather than choice.  However, even if this is your preferred investment strategy, it may still be sensible to try and split your coins anyway; to increase the flexibility of your investment strategy and protect your funds in case you need to make a transaction.

 

Strategy 2: Invest in your favored coin

Many investors may support either the BTC or B2X coin for ideological reasons or because they feel their chosen coin has the best characteristics.

  • Supporters of BTC typically prefer the consensus rules to be robust, as they feel this results in superior or more unique monetary characteristics. Also they typically value the cautious and meticulous approach of the current development team. BTC supporters may want flexibility and innovation to come from other layers in the system above the consensus rule layer.
  • In contrast to this B2X supporters may value a more flexible consensus ruleset to ensure the system is dynamic and able to cater to user requirements more quickly. B2X supporters typically value the user experience over the monetary characteristics of the system. Typically they draw less distinction between changes in the consensus layer and other types of changes to the system.

If you agree with one of these visions more than the other, it might be a good idea to invest in the coin that matches your vision, this may not only help you obtain larger returns if your vision is correct, but may also help ensure your favoured token is the “winner”, as it may contribute to the value of the coin.

Alternatively you may not care which vision “wins”, but want to back the winner. In this case it’s important not just to gage opinion, but also the level of conviction those on each side of the debate have. Somebody slightly favouring one of the visions but also wanting to hedge their bets may have less of an impact than a die hard supporter of one of the visions, who is willing to sell all their coins on one side of the split no matter what. This factor could favor the BTC side, since many die hard “large blockers” may have already sold some BTC to invest in Bitcoin Cash.

The most common investment strategy after the fork may be to do nothing. However, of the tiny minority of people that do act, many of those people may be sellers of B2X. This is because the section of the minority that took action in favor of the large block chain in August, will not be allocated either BTC or B2X for the coins they sold for Bitcoin Cash. In contrast, the minority that quickly sold Bitcoin Cash in August, will be allocated BTC and B2X this November. Although, obviously this is highly speculative and nobody really knows what will happen.

 

Strategy 3: Invest in whichever coin is the cheapest/the “bad” coin – The Joel Greenblatt strategy

The top investment tip in one of our favorite books on investing, Joel Greenblatt’s “You can be a stock market genius” (bad title but a great read), appears to be that if a stock split occurs, one should buy the less favored company, the spin-off.  In this case B2X is the spin-off token.

Joel Greenblatt’s Gotham Capital achieved annualized investment returns of 50% from 1985 to 1994. One of the core strategies of the fund in this period was to invest in “bad” spin-off companies. As Greenblatt explains:

There are plenty of reasons why a company might choose to unload or otherwise separate itself from the fortunes of the business to be spun off. There is really only one reason to pay attention when they do: you can make a hole of money investing in spin-offs. The facts are overwhelming. Stock of spin-off companies, and even shares of the parent companies that do then spinning off, significantly and consistently outperform the market averages. One study completed at Penn State, covering a twenty five year period ending 1988, found that stocks of spin-off companies outperformed their industry peers and the S&P 500 by about 10% per year in their first three years of independence.

Greenblatt mentions that spin-offs tend to be driven by a “desire to separate out a bad business so that an unfettered good business can show through to investors”. The bad company or spin-off company is typically sold by investors, with the negative narrative around the bad company dominant at the time of the split, causing negative sentiment. As Greenblatt explains:

The spin-off process itself is a fundamentally inefficient method of distributing stock to the wrong people. Generally, the new spin-off stock isn’t sold, its given to shareholders who, for the most part, were investing in the parent company’s business. Therefore, once the spin-off’s shares are distributed to the parent company’s shareholders, they are typically sold immediately without regard to the price of fundamental value. The initial excess supply has a predictable effect on the spin-off stock’s price: it is usually depressed. Supposedly shrewd institutional investors also join in the selling. Most of the time spin-off companies are much smaller than the parent company. A spin-off may be only 10 or 20 percent the size of the parent. Even if a pension or mutual fund took the time the analyze the spin-off’s business, often the size of these companies is too small for an institutional portfolio.

Greenblatt goes on to cite four spin off case studies, Host Marriott/Marriott International, Strategic Security/Briggs & Stratton, American Express/Lehman Brothers and Sears/Dean Witter, where this thesis applied.

In many ways there are some analogies between the opportunities which may arise from Bitcoin spin-offs such as B2X and stock spin-offs. Perhaps B2X is being distributed to the “wrong people”. Bitcoin investors typically value robust rules and the resulting highly resilient monetary properties. Perhaps, some of the Bitcoin investors who value other characteristics such as flexibility and user experience may have already divested into Ethereum or Bitcoin Cash, therefore the remaining investors may “dump” B2X. The risk for B2X proponents is they allocate their new coin to the “wrong people” and the price becomes “depressed”.  However, this could provide contrarian investors an opportunity.

The price of B2X could fall to cheap levels and there could be significant amounts of negative sentiment with some people writing the coin off. This could then be a good time for contrarians to invest in B2X. This investment philosophy seems to go against a common narrative in the Bitcoin space that “network effect is king” or “the most work chain wins”, meaning a minority chain has limited prospects. However, there may be little investment basis for this view.

However, whether the Greenblatt spin-off philosophy really applies to Bitcoin spin-offs such as B2X is not clear. Greenblatt still does fundamental analysis on the bad spin-off company, and whether one can take this type of fundamental approach to Bitcoin or its spin-offs, is not obvious. It’s certainly more risky. Although, in my view, after the hardfork, if B2X is trading at c5% or less of the price of Bitcoin and the prevailing narrative is that B2X is dead, then the “bad” coin may be worth a small punt.

 

Strategy 4: Take advantage of different policies on different exchanges

During the Bitcoin Cash hardfork, different financial platforms had different policies. For example BitMEX essentially ignored Bitcoin Cash, and the futures price just followed Bitcoin. However, Kraken for example, supported Bitcoin Cash, in such a way that those with long margin positions on Bitcoin were also given Bitcoin Cash. Critically on Kraken if you were short Bitcoin at the time of the fork, you were then automatically short Bitcoin Cash. These different policies between exchanges provide asymmetry, which in theory can be used to earn free money.

For example going into the Bitcoin Cash hardfork, an interesting strategy was to open a margin long position of 1 BTC on Kraken and then hedge the position by taking a margin short position of 1 BTC on BitMEX. Thereby after the hardfork, you receive one Bitcoin Cash token on Kraken, essentially for free, since there was no corresponding Bitcoin Cash liability on BitMEX associated with the short.

When it comes to the upcoming fork, there are four relevant potential exchange policies one needs to consider, when trying to engage in this type of arbitrage.

 

Potential financial platform policies regarding the B2X spin-off token

Policy A Policy B Policy C Policy D
Split user Bitcoin deposit balances into BTC & B2X    
Split user Bitcoin margin long positions into BTC & B2X long positions        
Split user Bitcoin margin short positions into BTC & B2X short positions      
Bitcoin lenders are due back BTC & B2X    
Bitcoin borrowers owe BTC & B2X    

Note: It is also possible to have a different policy with respect to Bitcoin lending and Bitcoin margin positions, which is not illustrated in the above chart.

An interesting investment strategy to engage in before the B2X fork could be to open long Bitcoin positions with exchanges with policy C and D, and potentially open short Bitcoin positions on exchanges with policies A, B and C.  In theory, this should allow you to get B2X tokens for free.

One may think that policy C may seem a slightly inappropriate choice, as it results in an asymmetry. However some exchanges did have a policy similar to this with respect to Bitcoin Cash. The rational for this was that the burden on customers who were short Bitcoin, to go out into the market and buy Bitcoin Cash may have been too high, particularly if the liquidity of Bitcoin Cash was low.

As the B2X fork approaches, we may write a piece summarizing the policies of the main exchanges and how one could engage in this type strategy. Although, if you wait for it to be clearly explained, it could be too late and spreads could have already opened up, reflecting the opportunity. On Bitfinex, B2X is already trading at over $1,000, therefore there could be money to be made by engaging in these types of strategies. Perhaps a good idea, if you really like taking risks, may be to review the policies exchanges took with respect to Bitcoin Cash, to get an idea of what their policies might be with respect to B2X and then open your positions before the policies are officially announced.

XBTUSD Funding Mean Reversion Strategy

 

After over a year in existence, it is time to analyse the predictive properties of the XBTUSD funding rate. The XBTUSD 100x leveraged contract is a Bitcoin / USD total return swap that has no expiry date. To anchor the price of the swap back to the spot market, an interest payment (we call this funding) is exchanged between longs and shorts. The interest rate by and large is determined by the previously observed 8-hour time weighted average premium of the swap vs. the spot price.

The funding rate is published with an 8-hour grace period before it is charged. That allows traders who do not wish to pay or receive funding to exit their positions before the funding timestamp. The question is, can you predict the future price of Bitcoin by the published funding rate?

I have analysed data from March 2017 until now. My data series consists of the funding rate every 8 hours, and the log return of the XBTUSD swap over the next 8 hours.

T0: Now
T1: 8 hours in the future

X-axis: Funding Rate published T0 to be charged at T1
Y-axis: Log(XBTUSD P1 / XBTUSD P0)

Simple Regression

The above chart is a XY scatter plot of the data. The chart clearly illustrates the funding rate contains no significant predictive power.

Digging Deeper

When the funding is extremely positive or negative, this could signal a reversal in the market’s direction i.e. mean reversion. Using an extreme funding rate as the signal, we can take the counter trend position.

Example:

If the published funding is at the maximum +0.375%, does that predict with greater accuracy whether the return of XBTUSD in the next 8 hours will be negative?

To further analyse this hypothesis, I calculated the sample mean and standard deviation of the funding rate in basis points (bps).

1bps = 0.01%
Mean: 1.66bps
Standard Deviation: 17.13bps

I constructed one and two sigma bands. I then conducted mean reversion tests.

1 Sigma = 1 Standard Deviation

Hypothesis:

A large negative funding rate predicts a positive return for the next 8 hour period. A large positive funding rate predicts a negative return for the next 8 hour period.

The magnitude of the funding rate tested depends on the number of sigmas away from the mean.

The following table lists the results.

Sigmas Funding Rate Sample Size % Success Cumulative Funding Cumulative XBTUSD Return Cumulative Return % of Total Observations
-2 -32.61 21 47.62% -7.71% 3.36% 11.07% 4.01%
-1 -15.47 62 53.23% -16.76% -18.15% -1.38% 11.83%
1 18.80 81 45.68% 25.10% -14.77% 10.33% 15.46%
2 35.93 36 44.44% 13.49% 6.90% 20.39% 6.87%

Sample Size – Out of 524 funding periods, this is the number of times that the funding rate was less than or equal to the sigma adjusted test (assuming a negative funding rate).

% Success – Out of the sample size, this is the number of times where the funding rate was negative and the next period return was positive or vice versa.

Cumulative Return – This is the net return, including funding, of both success and failure situations. If the funding rate is negative, you go long, and you receive funding because the rate is negative. If the funding rate is positive, you go short, and you receive funding because the rate is positive.

% of Total Observations – Sample Size / 524 (Total Number of Funding Periods)

Conclusion

The data clearly illustrates that traders may use an extreme funding rate as a signal to take the counter trend position. The added benefit of receiving funding for bucking the trend is what provides a significant majority of this strategy’s returns.

A simple trading algo can be constructed to capture this alpha. At each funding timestamp, if the funding rate is above or below your limit, place the counter trend trade. Immediately after the next funding timestamp, close your XBTUSD position.

The one caveat is the sample size is still relatively small. I will revisit this study early next year to observe if the results change.

 

The Big Bad Wolf

This week the PBOC decreed that its plebes may not invest or trade Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). However when one engages in critical thought, it appears this ban has more bark than bite. Examining the way in which the ban was presented to the public, and the actions that were not taken, leads me to believe that this ban is for publicity only.

What Is Banned

ICOs are considered an illegal form of financing by the PBOC. Exchanges must stop supporting any trading of the tokens. Almost immediately most of the Chinese ICO trading platforms shut down. Over the past few days, many exchanges delisted any tokens from their platform. As you can imagine, without the cannon fodder of retail punters, token prices initially collapsed.

Projects that raised money from Chinese nationals must refund them their Bitcoin or Ether. Since in practice, this is impossible to accomplish, the PBOC now has a nice excuse to shut down any exchange it wishes for violating the law.

Token exchange owners must take their butt finessing with a smile on their face. They must bend over again when asked, or the PBOC will find them in violation of a law that is impossible to abide by.

Similar to the large exchanges that deal with RMB to Bitcoin or Ether trading, the PBOC now has token trading platforms firmly under their control. That is the primary reason for these new regulations.

What Is Not Banned

The PBOC might have banned the issuance and trading of ICOs in China; however, they did not outlaw the way in which ICOs are funded. The revolutionary aspect of ICOs is that the money raised is in the form of a non-governmentally aligned currency. Usually that is Bitcoin or Ether.

If Chinese punters can still convert RMB into Bitcoin or Ether legally, and withdraw their digital currency from the exchange, they can still subscribe for any ICO they wish. Once the trader’s assets are purely in the crypto space, it is very difficult for the PBOC to control where that money goes.

The PBOC isn’t stupid. They are very informed on how money flows into and out of ICOs. Therefore, this was a deliberate omission from the new ICO regulations. What the PBOC did is construct a beautiful piece of PR.

The PBOC demonstrated that it cares about the wellbeing of retail investors. The PBOC has prevented investors from losing money in this risky and volatile new asset class. If the PBOC really cared about the financial health of China it would stop propping up the property market by continuing to allow banks to issue credit. But that will never happen, so another industry was targeted to prove their good intentions.

By allowing the big three exchanges to continue business as usual, the PBOC is allowing the ICO market to limp along in China. The high priests recognise that a vibrant ICO market in China is valuable. It helps promote entrepreneurs to create the next wave of useful technological applications that could propel China forward.

The National Congress

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party begins in October. Every aspect of life in China is affected by this pow-wow. Xi Jinping must present a country that is chugging along towards greatness. No outward crack in the veneer of harmony and prosperity is allowed.

The once vibrant ICO industry in China was a liability. The amounts of money raised grew and grew, and the risk of a high profile project absconding with hundreds of millions of dollars could not be ignored. The last thing Beijing needs before the all-important National Congress is a horde of destitute punters protesting about losing their money in one or more shitcoins.

One day after the ban, CCTV ran a piece about the cessation of ICO trading in China. They claimed that 60 ICOs raised 2.616bn CNY, across 47 platforms, involving 105,000 investors. The highly coordinated nature of the announcement and than a prime time television piece about the new regulations is good theatre. Insecure governments will create good theatre in advance of important jamborees. The plebes must feel the love.

The Future, BTFD!

The crypto market does not respect the PBOC like it once did. Bitcoin and Ether declined 15% and 20% respectively immediately following the ban. However, both have almost paired Monday’s losses. To many traders, this ban presented a perfect opportunity to increase their exposure to the asset class.

While the PBOC banned ICOs, it did not address the root cause of why Chinese investors are desperate to hand their savings to teams with slick websites. The property market is still too expensive for most traders, and after the 2015 carnage, many traders avoid the A-share market. The PBOC continues to allow domestic banks to expand the money supply through aggressive lending. This unabashed money printing creates a fear amongst comrades of a massive upcoming devaluation of the RMB. Any asset or scheme that can generate inflation beating returns excites desperate Chinese savers.

After experiencing a modicum of freedom over the investment of their savings, Chinese investors will chafe under these new regulations. The forbidden fruit tastes sweeter. By banning ICOs, the PBOC just created the industry’s best marketing tool.

The ICO asset class is still very niche. But now that CCTV is educating everyone in China about what they are. More people will attempt to purchase this taboo asset. Far from negative, this is one of the best things that could happen to any alternative asset.

ICO fundraising in China will move underground. After the National Congress, the restrictions on ICO fundraising will loosen. Remember the “crackdown” on the big three exchanges earlier this year. After a few months, the PBOC relented and allowed trading and withdrawals to function normally again.

Savvy offshore trading platforms will profit from the gap in the market caused by the closure of the leading onshore Chinese trading platforms. While overt fundraising through WeChat and QQ groups will cease for now, motivated ICO promoters will create innovative ways to access the insatiable demand for alternative savings products from Chinese investors.

Push It

The hard fork came, went, and now we are much better for it. Depending on who you ask, Bitcoin Cash is a roaring success or failure. Traders are neutral beings only concerned with generating profit. The fear, greed, and widely different policies enacted by exchanges offered juicy arbitrage opportunities.

Bitcoin Cash was not the first altcoin to enter existence through a hard fork of Bitcoin. However, it was the first to be widely publicised. Even the New York Times wrote decent articles explaining what Bitcoin Cash was, and what it could mean for Bitcoin.

Even though SegWit is activated, the scaling debate is not finished. Later this fall, it is extremely likely that Bitcoin will hard fork again. A version of Bitcoin with SegWit and a 2MB block size (SegWit2x) will begin trading. Therefore, traders should learn about how to make money using derivatives before, during, and after a hard fork.

Theory

I will use the example of Bitcoin (XBT) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) in this theoretical example.

A hard fork of any digital currency is akin to a stock dividend. There is a finite amount of network hash power at any time. Miners will decide which version of a coin to mine based on the price ratio. The difficulty will then adjust to bring the ratio of hash power and price into equilibrium. Price leads difficulty adjustments.

1 August 13:17 UTC was the record date for BCH distribution. If you held XBT on that date, you theoretically were entitled to BCH in a 1:1 ratio. If you purchased Bitcoin after the record date, you did not receive BCH.

After the record date, a stock goes ex-dividend. The stock price will drop by the dividend that is paid. If we believe that hard forks act like dividends, then XBT went ex-div on August 1st. XBT should have dropped by the value of BCH.

In practice, because price leads difficulty adjustment, it isn’t necessarily true that XBT will or should drop immediately by the value of BCH. Additionally, unlike stock dividends which are a discrete amount of cash, BCH is a tradable currency and its value fluctuates.

Holders of long futures contract do not receive dividends. Therefore a futures contract should trade at a discount relative to the expected dividend payment. If it doesn’t, arbitrageurs will buy a stock and sell the future. They will receive the dividend payment from their long stock position, and if that is greater than the futures discount, they make money.

The same phenomenon should occur in the Bitcoin futures markets. BitMEX decided that our XBTUSD and XBTU17 products underlying index would not include the value of BCH. Traders who wished to create BCH without any XBT price risk bought XBT, then sold the USD equivalent number of swap or futures contracts, and then receive BCH. Note, they would not receive any BCH for XBT margin held on BitMEX.

XBTUSD and XBTU17 theoretically should trade at a discount relative to the value the market places on BCH. The big difference with BCH is that the future price is unknown.

Pre-Fork XBTUSD and XBTU17 Behaviour

The above chart is the outright % discount of XBTU17 from July 30th to August 3rd. The chart illustrates that traders attempting to create BCH without market risk drove the futures into extreme backwardation. The discount reached almost 5% hours before the record date.

The above chart is the outright % premium or discount of XBTUSD during the same time period. Traders also sold XBTUSD to create BCH. The swap was backwardated, which resulted in shorts paying longs funding. Over this time period shorts paid 3.51% of funding. Remarkably the swap reached an outright 3.52% discount hours before the record date.

The following trades assume you have no view on the viability of BCH. BCH may or may not be successful, but the trades I will describe yielded predictable positive returns. The trades described also have no Bitcoin / USD price risk.

Trade 1: Buy XBTU17 vs. Short XBT Spot

Predictably interest rates to borrow Bitcoin spiked during this period. Borrowing Bitcoin during the eye of the storm is not advisable. Prudent traders should have credit lines in place well in advance of the event. That allows them to lock in much cheaper rates.

Using the above chart as a guide, putting this trade on hours before the fork yields the best returns. That is when traders are the most irrational. The best part is that the basis will mean revert quickly, and it did, after the fork. Therefore you limit the amount of time you pay to borrow Bitcoin.

Assume you paid an egregious 1% per day to borrow Bitcoin. XBTU17’s discount went from 5% to 1% in 24 hours. Therefore, you could have earned 3% in one day on this trade.

Trade 2: Buy XBTUSD vs. Short XBT Spot

Again the best time to put this trade on is hours before the fork. The beauty of funding is that for the rate to go from negative to positive, the swap must go from trading at a discount to a premium. Therefore you get paid twice.

You capture the full discount, plus when you exit, the swap will be at a premium. While the swap basis mean reverts, you also get paid interest every 8 hours for being short. Once the published rate is positive, you close you long at a premium. After August 1st, it took a subsequent ten funding periods before the rate was positive again.

Post-Fork XBTUSD and XBTU17 Behaviour

The fork is over. The community breathes a sigh of relieve and hedges must be unwound. Any trader that created their BCH now has it, and must close short derivative positions. The problem is that if Bitcoin rallies alongside the unwind, basis will rise, and hedgers will be forced to cover at much higher premiums.

A priori we know the short squeeze will be violent. Therefore it is prudent to go long basis after the record date.

The above chart is the XBTU17 outright % premium from August 3rd to 8th. The massive jump in premium occurred as the price broke $3,000. Remarkably traders were given an opportunity for days following the fork to buy XBTU17 at a discount. Those that did are test driving Lambos while you ride the bus.

The above chart is the XBTUSD outright % premium over the same time period. The spike in premium occurred as the price broke $3,000. During that same time period, the funding went from negative to positive. In total, shorts received 1.76% of funding.

Trade: Buy XBTU17 vs. Short XBTUSD

The aim of this trade is to play the mean reversion of XBTU17 basis. Hedgers on the margin will choose to short the future to create BCH because the interest rate they pay via the discount pre-fork is fixed. As opposed to XBTUSD which has a variable interest rate, and cannot be known a priori.

Therefore XBTU17 basis will go from negative to positive. As the XBTU17 basis mean reverts, XBTUSD’s funding will shift from negative to positive. You benefit from a rising XBTU17 basis, plus your short XBTUSD hedge also receives interest income every 8 hours. Booyakasha!

SegWit2x Hard Fork

Bitcoin Cash was a warm up for the main event later this year. Both the big blockers and SegWit disciples believe their cause was vindicated by the recent hard fork. Big blockers point to the non-zero value of BCH as proof the market values their scaling solution. SegWit folks point to the high and rising price of Bitcoin as proof that the market values their scaling solution.

Neither side will back down before the SegWit2x hard fork put forward in the New York Agreement. The Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) surrounding the SegWit2x hard fork will be deafening.

This FUD will put a lid on the Bitcoin price. $5,000 will not be broken until after the hard fork occurs. This sets up an exact replica of the Bitcoin Cash hard fork with more money on the line. The trades and scenarios described above will remain relevant in a few months time.

I Ain’t Yo Daddy

This July the BitMEX team absconded to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a team offsite. Milwaukee in the summer is beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed morning runs on the banks of lakes and rivers in clean, crisp, and dry air. I’m currently training for Winter squash season in Hong Kong. Anything that makes keeping to my cardio schedule easier is appreciated.

One day at lunch Ben and his wife wanted to eat oysters. They left the table and returned shortly afterwards. Ben recounted how they attempted to purchase oysters, but due to a silly regulation, they had to be seated, served, and supervised while eating them. There was a long line for table service so they were unable to consume anything.

The nanny state is alive and well. Two adults cannot be trusted to put a shell to their mouth and slurp a morsel of food. Instead, they must be supervised by another human, and pay tips and tax for that privilege.

The infantilization of the global population shows no signs of abating. The government injects itself into every aspect of our lives, and in most cases we are worse off for it. Bitcoin in some respects is a reaction against this trend.

Bitcoin and the digital currency industry empowers adults to take control of their financial well being. This is liberating, but it comes with costs. Adults are expected to make informed decisions by ingesting all available information. Adults make their own good and bad choices. There is no CEO of Bitcoin to tell adults how to behave, where to trade, protect them if they lose their password, or police trading venues.

Some Bitcoin traders live by this ethos of personal responsibility. However, many of these same traders express concern that Bitcoin markets do not operate like other regulated asset classes. In a recent Medium article entitled “Meet ‘Spoofy’. How a Single entity dominates the price of Bitcoin.”, the author rants and raves about how a trader or group of traders are spoofing and distorting the market. The author does present interesting allegations about Tether; however, that rabbit hole is best addressed in another newsletter.

I wholeheartedly do not wish Bitcoin to trade like traditional assets. Traders should be free to, well trade. I will detail certain market practices, and why I believe they pose no threat to the integrity of the Bitcoin markets.

Insider Trading

The job of a trader is to have better information than the market. That is the textbook definition of insider trading. Traders who do not use inside information will not make money.

Insider trading is most policed in the equity markets. The reason why there are discontinuous jumps in the price of stocks is that information is held back from the market. If all available information could be traded upon at any time, trading patterns would be smoother.

American regulators are the most aggressive prosecutors of insider traders. The irony is that US congressmen and women are allowed to insider trade on companies which they essentially regulate. That creates an interesting love triangle.

Companies lobby (aka bribe) lawmakers about regulations. The lawmakers know that certain decisions they make will positively or negatively impact the stock price once made public. These same lawmakers then trade on this information and earn above average returns.

Excessive regulation and legalese provide a defensive moat for large companies against small ones. The cycle perpetuates itself because only large and well heeled companies can afford the cost of continuous bribery. This bribery presents a much better return on investment than improving their underlying product.

Lawmakers receive cash on both sides of the equation. Their reelection campaigns are funded by big business, and they get to trade the stock ahead of important regulatory changes. A variant of this triangle is present in most heavily bureaucratic governments.

Bitcoin trading occurs across a set of unaffiliated exchanges and various jurisdictions. The notion of what could constitute inside information is difficult to discern. Given the lack of a generally accepted theory on the fundamental value of Bitcoin, a piece of market news has positive or negative implications depending on who you ask.

In the ICO and altcoin markets, knowledge about potential partnerships, software bugs, or completion of certain development milestones before the general public can provide immense profits. The traders who invest the time speaking with the developers and are active in the community, are the traders who make the most money.

What a thought, if you put more effort into your craft, you make more money.

Spoofing

Spoofing is illegal on most regulated exchanges. Spoofing is the act of posting a order you do not have the intention of honoring. Spoofing is bluffing.

I find it incredible that this is illegal in certain markets. If you wanted to buy $1 billion worth of Bitcoin right now, would you tell the market? No. A smart trader would bluff that they wished to sell $1 billion worth of Bitcoin, and then if the market believes him and trades lower, buy at a lower price.

If a trader has the collateral needed to place an order, he or she should be allowed to place that order. Whether or not he intends to get filled is irrelevant. The big problem, however, is if the exchange violates price -> time priority in order to let the spoofer get off the hook, if a legitimate trade occurs based on their price.

Rather than focus on the flashing of large orders on Bitcoin exchanges, the author of the above mentioned article should focus on whether price -> time order matching priority was violated.

Speaking for BitMEX, price -> time priority is sacrosanct. We have never, and will never violate this essential law of order matching.

Many point and click traders believe that the mythical market makers on most Bitcoin exchanges are allowed to violate price -> time priority. The human trader sees a price, they think about it, then place a manual order. The order they thought would be instantly filled is not. Now the market has moved away from them. They cry foul. They believe their order should have been filled, and somehow the market maker was able to get out of a valid trade.

At BitMEX order matching is done atomically. If your order submission creates a match, there is no way a market maker can pull their quote before being filled. I reiterate, price -> time priority always holds at BitMEX.

Point and click traders must recognise that the human eye to brain to motor function loop is extremely slow when compared to a trading robot. You are slow, but the exchange in most cases is not at fault.

If you cannot accept your inferiority as a human, either trade with a robot, or trade using a higher time frame.

Reputation

The most successful Bitcoin exchanges have the most pristine reputations. There is no deposit insurance or global Bitcoin trading cop to run to. If you do not approve of the way an exchange operates or their business practices, you are free to leave the platform at any time.

In order to retain customers, exchange operators must cater to their users. Contrast that to traditional asset markets. Financial institutions fluff regulators rather than improve the experience of their paying customers.

Reputations take forever to build, and are tarnished instantly.

Regulatory agencies can be bought, and most are held captive to the industries they police. Most high level jobs at financial institutions are held by ex-regulators. There has to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to entice capable individuals to accept government jobs that pay less than the private sector.

Adults trading digital currency markets have extreme power to shape the collective trading experience. A tweet or reddit post from a KOL greatly impacts the perceived safety and integrity of an exchange. Adults should use this power to create a trading environment that is conducive to safety and wealth generation.

The above mentioned Medium article is a great example. The mainstream financial press picked up on this and amplified the reach of the author’s views. These views are not kind on many of the exchanges mentioned in the post. This surely will drive business to other outfits who, rightly or wrongly, are deemed to be honest.

The court of public opinion is the best motivator.

Day Traders

If you cannot devote at least 12 hours per day in chat rooms, on message boards, and constantly monitoring your positions, do not day trade digital currencies. Trading with a less than 1 week time horizon is dangerous if you cannot devote yourself to being on call 24/7.

This is a market for adults. Be an adult, educate yourself, and in the process obtain true freedom.

Pay to Play

Chinese Miner: I would like to build a new mine in China.

Beijing: Well Sheeeeeeit. Partner, you’re gonna have to pay to play.

The recent actions by Chinese authorities to stymie the growth of Bitcoin reminded me of John D. Rockefeller’s quest to tame the infantile oil market. Rockefeller was able to exert god-like control over the oil industry because he eradicated wildcatters.

Wildcatters were small outfits that drilled oil wells wherever they could. They were not organised, and this chaotic drilling reduced the lifespan of oil patches and caused intense volatility in the price of oil. The ways in which Rockefeller culled the wildcatters earned him the title of a Robber Baron.

The Chinese government and Rockefeller have many things in common. The Chinese government wants to control every aspect of the economy. When a new sector emerges, they allow fierce competition. Once a few winners have emerged they decimate the small fish, and present the survives with an offer they can’t refuse. Pay to play, or die.

The payment can be in many forms. But essentially Beijing can tap dat ass whenever it likes, and you better smile during the session. The Bitcoin mining industry is no different.

Local governments all vie to post earth shattering growth numbers every quarter. They will do anything in their power to achieve growth. Success guarantees a seat at the table in Beijing, and riches for your family.

For this reason, as well as overinvestment in aluminum production capacity, many poor parts of north western China have an abundance of electrical generation capacity. The boom in Bitcoin mining meant that anyone with capital and some connections at the local government level could profitably mine Bitcoin. Read the BitMEX Research report titled Mining Incentives – Part 2 – Why Is China Dominant in Bitcoin Mining, for a more indepth discussion of this topic.

The Chinese mining industry is dominated by a few large pool operators and miners. However, there are scores of smaller mining outfits. Beijing has little visibility into many of the smaller outfits. That could not continue forever.

A recently leaked document outlines how Beijing may block the propagation of Bitcoin blocks via the Great Firewall (GFW). Many correctly pointed out that miners could easily evade these measures through the use of VPNs. I brought this up with a laowai mining friend of mine during the recent Bitkan conference. He said that the use of a VPN or other means to evade the GFW would slow down the broadcast of your successfully mined block to the point where someone else would beat you to the punch.

In his opinion, these actions will kill all small mining outfits. The big boys can afford direct lines that bypass the GFW. Beijing sells these lines to compliant comrades, and can monitor all traffic. The fees paid are akin to a bribe to the government to continue operation. Absent this, you will be too slow to compete internationally. Now Beijing has complete control over the success or failure of your business, and you will pay whatever they ask.

He further added:

For instance, Inner Mongolia has relatively low population and economic growth. No one wants to move there. A few years ago the local Inner Mongolian government offered Chinese companies large pieces of land if they moved operations from other provinces. Each company who moved there actually got two titles, one for building manufacturing facilities and the other for strip mining coal.

The companies could cheaply and easily mine the coal for sale or build their own smaller coal power plants to run their operations. This led to a staggering amount of coal power plants in Inner Mongolia, most of them fairly small, around 50 to 250 MW.

After these companies moved there they were hit by the global slowdown in the commodity industry. Almost everyone of these factories started mining Bitcoin on the side. They write off miners as an equipment expense, and use the higher electricity usage costs to lower corporate profit and tax. In return they get a consistent side revenue that is not taxed.

While Bitmain is certainly the biggest miner in China, it by no means dominates. The vast majority of factories in Inner Mongolia and neighboring provinces are all doing this and collectively represent a significant amount of hash power.

I think this is the most likely the reason for the mainland crackdown on mining as all these factories are avoiding tax and laundering profits. By shutting things down at a network level that will force a greater centralization, the large players will then get licensed, and the government can regulate and tax them. In my opinion I don’t believe mining will be dead in China, I think it will become a permissioned industry.

The 21 million Bitcoin question is whether Beijing would use its new power to attempt to kill Bitcoin. Given that many local governments and senior members of the party profit from the continuation of mining racket, I believe the status quo suits Beijing.

Beijing’s treatment of the internet is an apt comparison for how I believe they will treat Bitcoin. Beijing tolerates the existence of VPNs, and sells private lines to bypass the GFW to certain organisations. Operation of a VPN seems cheap and easy to many readers; however, the vast majority of the Chinese masses are too poor to purchase a VPN, and more importantly have no desire. They are perfectly content with the China intranet, and have no desire to escape.

Beijing has no problem with the wealthy elite enjoying a few freedoms, as long as the mindset of the masses is not poisoned. A prime example is the job of a friend of mine in Shanghai. He re-taught elite Chinese students slated to study abroad the correct version of certain historical events. China has no problem with the masses being ignorant, but they don’t want their best and brightest to appear stupid vs. their international peers.

The recent closure of exchanges, banning of ICO fund raising, and the probable disruption of the Bitcoin network by poisoning block propagation, ensures that the masses may not enjoy the fruits of cryptocurrency, but the wealthy few can.

Time will tell whether Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies present a real value proposition to the Chinese masses. If cryptocurrencies are like water, they will reach the lowest point given enough time. If they are not, then a small percentage of Chinese investors will continue to trade, invest, and use the technology.

Haters Gonna Hate

Why do we, as an industry, look for validation from the finance industry we are trying to disrupt? It’s difficult for most to ignore statements from two of the most powerful financiers of our age: Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan and Ray Dalio of Bridgewater.

Jamie felt the need to distract the crowd away from his bank’s disastrous quarterly trading revenue results by launching a diatribe on Bitcoin. He called it a fraud and said he would fire employees who traded it. Ray said that Bitcoin was in a bubble because it provided no utility; it is too volatile to be used as a currency in everyday commerce.

One of the most common criticisms of Bitcoin is that it is too volatile to be used as anything but a tool of speculators. Bitcoin cannot be a store of value like gold because its value fluctuates too wildly.

But why is gold put forward as the epitome of stability? Yes, it has over a thousand years of history as the symbol of wealth and international commerce. However, at one point in time using gold as a currency was revolutionary and possibly heresy.

A Gold Thought Experiment

Imagine yourself part of a early human civilisation thousands of years ago, before gold was accepted as money. Your tribe or village uses shells as money. The shells are sufficiently rare that they hold value. They are easily recognised and hard to counterfeit. However, it is hard to store the shells in vast quantities, and over time the shells degrade. Carrying a large quantity of shells is also quite difficult. Elon Musk hasn’t been born yet. Few of these shells are self-driving.

One day you discover specks of a yellow metal. Its lustre entices you to pick up a few small rocks and study them. Unlike many rocks and metals you deal with, gold is quite soft. Over a hot fire, you melt some of these gold nuggets together and find it is quite easy to work with this new metal.

The next day you tried to remember where you discovered the gold. After a few weeks of searching you were able to locate another few nuggets. Another thought: perhaps gold is rare.

As a civic-minded person, you arranged a meeting with the village leaders and showed them your new discovery. You asked if possibly gold could replace shells as the accepted currency. They laughed at you. A gold rock as money, how silly. Everyone knows that shells are money, and shells will always be money. You feel deflated but not defeated.

Yet – a woman at the meeting thought the gold would make good jewelry. It was very shiny and looked much better than the drab trinkets townspeople wore. She asked where you acquired the gold and if you could help her fashion it into jewelry.

You were able to find a location where if you dug, gold appeared fairly regularly. It was a hit. Everyone loved their new gold jewelry, it looked much better, and it held its form over time.

Given the primitive tools at your disposal, it was very difficult to find large quantities of gold. Gold jewelry began to function as a proto currency. Those who wore it were richer, as it required more and more shells each year to purchase a standard bauble.

At this point the village elders began to worry. Their wealth was stored in the form of shells. In the face of a better monetary instrument, gold, the shells depreciated in value every year. Even worse, because gold is rare, inert, impossible to counterfeit, and easy to transport, some merchants preferred to sell goods for gold rather than shells.

Because the village had a limited history handling gold, its value fluctuated wildly. No one know what it should be valued at vis-a-vis real goods and services so it still wasn’t as stable a monetary instrument as shells. The elders used this fear and price volatility to warn the plebes not to consider gold as money. Why should gold be money, it was just a shiny rock used for beautification purposes.

Overtime the village could not ignore that gold and metallic monetary instruments in general were technologically superior. Slowly then quickly, the value of gold vs. real goods and services skyrocketed. Those who had “invested” in gold, saw their purchasing power increase dramatically as the society switched to a better monetary technology.

Monetary Transition

From barter, to commodity money (gold), to paper fiat money, to cryptographic money, each one of these transitions features extreme volatility then stability. The new form of money at one point will not be able to purchase any goods and services, then all of a sudden its purchasing power increases quickly. The network effect ensures that the transition between different forms of money is chaotic.

A monetary instrument can only have value if a sufficient percentage of the network will price their goods and services in said instrument. However, no one wants to be first. The chicken and egg problem of monetary adoption ensures that once the switch happens it occurs quickly.

For savvy speculators, properly positioning oneself in front of a monetary shift is extremely profitable. Because money has no value without its network, it essentially goes from being worth nothing to something. Bitcoin is no different.

From Zero to Pizza

Bitcoin Pizza Day (May 20th 2009) is the first time Bitcoin was exchanged for a real good. Since then, as the network grew and people valued the characteristics that make Bitcoin a possible monetary instrument, its price vs. real goods and services increased dramatically.

If Bitcoin were not volatile then we would not be experiencing a monetary system transition. As traders, investors, and speculators participating in such a transition is the privilege that most humans will never experience given their infrequency.

Monetary transitions are zig zags not straight lines. Also these transitions take time. No monetary instrument completely replaced its predecessor in under a decade. Therefore it is foolish to pooh pooh Bitcoin because of volatility that is entirely due to a phase shift in monetary instrument preferences of a society.

Envy

Becoming the CEO of a multinational bank is incredibly difficult. CEOs like Jamie Dimon dedicated their lives to the organisations they lead and have made many personal sacrifices. Being human, it must irk them that youngins have become worth $100 million plus in a few years due to a belief in a different way of transferring value.

It also is annoys senior financiers that these same pups’ stated goal is to dismantle the monetary system that they sacrificed everything to lead. The smart financiers are busy buying crypto assets while they publicly deride them. The dumb ones double down on the supremacy of central bank printed fiat denominated assets.

The world is more connected than ever. A move from analog to digital cryptographic money will be chaotic and volatile. I consider myself lucky to be alive, and fortunate to be able to stake my personal fortune betting against the old and for the new.

ICOs – Part 1 – An Interactive Visualization of the ICO Space

Abstract: In this week’s piece, we look at the world of ICOs.  We present an interactive visualization, that illustrates the entire ICO landscape and the interconnections between people officially affiliated with each ICO.

 

Interactive ICO team member network map

Source: BitMEX Research, ICO websites, icoHunt own and provided the raw data (Do not use the data without their permission)

Network map notes

  • Blue circles represent ICOs
  • Yellow circles represent ICO team members, advisers or backers
  • Circle size is weighted by number of links to other ICOs
  • Data includes around 500 ICOs &  around 4,900 team members
  • We apologies for any errors, omissions or spelling mistakes

ICO network map viewing tips

  • Modify the number of nodes to around 1,000
  • Alternatively, start with 5 nodes, then gradually press the up arrow to add 10 nodes at a time
  • Displaying all 5,388 nodes may use up significant amounts of system resources
  • An illustration of the type of visualization which can be produced is provided here

 

The negative implications of the extent of ICO team member interconnections

The above network visualization illustrates the high degree of interconnections between the ICOs, with a few dominant individuals involved in many projects.  Skeptics may therefore argue that it is not feasible for any one individual to be involved in this many ICOs, and this is an indication of misleading marketing, bad practice or inadequate disclosure.

 

Comparing ICOs & IPOs

Many of the individuals listed in multiple ICOs are often listed as a backer or adviser, rather than as an individual involved in day to day management.  In some ways they may be more of an ICO “sponsor” than someone actively involved in project development.  For example, as the chart below illustrates, the concentration of individuals involved in multiple ICOs compares reasonably well to financial advisers or book-runners involved in IPOs.

Vitalik Buterin is the most prolific person when it comes to ICO involvement.  Our analysis shows he has involvement in at least 13 projects, around 2.5% of the total.  Although if you think of Vitalik’s role as more of a sponsor, then Vitalik has a lower market share than Citibank when it comes to IPOs, which has been the lead bookrunner in 3.7% of the IPOs in the last 12 months.

 

Market share of advisers (Top 20) – ICO/IPO comparison

Source: BitMEX Research, icoHunt, ICO websites, Bloomberg IPO database
Notes:  The above dataset is from around 520 ICOs and 3,266 IPOs which have occurred in the last 12 months.  The market share is based on the number of offerings, not value of the offerings.

 

The role of a lead bookrunner in an equity IPO, may be to do the following:

  • Underwrite the offering,
  • Ensure the offering complies with regulations,
  • Ensure price stability and liquidity after the stock lists,
  • Prepare marketing materials for the IPO,
  • Bring management of the company on a tour to see potential investors in a roadshow,
  • Use its investment sales staff to promote the offering to its clients,
  • Assist in the allocation of the shares to the offering participants.

In many ways these responsibilities are similar to the roles of some of the most prominent individuals in our ICO analysis above, certainly with respect to marketing and promotion. However, in the world of ICOs the role of the “sponsor” is a lot more murky.  The individual in question is sometimes said to be the person who originated the idea, is involved in management or even the development of the product.  The ICO market therefore lacks clarity with respect to the roles and responsibilities of the individuals involved.

 

The initial allocation

The initial allocation of shares during an IPO is often an opaque process.  Typically the bookrunner/adviser decides the allocation on a discretionary basis, with the largest institutional and hedge fund clients favored first, rather than a fair random process or auction driven mechanism.  It is somewhat surprising that financial regulators have not clamped down on this practice. Although a counter argument to regulation is that listing companies should have the freedom to decide who their new shareholders are, if their are multiple bidders.  Unfortunately the bookrunner/adviser seems to have a significant influence on the allocation process.

Despite the opportunity to improve on what IPOs do in this area, the initial allocation process when it comes to ICOs does not appear to be much better.  The initial allocation of ICOs is also a murky process, but in some ways even worse than for IPOs, since earlier or better connected investors sometimes get lower prices. The allocation process can be based on who is friends with the people in the team or other industry connections.  Therefore on balance, despite poor practice, IPOs appear to have a somewhat fairer process when it comes to allocation than ICOs.

Although one could cynically say there is a key difference in the offering process between ICOs and IPOs, this time we are the ones in control.