Update to our realtime API’s image delivery

In an effort to increase resource efficiency and reduce the likelihood of system overload, we are making a change to how we deliver images (partials) to newly established websocket subscriptions, for certain tables.

For clients working directly with our realtime API, images for new subscriptions to certain tables are now being delivered on an interval of 2.5 seconds. The following tables are affected:

– orderBookL2
– orderBookL2_25
– instrument

API clients can expect a latency of up to 2.5 seconds when subscribing to these tables before receiving a table image (a message with a ‘partial’ action).

This change only affects the first message for newly created subscriptions. Subsequent deltas (messages with an ‘update’, ‘insert’ or ‘delete’ action) will continue to be delivered in realtime and are not subject to an interval.

There are no changes to the schema of the API itself. Only the timing of the initial image is affected.

XBT/USD Index Change Announcement

As a market leader in the crypto trading space, we are constantly looking at ways to improve and innovate new and existing products.

To further strengthen the trading of our XBT/USD products, BitMEX is proud to announce an introduction of Kraken’s XBT/USD price feed into the BitMEX .BXBT Index.

This change will take place on 16 September 2018 at 12:00 UTC on the XBTUSD Perpetual Swap product, new Futures products and on our Option products. Existing XBT/USD futures products that have not settled will remain under the existing index.

New Index Change
.BXBT will change from (0.5 * Bitstamp + 0.5 * Coinbase Pro) to (⅓ * Bitstamp + ⅓ * Coinbase Pro + ⅓ * Kraken).

Products Affected:
XBTUSD
XBT7D_D95
XBT7D_U105
– XBTH19

 

Old Index Change
A new index, .XBT will be created that will be based on the old .BXBT index: (0.5 * Bitstamp + 0.5 * Coinbase Pro).

This new index will be phased out after the settlement of the affected products (28 Dec 2018 12:00 UTC).

Products Affected:
XBTU18
XBTZ18

Websocket API downtime, September 3rd 2018

From 06:53 to 07:03 UTC today, September 3rd, 2018, the service of our websocket API was impaired, which impacted the live data updates on the bitmex.com website as well as clients connected directly to our websocket API.

As part of a scheduled software release on the trading engine, our market data distribution component became saturated with a cascade of updates during the restart process which temporarily prevented downstream data distribution on the websocket API.

We apologise for the disruption.  The root cause has been identified and mitigated in the production environment.  BitMEX engineers have already deployed a fix for the underlying issue to prevent a re-occurrence.  We are also improving a number of alerting mechanisms to enable us to recover from potential issues in a more timely manner.

Unboxing Bitmain’s IPO

Abstract: In this piece we review and analyse Bitmain’s financial data, which was made available (or leaked) as part of the pre-IPO process. The figures indicate Bitmain was highly profitable and cash generative in 2017, but may currently be loss making. Bitmain also spent the majority of its operating cash flow acquiring Bitcoin Cash and may have suffered mark to market losses of US$328 million as a result. We conclude that the IPO itself may go well, however going forwards the allocation of investor capital will be key and management may need to improve in this area.

The IPO process

Bitmain expects to submit IPO documents to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange at the end of August 2018, with a public listing expected towards the end of 2018. The company has just conducted a pre-IPO round, raising several hundred million dollars at a valuation of around $14 billion. Therefore we believe the company is likely to attempt to raise several billion dollars at the IPO stage, with a valuation north of $20 billion.

Documents outlining this process, which also contain Bitmain financial data, have been leaked on Twitter. We have reason to believe the authenticity of these documents, which forms the basis for this report.

Bitmain’s position in the mining industry

Area Companies Bitmain’s position
Chip manufacturing/foundry TSMC, Samsung, Global Foundries, SMIC Bitmain has no presence or prospects in this area
ASIC design, mining machine assembly and distribution Bitmain, Canaan Creative, Ebang, Innosilicon, Bitfury Bitmain is the dominant player in this area and this is the company’s core business. In 2017 Bitmain claims to have had a cryptocurrency market share of 85% and a Bitcoin share of 77%
Mining pool operator BTC.com, AntPool, BTC.TOP, Slush, ViaBTC & F2Pool Bitmain has a dominant position in this space. BTC.com & Antpool are the two largest pools, which are both owned by Bitmain. Bitmain is also an investor in ViaBTC. In the last six months these three pools had a combined global market share of around 48%
Mining farm operator Hive Blockchain, Genesis mining, Bitmain In 2016 Bitmain is likely to have been a dominant player, however the pre-IPO documents show Bitmain has significantly scaled back in this area.  Revenue from own mining operations has fallen from 18.4% of total revenue in 2016 to just 3.3% in Q1 2018.

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research)

Will there be demand for the IPO?

Bitmain has a strong or dominant position in most areas in cryptocurrency mining, as the table above illustrates. Bitmain is likely to be the largest and most profitable company in the blockchain space, which is likely to make the company attractive to many investors.

In the last few years and decades the key lesson many technology investors have learnt, rightly or wrongly, is to always invest in the number one company. The number one company typically benefits the most from network effects and as a result smaller rivals tend to fail. The below list of usual suspects illustrate this basic point:

Sector Company
Messaging app Whatsapp, Line (Japan), WeChat (China)
Search Google
Ride sharing Uber
eCommerce Amazon (US), Alibaba (China)
Music streaming Spotify
Online Video streaming Youtube

Justified or not, the blockchain space is now regarded by many as one of the the next big internet based technologies and Bitmain is the number one player in this space. Whether this network effect type logic can apply to ASIC design and distribution is not clear to us and the benefits of being big may be limited to the more traditional economies of scale. We think it is important to not only look at cryptocurrency mining through the technology lens, but also to look at it from the angle of an energy intensive industry, like mining for natural resources. In these sectors the benefits of scale are more limited than for internet based networks. Therefore we don’t completely agree that one should blindly invest in the largest cryptocurrency mining entity, we just think than some investors, perhaps naively, may think this way.  

Bitmain’s own mining operation declines

As we alluded to above, one of the most interesting discoveries in the Bitmain pre-IPO documents was the sharp decline in Bitmain’s own mining farm business. Although the share of revenue has dramatically fallen, in absolute terms own mining revenue still grew by 250% in 2017, its just that the 948% growth in equipment sales overshadowed this.

Bitmain – share of revenue from own mining operations

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research)

We believe this decline represents a smart strategic decision by Bitmain to divest (relatively speaking), from an increasingly competitive and lower margin area. In our view, as one moves down the mining supply chain, the competition is likely to increase faster and Bitmain made a sensible move by trying to focus their efforts up the chain, where an increasingly large proportion of the value from mining may accrue. In some ways this is good news for Bitcoin decentralisation, as a dominant mining player has stepped back. We believe ASIC design and distribution is less critical to network security than mining farm operation, which in theory choose the pools who construct blocks and select which blocks to build on top of. Of course Bitmain’s power and dominance in the ASIC space still remains as a significant problem for Bitcoin.

Currently Bitmain are likely to be making losses 

In the documents, Bitmain disclosed the revenue, sales and crucially gross profit margin for each of the main mining products. We have displayed the relevant data in the table below. The data shows that Bitmain sold over a million S9’s in 2017 and then over 0.7 million in Q1 2018 alone.

Financial metrics by mining product

2016 2017 Q1 2018 BitMEX  projection (Current prices)
Revenue by product – $m 
S9 (Bitcoin) 98.1 1,347.4 1,225.9
S7 (Litecoin) 106.3
L3 (Litecoin) 0.9 421.6 344.0
D3 (Dash) 411.6
T9 (Bitcoin) 34.9 84.2
A3 (Siacoin) 76.8
V9 (Bitcoin)
Other 3.3 9.3 9.1
APM Power 13.6 104.8 78.7
Total 222.2 2,329.0 1,829.7
Price – $
S9 1,429.0 1,257.0 1,719.0 499.0
S7 593.0 212.0
L3 1,315.0 1,685.0 1,404.0 209.0
D3 1,581.0 179.0 176.0
T9 1,031.0 991.0
A3 1,431.0
V9 145.0
APM Power 108.0 110.0 95.0
Gross profit margin
S9 58.8% 55.7% 69.9% (11.6%)
S7 58.6%
L3 21.2% 71.0% 44.6% (133.8%)
D3 76.2% (108.8%) (113.8%)
T9 19.9% 49.7%
A3 78.3%
V9 (34.5%)
Total 57.9% 58.9% 61.9% Loss
Volume (units)
S9 68,672 1,071,901 713,158
S7 179,315
L3 676 250,181 245,007
D3 260,313
T9 33,885 84,932
A3 53,703
APM Power 125,513 952,785 828,194
Total 374,176 2,569,065 1,924,993

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research, Bitmain website)

Using the disclosed gross profit margin from 2017, we calculated the implied cost price of each machine. Assuming these costs remain unchanged (which may be unrealistic), we were able to calculate gross profit margins based on the latest prices on the Bitmain store. This analysis implies Bitmain are currently loss-making, with a negative profit margin of 11.6% for the main S9 product and a margin of over negative 100% on the L3 product. In reality costs are likely to have declined so the situation may not be as bad, however we think it is likely Bitmain are currently making significant losses.

These low prices are likely to be a deliberate strategy by Bitmain, to squeeze out their competition by causing them to experience lower sales and therefore financial difficulties. In our view, herein lies the key to one of the main driving forces behind the decision to IPO. A successful IPO may increase the firepower available to continue this strategy and eliminate an advantage rivals could have by doing their IPOs first.  

Another reason for these low prices and apparent losses may be that Bitmain has too much inventory on the balance sheet. As at March 2018 Bitmain had $1.2 billion of inventory on the books, equal to 52% of 2017 sales. Bitmain may therefore have had to suffer inventory write downs, which could have generated further losses in addition to the loss making sales.

Use of operating cash flow and balance sheet

The documents contain summary balance sheet data. On the positive side is that Bitmain has no debt and the company was highly cash generative in 2017. The negatives include:

  1. Large prepayments to TSMC, totalling almost $866m in 2017, which weaken Bitmain’s working capital situation;
  2. A large inventory balance, of around $1.2bn (over 50% of peak annual sales) illustrating overproduction;
  3. A large portfolio of altcoins, with a cost base of $1.2 billion which represents the primary use of Bitmain’s cash flow.
Balance sheet – US$ million 2016 2017 Q1 2018 BitMEX projection (Current value)
Cryptocurrency
Bitcoin Cash 673.5 887.5      558.7
Bitcoin 69.1 216.1 148.2      153.1
Litecoin 2.2 49.0 51.2         56.1
Dash 103.0 103.4         55.0
Ethereum 0.6 0.8           0.3
Other adjustment (40.0) (336.7) (18.7)            –  
Total coin assets     31.3      705.5     1,172.4      823.2
Fixed assets    54.0 355.7 175.7
Other   2.4  2.7   3.0
TSMC prepayment     42.7      866.0 666.0
Receivables              7.7   66.4 167.4
Inventory     61.9   1,034.1     1,243.8
Cash 18.2 60.6 104.9
Total assets 218.2   3,091.0     3,533.2
Liabilities      81.3   1,638.3 896.1
Net assets 136.9   1,452.7     2,637.1

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research, Prices from Bitfinex)

(Notes: Projections based on prices as at 28 August 2018, coin holdings as at 31 March 2018)

One of the key assets of the company is its portfolio of cryptocurrencies, valued (on a cost basis) at almost $1.2bn as at March 2018. As at March 2018 this consisted of over 1 million Bitcoin Cash. The market value of the altcoin portfolio has fallen in value since Bitmain invested, with almost all the losses attributable to Bitcoin Cash, as the chart below shows.

Bitmains investment in cryptocurrency – change in value vs cost price – $ million

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research, Prices from Bitfinex)

(Notes: Prices as at 28 August 2018, coin holdings as at 31 March 2018. Chart assumes coin holding do not change)

As the following chart below illustrates, the Bitcoin Cash investment itself is very significant, to the extent that the company spent around 69% of its 2017 operating cash flow on purchasing Bitcoin Cash. Although this could be an exaggeration, some of the Bitcoin Cash would have been inherited from pre-fork Bitcoin. The figures imply that around 71,560 of the 1,021,316 Bitcoin Cash coins could have been inherited in this way. 

Bitmain use of 2017 cashflow – $m

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research)

The situation is even worse than the above indicates. Not only did Bitmain spend a majority of the 2017 cash flow into Bitcoin Cash, they also spent a majority of cash flow from their entire history of operations, into Bitcoin Cash. The documents show that Bitmain generated no cash flow in in 2016 and then only $25m in Q1 2018 (perhaps due to large TSMC prepayments).

Bitmain operating cashflow – $m

(Source: Bitmain pre-IPO documents, BitMEX Research)

In a sense of course none of this matters. Bitmain spent their own funds on risky assets and they knew the risks. For a public company the situation could be a different, with investors expecting the company to invest in core operations or return money to investors. Although perhaps our expectations for governance here are too high for Hong Kong.

Why are Bitmain doing the IPO?

In our view the primary motivating factor for the IPO is simply that Bitmain’s competitors are also planning on doing them and the industry is fiercely competitive, as Bitmain’s loss making prices indicate. Rival Canaan Creative are planning on an IPO and Bitmain are unlikely to let them obtain such a funding advantage. Bitmain’s IPO should deduct money from the pool of capital that could otherwise be invested in Canaan as well as the other miners and it is therefore a good complement to the strategy of lowering prices.

The other reason for the IPO may be to strengthen the balance sheet after investing the majority of the operating cash flow into Bitcoin Cash. Bitmain only had around $105 million of cash on the balance sheet as at March 2018, when this figure could have been nearer a billion dollars if the company hadn’t acquired so much Bitcoin Cash. At the same time the business does require a lot of cash, for example the large advance cash payments TSMC require, which reached a peak of $866m in 2017.

The debate over Bitmain’s technological advantage

Nobody can challenge the performance and scale of Bitmain’s operations Bitmain is losing its lead and has not increased the performance of its miners in over two years
  • It is true that Bitmain competitors have recently released more efficient mining machines than Bitmain, however this is only part of the picture. The figures show that in the past 27 months, Bitmain has delivered 1.9 million S9’s and 3.0 million mining machines in total. No competitor has the capability to deliver on anything like that scale. Rivals can at best deliver a few hundred thousand machines per annum
  • At the same time, although machines from rivals are more efficient, Bitmain’s S9 product is more reliable and has less variance with respect to the hashrate
  • For example, although the Dragonmint T1 product is more efficient, according to official figures. the hashrate variance is higher than expected, this is not acceptable for low margin mining farm operators, who need a predictable product for budgeting purposes. The S9 is the only product that has the necessary reliability
  • Bitmain is the largest player and is lowering prices, such that the other ASIC design companies are now under severe financial stress. Bitmain has already attracted investments from some of the top VC funds in Silicon Valley and the upcoming IPO will ensure Bitmain’s dominance for years to come
  • The Bitmain S9, a 16nm product, was released in December 2015, with an efficiency of around 110 W/TH. The company has not successfully innovated or improved its Bitcoin miner performance since then. This is over 2 and a half years ago
  • Since early 2017 Bitmain has tried to release at least three new more efficient Bitcoin mining chips, one at 16nm, one at 12nm and more recently 10nm in March 2018. Each of these releases failed, costing Bitmain hundreds of millions of dollars. Even TSMC themselves have mentioned that they think the Bitmain investment strategy is too optimistic, which may be part of the reason they insist on such large prepayments
  • These failed tapeouts have finally resulted in competitors producing better machines, today the Innosilicon T2 and ShenMA M10 are more efficient than the S9, with a 80W/TH and 65W/TH performance respectively
  • Bitmain has lost its technological edge as key staff, such as former director of design Dr Yang Zuoxing, have left. Dr Yang is said to have founded a rival mining firm which was sued by Bitmain for a patent violation 
  • Without the ability to innovate and produce better equipment, the only way Bitmain can generate sales is by lowering prices, until eventually the company loses its dominant market position
  • This desperate situation is why some claim that Bitmain tried to mislead investors into thinking it had received an investment from the government investment funds in Singapore. Although we have seen no compelling evidence of Bitmain misleading in the way suggested

The narrative surrounding Bitmain’s technical capabilities can be spun in either direction and as ever the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. However, one thing is clear, if these mining companies do go public, the picture should be far less murky going forwards and we think that could be a significant positive for the cryptocurrency community.

Conclusion

In a way some of Bitmain’s biggest mistakes, such as producing too many units and buying too many speculative altcoins in a bull market, are somewhat analogous to the typical behaviour of mining company management teams.  For instance gold mining firms often invest in high cost assets in bull markets and then fail to invest in quality low cost assets in bear markets. Perhaps it is not totally fair to blame these companies, the hedge funds and institutional investors who own the shares are often just as, if not more, at fault. Greed, fear and the emotions of market moves can affect us all. Therefore although Bitmain has made mistakes, in many ways they are not unusual or unexpected.

We are sure you have heard it before, but “cryptocurrency is here to stay”. In that environment we think Bitmain has the ingredients to be one of the great companies in the space. Bitmain can be a legendary crypto company, generating strong shareholder returns for decades to come, but in order to achieve this (and it’s a lot harder than it sounds) the Bitmain management team may need to improve their management of company resources. Once the company goes public, capital allocation decisions in this volatile and unpredictable market will be difficult enough, letting emotions impact too many investment decisions may not be tolerated.

 

$5,000 Bitcoin, A Local Bottom

Bitcoin is now down close to 70% from the $20,000 all time high. The bear market is here. What level is the bottom, and when?

My hunch tells me that similar to the 2015 bear market, the price at which the average miner turns off their ASICs will be the local bottom.

During the last bear market that range was $200 – $250. While the price languished, various high profile miners went under. KnC and Spondoolies were two casualties. Most surprisingly, in March of 2015 the difficulty actually dropped. That was 7 months before the price ticked up, but it illustrates the amount of pain that miners faced.

Now assuming there is no positive catalyst, like an SEC approved ETF to save us, at what price do we bottom? I believe the key consideration will be when miners begin to shut off their machines; and hence the question, what is the marginal cost of a Bitcoin?

A few days ago I chatted with one of the largest mining facility operators globally. He told me that the average electricity cost of Chinese miners all-in is 6 to 7 cents kWh. At that level, he estimated that at a price of roughly $5,000 is when miners would begin altering operations and look to move machines to cheaper areas. At $3,000 to $4,000, these miners would begin to shut off machines completely.

However, these rough anecdotes assume that miners using 7nm chips either do not work efficiently well, or will not be sold until 2019. Bitmain, Dragonmint, and GMO are all racing to build such miners. The firm that successfully brings a 7nm miner to market, will absolutely lower the marginal cost of the average mining farm, and decimate the older generation mining rigs.

Price leads the hashrate and the final confirmation of the breakeven level will be whether difficulty actually drops. That would require a sustained period of price weakness to shutter enough miners for the hashrate to fall.

When in Doubt, IPO

Everyone is talking about the Bitmain IPO. Running a public company once you get past the initial ego boost is sub-optimal. One of the main reasons why companies IPO is for long-term investors, employees, and management to cash out at a high multiple. Companies also IPO to raise large amounts of capital to fund expansion efforts.

As a public company, the scrutiny on operations is never ending. Say the wrong thing and you could be in court for years. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg likes being publicly lambasted by know-nothing congressmen and women? If Tesla didn’t need to raise so much money by selling equity in the public markets, I’m sure Elon would have kept it private.

Bitmain is crypto’s most valuable and most profitable company. If the figures publicised are taken as gospel, then they generated over US$2 billion of profit in 2017. Unlike many manufacturers, Bitmain’s clients pre-pay their orders. The only pre-sale outlay is their down payment for chips with their main foundry.

Bitmain has a cash cow business but now wants to IPO. The company does not need capital to fund or expand its business. They have plenty of free cash flow to direct towards R&D. They don’t need to acquire distribution channels by slashing prices since they hold the largest market share. The only conclusion is that they believe the medium-term profitability of mining will decline sharply.

While Bitmain attempts to sell the market on their AI chip growth strategy, the truth is they are a crypto company through and through. Crypto companies trade at massive price to earnings discounts against similar companies in comparable industries.

I speculate that the crypto exchanges that sold this year, Poloniex and Bitstamp, traded at 4x to 6x P/E. [The Bitstamp sale has not been confirmed, but various crypto news outlets reported that a sale likely happened in early 2018]. Public exchanges like ICE and the CME, trade 20x to 30x P/E. During a massive crypto bull market like in 4Q2017, the public markets might pay up, but not when Bitcoin is down 70%.

I further speculate that Bitmain is attempting to top-tick the market before mining profitability slides dramatically. Management takes the view that the price will likely continue down towards $5,000, and possibly below. At these prices sales of their flagship S9 miner will plummet. An IPO allows them to crystallise gains now, and become cash-rich during a bear market. With this war chest, they can acquire some of their less financially well-endowed competitors. When the market turns, they will be in pole position with no challengers in sight.

Upside Risks – SEC Approved ETF

In late September, the SEC will rule on a number of ETF applications. Will they cave to popular pressure? Crypto, even while down 70%, is way more exciting than any other asset class. The exchanges, asset managers, and white-shoe investment banks all want in. The only inhibiting factor is regulators.

With enough K-street lobbyists, you can convince a US member of congress that the world is flat and the earth is the center of the universe. If the crypto lobby prevails on the SEC, and an ETF is approved, watch out for the mother of all short squeezes.

Ether, A Double Digit Shitcoin

It all started in Feb 2017 on a beach in southern Thailand. Thailand’s king passed a few months prior, so the party atmosphere was subdued. Accompanied by a good friend of mine and one of the best shitcoin traders in the game, we headed down the beach in search of a party.

One of his big shitcoin positions at the time was Pepe Cash. This was the precursor to Crypto Kitties. For those not in the know, PepeCash is “rare pepe” memes hashed onto a blockchain. The next killer app to be sure. Pepe Cash was on a mini run, and my boy constantly monitored the market.

We didn’t find a poppin’ party, but we did find special shakes. The bartender didn’t think we were sideways enough so he went in the back to get the real stuff. Over the next few hours we walked for miles, met interesting tourists and locals, and waxed philosophical about shitcoins.

On our ride back to our hotel, I noticed something strange. Our Tuk Tuk driver was wearing a trucker hat with a Pepe the Frog logo on it. Not trusting my eyes, I nudged my friend to confirm what I saw. He concurred that our driver was sporting a Pepe hat. My friend immediately whipped out his phone to check the market. Perhaps they saw what we did. Pepe Cash was pumping and he bought some more.

We both looked at each other and knew it was a sign that something special would happen in 2017. What actually happened was far beyond what we could have ever imagined.

The real profit in 2017 was made by Ether holders, shitcoin projects, and promoters. The seed capital for many of the venerated crypto hedge funds emanated from outsized returns on holdings of Ether and token projects.

Jealous traditional VCs transformed portions of their funds into poorly designed hedge funds so that they too could punt shitcoins. Everyone piled info the same deals, all thinking they “got it”. That worked well all of 2017.

Today, Ether slides towards $200. At best, many token projects are down 50% from 2017. At worst, they are slightly above than zero.

This begs the questions:

  1. Did any funds actually realise any of their outstanding 2016 profits?
  2. Can VC-turned-hedge-fund-punters psychologically handle mark-to-market losses?
  3. How many token projects actually sold a large or hedged portion of the Ether they raised?

Big Door In, Small Door Out

One of the first things you learn as an Asia Pacific trader: how you exit a position is more important than how you enter.

My first trading book was the Vietnam certificates book. Our desk issued USD denominated certificates on a basket of Vietnamese stocks. Calling the Vietnamese stock market “Mickey Mouse” would have been a compliment in 2009.

You could only go one way per trading day on a particular stock. If you bought, you could only continue buying intraday, you could not sell. There was a 5% limit up and down each day; any stock in the news would hit either of those limits immediately in the morning auction. That meant you had to fax your orders into the broker and make sure you got in the queue as early as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes your broker front ran you because they knew you had size to trade in a particular stock.

My boss encouraged me to take a view on the market. Given the structure of the market, if I took a position, I was stuck with it for a while. And when I wished to exit, I would have to sell into strength or buy weakness to get out of a long or short position respectively.

When I became an ETF market maker, I routinely traded other “Mickey Mouse” markets like India, Indonesia, and China just to name a few. These markets were and still are marked by snap decisions (often overnight) by regulators which adversely affect traders who aren’t politically connected. I became obsessed with how to get out of any position: a trait which serves me well in the crypto markets.

My first boss taught me that everything was my fault as the trader. Obviously there are many things outside of your control, but if you approach your profession with that mentality you attempt to quantify and mitigate all of the risks within your control.

The point of my sermon is that most VC investors do not approach their investments with this mentality. Due to the illiquidity of their investments, they can mark to fantasy, show amazing returns on paper, and get paid. The only secondary market validation of their investments is the next round of fundraising, which can easily always go up if you get your boys to go in along with you. You pump my bags, I’ll pump yours.

VC investors loved ICOs in the bull market because they could point to an objective and liquid secondary market valuation. They used these eye-popping returns to raise bigger shitcoin funds in 2017, and early 2018. However, objectivity and transparency is undesirable when your shitcoin portfolio is down by a minimum of 50%. Depending on the vintage of the fund, it might be up, however, most money was raised and invested in 2H2017 to 2H2018. That means the suckers who invested recently are most likely down.

The VC investor who has never suffered the vagaries of the market is as green as the noob who thinks he or she can go from 1 to 100 Bitcoin in a few trading days. They don’t have the mental strength to cut positions to limit further losses, or backup the truck and buy opportune dips even though they are down. More importantly, LPs can now see an objective last price for a particular token, and can’t be hoodwinked. They will attempt to be a Monday morning quarterback, and that only adds to the VC investors’ anxiety. At a certain point, they go “fuck it”, and dump everything they can.

It is this moment, that Ether goes from a 3-digit to a 2-digit shitcoin.

Concentration Risk

Before the SAFT and other private token placement monstrosities, the majority of money was raised from retail token punters. Now that projects are scared of federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison, they mostly only accept accredited investors.

Accredited investors always had a way into new technology projects due to their wealth and access. This pool of investors is also highly concentrated. The number of funds that can spray $1 to $5 million into every vapourware project that agrees with their sector thesis is limited. However, these gatekeepers control a vast ocean of institutional money. Softbank’s Vision Fund is $100 billion.

So instead of a more dispersed pool of investors, the number of token holders of projects raising serious money decreased dramatically starting in mid-2017. The liquidation preferences went from dispersed along a price curve, to very concentrated.

VCs all compete with each other for the same pools of capital. These pools of capital all employ professionals from the same schools, and who passed the same financial certification tests. Therefore they will buy together and sell together. The biggest risk in the money management game is career risk. Better to lose money with everyone else, than lose money alone. The latter will cost you your job. And there ain’t no other profession that pays as well as financial services relative to the skills needed to be a practitioner. I remember one of my besties trying to argue he had skills because he could calculate the NAV of an ETF using the sumproduct() function on his excel sheet. #Delusional.

The herd of token VC punters will all decide to sell at the same time. If you don’t sell, and the market continues falling, you lose your job. So everyone sells simultaneously but who can eat all that shit? Retail cannot because the deals would never have gotten so large without institutional money. So we gap lower, first on tokens, then on the mothership Ether.

I don’t know what that tipping point will be, but in hindsight, it will be obvious when the capitulation occurs. There are those who believe that a sustainable token economy can exist. But they won’t be buying at these levels. Sub-$100 takes us back to Spring 2017 levels. At those depressed prices, the carrion is ripe for ingestion.

ETHUSD Perpetual Swap Two Week Update

One of our strengths at BitMEX is financial innovation. We created the XBTUSD perpetual swap, a truly unique product to any financial market. XBTUSD is now the most liquid crypto instrument globally by a factor of 10 and has been emulated by a half dozen crypto markets.

On the back of that success, BitMEX has created a way to replicate the same Bitcoin-margined perpetual swap but on Ether / USD via a quanto pricing model. This product is the ETHUSD perpetual swap. In just under two weeks, this product has become the most liquid Ether / USD (or USD equivalent) pair globally, and has proven to be a vital instrument in speculating or hedging on the ETH/USD price pair.

In the last 24 hours, BitMEX’s ETHUSD swap has traded the equivalent of 800,000 ETH. The next most liquid ETH/USD and ETH/USDT markets, Bitfinex and Binance, traded just under 500,000 ETH each in the same period.

If you are still unsure on the pricing or trading of this instrument, please take a look back at our newsletter from last week where we run through multiple worked examples on hedging and speculating. To aid in your understanding, we have also created a downloadable spreadsheet to work through the math.

Does Satoshi have a million bitcoin?

Abstract: We examine the extent to which one miner dominated Bitcoin in 2009. We review Sergio Demian Lerner’s 2013 analysis, where he discovered that the increase in the ExtraNonce value in the block can potentially be used to link different blocks to the same miner. We build on his analysis and conclude that although the evidence is far less robust than many assume, there is reasonable evidence that a single dominant miner in 2009 could have generated around 700,000 bitcoin. Although our analysis itself is weak and there is no perfect way of approaching this problem.

Bitcoin blocks mined in 2009 – ExtraNonce vs block height


(Source: BitMEX Research, Bitcoin blockchain)

The history of the debate over the dominant miner in 2009

Towards the start of April 2013, blockchain researcher Sergio Demian Lerner attempted to argue that Satoshi had mined a million bitcoin in 2009. The logic behind this assertion was that the hashrate throughout 2009 was at a low level, around 7 million hashes per second and this was said to be consistent with one miner being highly dominant. At the same time this hashrate was around the same to that which was present in Bitcoin’s first 14 days, which Sergio assumes may be a period in which Satoshi was the only miner. Many in the community were sceptical of Sergio’s claims. The scepticism seems to be based on the following:

  1. The 7 MH/second estimate is based on block timestamps and unreliable, nor is the sample size large enough
  2. There is no reason to believe Satoshi mined alone in the first 14 days
  3. Many individuals recalled mining themselves in the period
  4. Sergio’s assumptions about hardware were incorrect

It is likely that some people could have been biased in dismissing Sergio’s claims, since if Satoshi had mined a significant proportion of the early coins, in the eyes of some that could damage the monetary integrity of the system. However, in our view, the evidence Sergio initially presented was somewhat weak.

The ExtraNonce bombshell

Just a few days later, Sergio then posted a far more persuasive argument on his blog, with much stronger evidence that a single miner was dominant. This then eventually convinced many in the community and to this day many people believe Satoshi is likely to have mined around one million bitcoin.

Sergio’s evidence centred around something called the ExtraNonce. The ExtraNonce is not part of the Bitcoin protocol, in that it is not part of the consensus rules nor is there a formal specification about how to interpret the field. The ExtraNonce is an area in the Coinbase transaction which can vary after several hashing attempts to provide extra entropy for miners, once the standard nonce in the block header has been used up. As the image below illustrates, as the ExtraNonce changes, the impact works its way up the merkle tree into the block header (although in 2009 most blocks contained only the Coinbase transaction, as the network was not used for transactions.)

(Illustrative diagram of the structure of a Bitcoin block)

Sergio published the below picture, with the ExtraNonce on the y-axis and the blockheight on the x-axis (He incorrectly labeled the x-axis as time). The image shows that the ExtraNonce increase over time, in a series of slopes. Some of the slopes (in black) are said to be of a similar gradient, not to overlap and to go back down to zero once they reach a certain height. This is said to demonstrate that all the black lines belonged to one miner (potentially Satoshi) and that this miner now controlled almost a million Bitcoin. Although the technical points about the gradient of the slopes, the height and the lack of overlap may be quite difficult to appreciate and evaluate, the image itself is clearly very powerful and persuasive, in our view.

(Source: Bitslog)

The new BitMEX Research allocation of blocks to the dominant miner

We decided to repeat Sergio’s analysis, except our objective was to count the blocks mined by the apparent single entity and allocate all the blocks. The excercise was challenging, since the slopes interact with many other points. It is therefore impossible to do an accurate allocation. As a result, our analysis is far from perfect and we used a variety of methods, including statistical analysis, random number generators and even manual review to allocate some blocks. We will have made many errors and we do not claim our methodology is robust or scientific. However, as far as we are aware, this is the first attempt to allocate every block in 2009 as belonging to the apparent single entity or not. The below high resolution image below represents our allocation for every block in 2009.

Bitcoin blocks mined in 2009 – Allocation to the dominant miner – ExtraNonce value (y-axis) vs block height (axis)

(Source: BitMEX Research, Bitcoin blockchain)

Analysis of the allocation

Up to August 2009 we agree with Sergio’s conclusion.  There are 22 slopes prior to August, which all have both similar height and gradient (Around an increase in the value of the ExtraNonce by 4 per block found). At the same time these slopes almost never overlap. (The tiny amount of apparent overlap in some instances in less than 5 blocks and therefore may just be coincidence).

After August 2009 the pattern breaks down to some extent. The gradient of the slopes varies considerably (from 1.1 nonces per block to 10 nonces per block). At the same time the height of the slopes is inconsistent and there are many large gaps between them. Therefore although the image still looks compelling, the evidence that the miner is one entity is somewhat weak, in our view. We have presented results below, which include figures both pre and post August 2009.

Category Number of blocks Number of bitcoin
Allocated to the dominant miner 14,815 740,750
Weak allocation (After August 2009) 4,553 227,650
Total 19,368 968,400
Not allocated 16,920 846,000
Grand total 36,288 1,814,400

(Source: BitMEX Research, Bitcoin blockchain)

Debate over the strength of the analysis

Supporting the analysis Weaknesses of the analysis
  • The image is highly powerful, just looking at it illustrates there is a dominant miner. Although explaining it statistically may be challenging, the conclusion is clear.
  • Many of the slopes have the following characteristics:
    1. A similar gradient to each other
    2. Similar heights
    3. Slopes often start shortly after another slope has finished
    4. The slopes rarely overlap
    5. Many of the slopes are hundreds of blocks long
  • This is all too much to be a coincidence. Therefore the evidence that many of the blocks were mined by a single entity is highly compelling
  • Although the ExtraNonce analysis is interesting and revealing, when it comes to estimating the number of coins mined by the dominant miner, it is essentially useless. The methodology used when conducting the allocation involves maximising the number of blocks in each slope, this is required due to the lack of any other available mechanism for allocation. Therefore the number of blocks allocated to the dominant miner is grossly overestimated.
  • The analysis is built on a logical fallacy. In any period there is going to be at least one miner who has the largest share or the steepest rate of increase in the ExtraNonce. There are also going to be at least some types slopes which do not overlap. Grouping these slopes from potentially different miners together is misleading and potentially based on flawed reasoning.
  • Even if the slopes are similar, this could be because different entities had a similar setup. Each miner is not independent, in the sense that they are likely to be running the same software or could be using the same popular hardware, which could produce the same pattern.

Conclusion

In conclusion, although there is strong evidence of a dominant miner in 2009, we think the evidence is far less robust than many have assumed. Although a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes pictures can be a little misleading. Even if one is convinced, the evidence only supports the claim that the dominant miner may have generated significantly less than a million bitcoin in our view. Perhaps 600,000 to 700,000 bitcoin is a better estimate.

None of the above says much about whether the dominant miner was Satoshi, although we know Satoshi mined block 9, which we have allocated to the dominant miner in our analysis. However this is in a slope of just 11 blocks, so it’s certainly not conclusive. Whoever the dominant miner was, it is of course possible the keys have been lost or discarded by now.

We will end with one famous quote from Satoshi to consider:

Why delete a wallet instead of moving it aside and keeping the old copy just in case?  You should never delete a wallet.

(Source: Bitcointalk)

Although, maybe we are giving that quote out of context…

 

Hedging a Quanto Perpetual Swap

Hedging a quanto perpetual swap is not straightforward. The added component of correlation risk between two crypto assets complicates things. I will take things from first principles, then provide a more general formula.

Assumptions:
Symbol: ETHUSD
Multiplier: 0.000001 XBT
ETHUSD Price: $500
.BETH (ETH/USD Spot Index): $500
.BXBT (XBT/USD Spot Index): $10,000

Scenario 1 – Short ETHUSD and Hedge

You are lifted for 100,000 contracts of ETHUSD.

First let’s compute your currency exposures:

XBT Value = $500 * 0.000001 XBT * -100,000 = -50 XBT
ETH Value = XBT Value / [ .BETH / .BXBT ] = -1,000 ETH

Next you hedge your ETH/USD exposure by purchasing 1,000 ETH at the spot price. Assume you can match the current .BETH Index price on your purchase.

You have hedged your underlying currency exposure. At this point your exposure is perfectly hedged. However, as the price of ETHUSD changes, your PNL on ETHUSD will be in XBT, while the PNL on your ETH hedge will be in USD.

Let’s look at two extreme examples.

Example 1: .BETH Rises and .BXBT Falls

.BETH and ETHUSD rises to $750
.BXBT falls to $5,000

ETHUSD PNL = (ETHUSD Exit Price - ETHUSD Entry Price) * Multiplier * # Contracts = -25 XBT, USD Value -$125,000

ETH Spot USD PNL = (.BETH Exit Price - .BETH Entry Price) * # ETH = $250,000

Net USD PNL = ETHUSD XBT PNL in USD + ETH Spot USD PNL = +$125,000

In this example the correlation between the USD value of XBT and ETH is -1. They moved in a perfectly negatively correlated fashion, and you made money.

Example 2: .BETH Rises and .BXBT Rises

.BETH and ETHUSD rises to $750
.BXBT rises to $15,000

ETHUSD PNL = -25 XBT, USD Value -$375,000
ETH Spot USD PNL = $250,000
Net USD PNL = -$125,000

In this example the correlation between the USD value of XBT and ETH is +1. They moved in a perfectly positively correlated fashion, and you lost money.

The short ETHUSD position + Hedge profited when correlation fell, and lost when the correlation rose. Due to the flat ETHUSD vs. .BETH basis, the entry price assumed a correlation of zero between the two cryptos.

Scenario 2: Long ETHUSD and Hedge

You are hit for 100,000 contracts ofETHUSD.

First let’s compute your currency exposures:

XBT Value = $500 * 0.000001 XBT * 100,000 = 50 XBT
ETH Value = XBT Value / [ .BETH / .BXBT ] = 1,000 ETH

Next you hedge your ETH/USD exposure by shorting 1,000 ETH at the spot price. Assume you can match the current .BETH Index price on your purchase, and there is no cost to borrow ETH for this short sell.

You have hedged your underlying currency exposure. At this point your exposure is perfectly hedged. However, as the price of ETHUSD changes, your PNL on ETHUSD will be in XBT, while the PNL on your ETH hedge will be in USD.

Let’s look at two extreme examples.

Example 1: .BETH Rises and .BXBT Falls

.BETH and ETHUSD rises to $750
.BXBT falls to $5,000

ETHUSD PNL  = 25 XBT, USD Value $125,000
ETH Spot USD PNL = -$250,000
Net USD PNL = -$125,000

In this example the correlation between the USD value of XBT and ETH is -1. They moved in a perfectly negatively correlated fashion, and you lost money.

Example 2: .BETH Rises and .BXBT Rises

.BETH and ETHUSD rises to $750
.BXBT rises to $15,000

ETHUSD PNL = 25 XBT, USD Value $375,000
ETH Spot USD PNL = -$250,000
Net USD PNL = $125,000

In this example the correlation between the USD value of XBT and ETH is +1. They moved in a perfectly positively correlated fashion, and you made money.

The short ETHUSD position + Hedge profited when correlation rose, and lost when the correlation fell. Due to the flat ETHUSD vs. .BETH basis, the entry price assumed a correlation of zero between the two cryptos.

The below table summaries the two scenarios:

Time Horizon

The correlation between XBT and ETH is not static. The longer you hold a hedged swap position, the more chance that the correlation regime you expect based on the recent past, will change.

Unlike a futures contract, the ETHUSD swap has no expiration date. Therefore your quanto risk is specific to your time horizon. For market makers who are in and out quickly, the quanto effect is negligible. For cash and carry market makers who hold a position for an extended period of time to capture funding, the quanto effect can destroy one’s PNL.

Covariance

Many market makers will not be satisfied leaving their correlation risk unhedged. They will constantly hedge their PNL on the BitMEX and spot leg of their portfolio. Depending on the XBT and ETH volatility, and their correlation, the covariance will determine whether the hedging of PNL positively or negatively impacts your overall profits. If both assets are highly volatile and the correlation is moving in or out of your favour, your gains or losses from hedging the PNL are amplified.

We are in uncharted territory. In a few month’s time, I will observe the past data and attempt to calculate what portion of the funding is attributed to market makers pricing in a quanto risk, and what portion is due to the interest rate differentials between ETH and USD.

Quanto for Speculators

Speculators care about obtaining exposure to risk. How they get that exposure if they can get in and out cheaply is secondary. If BitMEX is able to create a liquid market for Bitcoin quanto’ed derivatives, speculators will flock to them.

As I previously explained in “Why Quanto?”, in order for BitMEX to offer ETH/USD risk, we had to quanto into Bitcoin. This post will explore the concepts speculators care about.

For all the below examples we will use the following assumptions:

Contract: ETHUSD
Multiplier: 0.000001 XBT per 1 USD
Contracts: 10,000

Contract Value


The most important aspect to a speculator is the contract’s payoff function. Since we are speculating on the ETH/USD price, ideally the contract’s Bitcoin value should increase and decrease in a linear fashion with respect to the ETH/USD price.

I assume the speculator denominates their profit in Bitcoin (XBT) terms. Therefore the value of Bitcoin in USD terms at a particular ETH/USD price is irrelevant. Put simply, the speculator wants to use Bitcoin as a margin to earn more Bitcoin.

The above chart illustrates that at different ETHUSD values, the XBT value of the position changes linearly. That is exactly what the speculator desires.

XBT Value = ETHUSD Price * Multiplier * # Contracts

Calculating Margin

How is the amount of Bitcoin margin calculated? The initial margin for the ETHUSD contract is 2%, or 50x leverage.

Initial Margin (IM) = 2% * XBT Value

If you enter the trade at an ETHUSD Price of $500, this is your initial margin requirement:

IM = 2% * $500 * 0.000001 XBT * 10,000 = 0.10 XBT

The next important consideration is what is your liquidation price. That is determined by the maintenance margin. The maintenance margin for the ETHUSD contract is 1%. If the underlying ETH/USD spot price declines by 1%, you will be liquidated.

Calculating Profit and Loss (PNL)


The PNL is denominated in Bitcoin. In Bitcoin terms, the PNL changes linearly with the ETHUSD price. If the contract goes up 1%, your Bitcoin PNL also goes up 1%. The chart above illustrates that.

XBT PNL = (ETHUSD Exit Price - ETHUSD Entry Price) * Multiplier * # Contracts

In the above example, if the ETHUSD price moves from $500 to $600, this is the XBT PNL:

XBT PNL = ($600 - $500) * 0.000001 XBT * 10,000 = 1 XBT

Number of Contracts

To get a certain amount of Bitcoin exposure requires a little math.

The following describes how to calculate how many contracts it takes to equal a desired Bitcoin notional.

Contracts = XBT Notional / [ ETHUSD Price * Multiplier ]

If you want 100 XBT of risk, how many contracts of ETHUSD must you trade:

Contracts = 100 XBT / [ $500 * 0.000001 XBT ] = 200,000 Contracts

The quanto structure satisfies the desires of a Bitcoin-based speculator. The major components that speculators care about all vary linearly with respect to the ETH/USD price. The relative rich or cheapness of the contract vs. the underlying is not a major concern if the contract is liquid.

The factors that govern whether the contract will be at a premium or discount will be explored in the subsequent piece. These considerations heavily depend on how to hedge a quanto derivative from first principles. The hedging of the contract is where the non-linear effects matter.

Why Quanto?

The USD is the biggest shitcoin out there. However, all assets are priced against it. Crypto is not immune. The Bitcoin / USD price is the most important cross in the crypto asset universe.

Moving into the altcoin space, the most active crosses are against the USD as well. To replicate our inverse style derivatives on an altcoin / USD cross requires us to accept the altcoin in question as collateral. The next natural altcoin BitMEX could accept is Ether. However, to fit into our multi-sig security process, it requires us to use/code an Ethereum multi-sig smart contract.

Unfortunately, due to various exploits of popular Ethereum multi-sig smart contracts, we never felt comfortable custodying Ether. Rule 1, to infinity minus 1, of operating a crypto trading platform, is don’t lose the crypto. Anything we can do to limit our risk surface area we must do. Therefore, taking Ether as collateral given the current state of the protocol is a non-starter.

Given these constraints, we cannot launch an Ether margined inverse ETHUSD contract. An inverse style contract is one where the margin and PNL currency is denominated in the home currency (ETH), the quote currency is denominated in the foreign currency (USD), and the contract value is a nominal amount of the foreign currency (USD).

Inverse Contract Example: XBTUSD Swap

Margin Currency: XBT (Bitcoin)
Quote Currency: USD
Contract Value: $1

In order to offer risk on ETH/USD where Bitcoin is used as the margin and PNL currency, the quanto derivative type is necessary.

From Wikipedia:

quanto is a type of derivative in which the underlying is denominated in one currency, but the instrument itself is settled in another currency at some rate. Such products are attractive for speculators and investors who wish to have exposure to a foreign asset, but without the corresponding exchange rate risk.

Quantos are exotic derivatives that can move non-linearly with respect to the underlying. However, they are very beneficial for speculators and hedgers in search of liquidity, where they can post margin in a currency in which they feel comfortable. In my time as a delta one trader, we routinely traded USD quanto derivatives to get exposure to local currency futures contracts in countries that restricted the trading ability of foreigners (e.g. India and Taiwan).

The recently launched BitMEX ETHUSD Perpetual Swap is a quanto derivative. The contract pays out 0.000001 XBT per 1 USD. This means that the Bitcoin multiplier is constant regardless of the nominal USD price of ETH. This is great for speculators, the Bitcoin return varies linearly with respect to the ETHUSD price. For those using this contract to hedge the ETH/USD cross or market makers, it gets a bit trickier. I will get into the mechanics of hedging and market-making later in this newsletter.

Quanto Worked Example Spreadsheet
We have created a spreadsheet for users to download and work through some of the below use cases that can be accessed here.

Downtime Aug 4, 2018

From 14:29 to 15:26 UTC today, August 4, 2018, access to BitMEX.com and the BitMEX API was severely impaired.

A large spike in load caused an overload in a critical internal system used for rate limiting and sessions, creating a feedback loop in that system where data was recalculated more often then usual, exacerbating the load.

The feedback loop has been fixed and systems have returned back to normal. BitMEX engineers are working to separate these systems entirely, so that these particular non-critical operations cannot affect processing time of critical trade requests and logins.

We apologize for the disruption. BitMEX engineers have disabled the cause of the feedback loop and are working the weekend to separate these critical systems so that such an event cannot occur again.