Category Archives: Crypto

“Stocks No Longer Make Sense To Me” – Here’s Why Quants Are Embracing Bitcoin

Since bitcoin first seeped into the public consciousness in 2013, the stereotypical image of the cryptocurrency trader is the 25-year-old tech bro who uses phrases like “YOLO” and “FOMO” when describing his trading strategy and general investing philosophy.

In more recent years, the image of the mom-and-pop crypto trader has taken hold, as Mrs. Watanabe – the archetypal Japanese and South Korean house wife once known for trading foreign exchange – has migrated to trading bitcoin and ethereum.

But as the Financial Times pointed out in a story about financial professionals dabbling in crypto markets, the hoodie-wearing twenty something described above isn’t entirely representative of the crypto community. In fact, many former Wall Street professionals – some with backgrounds working at hedge funds or quantitative trading shops – have embraced cryptocurrency trading.

And while the allure of obscene returns is obviously one reason for the attraction, one venture capitalist interviewed by the FT offered an even more revealing answer:

He embraced crypto after becoming disillusioned with traditional markets, which “no longer make sense” thanks to nearly a decade of central bank intervention.

“I’ve been out of the stock market because it stopped making sense to me,” he says. Central bank support for the markets plus the trend of passive investing have turned it into a game with unclear rules.

“Over the past few years or so, everyone has just been buying indexes and they haven’t been doing price discovery. They’re just investing in a trend of something going up and up and up,” he says.

Until very recently, volatility in global stock markets had fallen to one of the lowest levels in history – making life difficult for quantitative traders who leverage up and play for small moves.

But in the crypto market, circumstances couldn’t be more different. Such high volatility is essentially a quantitative traders’ dream.

“In a days worth of cryptocurrency movement you have a week or a month of equity market movement or a decade of country debt,” he said.

Another apt description came from a hedge fund trader who said financial professionals are drawn to bitcoin for the same reasons they’re drawn to the poker table.

“It’s fun,” one hedge fund trader said, adding that she did not want “fomo,” the acronym for ‘fear of missing out’. One London-based banker was more blunt: it was gambling for people who could afford to lose a bit of money. “That’s it. Nothing else.”

We’re not sure the surprising number of people who bought bitcoin on their credit cards last year would agree.

Source: ZeroHedge

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What The Crypto Crash & Stock Market Plunge Have In Common

Only one thing matters in bubble markets: sentiment

Yesterday saw Jerome Powell sworn into office as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve, replacing Janet Yellen. Looking at the sea of red across Monday’s financial markets, Mr. Powell is very likely *not* having the sort of first day on the job he was hoping for…

https://i0.wp.com/www.latimes.com/resizer/qCxJte7pTUcLqXys1yA8lC7FL0Y=/1400x0/arc-anglerfish-arc2-prod-tronc.s3.amazonaws.com/public/TUTLQJWSEZH7LAFR3GWLGUYFSA.jpgJerome H. Powell, new Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Also having a rough start to the week is anyone with a long stock position or a cryptocurrency portfolio.

The Dow Jones closed down over 1,200 points today, building off of Friday’s plunge of 666 points. The relentless ascension of stock prices has suddenly jolted into reverse, delivering the biggest 2-day drop stocks have seen in years.

But that’s nothing compared to the bloodletting we’re seeing in the cryptocurrency space. The price of Bitcoin just broke below $7,000 moments ago, now nearly two-thirds lower from its $19,500 high reached in mid-December. Other coins, like Ripple, are seeing losses of closer to 80% over the same time period. That’s a tremendous amount of carnage in such a short window of time.

And while stocks and cryptos are very different asset classes, the underlying force driving their price corrections is the same — a change in sentiment.

Both markets had entered bubble territory (stocks much longer ago than the cryptos), and once they did, their continued price action became dependent on sentiment much more so than any underlying fundamentals.

The Anatomy Of A Price Bubble

History is quite clear on how bubble markets behave.

On the way up, a virtuous cycle is created where quick, out sized gains become the rationale that attracts more capital into the market, driving prices up further and even faster. A mania ensues where everyone who missed out on the earlier gains jumps in to buy regardless of the price, desperate not to be left behind (this is called fear of missing out, or “FOMO”).

This mania produces a last, magnificent spike in price — called a “blow-off” top — which is then immediately followed by an equally sharp reversal. The reversal occurs because there are simply no remaining new desperate investors left to sell to. The marginal buyer has suddenly switched from the “greater fool” to the increasingly cautious investor.

Those sitting on early gains and looking to cash out near the top start selling. They don’t mind dropping the price a bit to get out. So the price continues downwards, spooking more and more folks to start selling what they have. Suddenly, the virtuous cycle that drove prices to their zenith has now metastasized into a vicious cycle of selling, driving prices lower and lower as panicking investors give up on their dreams of easy riches and increasingly scramble to limit their mounting losses.

In the end, the market price retraces nearly all of the gains made, leaving a small cadre of now-rich early investors who managed to get out near the top, and a large despondent pool of ‘everyone else’.

We’ve seen this same compressed bell-curve shape in every major asset bubble in financial history:

And we’re seeing it play out in real-time now in both stocks and cryptos.

The Bursting Crypto Bubble

It’s amazing how fast asset price bubbles can pop.

Just a month ago, the Internet was replete with articles proclaiming the new age of cryptocurrencies. Every day, fresh stories were circulated of individuals and companies making overnight fortunes on their crypto bets, shaking their heads at all the rubes who simply “didn’t get” why It’s different this time.

Here at PeakProsperity.com the demand for educational content on cryptocurrencies from our audience rose to a loud crescendo.

We did our best to provide answers as factually as we could through articles and webinars, though we tried very hard not to be seen as encouraging folks to pile in wantonly. A big reason for this is we’re more experienced than most in identifying what asset bubbles look like.

After all, we *are* the ones who produced Chapter 17 of the The Crash Course: Understanding Asset Bubbles:

To us, the run-up in the cryptocurrencies seen over 2017 had all the classic hallmarks of an asset price bubble — irrespective of the blockchain’s potential to unlock tremendous long-term economic value. Prices had simply risen way too far way too fast. Which is why we issued a cautionary warning in early December that concluded:

So, if you’ve been feeling like the loser who missed the Bitcoin party bus, you’ve likely done yourself a favor by not buying in over the past few weeks. It is highly, highly likely for the reasons mentioned above that a painful downwards price correction is imminent. One that will end in tears for all the recent FOMO-driven panic buyers.

And now that time has shown this warning to have been prescient in both its accuracy and timeliness, we can clearly see that Bitcoin is following the classic price trajectory of the asset price bubble curve. The chart below compares Bitcoin’s current price to that of several of history’s most notorious bubbles:

https://assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/iUlFmb9.20Kw/v4/1600x-1.png

This chart (which is from Feb 2, so it doesn’t capture Bitcoin’s further decline below $7k) shows that Bitcoin is now about 2/3 of its way through the bubble life-cycle, and about half-way through its fall from its apex.

Projecting from the paths of previous bubbles, we shouldn’t be surprised if Bitcoin’s price ends up somewhere in the vicinity of $2,500-$3,000 by the time the dust settles.

Did The Stock Market Bubble Just “Pop”?

Despite the extreme drop in the stock market over the past two days, any sort of material bubble retracement has yet to begin — which should give you an appreciation of how overstretched its current valuation is.

Look at this chart of the S&P 500 index. Today’s height dwarfs those of the previous two bubbles the index has experienced this century.

The period from 2017 on sure looks like the acceleration seen during a blow-off top. If indeed so, does the 6% drop we’ve just seen over the past two trading days signify the turning point has now arrived?

https://s3.amazonaws.com/cm-us-standard/images/S%26P-chart-2-5-2018.png

Crazily, the carnage we’ve seen in the stock market over the past two days is just barely visible in this chart. If indeed the top is in and we begin retracing the classic bubble curve, the absolute value of the losses that will ensue will be gargantuan.

If the S&P only retraces down to the HIGHS of its previous two bubbles (around 1,500), it would need to fall over 43% from where it just closed today. And history suggests a full retracement would put the index closer to 750-1,000 — at least two-thirds lower than its current valuation.

How Spooked Is The Herd?

As a reminder, bubbles are psychological phenomena. They are created when perception clouds judgment to the point where it concludes “Fundamentals don’t matter”. 

And they don’t. At least, not while the mania phase is playing out.

But once the last manic buyer (the “greatest” fool) has joined the party, there’s no one left to dupe. And as the meteoric price increase stops and then reverses, the herd becomes increasingly skittish until a full-blown stampede occurs.

We’ve been watching that stampede happen in the crypto space over the past 4 weeks. We may have just seen it start in the stock markets.

How much farther may prices fall from here? And how quickly?

History gives us a good guide for estimating, as we’ve done above. But the actual trajectory will be determined by how spooked the herd is.

For a market that has known no fear for nearly eight years now, a little panic can quickly escalate to an out-of-control selling frenzy.

Want proof? We saw it late today in the complete collapse in XIV, the inverse-VIX (i.e. short volatility) ETN that has been one of Wall Street’s most crowded trades of late. It lost over 90% of its value at the market close:

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/styles/inline_image_desktop/public/inline-images/XIV%20chart.jpg?itok=rpD-OGGw

The repercussions of this are going to send seismic shock waves through the markets as a tsunami of margin calls erupts. A cascading wave of sell-orders that pushes the market further into the red at an accelerating pace from here is a real possibility that can not be dismissed at this point.

Those concerned about what may happen next should read our premium report Is This It? issued over the past weekend.

In it, we examine the congregating perfect storm of crash triggers — rising interest rates, a fast-weakening dollar, a sudden return of volatility to the markets after a decade of absence, rising oil prices — and calculate whether the S&P’s sudden 6% rout is the start of a 2008-style market melt-down (or worse).

Make no mistake: these are sick, distorted, deformed and liquidity-addicted bubble markets. They’ve gotten entirely too dependent on continued largess from the central banks.

That is now ending.

After so many years of such extreme market manipulation finally gives way, the coming losses will be staggeringly enormous. 

The chief concern of any prudent investor right now should be: How do I avoid being collateral damage in the coming reckoning?

Click here to read ‘Is This It?’, Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

Source: Peak Prosperity

College Student Commits Suicide After Mounting Cryptocurrency Loses

A 20-year-old college student from Busan committed suicide this week after losing nearly 200 million won in cryptocurrency.

Korean media reports the student had dropped out of college and was working as a social worker, but he was suffering from depression and insomnia due to the recent drop in cryptocurrency in the country.

He was found lying on his bed Thursday with a plastic compression pack around his head when found by his mother in his apartment. A 13L gas tank of helium was also found in his room according to local media.

Source: Haps Magazine

Bitcoin Going Down! And I Can’t See the Bottom


“As we approach the 8400-8500 level, watch for volume to pick up. One of two things will happen, it will reverse sharply or drive through that level to find another level of value below. If we stall here and a lull in the market occurs, price will consolidate, and then move lower”

How Do Bitcoin Futures Work?

‘No one can predict the future, but everyone can predict the futures’

The CME (NASDAQ:CME) and Cboe/CFE (NASDAQ:CBOE), two large, well respected, USA regulated futures exchanges, recently started trading Bitcoin futures. These venues make it possible to trade on Bitcoin’s value without being exposed to the uncertainties of the mostly unregulated Bitcoin exchanges.

To understand Bitcoin futures you need to recognize, among some other things, that these futures are not in the business of predicting Bitcoin’s price.

Bitcoin Futures are Not Trying to Predict the Future!

It’s reasonable to assume that a product named a future is attempting to predict the future. For Bitcoin futures, this is definitely not what they deliver. The core utility of the futures markets is not predicting the future prices of their product but rather the secure delivery of a product at a known price, quality, and date. If there’s product seasonality (e.g., specific harvest times) or foreseeable shortages/abundances then future’s prices may reflect that but neither of these factors applies to Bitcoin.

I’m not saying that Bitcoin futures won’t be used by speculators making bets on Bitcoin-they certainly will be- but when you see Bitcoin futures trading higher or lower than the current Bitcoin exchange values (spot value) it’s not a prediction-it’s a reflection of the inner workings of the futures market.

How Are Bitcoin futures prices established?

If you look at the quotes for Bitcoin futures you’ll see at least three things, the expiration code (shorthand for a specific expiration date ) the bid (buy price) and the ask (sell price). If you’re ever confused as to which one to use in your situation it’s easy to sort out-start with the price that’s worse for you.

Important agents interacting with those prices are operating in one of three roles: individual speculator, market maker, or arbitrageur. A key role is market maker-a firm that has agreed to simultaneously act as both a buyer and seller for a specific security. When companies sign up for this role they agree to keep the bid/ask prices relatively close to each other-for example even if they aren’t keen on selling Bitcoins at the moment they can’t just set the ask price to an outrageous level. The agreed-upon maximum bid/ask ranges might be tied to market conditions (e.g., wider when deemed a “fast market”) and might allow time-outs but in general, the market maker agrees to act as a buffer between supply and demand.

The Market Makers:

The existence of market makers (e.g., Virtu Financial) refutes a common assertion about futures-that there’s always a loser for every winner, that it’s a zero-sum game. It’s true that derivatives like stock options and futures are created in matched pairs-a long and a short contract. If two speculators own those two contracts the profits on one side are offset by losses on the other but market makers are not speculators. In general, they’re not betting on the direction of the market. They act as intermediaries, selling to buyers at the higher ask price and buying from sellers at the lower bid price- collecting the difference.

Market makers are challenged in fast markets-when either buyers or sellers are dominating and prices are moving rapidly. When this happens market makers are obligated to continue quoting bid and ask prices that maintain some semblance of an orderly market. If they start accumulating uncomfortably large net long or short inventories they may start hedging their positions to protect themselves. For example, if they are short Bitcoin futures they can buy Bitcoin futures with different expirations or directly buy Bitcoins to hedge their positions. The hedged portion of the market maker’s portfolio is not sensitive to Bitcoin price movements-their profit/losses on the short side are offset by their long positions.

The market maker’s ability to hedge out their exposure demonstrates that futures aren’t inherently a zero sum gain. They can accommodate the market and still be profitable-regardless of the market’s direction.

The Arbitrageur:

The arbitrageur is hyper-focused on the price difference between the Bitcoin future and the exchange price. If those prices differ enough they can lock in risk-free profits. You can imagine how much capital is available if risk-free profits are in the offing…

The arbitrageur very carefully calculates the costs of buying or shorting Bitcoin futures while selling short or buying actual Bitcoins.

These calculations include

 
  • Time value of money required for margin deposits
  • Fees
  • Transaction costs (bid/ask spread)
  • Contract expiration settlement price risk (Bitcoin futures are cash settled)
  • Borrow costs for shorting Bitcoin if going short
  • The amount of profit that their bosses expect from them.

Normally commodity futures arbitrageurs have to account for things like storage costs (e.g. warehouses, silos), insurance (in-case the storage facility is robbed or burns down), and seasonal price variations but none of these apply to Bitcoin, so somewhat ironically the crazy Bitcoin market is simpler for them.

Knowing their estimated costs and profit requirements the arbitrageur determines a minimum difference they need between the futures’ prices and the spot price before they will enter the market. They then monitor the price difference between Bitcoin futures and the Bitcoin exchanges and if large enough they act to profit on that gap. For example, if a specific Bitcoin future (e.g., February contract) is trading sufficiently higher than the current Bitcoin exchange price they will short that Bitcoin future and hedge their position by buying Bitcoins on the exchange. At that point, if they have achieved trade prices within their targets, they have locked in a guaranteed profit. They will hold those positions until contract expiration (or until they can cover their short futures and sell Bitcoins at a profit).

They’ll do the complementary transaction if the price of a specific future is enough lower than spot price. They’ll buy futures and short Bitcoins to lock in profits in that case.

Arbitrageurs provide a critical role in futures markets because they’re the adults in the room that keep futures prices attuned to Bitcoin exchange prices. If there are multiple futures providers (Cboe and CME in this case) they’ll also act to keep the futures from the various exchanges aligned with each other.

If Bitcoin futures prices get too high relative to spot arbitragers are natural sellers and if the futures prices get too low they are natural buyers. Their buying and selling actions naturally counteract price distortions between markets. If they’re somehow prevented from acting (e.g., if shorting Bitcoin was forbidden) then the futures market would likely become decoupled from the underlying spot price-not a good thing.

The Term Structure:

A key attribute of a futures market is how its contract’s prices vary by expiration date. The succession of futures prices over time is called the “term structure”. If supply is stable (no seasonality or shortages) then typically futures prices will increase with expirations further in the future. This term structure configuration is called “contango” and it accounts for the fact that carry costs (e.g., time value of money) and profit expectations increase with time. Unless there are big changes in interest rates or the way that Bitcoin exchanges work I expect the level of contango in the Bitcoin futures term structure to be small. Bitcoins don’t cost much to hodl (once you have your hardware wallet) and there’s no apparent seasonality. The chart below from VIX Central shows a typical Bitcoin term structure (click on chart to get current data):

Click chart for interactive version.

Cboe vs CME: Sizes & Settlement:

There are two USA regulated Bitcoin futures exchanges in operation. The CME’s contract unit is five Bitcoins whereas the Cboe’s contract unit is one-that’s the biggest difference between these futures. The upfront money to buy or sell short a CME contract will be about five times higher than the Cboe contract. Larger investors won’t care but this will be an issue for smaller investors. Another difference is the spot/settlement process that the exchanges use. In the case of Cboe futures, the contracts will be settled to a 4 pm ET Gemini exchange auction price on the day of expiration, for the CME futures the settlement price is a complex calculation using an hour of volume weighted data from multiple exchanges (currently Bitstamp, itBit, Kraken, and GDAX). With the CME’s approach, it will be harder to manipulate the settlement price but it doesn’t give arbitrageurs a physical mechanism to trade their positions-possibly an issue.

There’s nothing to prevent people from closing out their contracts before final settlement but typically there is some premium remaining until the very end.

Unlike many commodity futures, Bitcoin futures are cash settled rather than physically settled. Cash settlement is a relatively new development in futures trading, first introduced in 1981 for Eurodollar futures, that addresses the problem of how to settle futures contracts on things that are difficult/impossible to deliver physicially-things like interest rates, large stock indexes (e.g., S&P 500), and volatility indexes (Cboe’s VIX). Futures physical settlement involves actual shipment/change of ownership of the underlying product to the contract holder but in practice, it’s rarely used (~2% of the time). Instead, most organizations that are using futures to hedge prices of future production/usage will make separate arrangements with suppliers/customers for physical delivery and just use the futures to protect against contrary price changes. In practice, the final settlement price of the contract can be used to provide the desired price protection regardless of whether the futures contract specifies physically delivery or cash-settlement.

While “physical” delivery of Bitcoins as part of a futures contract would certainly be possible it raises regulatory and security issues in today’s environment where the cybercurrency exchanges are mostly unregulated, somewhat unreliable, and theft due to security hacks is distressingly common. By selecting cash settlement the CME and Cboe completely avoid the transfer of custody issues and shift those problems to somebody else-namely the market makers and arbitrageur.

Leverage:

One traditional attraction of trading futures is the ability to use relatively small amounts of money to potentially achieve outsized returns. In many futures markets the margin, the amount of money that your broker requires up-front before executing the trade can be quite small compared to the ultimate value of the contract. For example, as of 22-Dec-2017, each E-mini S&P 500 contract was worth $134K ($50*S&P 500 index value)-this “list price” of the contract is called its notional value. The CME only requires you to maintain a minimum margin of $4.5K (3.4% of notional) to control this contract (brokers often require additional margin). Margin requirements this low are only possible because the volatility of the S&P 500 is well understood and your margin account balance is adjusted at the end of every trading day to account for the winnings or losses of the day. If your account balance falls below the margin minimum of $4.5K you’ll need to quickly add money to your account or your position will be summarily closed out by your broker. On the plus side, if you’ve predicted the S&P’s direction correctly your profits will be that same as if you completely owned the underlying stocks in the index. A +1% daily move in the S&P500 would yield $1340 in profit even though you only have $4500 invested- a 29% return-this multiplier effect is called leverage.

Currently, Bitcoin futures have very high margin requirements. The Cboe requires 40% of the notional amount for maintenance margin, the CME requires 43%. Your broker will likely require more than that. The culprit behind these high requirements is Bitcoin’s high volatility-until that calms down the exchanges will protect themselves by requiring a bunch of up-front money. If you don’t come up with the money for a margin call they want to close out your position without leaving a negative balance.

Because of the high margin requirements, Bitcoin futures don’t offer much leverage compared to just buying Bitcoins outright. However, Bitcoin futures do offer the trader time-tested exchanges that are not nearly as susceptible to hacks, thefts, and unscheduled downtime.

Conclusion:

In the movie “Trading Places,” there’s a wild scene where fortunes are made and lost in the orange juice future pit in a matter of minutes. This scene epitomizes what most of us envision futures trading to look like. The movie depicts a situation where the supply of oranges from the next harvest is unknown-and that is the source of the craziness.

Bitcoins don’t have seasonal variabilities-supply as it’s quantity is always known. This supply stability makes Bitcoin futures a lot less dramatic but in the case of Bitcoins this is a real plus-there’s already plenty of drama in the exchanges-the futures market will be the safe and quiet space. A different sort of trading places with guys like this …

By Vance Harwood | Seeking Alpha

Bitcoin May Fail But We Now Know How To Do It

Taleb: Bitcoin Is “An Excellent Idea” And “Insurance Against An Orwellian Future”

Foreword to the book It may fail but we now know how to do it by Saifedean Ammous

Let us follow the logic of things from the beginning. Or, rather, from the end: modern times. We are, as I am writing these lines, witnessing a complete riot against some class of experts, in domains that are too difficult for us to understand, such as macroeconomic reality, and in which not only the expert is not an expert, but he doesn’t know it. That previous Federal Reserve bosses, Greenspan and Bernanke, had little grasp of empirical reality is something we only discovered a bit too late: one can macroBS longer than microBS, which is why we need to be careful on who to endow with centralized macro decisions.

What makes it worse is that all central banks operated under the same model, making it a perfect monoculture.

In the complex domain, expertise doesn’t concentrate: under organic reality, things work in a distributed way, as Hayek has convincingly demonstrated. But Hayek used the notion of distributed knowledge. Well, it looks like we do not even need that thing called knowledge for things to work well. Nor do we need individual rationality. All we need is structure.

It doesn’t mean all participants have a democratic sharing of decisions. One motivated participant can disproportionately move the needle (what I have studied as the asymmetry of the minority rule). But every participant has the option to be that player.

Somehow, under scale transformation, emerges a miraculous effect: rational markets do not require any individual trader to be rational. In fact they work well under zero-intelligence –a zero intelligence crowd, under the right design, works better than a Soviet-style management composed to maximally intelligent humans.

Which is why Bitcoin is an excellent idea. It fulfills the needs of the complex system, not because it is a cryptocurrency, but precisely because it has no owner, no authority that can decide on its fate. It is owned by the crowd, its users. And it has now a track record of several years, enough for it to be an animal in its own right.

For other cryptocurrencies to compete, they need to have such a Hayekian property.

Bitcoin is a currency without a government. But, one may ask, didn’t we have gold, silver and other metals, another class of currencies without a government? Not quite. When you trade gold, you trade “loco” Hong Kong and end up receiving a claim on a stock there, which you might need to move to New Jersey. Banks control the custodian game and governments control banks (or, rather, bankers and government officials are, to be polite, tight together). So Bitcoin has a huge advantage over gold in transactions: clearance does not require a specific custodian. No government can control what code you have in your head.

Finally, Bitcoin will go through hick-ups (hiccups). It may fail; but then it will be easily reinvented as we now know how it works. In its present state, it may not be convenient for transactions, not good enough to buy your decaffeinated expresso macchiato at your local virtue-signaling coffee chain. It may be too volatile to be a currency, for now. But it is the first organic currency.

But its mere existence is an insurance policy that will remind governments that the last object establishment could control, namely, the currency, is no longer their monopoly. This gives us, the crowd, an insurance policy against an Orwellian future.

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Binance CEO Discusses Future of Cryptocurrency At Blockchain Conference

Binance is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world. Started only six months ago, they claim to clear an average 40,000 transactions per second, harvesting billions in fees for themselves. 

CEO of Binance, Zhao ChengPeng talks about his vision for the future of cryptocurrency. He also offers an unique look at the process which Binance uses to select new coins to list on their exchange. This talk was given at Blockchain Revolution Conference, hosted by Jibrel Network on 17th Jan 2018