Crypto Trading Products Enter The Mainstream With A Number Of Inherent Advantages (#GotBitcoin?)
With crypto trading products appearing ahead of the legacy financial curve, it’s only a matter of time before they enter the mainstream. Crypto Trading Products Enter The Mainstream With A Number Of Inherent Advantages (#GotBitcoin?)
In 2017, many traders and investors flocked to cryptocurrencies because they were attracted by the kind of returns not available in the less-volatile traditional markets. However, volatility inevitably comes with risks as well as opportunities.
But crypto offers many opportunities that go far beyond traditional instruments. Programmable tokens and smart contracts create the potential to automate trading and investment vehicles, making them easier to understand and more accessible to retail users of all risk appetites.
The Race To Innovate In Centralized Finance
Derivatives trading platform FTX was the first centralized exchange to pioneer the use of leveraged tokens, enabling users to gain margin exposure without the hassle of managing margin, liquidation or collateral. Leveraged tokens are derived from the exchange’s perpetual swap contracts and operate as tradeable ERC-20 tokens that can be withdrawn and traded.
They rebalance every day and can also be redeemed based on the user’s trading activity. These are higher-risk instruments suitable for traders looking for more exposure to volatility.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then FTX can take comfort from the fact that Binance was relatively late jumping on the leveraged token bandwagon. After initially listing FTX’s leveraged tokens, Binance suddenly u-turned and removed them, citing user confusion as the reason. Only weeks later, the exchange giant announced it was launching its own version of leveraged tokens.
However, FTX has been determined to continue providing innovative trading solutions to crypto users.
One such example is its MOVE contracts, which are basically an options straddle strategy with centralized liquidity for speculating on Bitcoin’s (BTC) volatility.
Rather than managing two options contracts with the same strike price and expiration, known as a straddle, MOVE contracts allow users to access a more sophisticated type of investment with a more user-friendly and understandable format.
Synthetic Assets And Other Derivatives Flourish In DeFi
Due to its immaturity and experimental nature, decentralized finance applications have experienced several notable setbacks in 2020, including the bZx and Balancer exploits. Nevertheless, the value locked in DeFi has soared and is set to touch the $7-billion mark soon.
Much of this popularity can be attributed to the fast pace of innovation, as the fertile ecosystem layers on more sophisticated products beyond lending pools, insurance instruments and stablecoin-issuing decentralized autonomous organizations.
Aave is one example of an application that has moved up the rankings to rival the popularity of MakerDAO. The main reason is the opportunity for flash loans that involve borrowing and repaying a loan in a single blockchain transaction. Their demand has been fueling the practice of yield farming — running funds through a series of DeFi applications in an attempt to extract maximum returns.
Some of the current limitations of derivatives products on DeFi platforms are worth noting, however.
Ethereum congestion and gas fees could pose a threat to the continuing expansion of DeFi DApps, while the network continues to grapple with the complexities of the Ethereum 2.0 upgrade. Furthermore, Vitalik Buterin himself has warned traders about the risks of yield farming.
Nevertheless, for professional traders, the volatility of crypto paired with an increasingly impressive suite of trading products is enticing, to say the least. As more analysis firms and traders conduct their due diligence of the booming derivatives market, expect the deluge of products to continue parallel to growing interest.
Simplifying Investments For The Risk-Averse
For the more risk-averse average Joe investor, passive investment is usually the optimal risk-adjusted method for investing in the crypto space long-term. Using strategies like dollar-cost averaging into Bitcoin and Ether (ETH), users can gain exposure to an asymmetric call option on the future of money.
However, piling into a single crypto asset risks maximizing the drawdowns during price crashes, such as March’s “Black Thursday.” Attempts to offset this risk have led centralized finance and DeFi innovators to develop more passive investment vehicles.
Unfortunately, there is no crypto exchange-traded fund yet, but the vanilla option for a broader market exposure of large-cap altcoins is index funds. Similar to major stock index funds, crypto index funds encompass a basket of crypto assets aggregated into a single investment vehicle.
They are independently weighted based on investor preferences and the fund’s design and can range from baskets of the leading 10 assets to the top 200 by market capitalization.
Some centralized finance index funds have been stealthily gaining traction in a way that’s somehow escaped the attention of the crypto media. Adrian Pollard, a co-founder of bitHolla — a producer of white-label crypto exchange software — pointed out:
“Many have been so focused and concerned about Bitcoin’s price volatility not noticing a secret stash quietly piling up at Grayscale, which now manages the largest crypto investment vehicle around.”
Funds that include more assets, particularly lower cap altcoins, grant investors more potential upside should anything resembling the mania of 2017 repeat. However, they also mean more exposure to drawdowns, as lower cap altcoins still tend to fare poorly during sharp downswings in larger-cap crypto assets.
Tokens As A Fund
The caveat with Grayscale is that it’s only available to accredited investors, which is somewhat antithetical to the notion of crypto becoming a more inclusive financial system. That’s where “tokens as a fund” of different shapes and sizes enter the picture.
A tokenized fund is essentially an ERC-20 token on the Ethereum network that mirrors the price of an index fund using oracle price feeds and other technical components.
Coinbase’s Index Fund, which covers Coinbase’s listed basket of assets, is an optimal method for retail investors to gain index exposure, and since Coinbase is also the largest fiat-to-crypto gateway in the United States, its index would be easy to access for many.
The retail-friendly funds remove the accredited investor hurdle, making them more appealing to retail investors who want broader exposure and less volatility. To manage volatility spikes, index funds are ideal passive options for investors who are hesitant to dive all in on BTC, ETH or a handful of large-cap altcoins.
Now that the stock market is beginning to resemble crypto with its absurd bankruptcy stock runs, crypto doesn’t seem so much like the Wild West of finance anymore. Retail traders now have broader exposure to more risk-averse instruments available, and the progressively bigger pro-trading crowd can enter a market thriving with long-overdue derivatives innovation.
US Bank Regulator Sees Potential In Fintech Solutions To Legacy Banking Issues
A fintech-positive U.S. banking regulator sees a role for private companies in providing better banking services.
The United States Acting Comptroller of the Currency, Brian Brooks, recently expressed his willingness to embrace fintech solutions in an interview with CNN.
Brooks, who was formerly Chief Legal Officer at Coinbase, explained that his job now was to “identify impediments that make it harder for people to get what they want and need.”
This has already led to a green light for banks to provide crypto custody services, and Brooks also mooted the possibility of a future Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) issued by private companies but backed by bank deposits.
The interview also covered the need for faster payment solutions, with the recent issuing of coronavirus benefit payments being sent across what Brooks described as “19th century banking rails.”
He noted that the lack of an instant payment solution in the U.S. banking system had led to millions of payments being made outside of it, through companies such as PayPal, Stripe and Square.
This then raises the question of whether it is desirable for this financial activity to be outside of the regulator’s control.
Brooks suggested that his favored solution, which is already being implemented in other parts of the world including the United Kingdom, was to have “faster payments that are innovated by private companies, but then supervised by federal watchdogs.”
Finally, Brooks discussed the 50 million Americans who currently hold some form of cryptocurrency. He described his role as making sure that this was “accessible to them in the same safe and sound way that they can get their checking account.”
Warren Buffett praises stocks Dollar-cost averaging — but does it work for Bitcoin?
Warren Buffett likes to dollar-cost average into major stock market indices but data shows that the same strategy has worked very well for Bitcoin buyers too.
Warren Buffett has a message to young investors: dollar-cost average into major stock market indices. However, data shows that the same strategy has worked quite well for Bitcoin (BTC) too over the past decade.
The term dollar-cost averaging or DCA refers to a strategy when an investor divides up the total amount to be invested into periodic purchases of the given asset. The theory behind this investment strategy is that when an asset goes up or down, investors can benefit from both reducing the negative impact of price volatility.
Buffett has long expressed his optimism towards dollar-cost averaging into stock market indices. Specifically, the “oracle of Omaha” likes the S&P 500 index funds and dollar-cost averaging into the index.
But data indicates that the same strategy has proven efficient for Bitcoin in the past several years. For five years in the last decade, Bitcoin recorded 100% gains per annum. What’s more, 98% of Bitcoin addresses are currently in a state of profit.
Cost-Dollar Averaging Into Bitcoin Works, History Shows
As an example, if an investor cost averaged $100 into Bitcoin since January 2014 and spent $35,700 in total, it would have returned 1,648% or around $589,000.
Additionally, on Aug. 6, the price of Bitcoin was at $11,744 on Binance. At the time, researchers at CoinMetrics said that if an investor dollar-cost averaged into BTC since its $20,000 high, it would have returned a 61.7% gain. They wrote:
“Despite #Bitcoin still trading 30% below ATHs, dollar cost averaging from the peak of the market in Dec 2017 would have return 61.8%, or 20.1% annually.”
Since then, the price of Bitcoin has increased from $11,744 to $13,840, by 17.9% in three months. The average return of an investor who dollar-cost averaged into BTC since the $20,000 peak is now substantially higher.
There are several reasons why investing in Bitcoin over a long period has worked regardless of price volatility. One of these includes Bitcoin being a nascent store of value that is minuscule compared to gold.
Throughout 2020, Bitcoin has seen a considerable increase in institutional demand. BTC is compelling to institutions because it is a hedge and a potential investment that could bring exponential growth simultaneously.
Dollar-cost averaging has worked for Bitcoin because BTC can have extreme corrective phases. But, during bull runs, when infrastructure and fundamentals significantly improve and an institutional craze occurs, its value can increase rapidly.
For instance, in March 2020, the price of Bitcoin abruptly dropped to as low as $3,600 across major exchanges. As of Nov. 1, BTC’s price is above $13,800, up more than three-fold since.
Most BTC Addresses Are Already Profitable
Analysts at Glassnode found that 98% of all Bitcoin addresses are profitable. They find this statistic by analyzing when BTC first enters an address and evaluates the price at which BTC was bought. They explained:
“98% of all #Bitcoin UTXOs are currently in a state of profit. A level not seen since Dec 2017, and typical in previous $BTC bull markets.”
With an asset that has the potential to see exponential growth, high-risk strategies could become difficult to manage. As such, dollar-cost averaging is typically a practical and efficient way to approach BTC.
The Hidden Risk Beneath Crypto’s UnFunnyNotMoney
There’s a danger that market neophytes are confusing trading with investing.
One reassuring aspect of the rollercoaster ride that saw Bitcoin lose half its value in less than two months is the immunity of the real financial world to contagion from crypto tokens, which I increasingly think of as UnfunnyNotMoney. But there is a danger that speculators, particularly if they’re young and inexperienced, have a “once bitten, twice shy” reaction to losses that could harm their propensity to allocate cash to long-term savings.
The gamification of finance is a worrying trend, and it’s not just restricted to buying and HODLing digital currencies. The FOMO/YOLO crowd has also embraced equities, as we saw earlier this year with the rise and fall (and rise again) of GameStop Corp. and other Robinhood Markets Inc. favorites that caught the attention of Redditors.
In February, legendary investor Charlie Munger said that luring newbie investors into betting on stocks is a “dirty way” to profit from their inexperience. “It’s most egregious in the momentum trading by novice investors lured in by new types of brokerage operations like Robinhood,” the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. vice chairman said. “I think all of this activity is regrettable. I think civilization would do better without it.”
Retail trading of stocks during pandemic-inspired lockdowns has surged, and not just in the U.S. The European Central Bank’s financial stability report published earlier this month noted that contracts for difference and equity swaps — popular ways of making leveraged bets on equities and other securities — surged to almost 15 trillion euros ($18 trillion) in March, more than double their value a year earlier.
That’s even though IG Group Holdings Plc, which bills itself as the world’s biggest provider of contracts for difference, says in its online marketing literature that 71% of its retail customers lose money trading the product.
That astonishing figure highlights a lesson that shouldn’t be forgotten: Trading and investing are not the same thing. Buying and selling in the hope of making a quick profit is fundamentally different from setting money aside to build a long-term nest egg for the future.
Earlier this month, Fidelity Investments said it’s letting teenagers as young as 13 years old open no-fee accounts, paving the way for the children of its existing customers to “learn through action and foster meaningful family conversations around financial topics,” the Boston-based firm said.
Given the ultra-low interest rates available on traditional money-market accounts, it makes sense to try to educate youngsters about the broader savings universe, including stocks, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Brian Chappatta argued a few weeks ago. But there’s a danger that the ability to churn through stocks ostensibly without paying a charge — bid/offer spreads offer a somewhat opaque transaction tax — will lure the teenagers into gambling, rather than investing.
Moreover, the youngest of the current generation of stock-market investors have never seen the aggregate value of stocks fall for more than brief periods. From the end of 2007 until early in 2009, global equities lost 50% of their value, and took six years to recover that lost ground. Since then, the trend has been your benevolent friend. The 30% drop seen last year as the pandemic began to take shape proved to be very short lived.
The global financial crisis left deep scars on the collective psyche of investors, who grew wary of equities. Consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimated in 2012 that a combination of the loss of faith in financial services plus various deterrents to investing would leave the next generation of Western investors $15,000 worse off per year.
It’s no wonder regulators are paying attention to the dangers inherent in the gamification of finance, even if that might mean restrictions on the democratization of money.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, testifying to Congress on May 6, said a report by his agency on this year’s retail trading frenzy will hopefully be ready by the summer. One focus will be the trend among finance apps of introducing features that make trading securities seem like playing a video game, which he said can prompt users to buy and sell more frequently and risk losing money more often.
The proliferation of firms offering trading platforms has made it easier to open accounts, Gensler said. But “we’ve lost that human in the middle saying, ‘Is this appropriate?’” he warned.
The wild swings that have seen Bitcoin trade as high as $65,000 and as low as $30,000 since mid-April will have caught latecomers out. But those who bought just a year ago have almost quadrupled their money, even after the recent decline.
This volatility obscures the central lesson about how capitalism in general and securities markets in particular can help build wealth for the future. Treating trading and investing as similar pathways to financial security unjustifiably elevates the former at the expense of the latter.
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