Crypto Crash Investigation — What Caused the Cryptocurrency Crash?

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“I accuse, Colonel Mustard, with the candlestick, within the drawing room.” 

Anybody who’s ever performed the traditional whodunit homicide thriller sport Clue, will know that to win the sport you could get all of your geese in a row, eliminating all doable suspects and circumstances earlier than you make an accusation. 

Narrowing down the weapon, the suspect, and the place the homicide was dedicated type the premise of this board sport that has (allegedly) continued to entertain tens of millions world wide. 

However if you happen to’re not a fan of Clue, how about fixing the thriller of the cryptocurrency market crash of May

Was it a bout of that outdated market adage to “promote in Could and go away?” 

Exterior of the U.S. and Europe, hardly anybody goes away anytime quickly, because the pandemic continues to rage unabated in a few of the least inoculated international locations on the earth. 

However a cryptocurrency crash wants explanations and demanding these explanations requires going by means of a listing of doable suspects, settings and certain motives to make sense of the insanity. 

Was it Market Construction? 

It’s been stated that within the markets, the bull goes up the steps, the bear goes out the window. 

If that’s the case, then this cryptocurrency bear didn’t simply exit the window, it squeezed out of a porthole within the facet of a 100-storey constructing, in a transfer that noticed excellent futures contracts go from round US$28 billion in April to lower than half that quantity at US$13 million in only a matter of days. 

Cryptocurrency derivatives have lengthy been the tail that wags the canine. 

However over the course of a Could weekend, the peculiar market construction of cryptocurrency markets might have inevitably contributed to exacerbating a few of the wild swings skilled by buyers. 

The spinoff order books for cryptocurrency markets are extremely levered, and a pointy sell-off within the spot markets places downward strain on costs, which results in margin calls that require shoppers to high up their spinoff bets. 

However as a result of Bitcoin is broadly used and accepted as collateral to take levered bets on different cryptocurrencies, a sell-off in Bitcoin would imply a hastening transfer for margin calls in derivatives of the opposite cryptocurrencies, whose margin necessities are a lot tighter than say for Bitcoin. 

That sell-off would result in a cascade in positions being compelled to shut, resulting in a downward dying spiral. 

Traders had been betting that curiosity in Bitcoin would finally spill over into so-called altcoins (cryptocurrencies apart from Bitcoin), however as Bitcoin bought offered down margin calls on altcoin derivatives soared, main buyers to dump altcoins and go into Bitcoin, as a result of though Bitcoin would possibly right between 20% to 30%, the costs of some altcoins had been falling by as a lot as 80%. 

However given the energy of the Bitcoin sell-off, that rotation from the altcoins into Bitcoin was inadequate to take in the ripple impact of promoting. 

And in contrast to final March, the place buyers might no less than take consolation that all markets had been tanking due to the coronavirus pandemic, final month’s sell-off was confined strictly to the cryptocurrency markets, and the promoting strain was sustained. 

Exacerbating issues, in contrast to final March, the rise in reputation of DeFi or decentralised finance has truly made sharp sell-offs messier.  

Utilizing decentralised exchanges and lending swimming pools, a promoting exercise within the spot markets for Bitcoin and Ether and a flood of liquidations in lending good contracts, coupled with a pointy spike in gasoline charges made it difficult for merchants to high up margin necessities. 

As a result of spot costs of Bitcoin moved so considerably, on-chain deposits had been exhausting to finish as a result of the Ethereum mempool bought clogged, gasoline charges soared and the collateralised lending on the Ethereum blockchain confirmed important lag in reflecting costs on centralised exchanges. 

The cascade of on-chain liquidations results in enormous worth discrepancies between decentralised exchanges and their centralised counterparts, exacerbating the autumn as increasingly more lending good contracts skilled automated compelled liquidations. 

And whereas the cryptocurrency markets held up, it additionally laid naked their weak spot.  

Whereas a few of the largest exchanges like Binance, Coinbase and Kraken had been momentarily offline due to the sheer quantity of transactions, the decentralised exchanges didn’t fail – they held up structurally, however mirrored the restrictions of the cryptocurrency ecosystem — there aren’t any consumers of final resort or market makers to make bids and stabilise the market.  

Within the conventional monetary sector, a market maker is required by the alternate to make bids (purchase orders) and asks (promote orders) when none would in any other case exist to permit for the graceful operation of the market. 

However no such equal exists within the cryptocurrency market, nor a purchaser of final resort — which was laid painfully naked (bear?) over the course of a weekend in Could.

So was market construction responsible for the crypto crash? 

Blame it On the Miners

The peculiar market construction of the cryptocurrency business just isn’t new, and whereas it may be used to clarify what occurred within the aftermath of the promoting exercise and why it was so pronounced, it isn’t a smoking gun. 

What or who was promoting? 

When markets sell-off drastically or dramatically, there may be all the time a temptation to level the finger on the silent individuals within the cryptocurrency market — the cryptocurrency miners. 

Over the month of Could, one idea being floated was that the facility outage in Xinjiang, which noticed a big hashrate drop for Bitcoin as miners got here offline, as one doable motive for the promoting exercise.  

However within the grand scheme of issues, while notable, that hashrate drop was not important in comparison with the broader market. 

And it’s not as if Bitcoin was being offered off to pay the payments that miners incur both. 

Even at US$30,000, Bitcoin continues to be effectively above the breakeven prices for almost all of miners, the place the worldwide common for masking bills to mine Bitcoin is estimated to be within the area of round US$4,000. 

And for the reason that sharp pullback in March final 12 months, cryptocurrency miners have adopted subtle choices and futures hedging methods, to make sure that their mining operations proceed buzzing alongside. 

When US$1 trillion in market cap will get wiped off of cryptocurrencies in a heartbeat, it’s pure for buyers to do some soul-searching and be keen to seek out somebody or one thing responsible. 

On condition that cryptocurrency miners are the 400-pound gorilla within the room, albeit a silent one, it was solely pure that buyers sought to pin the latest correction on them. 

And due to the controversy surrounding cryptocurrency miners, particularly their alleged energy consumption and (well-informed) need to usually keep out of the limelight, they had been a straightforward goal to pin the latest crash on, however the information simply doesn’t assist that. 

As a substitute, the almost certainly idea, and one that’s demonstrable by blockchain circulate information, was that somebody or some-them, was promoting Bitcoin in giant quantities. 

One risk after all is that electric vehicle maker Tesla, whose mercurial CEO Elon Musk has had a love-hate relationship with Bitcoin, offered down a few of its cryptocurrency within the newest crash. 

However once more, that may make no sense, as the value of Bitcoin was effectively under the value that Tesla purchased the cryptocurrency at and the transfer can be illogical except Tesla was trying to guide losses on its US$1.5 billion Bitcoin funding. 

What is obvious and might be proved from blockchain flows is that a person, physique company or group of people, was sending Bitcoin onto exchanges and promoting down. 

While it’s unlikely to be cryptocurrency miners generally, it is likely to be Chinese language cryptocurrency miners specifically. 

As Beijing began tightening the noose round its sizable cryptocurrency mining business, one risk is that Chinese language miners had been liquidating Bitcoin, changing that to dollar-based stablecoins in anticipation of transferring their operations offshore. 

As a result of authorities have cracked down exhausting on Chinese language banks and establishments offering monetary companies to Chinese language cryptocurrency miners, these miners may need been trying to liquidate their holdings whereas they might, after which push that cash offshore to arrange once more. 

And as Chinese language authorities crack down on over-the-counter or OTC suppliers who assist swaps of Bitcoin to stablecoins, on such fashionable channels as Weibo, cryptocurrency miners might have needed to promote on exchanges, which led to the cascade of liquidations over the span of a weekend. 

What is obvious, nevertheless, is that somebody or a bunch of people or physique company, was decided to promote spot Bitcoin, no matter its impact on worth. 

And that motion alone, and the next cryptocurrency market crash that ensued thereafter ought to function a reminder to all buyers that there aren’t any consumers of final resort within the cryptocurrency market. 

There could also be worth ranges which might act as resistance, however no central financial institution and no market maker will swoop in and absorb cryptocurrency ought to the promoting be too sturdy. 

But that dynamic additionally works in the wrong way as effectively — sans regulation, cryptocurrency markets can puff up quickly into a bubble and there will likely be no regulators to intervene to stop issues getting out of hand. 

Regardless of the case and regardless of the idea, in contrast to the sport of Clue, there aren’t any smoking weapons (or candlesticks if you happen to favor) and no simple solutions as to what brought about the latest cryptocurrency crash and sleuths will simply should preserve going across the sport board in search of clues.  

By Patrick Tan, CEO & Normal Counsel of Novum Alpha

Novum Alpha is the quantitative digital asset buying and selling arm of the Novum Group, a vertically built-in group of blockchain improvement and digital asset corporations. For extra details about Novum Alpha and its merchandise, please go to or e mail: [email protected]

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