Friday, December 8, 2017

Are The Bitcoin Whales Coordinating Bitcoin Sales (and the Price)?

Another problem with Bitcoin, among many others, is that major sellers are likely coordinating their sales in classic pump and dump style.

Bloomberg reports:

On Nov. 12, someone moved almost 25,000 bitcoins, worth about $159 million at the time, to an online exchange. The news soon rippled through online forums, with bitcoin traders arguing about whether it meant the owner was about to sell the digital currency.
Holders of large amounts of bitcoin are often known as whales. And they’re becoming a worry for investors. They can send prices plummeting by selling even a portion of their holdings. And those sales are more probable now that the cryptocurrency is up nearly twelvefold from the beginning of the year.

About 40 percent of bitcoin is held by perhaps 1,000 users; at current prices, each may want to sell about half of his or her holdings, says Aaron Brown, former managing director and head of financial markets research at AQR Capital Management. (Brown is a contributor to the Bloomberg Prophets online column.) What’s more, the whales can coordinate their moves or preview them to a select few. Many of the large owners have known one another for years and stuck by bitcoin through the early days when it was derided, and they can potentially band together to tank or prop up the market.
“I think there are a few hundred guys,” says Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital. “They all probably can call each other, and they probably have.”...

 Bittrex, a digital currency exchange, recently wrote to its users warning that their accounts could be suspended if they banded together into “pump groups” aimed at manipulating prices...

As in any asset class, large individual holders and large institutional holders can and do collude to manipulate price,” Ari Paul, co-founder of BlockTower Capital and a former portfolio manager of the University of Chicago endowment, wrote in an electronic message. “In cryptocurrency, such manipulation is extreme because of the youth of these markets and the speculative nature of the assets.”...

Like most hedge fund managers specializing in cryptocurrencies, [Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital] constantly tracks trading activity of addresses known to belong to the biggest investors in the coins he holds. (Although bitcoin transactions are designed to be anonymous, each one is associated with a coded address that can be seen by anyone.) When he sees activity, Samani immediately calls the likely sellers and can often get information on motivations behind their sales and their trading plans, he says. Some funds end up buying one another’s holdings directly, without going into the open market, to avoid affecting the currency’s price. “Investors are generally more forthcoming with other investors,” Samani says. “We all kind of know who one another are, and we all help each other out and share notes. We all just want to make money.”...

Ordinary investors, of course, don’t have the cachet required to get a multimillionaire to take their call. While they can track addresses with large holdings online and start heated discussions of market moves on Reddit forums, they’re ultimately in the dark on the whales’ plans and motives. “There’s no transparency to speak of in this market,” says Martin Mushkin, a lawyer who focuses on bitcoin. “In the securities business, everything that’s material has to be disclosed. In the virtual currency world, it’s very difficult to figure out what’s going on.”

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