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BitMEX Crypto Trader Digest Apr 21, 2017
From the Desk of Arthur Hayes
Co-Founder & CEO, BitMEX

BitMEX Important Product and Index Changes

Bitcoin / USD Index and Sanity Checks

Due a price flash crash, and the halting of fiat deposits and withdrawals at a number of exchanges recently, we have made numerous changes to our Bitcoin / USD (.BXBT) Index. Below is a list of the current constituent exchanges in the index. They are equally weighted.
  • Bitstamp
  • GDAX
We have added various index sanity checks to prevent the mark price crash that occurred last Saturday. Please read the blog post New Protections for BitMEX Indices for more details.

Bitcoin / USD Swap Funding Rate Calculation Changes

Due to the ongoing issues at various Bitcoin exchanges with regards to depositing and withdrawing fiat currencies, there has become no credible source for overnight USD and Bitcoin lending rates.

The BitMEX Bitcoin / USD Swap, XBTUSD, currently uses the Bitfinex overnight USD and Bitcoin lending rate in the funding rate calculation. The interest rate component of the funding rate calculation will be fixed at a positive 0.03% per day.

To arrive at this number, we calculated the average difference between the Bitfinex daily USD and Bitcoin lending rates for a 12 month period ending 31 March 2017 to arrive at the positive 0.03% rate.

If the swap price does not trade at a premium or discount during a funding calculation period, in this case 8 hours, longs will pay shorts 0.01%. This equates to a daily rate of positive 0.03%.

When the deposits and withdrawals of fiat and Bitcoin are operating normally, we will select an appropriate exchange from which to source overnight USD and Bitcoin rates.

Same Same But Different



Bitcoin and Money Services Businesses (MSB) find it very difficult to open and maintain bank accounts. The global hysteria over possible venues for money laundering (unless of course you are HSBC) has caused banks globally to curtail their support of MSB clients.

Several exchanges figured out that Taiwanese banks would bank them with minimal issues. The two most well known exchanges utilising Taiwanese bank accounts are Bitfinex and OKCoin International.

The American perception of Taiwanese banks lately is that of financial institutions with lax KYC / AML procedures. Read the following excerpt from a Reuters article about problems with Taiwan’s Mega Financial last October.

It is the second bank branch of the state-controlled firm to run afoul of U.S. financial authorities, after its New York branch was fined $180 million for lax compliance and anti-money laundering violations in August.

Mega Financial, which has close ties to Taiwan's government, has been under scrutiny since about 200 of its customers were named in the so-called Panama Papers, a massive leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm that put the spotlight on the shadowy world of offshore companies used to avoid tax.

In order for Taiwanese banks to maintain their banking relationships in America, they must update their KYC / AML procedures for MSB clients. Unfortunately a large swath of MSB clients will be deemed too expensive to bank, and will be jettisoned.

Compliance is extremely expensive. Banks waste billions of USD a year on compliance and compliance related technology. It only serves to further protect incumbent financial institutions at the expense of small and innovative upstarts.

Bitfinex, OKCoin, and possibly other Bitcoin exchanges are affected. It may be that they have been told their accounts will not longer by active by a certain date. They are now scrambling for alternatives.

Bitfinex officially announced that both USD deposits and withdrawals are halted. OKCoin International has posted a notice that all USD deposits will be refused by their banking partner in Taiwan. Many old-timers know that the suspension of fiat deposits and withdrawals heralds tough times ahead for any Bitcoin exchange.

To some traders, this feeling is all too familiar. Mt Gox's slow motion bankruptcy began in 2013 when their USD held in America was frozen. As users rushed for the exits, the Bitcoin thought to be held in custody was not there. In early 2014, Mt Gox shut its doors and filed for bankruptcy.

While traders are right to be nervous, it is not a given that Bitfinex and or OKCoin will be unable to operate. Yet, careful traders will take action. This post will examine how to get your money off the platform, and for those risk seeking traders, arbitrage opportunities that will arise during this time of stress.

Correspondent Banking

The biggest hurdle to successfully operating a Bitcoin/Fiat exchange is obtaining and maintaining a bank account. The quality of the banking relationships held by the exchange is a large success determining factor.

Most Taiwanese banks have branches throughout the Asia Pacific region. However, most do not have branches in the US. Ultimately that means that movement of USD between non-Taiwanese entities must pass through a correspondent bank in the US.

The correspondent bank is fully licensed to do business inside America, and can clear USD. Without the assistance of a correspondent bank, exchanges’ Taiwanese banks cannot process USD deposits and or withdrawals for foreign entities. Given that the majority of Bitfinex and OKCoin’s customers are not Taiwanese, most if not all incoming and outgoing USD must be processed with the assistance of a correspondent bank.

Wells Fargo, The Canary in the Coal Mine

In late March, according to a lawsuit filed by Bitfinex, Wells Fargo ceased processing outgoing USD SWIFT wire transfers from Bitfinex’s Taiwanese bank accounts. Wells Fargo is the correspondent bank for the various banks Bitfinex uses in Taiwan. The lawsuit alleged that $180 million of USD was effectively frozen.

This lawsuit is one of the only public windows the community received into the struggle between Taiwan banking institutions and their American correspondent banks. A similar situation may have occurred with OKCoin, but they did not choose to fight back through a public lawsuit.

Bitfinex vs. Wells Fargo Lawsuit

Get Me Outta Here

Bitfinex and OKCoin USD IOU holders are rightfully concerned. All is not lost. There are still ways to remove funds from these platforms.

The easiest way is for users to buy Bitcoin and withdraw it. Then they can sell that Bitcoin on another platform. As more users exit via this method, the price of Bitcoin rises on Bitfinex and OKCoin relative to other exchanges. Those exiting these exchanges are pushing up the price globally.

Users can use altcoins such as Litecoin or Ether to exit as well. At the time of writing, the Bitfinex premium to buy alts with USD is similar to buying Bitcoins. Given the low liquidity in altcoins, this may not be cheaper.

Bitfinex first indicated in a blog post,  that users could withdraw funds via Swiss Francs (CHF) and Hong Kong Dollars (HKD). However a few days later, they announced that their bank refused to process any outgoing wires in any currency.

The solution now put forward is to wash funds through their lawyer's trust account. They claim that as creditors of Bitfinex, users can withdraw via this method only once. Those lucky enough to have domestic Taiwanese bank accounts face no issues withdrawing any fiat currency.

As of right now, OKCoin has not issued any announcements regarding the status of funds in their Taiwan bank accounts.

Arbitrage

Risk and profit seeking traders will be able to conduct arbitrage trades during this funding crunch. The trade I describe below is the most obvious.
  1. Buy Bitcoin outside of Bitfinex.
  2. Sell Bitcoin for USD on Bitfinex at a premium.
  3. Withdraw HKD to your bank account from Bitfinex.
  4. Wire the funds at your bank rate back into USD to a cheap Bitcoin/USD exchange.
  5. Rinse and repeat.
The ability to execute this trade is predicated on the ability to withdraw HKD or another fiat currency easily and quickly from Bitfinex. Given the recent updates, this assumption is questionable. All MSBs globally face similar issues, it may be weeks if not months before Bitfinex, OKCoin, or any other affected exchange is able to establish banking relationships again.

Due to the halt of Bitcoin withdrawals in China, XBT/CNY trades at a 15% discount to Bitstamp and GDAX. Therefore the premium on exchanges where fiat cannot be withdrawn, could easily reach a similar 15% premium.

Bitcoin / HKD: Bitfinex and OKCoin’s Savior

Days after filing, Bitfinex withdrew the lawsuit against Wells Fargo. Suing a correspondent bank in America may have been lights out for Bitfinex’s current and future banking relationships. To make matters worse, it may have attracted attention to other exchanges. If Wells Fargo is blocking Bitcoin exchanges, other banks should be thinking: should we block them too?

For now, there is still some hope. For every HKD issued, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority backs it with an equivalent amount of USD. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority will conduct open market operations to maintain a peg between 7.75 to 7.80 USD. While the peg holds, HKD is a liquid proxy for USD. If Bitfinex and or OKCoin can launch a liquid XBT/HKD market, they can continue to effectively serve as the most liquid XBT/USD spot markets.

Clearing HKD does not require funds to transit through the American banking system. Most of the world just wants to do business, and not worry about hypocritical moralising American politicians' inspired regulations. Given enough effort, time, and willingness to pay high fees, exchanges will find banking partners willing to process HKD wires.

The on and off-ramps between digital currencies and fiat continue to cause significant friction. However, once traders squeeze through fiat gateways into the crypto universe, the trading opportunities are rich. If you desire a product to speculate on the value of Bitcoin without touching fiat, consider trading the BitMEX Bitcoin / USD Swap, XBTUSD.

Strongman Bullies and Bitcoin



Trump, Xi Jinping, Putin, and Erdogan: these four men are the embodiment of Strongman Bully leaders. Global trends indicate we will soon have more world leaders with similar mindsets.

Over the past 30 years, throngs of Chinese, Russians, and Turks have become rich. The masses held their tongue, while the elite shamelessly lined their pockets. In China, the wealth amassed in coastal cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou stands in stark contrast to the developing and rural interior. Similar disparities exist in the metro areas of Russia and Turkey.

Xi, Putin, and Erdogan are all promising to restore the bargain with labour at the expense of capital. In previous decades, the masses have accepted disproportionally slow wage growth so long as their standard of living continued to increase. As global growth sputters, the bargain has become less tenable. The plebes are getting restless.

The marginal effectiveness of printing money to generate GDP output is waning. To make matters worse, population growth is shrinking in end markets like America and Europe. In response, central banks are reducing asset purchases. The net result will be higher interest rates and less trade.

All strongman bullies in all countries cannot be successful at the same time. Instead of trading for what they need, these leaders are likely to threaten to take what they need through war. A desperate leader can apply physical force to take resources, disrupt competing markets, and distract the local population from failed promises.

During times of war, assessing financial counterparty risk becomes a key investment survival skill. Will a USD deposit held in a Russian bank be worth the same as one held in an American bank? Every asset that you own must be evaluated on the basis of two concerns: beating domestic inflation and movement friction. In times of war, we are very likely to see inflation in necessity goods and deflation in other goods.

Where will the masses turn? Gold has value everywhere and is likely to triumph during these times. Recently, gold rallied when Trump authorised a missile strike against Syria, and when North Korea announced a potential nuclear missile test. Further rallies will come if global instability grows.

Bitcoin fits into this dynamic. Despite all of the issues it faces, it has persevered for over 8 years and still has substantial global value. Consider that as a vote of confidence in its ability to serve as a safe haven asset for a small pool of global capital.

Regardless of your political stance, the next 30 years will not be like the last. Highly intense regional conflicts are likely to flare up again. As desperate citizens look to store and transport wealth in the digital era, Bitcoin looks more attractive than ever.

Risk Disclaimer

BitMEX is not a licensed financial advisor. The information presented in this newsletter is an opinion, and is not purported to be fact. Bitcoin is a volatile instrument and can move quickly in any direction. BitMEX is not responsible for any trading loss incurred by following this advice.