Crypto whales are generally thought of as wealthy traders with the ability to move markets via a single sell order. Yet the greatest whales of all aren’t traders but ICOs which own millions of ether worth billions of dollars. Over 3% of the total ethereum supply is estimated to be in the hands of ICOs, and when those projects cash out, as periodically happens, the effects can be dramatic.
Ethereum Is at the Mercy of ICOs Cashing Out
On Sunday, while the crypto markets were enduring yet more turmoil, ethereum took a sudden nosedive, going from $516 to $464 in under two hours. Up until then, it had been one of the more stable coins compared to alts still in the experimental stage, which have absorbed the worst of the losses. Ethereum’s flash drop made it one of the worst performers in the cryptocurrency top 100 yesterday, shaving around 16% off its valuation. The cause of the sell-off has been attributed to one of last year’s ICOs offloading a significant portion of its ethereum reserves. If so, it’s not the first time something like this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Deducing the total amount of ethereum that has been invested in ICOs is relatively straightforward. Around two thirds of the $5.7 billion raised by crowdsales in 2017 was in the form of ether. These projects are obliged to sporadically cash out their holdings for fiat currency, to cover expenses that can’t be paid in crypto. And when they do, it makes sense for those projects to withdraw a lump sum. What’s good for them isn’t necessarily good for the market though, especially traders whose longs are rekt by a sudden dump of ETH.
Fear of the Whale
Cryptocurrency markets are much less liquid than traditional financial markets. When hundreds of thousands of ether is sold on the open market, typically via an exchange such as Bitfinex or Kraken, it will instantly depress prices. Traders, ever alert to even the slightest signs of market movement, are skittish creatures, and even the possibility of a coming dump can be a case for concern, as evidenced by the recent fears over the Mt Gox whale dumping BTC en masse – even though those fears have since been assuaged.
12 hours before ethereum dropped on Sunday, EOS moved 50,000 ETH to a Bitfinex address. It is impossible to determine when an entity sells the funds they have moved to a cryptocurrency exchange; the deposit only indicates intent to sell. The contribution addresses of major ICOs are monitored by discerning traders, however, and thus when a crowdsale transfers ETH to an exchange, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that serves to deflate prices.
At Least 3.4% of All ETH Is Locked Up in ICOs
One crypto trader professes to have seen figures showing that 3.4% of all ETH, or around 3.4 billion coins, are in the possession of ICOs. When these projects have bills to pay, or fear that the market is likely to deflate further, they feel obligated to cash out. These whales are under no obligation to sell OTC; using a trusted exchange is generally the preferred route. All of this creates downward pressure on ethereum on a scale far higher than that faced by any other crypto asset.
For so long as ethereum remains the preferred fundraising platform for ICOs, the cryptocurrency will remain concentrated in the hands of 100 or so projects, each with the power to offload on the market at any time. In each instance, the market will recover, but not before some traders, especially those using leverage, have absorbed heavy losses. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and when major dumpage occurs, it’s a prime opportunity for other traders to scoop up cheap coins before the price rebounds.
Do you think ethereum is hostage to the large amounts of coins in the possession of ICO whales? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Coincodex.
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