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BitMEX Liquidations: How to Avoid Getting Rekt

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BitMEX Liquidation

For those Bitcoin traders who like to trade with leverage (and lots of it) they will most likely end up at BitMEX.

This exchange based in Hong Kong is well known in the Bitcoin community for being one of the most efficient and sophisticated Bitcoin futures exchanges on the market. With leverage up to 100x your initial investment, traders relish the high-risk, high return nature of the exchange.

However, BitMEX is a profit maximising futures exchange. Although they give traders the opportunity to make large returns on positions, they have become incredibly efficient at mopping up loose change. This easy money is handed on a plate to them by new traders who make silly decisions.

In this post we will take you through one of these bad decisions that you can easily avoid and reduce your chance of becoming liquidated or, in crypto lingo, “Rekt”.

BitMEX 101

Before we can take a deep dive on the nature of BitMEX order types, we have to give you a quick overview of BitMEX.

BitMEX (Bitcoin Mercantile Exchange) is a futures exchange that operates out of Hong Kong. It was started in 2014 by a team of ex investment bankers and traders. It is perhaps best known for being the first exchange to offer leveraged derivative products on Bitcoin.

These futures on BitMEX are not the regulated type that you have read about on the CME or CBOE. These are futures contracts that are traded on the open order books on the BitMEX exchange. They are not regulated and can be traded by any retail cryptocurrency trader.

BitMEX has grown substantially since their early beginnings and have rode the crypto wave more skillfully than most other exchanges. In fact, they recently broke a record for total volume of more than 1m BTC in a 24-hour period.

It’s safe to say, BitMEX is successful.

How BitMEX Margin Works

When you are doing any sort of leveraged trading on exchanges, you are required to put up margin for your account. These are required to make sure that the exchange or broker is not left holding the bag should the position quickly move against you.

Initial margin is required in order to cover the position of your futures contract. This initial margin is determined according to the amount of leverage that you have decided to take on. For example, if you are using 1:100 leverage then your initial margin is going to be 1% of your position.

When you place a futures trade on BitMEX, you are actually trading what is called a “limited risk” futures contract. Your losses cannot exceed the value of your initial margin.

This asymmetric payoff profile is one of the reasons that BitMEX is often chosen by traders. It gives them all the upside and limited downside. In fact, the payoff looks almost exactly the same as the payoff of a financial option. Below is a simple illustration of how the payoff looks.

Payoff of BitMEX limited Risk futures

How does BitMEX allow you such a favourable position?

This is because of the way they determine the Maintenance Margin Requirement (MMR). With usual brokers in traditional finance, when you breach your maintenance margin requirement, you will get what is called a “margin call”. However, BitMEX has something much more efficient and that is their Liquidation engine.

This is basically an automated system that will immediately close out positions that have already moved against the trader and have started eating into the initial margin.

What is the catch?

The relationship between the MMR and the initial margin is not constant and will vary arbitrarily according to the amount of leverage that one is taking on.

Liquidation price vs. Bankruptcy Price

BitMEX uses two prices that will determine levels for initial margin and the MMR. Your bankruptcy price is the price at which your initial margin has been exhausted and your loss from the position is 100%.

The liquidation price is the price at which you have exhausted your MMR and it is the price at which your position will be closed. This is done in order to protect BitMEX from the adverse and potentially harmful moves in the price of Bitcoin. You can read more about BitMEX liquidations here.

When you are placing an order, you will see your liquidation price as it presented in the order form. There is, however, no bankruptcy price being show to you upfront. This means that you can’t see how far the bankruptcy price is from the liquidation price and hence how much room your trade has to move from your complete initial margin.

Order forms with liquidation on Bitmex. Left with 100x leverage, Right with 1x. Image source: Bitmex.

By not showing you the difference between your bankruptcy price and the liquidation price, BitMEX is hiding away a secret edge that they have when it comes to high leverage contracts. That edge is the amount by which BitMEX will allow the trade to eat into the initial margin before they liquidate it.

This may sound like a bit of a mouthful right now but it helps to take a look at some examples as well as some actual numbers.

Statistical Edge

When your position is getting closed at a liquidation price that is further away from the bankruptcy price, you are being denied extra price participation and the chance for a market recovery. You are giving BitMEX the statistical edge in the long run even though a large proportion of your initial margin was not used.

It helps to take a look at some numbers in order to contextualize this. Below are the calculations for the bankruptcy price, liquidation price and the resulting margin rates. This is live data and you can monitor it yourself with this handy tool.

Liquidation and Margin Calculations on BitMEX. Image source: BambouClub.

What this shows is the amount of theoretical MMR you will have on a BitMEX long futures trade and how large this number is compared to the initial margin. This is all calculated by using the liquidation price given by BitMEX and the bankruptcy price which is calculated separately (based on the leverage).

From these two numbers, one is able to get an idea of the initial margin as well as the MMR that is being applied to that trade. As you can see in the second last column, the MMR is larger as you take on more leverage (as would be expected).

However, what is really interesting is viewing this relative to the initial margin. This is the last column in the sheet and this shows that for larger leveraged trades, the MMR makes up an increasingly greater percentage of the initial margin.

In the case of the 100x leverage trade, the position would have to move only $35 away from current prices and it will be liquidated. Hence, even though you have put up $70 in initial margin (price move from spot to bankruptcy), you will be liquidated when the price has only being moved to half of that ($35 MMR).

When you take a look at the numbers for the 10x leverage, the effect is way less pronounced. Your initial margin is $639 and you won’t get liquidated until the price has moved $609 away from the spot level. Hence, you are allowed to participate in a change in price that is almost 95% of your initial margin.

Put another way, the MMR of 10x leverage position is only 4.58% of the initial margin. This is more than 10 times below the 50% of initial margin MMR that is required for a 100x leveraged trade.

So, from a purely statistical perspective, the 100x or 50x leverage trade is not the most efficient trade to make and can in the long run give BitMEX the edge.

Lower Leverage, Less Liquidation (LLLL)

BitMEX is a well-oiled machine and they are very efficient at closing out the riskiest trades. Their risk management protocol comes at the expense of your long-term trading profits.

This is nothing against BitMEX and they are doing exactly what any high leveraged trading operation is doing. They have to make sure that they always have enough funds to cover losing trades.

In fact, BitMEX even has a reserve fund that is used as insurance on those occasions when they cannot stop losing positions fast enough. This insurance fund currently has a balance of 12,336 XBT.

However, if you want to avoid funding the BitMEX insurance fund, don’t trade at 50x or 100x leverage.

The 4 “Ls” will save you in the long run. Lower Leverage -> Less Liquidation

Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 7 rated postsNic is an ex Investment Banker and current crypto enthusiast. When he is not sitting behind six screens trading Bitcoin, he is maintaining his numerous mining rigs.




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Bitcoin Options: Trading Crypto Volatility

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Bitcoin Options

Bitcoin is well known for its volatility.

Whipsaw price movements that defy most technical and fundamental studies. They catch traders off guard and leave them with their heads in their hands while scratching their heads.

While making price predictions on BTC can be tricky, there is a way to trade volatility and uncertainty in a risk-controlled manner. This is through the use of Bitcoin Options.

In this post, I will take a look at Bitcoin Options trading and how it can be used to your advantage.

But first, a short primer…

What Are Bitcoin Options?

For those with no financial background, options are asymmetric payoff derivative instruments. This means that, unlike Futures contracts, they do not have a linear payoff profile. Loss / Profit is capped based on whether you are long or short.

You have two types of options and they are a CALL and a PUT. The latter is an option to sell the asset on some future predetermined date at a predetermined price and the former is an option to buy. The predetermined price is called the “Strike Price” of the option.

When you are buying an option, you have to hand over a premium. This is your maximum loss on the option trade. In the below diagram we have the CALL option compared to a long future position and the PUT option compared to a short futures position.

Left: Long CALL and Long Future. Right: Long PUT and Short Future

As you can see, the maximum loss is the option premium and you have capped your downside risk in both cases. Of course, if you were the person that was selling the options then you would receive the premium and you would be exposed to unlimited downside risk.

Option prices are not just determined by the prevailing price of the asset at the time. They are driven by a number of other inputs such as the Implied Volatility (IV), time to maturity (t), Strike Price (K) and the prevailing interest rates.

All of these factors are collectively called the “Greeks” and they each impact the option in their own unique way. We won’t go into the theory behind option pricing as it is quite complex and beyond the scope of this text.

Benefits of Bitcoin Options

As you can see from the above images, the benefits of a long CALL / PUT are pretty obvious. You can take a view on the price of BTC while still capping your potential loss to the option premium.

For those traders who have traded Bitcoin futures before, you will be well aware of the unceremonious BitMEX liquidations that happen to highly leveraged positions. With a long option, you have more certainty around downside outcomes.

You could also use options to protect positions that you hold in your portfolio. They could also be used by Bitcoin businesses that need more certainty for the future price of BTC (think Bitcoin miners).

There are also a host of trading opportunities that are opened up through the use of option instruments.

For example, you can merely trade on whether you think Bitcoin is likely to be volatile or stable in the foreseeable future. This is generally because of the positive relationship between volatility and the price of an option (premium).

Relationship Between Price and Option Vol. Source: Investopedia

In the above image you have the general relationship between the prices and the volatility of the S&P500 (will be the same with any asset)

The BTC Options Markets

While Bitcoin has grown substantially in the physical and derivative markets, it is still relatively undeveloped in the options markets. There are really only two choices for you if you would like to trade BTC options.

One of these is through the OTC markets using a registered swap dealer. One of the most well known dealers on the market now is LedgerX. They are a CFTC registered Swap Execution Facility (SEF).

However, in order to trade with LedgerX, you need to be an “eligible swap participant”. There are a number of requirements you need to meet in order to be one but one of them is that you have at least $1m in liquid assets.

So clearly, they are beyond the reach of most retail Bitcoin traders.

However, there is a fairly established Bitcoin option and futures exchange called Deribit that offers retail BTC options. They are based in Holland and have been running since 2016. You can read more about them in this Deribit overview.

Ok, enough theory. Let’s take a look at some strategies.

Bitcoin Option Strategies

Option trading is a vast as it is complex and there is a plethora of different strategies that you can employ. While some are beyond the scope of this article, we will take a look at some of the most well known.

These are straddles, strangles and butterflies.

These are mostly used by traders who want to take a view on the volatility of the underlying asset with the price being ancillary to that.

Option Straddle

A straddle is a strategy where the trader will enter a position of a CALL and a PUT at the same strike price with the same expiry. If you are buying the CALL & PUT then it is a long straddle and if you are selling then it is a short straddle. Below is an image of the payoffs.

Long and Short Straddle Payoffs. Source: The Options Guide

As you can see from the above graphs, the long Straddle is Long volatility and the short straddle is short VoL. If there is a large movement in the price of BTC then you will make money with the long straddle and vice versa for the short.

So, for example, over the past month Bitcoin was really quite stable. The implied volatility was below that of even the S&P500. If you had entered a straddle you could have earned the return of the CALL and the PUT premium. Of course, if it had gone the other way you would have had an unlimited downside.

Most often, to get the full “delta” of the price movement in the option, the trader will strike the option at-the-money. This can be quite expensive as it requires purchasing both a CALL and a PUT. Taking a look at current pricing for expiry in a month from now, that would cost almost 10% of your notional.

Hence, in order to cheapen the cost of for the Long Vol trader and to lessen the risk for the short Vol trader, an option strangle trade is done.

Option Strangle

A strangle still involves entering two different option types but they are struck at different strike prices. They are both struck out-of-the-money so they are slightly cheaper to enter. The result is the payoff given in the below diagram.

Long and Short Strangle Payoffs. Source: The Options Guide

As you can see, the dynamics works much the same. The trader that is long volatility will get paid if there are extreme movements in the price of Bitcoin. However, there is a lower Delta in the position so the change in price will be less pronounced.

The short strangle position will get less initial payment for the options however they are protected from downside risk for a particular range of BTC prices. Yet, you are still exposed to unlimited downside risk in the event of extreme market moves.

How do you limit this?

Option Butterfly

Butterflies are constructed by using four different options. They can be implemented in a number of ways from using 4 different CALLs (two long two short) to using 4 different PUTs or a combination.

Below is an image of a long butterfly payoff. Perhaps quite confusingly, this is a short volatility strategy that is similar to the short straddle / strangle. This is in the below image on the left.

Long and Short Butterfly Payoffs. Source: The Options Guide

With this payoff, the trader that is short volatility will be protected from the downside risk that they could face with the straddle / strangle. In the case of the long volatility strategy, it can be called a short butterfly spread and it will have the payoff on the right.

While this may be slightly confusing to the uninitiated trader, there are a number of online resources that can help you understand these instruments better. For example, the options guide let’s you construct strategies and breaks them down into components.

If you wanted to try these out in a risk free way, Deribit also offers a demo account with demo funds on their test-net trading platform. If you do decide to trade them live, it goes without saying that these are still risky instruments and you should follow money management best practices.

Conclusion

The Bitcoin Options markets are the final frontier for a complete derivative market. They not only provide a method to limit risk but they also introduce a range of different strategies.

Indeed, given that the markets are still quite nascent, there are not that many outlets to trade them. Even on Deribit, there is a lack of liquidity in some of the Out-of-The-Money options.

However, as more financial institutions get involved in Bitcoin markets, you can be sure that option providers are likely to follow suit.

Perhaps we could one day even see CBOE listed and exchange traded Options.

Featured Image via Fotolia

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 7 rated postsNic is an ex Investment Banker and current crypto enthusiast. When he is not sitting behind six screens trading Bitcoin, he is maintaining his numerous mining rigs.




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High Frequency Trading in Crypto Markets: What Could it Mean?

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High Frequency Trading Crypto

Everyone seems to be focused on the allure of a large institutional investor jumping into the market and being the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats.

However, as they chase headlines of one big name entry to the next, they are missing some really important entrants that are sliding in just below the surface.

These are the plethora of High Frequency Trading firms that have dived into the cryptocurrency markets. Not only have they started implementing some of their complex market making strategies but they have also brought their lighting fast trading technology with them.

In this post, we will take a look at some of the most important recent entrants into the space and the impact that this could have on the markets.

What is High Frequency Trading?

High Frequency Trading (HFT) is a catchall phrase that is used to categorise hedge funds, market makers and inter dealer brokers who employ speed as one of their prime strategies. Their edge comes from having the fastest algorithms and being able to place trades before anyone else.

In order to be the fastest on the block, HFT firms also have to make use of some of the most advanced trading algorithms in the market. They are also known as programmatic traders as they are heavily reliant on these systems to open and close trades in the blink of an eye.

In the era of electronic equity and bond exchanges, these HFT firms have proliferated and the number of assets that they have started trading has mushroomed. For example, in the below chart from a Deutsche Bank research piece you have the market share of HFT firms in the European and American equity markets.

HFT Percentage US Equities
Source: TABB Group and Deutsche Bank Research

While the market share is no doubt impressive, there is one illuminating trend. This is that the numbers have remained relatively stagnant over the past few years. In the same piece above, the Deutsche researchers pointed out that industry was facing a decline in revenue and profits.

This would actually make sense.

This because in perfectly competitive markets, the more participants there are chasing lucrative short-term arbitrage opportunities, the less these opportunities present themselves. The HFT markets have been flooded recently and have eaten up the pie of some established firms.

So, what is a highly advanced HFT firm to do when they are squeezed for profit in an established market?

Simple, they merely move to a new and relatively nascent market.

HFT Enters Crypto

Given that cryptocurrencies are still in a relatively new phase of adoption from the institutions, they are the ideal playing ground for these sophisticated and lightning fast algorithms.

Indeed, I have previously covered the profitable arbitrage opportunities that exist in the cryptoccurrency markets. One was able to take place trades on these mispricings manually with your home computer.

These market mispricings are the bread and butter of HFT firms and they were no doubt licking there lips at the risk free profit lying on the table.

Over the past year there have been many of these firms that have turned their systems and strategies onto the crypto markets. For example, you have got Jump Trading LLC , Hudson River Trading LLC, Jane Street Group LLC and Virtu Financial Inc that have all been active in the markets.

DRW Traders at Cumberland
DRW Traders Discussing the Crypto Markets in Cumberland. Source: WSJ

Chicago based DRW Holding LLC has even set up an entire unit focused on trading digital assets. The unit, called Cumberland, is actually one of the earliest entrants as they jumped in to the Bitcoin markets in 2014.

There have also been moves by the cryptocurrency exchanges to tailor their services to the HFT firms. For example, Coinbase announced that they would be offering HFT firms what are termed “co-location” services.

Co-location is a well-known business practice between HFT firms and exchanges where the HFT servers can be placed in the same data centre as the servers of the exchange. This gives the trader a distinct advantage as connection latency is almost eliminated.

So, the HFT firms are clearly trying to squeeze profits out of the crypto markets. There are some that are decrying it and some that are cheering it on.

What This Means for Crypto

There are quite a few people who would be skeptical of HFT firms entering the crypto markets. Indeed, they are also quite a contentious topic in their traditional stomping ground of the equity markets.

HFT firms have been singled out for having an unfair advantage and for smothering the competition. They have also been blamed for previous market chaos such as the 2010 Flash Crash that saw the Dow plummet by over 10% in a matter of seconds.

So clearly, they have their detractors and this fear could be present in the crypto markets.

However, the HFTs do provide a beneficial service especially to the likes of large institutions that the crypto community so craves. They provide vast amounts of liquidity that can quickly and easily be deployed.

Liquidity is important for institutions.

It means that they can efficiently get their orders executed without much “slippage” in their order. Mass liquidity will also drive down margins and keep them razor thin. Thin margins will benefit not only the institutions but the entire market.

Narrowing of spreads in the US
Narrowing of Spreads of Spreads in the US. Image Source

Moreover, there are other institutions such as quantitative hedge funds that also trade based on computer algorithms.

These hedge funds cannot merely link up their trading systems to the like of a Coinbase or a Binance and start firing off thousands of trades per second. They need the services that are provided by specialised HFT firms.

So, in the end the HFT firms may help smooth the entrance for those institutional investors the crypto markets are hopeful for.

Arbitrage Away

There is one thing that is certain to be eliminated in the presence of advanced HFT firms. This is the presence of previously lucrative arbitrage opportunities that crypto traders have been banking on.

As the HFT firms have demonstrated in the Equity and bond markets, more competition will drive down the potential opportunities for market mispricings. As more of these firms start entering the markets, these profitable trades are likely to disappear.

Indeed, it seems as if this is already the case as one will have observed that the potential for profit from arbitrage across exchanges has been drastically reduced. In some markets, one can even say that they have actually being eliminated.

So, for all those traders among us who have developed their very own crypto trading bots, you may have to retire them soon.

Your faithful python trading bot will inevitably have to bow down to the superior systems of the Wall Street Flash Boys.

Featured Image via Carl Court / Getty Images

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 7 rated postsNic is an ex Investment Banker and current crypto enthusiast. When he is not sitting behind six screens trading Bitcoin, he is maintaining his numerous mining rigs.




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Stellar Price Analysis: XLM/USD Marching Higher amid Launch of StellarX Decentralized Exchange

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  • Stellar launches “StellarX”, the world’s first zero-fee decentralized exchange with fiat deposits.
  • XLM/USD making strong progression, with indicators pointing to the upside, eyes on a potential reclaim of the $0.30 mark.

The Stellar camp has built a new trading platform known as StellarX, which is decentralized boasting a zero-fee structure. The platform has been built on the Stellar blockchain, which will accommodate a range of trading options. The StellarX website notes it “is the first full-featured trading app for Stellar’s universal marketplace. It was created by a team with deep user-friendly building experience and showcases a wide selection of assets: crypto, fiat tethers, commodities, bonds, and more”.

StellarX is most certainly stepping it up a notch in revolutionizing the industry. The Stellar network charges a flat per-transaction fee as an anti-spam measure. The the fee is nominal (0.00001 XLM) that they refund it out-of-pocket for every trade made on StellarX. Network fee refunds are bundled into a single payment and issued each week. In terms of incentives for users, “If you hold funds in Stellar, you’ll also get a pro rata airdrop each Tuesday. They return all of Stellar’s built-in inflation (1% APR) directly to their users via lumenaut.net. All you have to do is opt in, and they will set this up for you”. The platform is therefore another important step towards democratizing cryptocurrency.

Taking at looking technically at XLM/USD, the price has been making strong ground over the past few weeks. Since the 11th September, it has gained around 40%, initially receiving decent bidding within a strong touted demand area at $0.1800 level. There is a descending trend line and supply zone seen just above. Both of which have already weighed on the bulls, during the trading session of 23rd September. The price had hit $0.3040, well into the mentioned supply, before sellers coming in. The above line of resistance was further confirmed, given the rejection. Eyes will be on for another retest of the $0.3000 mark, which could be game-changing. The bulls will need to gather enough power and momentum to burst through. A retest of the 25th July high up at $0.3512, will then likely come into play.

XLM/USD daily chart

On the flip side, it is worth noting that current price action is moving within a pennant pattern. Should this continue to be respected, it will further move in favor of the bears. Support to the downside is eyed back down at $0.1900. The lower trend line of the pennant pattern is tracking at the mentioned support. Eyes will also be on a demand zone, seen from $0.1700-$0.1900.

Stellar XLM is the world’s sixth largest cryptocurrency by market cap. In terms of value it sits at around $4.8 billion, roughly $400 million shy of EOS.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.4 stars on average, based on 45 rated postsKen has over 8 years exposure to the financial markets. During a large part of his career, he worked as an analyst, covering a variety of asset classes; forex, fixed income, commodities, equities and cryptocurrencies. Ken has gone on to become a regular contributor across several large news and analysis outlets.




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