Why DeFi Protocols Are Limiting ETH Borrowing Ahead of Ethereum’s Merge

Aave and Compound voted for precautionary measures to prevent airdrop hoarders from sucking up their liquidity.

AccessTimeIconSep 8, 2022 at 5:15 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:37 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconSep 8, 2022 at 5:15 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 4:37 p.m. UTCLayer 2
AccessTimeIconSep 8, 2022 at 5:15 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 4:37 p.m. UTCLayer 2

The upcoming Merge – when Ethereum will undergo the most complicated upgrade in blockchain history – is already creating opportunities for those predicting it could have a positive impact on ether’s (ETH) price. ETH, at around $1,600, is setting fresh yearly highs ahead of the event scheduled for next week.

ETH is trading at its highest price relative to bitcoin (BTC) this year, and also sucking the oxygen from other layer 1 blockchains. At least part of the reason, analysts said, are the many proposed tokens to be airdropped to ETH holders after the transition is completed – a free subsidy that people can either choose to hold or sell.

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Several decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols are now setting limits around ETH lending, as speculators load up on the asset in anticipation of a potential windfall. Compound users, for instance, today passed a vote to set a borrow cap of 100,000 ETH and increased interest rates for large borrowers.

“The upcoming [Merge] has the potential to cause disruption to ETH lending markets due to the possibility of receiving airdrops of ETH fork tokens. This may incentivize excessive borrowing from ETH lending pools, which leads to negative user experience for depositors who cannot withdraw funds,” the proposal read.

This comes a week after Aave, another “blue chip” DeFi lender, voted to temporarily ban ETH lending after users predicted the Merge could cause a surge in demand that would severely interfere with the protocol’s programmatic trading protections.

The risks for both protocols, Compound and Aave, and perhaps other DeFi lenders, are similar: Airdrop speculators could suction up ETH deposits thereby creating liquidity constraints for other users. Indeed, other DeFi protocols are seeing users swap out ETH-derivatives, like Lido’s staked ETH (stETH), which won’t receive airdrops and is now trading at a significant discount, for ETH, which will.

In Compound’s proposal, users note that “the vast majority of non-ETH assets are likely to become worthless on fork chains” – perhaps including the airdrop with the most eyes on it, ETHPOW – because there is such a high degree of consensus that switching to PoS is beneficial. But the short-term trade is attractive for many, and these alternative ETH varieties could still retain value.

For some, such limits placed around “open finance” seem antithetical to aims of DeFi – an example of a group of people overriding the code meant to create fairer trading conditions for all. This is especially true considering how concentrated DeFi voting is among large token holders today.

But these precautionary moves might also prove the value and viability of distributed protocol governance, protecting the long-term health of DeFi against shortsighted, individually-motivated traders. In either case, there’s a million ways to trade the Merge.

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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.