Traders Finding More Arbitrage Opportunities in Bitcoin

Prices in the crypto market are seeing such a steep upward trend that arbitrage traders are able to trade between exchanges to easily capture profit.

AccessTimeIconMar 19, 2020 at 8:44 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:20 a.m. UTC

As bitcoin (BTC) experiences vertigo-inducing gains, cryptocurrencies are breaking out of a period where they followed or even lagged behind traditional markets. In fact, prices in the crypto market are seeing such a steep upward trend that arbitrage traders are able to trade between Bitfinex and other exchanges to easily capture profit. 

Bitcoin is up over 15 percent in the past 24 hours, changing hands at $6,206 as of 20:30 UTC (4:30 p.m. ET) Thursday, according to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index. 

Meanwhile, the Nikkei 225 index closed its day at 05:00 UTC Thursday down 1 percent. That’s notable because recently crypto traders were looking at the Asian-based markets and indexes like the Nikkei for signals, which in the past week did create a brief correlation.

“It was surprising to see bitcoin's correlation with a traditional index like the Nikkei 225 given bitcoin's similarity to traditional stores of value like precious metals,” said Marc Grens, co-founder and president at DigitalMint, a bitcoin point-of-sale provider. “That being said, since the creation of the Bitcoin protocol, this is the first time we’ve seen the behavior of bitcoin holders through a bear market.” 

Volumes at cryptocurrency exchanges have jumped, with Coinbase, Bitstamp and Bitfinex combined  seeing a 19 percent bump in 24-hour exchange volume, according to data aggregator CryptoCompare. 

So, what’s the reason for the jump? Higher crypto volatility means traders are seeing more opportunities to make money.

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30-day bitcoin volatility is way up compared to traditional markets the like the S&P 500 index. Source: CoinDesk Research

“It appears that volatility play-related profit-taking and some degree of normalization of liquidity is behind the pick up in prices,” said Denis Vinokourov of Bequant, London-based London-based digital asset firm Bequant.

Trading on Bitfinex began pricing bitcoin at a discount after 09:00 UTC, sometimes by as much as $20 lower when compared to exchanges such as Coinbase and Bitstamp. This allows for traders to buy bitcoin on the cheaper exchange (Bitfinex, for example) and simultaneously sell where prices are higher in an arbitrage, a near-riskless profit. 

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As volumes rose after 9:00 UTC Thursday, a spread in pricing between Bitfinex (purple) and exchanges like Bitstamp (yellow) created arbitrage opportunities for traders. Source: Coinbase candles on TradingView

The discrepancy narrowed, then continued again after 17:00 UTC, with spreads hitting over $30 at times.

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Bitfinex (purple) and Bitstamp (yellow) disconnected in price again after 17:00 UTC. Source: Coinbase candles on TradingView.

It’s not just on Bitfinex where traders are finding opportunities. BitMEX’s perpetual contracts on bitcoin settle every eight hours and are currently paying those who buy them as much as 8 basis points (0.008 percent) of value. Traders can thus buy bitcoin perpetual futures on BitMEX and sell simultaneously in over-the-counter (OTC) markets, and collect the basis payments. BitMEX allows traders to leverage as much as 100 times over what they put up. 

“We are seeing most of our selling flow from basis trades, not liquidating trades,” said David Vizsolyi, Head of Trading at Chicago-based DV Chain

Ether (ETH) was briefly down compared to bitcoin, as the BTC/ETH pair on exchanges like Coinbase showed ether priced in bitcoin moving below its 10-day moving average at around 17:00 UTC. This signals that traders were also selling ether and buying bitcoin, even though the prices of both assets were going up. 

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ETH/BTC pair on Coinbase. Source: TradingView

That move was short-lived. Within the same hour, the trend turned around, with ether later seeing stronger gains over bitcoin. At press time, ether is up 19 percent in 24 hours. 

Elsewhere, the foreign exchange markets have been in turmoil, causing the dollar to strengthen against other fiat currencies. The S&P 500 squeaked out a half-percent gain while gold was up just 0.2 percent as of Thursday 20:00 UTC. 

Other eye-popping crypto gainers on the day include bitcoin cash (BCH) and bitcoin SV (BSV) both up 40 percent. Traders also noted dash (DASH) in the green, up 30 percent in 24 hour trading. “Dash and other coins are rallying big time. We are pretty bullish here on dips,” said Jack Tan of Tapie-based trading firm Kronos Research.


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