Bitcoin Traders Cautious Despite Spot ETF Optimism, Leverage Indicators Suggest

The spot market is in the driver's seat as perpetual futures open interest to market cap ratio remains low, one observer said.

AccessTimeIconJul 24, 2023 at 6:51 a.m. UTC

BlackRock (BLK) filing for a spot bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) last month brought renewed optimism into the crypto market, pushing bitcoin (BTC) and related investment vehicles higher.

Still, traders in the perpetual futures market tied to bitcoin remain risk averse, unwilling to take on high leverage.

Data tracked by Glassnode and Blockware Solutions show the ratio of open interest in BTC perpetual futures to bitcoin's market cap has been locked in a narrow range of 1.5% to 1.7% in the past four weeks. The ratio remains well below the high of 2.6% seen in September last year.

"It shows that there has not been a change in the risk appetite of futures traders, despite BTC holding the $30,000 mark for the past month," analysts at Blockware Solutions said in a newsletter on Friday.

"Open interest/market cap ratio remains relatively low, which means that spot will likely keep driving the price higher in the short to medium term as supply continues to slowly contract into the hands of long-term holders," analysts added.

The ratio of open interest to market cap remains stagnant (Glassnode, Blockware Solutions)
The ratio of open interest to market cap remains stagnant (Glassnode, Blockware Solutions) (Glassnode, Blockware Solutions)

Perhaps traders do not see a bitcoin spot ETF as a game changer or worry about lingering regulatory uncertainty taking a toll on market valuations in the short term.

Perpetuals are futures contracts with no expiry. Open interest refers to the dollar value locked in the number of active contracts.

Leverage allows traders to open positions worth more than the money or coins deposited as a margin at the exchange. The use of leverage can magnify both profits and losses and exposes traders to liquidations – forced unwinding of bullish long or bearish short positions due to margin shortage. The higher the degree of leverage, the greater the probability that liquidations inject volatility into the market.

Another way to track the use of leverage in the market is by dividing the open interest by the value of BTC held in wallets tied to derivative exchange wallets. The so-called estimated leverage, popularised by South Korea-based CryptoQuant, has remained largely stagnant since June 20, a sign that the average trader is playing safe.

The estimated leverage ratio remains rangebound. (CryptoQuant)
The estimated leverage ratio remains rangebound. (CryptoQuant) (CryptoQuant)

Low degree of leverage in the market means reduced price volatility. Bitcoin has been listless in the range of $29,500 to $32,000 in the past four weeks. At press time, the cryptocurrency changed hands at $29,790, representing a 1% loss for the day (UTC), CoinDesk data show.

Edited by Parikshit Mishra.


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Omkar Godbole

Omkar Godbole is a Co-Managing Editor on CoinDesk's Markets team.

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