Trans-Fee Mining Exchanges Have Poor Traffic to Volume Ratios, yet Their Market Share Is Rising

Cryptocurrency exchanges using the trans-fee mining (TFM) revenue model have, according to available data, poor traffic to volume ratios, meaning a small number of traders see large amounts of crypto change hands on their platforms. Despite using incentivized trading schemes to generate 'fake volume' these exchanges have grown their market share.

According to CryptoCompare’s January 2019 Exchange Review, cryptocurrency exchanges using the controversial mining model have grown to represent 15% of the crypto ecosystem’s trading volume, up from 12%. In January alone they traded $25 billion worth of crypto in the first month of the year.

The number one trans-fee mining exchange was CoinBene, which by itself traded $10 billion. It was followed by ZBG, which traded $6 billion, and by EXX, which traded $5.5 billion. These platforms’ trading volumes have grown, although overall crypto exchange traffic went down.

Per the report, traffic notably dropped 13.5% in January, with spot trading volumes accompanying it with a 12.4% drop. The total amount of unique visitors cryptocurrency exchanges received in January was 10.4 million, down from 12 million in December.

Crypto exchanges' volumes and traffic in January of 2019Source: CryptoCompare Research

While their trading volumes are high (red for TFM exchanges), the amount of traffic their platforms see is noticeably low. Traders on these platforms are incentivized by the revenue model to trade large amounts, in order to be rewarded in tokens.

The controversial revenue model was initially introduced by FCoin, which managed to see an over $5 billion daily trading volume at the time thanks to it. Some called it a “disguised ICO” over its nature. Its incentives may be questionable, as CryptoCompare’s report puts it, grouping it to zero-fee exchanges:

Transaction fee mining exchanges rebate 100% of transition fees in the form of their own exchange tokens. This might give traders an incentive to trade more to receive more tokens which often have valuable features such as voting rights on the platform or a dividend. Both of the above can lead to wash trading.

Although these crypto exchanges have large trading volumes, this doesn’t mean their order books are secure. CryptoCompare analysis from October showed that on TFM exchanges it would take a very small amount of their daily trading volume to see prices drop 10% on their platform.

Specifically, an analysis of CoinBene’s order books showed it would take just 0.3% of its trading volume to see the price of a crypto drop 10% on it. In comparison, it would take over 30% of the daily trading volume exchanges like Kraken and Bitstamp see to see prices drop 10% showing much greater stability in the more established and trusted exchanges.

How Bakkt Can Bring the Crypto Space an Institutional Investor Influx

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts have for years been waiting for institutional investors to enter the space. While the introduction of bitcoin futures contracts on regulated exchanges in late 2017 didn’t gain a lot of traction, but Bakkt may.

Bakkt is a long-awaited bitcoin futures exchange and on-boarding platform from the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) - the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange – and it’s set to launch this year. Bakkt itself has remained tight-lipped over the precise launch date after delaying its launch last year, with ICE CEO Jeff Sprecher in February simply saying “later this year.”

It’s possible that this quarter may see the launch or at least more news about when the exchange is finally coming. At the end of March, Bakkt CEO Kelly Loeffler explained:

While we’re not yet able to provide a launch date, we’re making solid progress in bringing the first physical delivery price discovery contracts for bitcoin to the U.S.

Bakkt’s launch could be a major milestone for the cryptoasset industry. A venture backed by Microsoft and Starbucks, its institutional pedigree alone will switch many cautious investors on. Specifically, the firm is set to help consumers pay for goods and services with cryptocurrencies, with Starbucks being the flagship retailer in its arsenal.

Bakkt’s Bitcoin futures contracts will be the first physically-settled derivatives on a regulated trading platform. This means investors will receive the contract’s underlying asset, bitcoin, when it expires.

Currently the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) offers cash-settled bitcoin futures contracts, meaning investors get the equivalent of BTC’s value in fiat when the contracts expire. This is seen by some as a major development in the cryptocurrency space, as it shows traditional finance is willing to interact with the nascent cryptoasset industry.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year the ICE’s CEO called Bakkt a “bit of a moonshot bet,”  as it was organized in a way “very different than the way ICE typically does business.” The firm has its own offices and management team, and could undergo more rounds of financing in the future.

Bakkt And a Potential Bitcoin ETF

What’s significant about Bakkt’s launch beyond this, is that it may bolster the chances of a Bitcoin Exchange-Traded fund (ETF) being approved. Such a product would make it easier for institutional investors to gain exposure to cryptocurrencies.

In August, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rejected nine other ETF applications, in particular highlighting how those applying hadn’t provided evidence that “bitcoin futures markets are of significant size’” for an ETF to be launched.

Once Bakkt is launched its trading volumes may very well help quell the SEC’s concerns over the bitcoin futures markets’ small size as institutions and other investors may feel comfortable entering it. Larger futures contracts trading volume, increased liquidity and a well-established company involved may prove enough to convince the SEC that the time is right for a Bitcoin ETF.

Bakkt therefore represents a very significant milestone for a maturing cryptoasset industry and may well herald the “institutional influx” that many have been anticipating since 2017. Despite the markets remaining relatively flat throughout 2019 these looming decisions in the U.S. have the power to move the entire industry forward, for better or worse.