A new Forbes analysis of 157 crypto exchanges finds that 51% of the daily bitcoin trading volume being reported is likely bogus.
Within the emerging and turbulent market for cryptocurrencies, where there are no fewer than 10,000 tokens, bitcoin, is the great granddaddy, the blue-chip, representing 40% of the $1 trillion in crypto assets outstanding. Bitcoin is crypto’s gateway drug. An estimated 46 million adult Americans already own it according to New York Digital Investment Group, and an increasing number of institutional investors and corporations are warming to the nascent alternative asset.
But can you trust what your crypto exchange or e-brokerage reports about trading in the most important digital currency?
One of the most common criticisms of bitcoin is pervasive wash trading (a form of fake volume) and poor surveillance across exchanges. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission defines wash trading as “entering into, or purporting to enter into, transactions to give the appearance that purchases and sales have been made, without incurring market risk or changing the trader’s market position.” The reason why some traders engage in wash trading is to inflate the trading volume of an asset to give the appearance of rising popularity. In some cases trading bots execute these wash trades in tokens, increasing volume, while at the same time insiders reinforce the activity with bullish remarks, driving up the price in what is effectively a pump and dump scheme. Wash trading also benefits exchanges because it allows them to appear to have more volume than they actually do, potentially encouraging more legitimate trading.
There is no universally accepted method of calculating bitcoin daily volume, even among the industry’s most reputable research firms. For instance, as of this writing, CoinMarketCap puts the latest 24-hour trading of bitcoin at $32 billion, CoinGecko at $27 billion, Nomics at $57 billion and Messari at $5 billion.
Adding to the challenges are persistent fears about the solvency of crypto exchanges, underscored by the public collapses of Voyager and Celsius. In an exclusive interview with Forbes in late June, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried commented that there are many exchange bankruptcies yet to come.
A significant repercussion of this lack of faith in its underlying markets is the Security and Exchange Commission’s refusal to approve a spot bitcoin ETF.