Last December the Blockchain Transparency Institute released a shocking report that indicated that over 50 exchanges were engaging in washing trading in a bid to benefit themselves at the expense of aspiring token projects. Wash trading is a form of market manipulation where the investor sells and buys the same financial instruments so that they can create misleading artificial activity in the marketplace.
Some of the reasons why individuals and businesses would feel the need to engage in the activity include; to artificially increase the trading volume, therefore, giving the impression that the instruments are more in demand than they actually are. The other main reason is to generate commission fees for brokers so that they can compensate them for something which can’t be openly paid for.
The institute began to report on suspected wash trading activity that was taking place within the crypto market back in August 2018. Before releasing the report, the institute spent months perfecting their algorithms, and they expressed confidence in the data that they had acquired.
The main aim of various cryptocurrency exchanges that were caught engaging in the activity was to lure interested crypto projects to list their tokens on these platforms which are quite lucrative as we will see later on.
The report took a deeper dive into the specific trading pairs listed on various exchanges which showed clear signs of wash trading. The BTI team used algorithms to analyze the data after countless hours of watching order books, speaking to market makers, trade surveillance consultants, high-frequency traders and analyzing volume data points.
Interestingly, the researchers were able to identify four different bot strategies that have been employed by exchanges to inflate their volume numbers. They discovered that some of the bots were set to different trading pairs depending on the time of the day and the settings were changed depending on the current volume trends or the hype that surrounded a given token within a given period.
Who is and Who isn’t Wash Trading?
The researchers evaluated the actual volume of the top 25 Bitcoin trading pairs as reported on CoinMarketCap.com and found shocking results. Over 80 percent of the pairs actual volume was under 1% of what they reported on CMC. Surprisingly, only 3 of the top 25 pairs were found not to be wash trading their volume. The tree included Binance, Bitfinex, and Liquid.
Some of the biggest and well-respected exchanges were behind the illegal activity, and the institute had to move OKEx to its exchange advisory list as they found all their top 30 traded tokens to be wash traded. According to the report, the Hong Kong-based exchange appears to have benefited the most from the coinmarketcap.com referral traffic as even after their volume was adjusted they still ranked in the top 10.
Another exchange that was found to be wash trading the volume numbers of its top 25 pairs was Huobi, however to a lesser degree than OKEx. Also, the top 25 trading pairs of HitBTC had evidence of wash trading as well, and the exchange was also added on the Advisory List.
Bithumb was also found to be wash trading after many suspicions in the past. The exchange was primarily wash trading Bitcoin Gold, Dash, Monero and Zcash. But, the top wash traded coins on the exchange appeared to change depending on each month.
As for the top ten BTC trading pairs according to adjusted volume Binance leads the way followed by Bitfinex and Coinbase Pro is third on the list. However, the list contains three wash traders who have managed to benefit from bad acting.
Why Are Exchanges Wash Trading ?
The reason why the majority of exchanges surveyed were engaging in wash trading was to inflate the trade volume data. An act that can mislead crypto traders and crypto projects about their liquidity and the number of users they have. The inflated figures are particularly crucial to the exchanges when it comes to luring cryptocurrency projects to list their tokens on the platforms at high prices.
As BTI found out listing fees are big business for these exchanges. According to information the institute had received from many tokens within the cryptocurrency space, the average crypto project spent over $50,000 last year in listing fees alone on exchanges that have been added to the Advisory List.
The fees add up to an estimated $100 million stolen from the crypto ecosystem in 2018 alone. Given that over 50 exchanges are wash trading over 95% of their volumes, the activity is a 500K a year scheme. Interestingly, some of the exchanges made over one million dollars last year from collecting the listing fees.
Now, BTI advice any crypto project to contact the organization if they encounter any exchange that is requesting large listing fees especially those put on the Advisory List. What’s even more disappointing is that many of the exchanges exist just to collect the listing fees as their bots run the platforms.
BTI also offers data on what is deemed as fair listing fees for exchanges that are not using wash trading bots. The fees range from 2BTC up to 75 BTC.
Moving forward in 2019 BTI plans to release its Initial Investor Security Report which will highlight the current state of security on exchanges and also suggest ways these platforms can make both current and future investors feel more safe with their funds. The report will also include the security ratings of all exchanges that are not currently on the Advisory List.
The institute has also promised to continue to collect the accurate volume data on the individual pairs in a bid to curb further manipulation. It will also contact all exchanges to ensure that they implement the best security controls as they hope to see negative media reports on stolen funds decline.
The Advisory List contains 84 exchanges including the likes of Bithumb, OKEx, Huobi, HitBTC and many more.
Anyone interested in the correct volume of any trading pairs from any exchange can contact the Blockchain Transparency Institute for the full report.