Category Archives: liquidity risk

8/12/17: Coinbase to Bitcoin Flippers: You Might Flop

If you need to have a call to 'book profit', you are probably not a serious investor nor a seasoned trader. Then again, if you are 'into Bitcoin' you are probably neither anyway. Still, here is your call to "Go cash now!"

In simple terms, Coinbase is warning its customers that "access to Coinbase services may become degraded or unavailable during times of significant volatility or volume. This could result in the inability to buy or sell for periods of time." In other words, if there is a liquidity squeeze, there will be a liquidity squeeze.


So a couple of additions to this post, on foot of new stuff arriving.

One: Bloomberg-Businessweek report ( that some 40% of the entire Bitcoin supply is held by roughly 1,000 'whales'. Good luck seeing through the concentration risk on top of the collusion risk when they get together trading.

Two: Someone suggested to me that ICOs holding Bitcoin as capital reserves post-raising are part problem in the current markets because by withdrawing coins from trading, they are reducing liquidity. Which is not exactly what is happening.

Suppose an ICO buys or raises Bitcoins and holds these as a reserve. The supply of Bitcoin to the market is reduced, while demand for Bitcoins rises. This feeds into rising bid-ask spreads as more buyers are now chasing fewer coins with an intention to buy. Liquidity improves for the sellers of the coins and deteriorates for the buyers. Now, suppose there is a sizeable correction to the downside in Bitcoin price. ICOs are now having a choice - quickly sell Bitcoin to lock in some capital they raised or ride the rollercoaster in hope things will revert back to the rising price trend. Some will choose the first option, others might try to sit out. Those ICOs that opt to sell will be selling into a falling market, increasing supply of coins just as demand turns the other way. Liquidity for sellers will deteriorate. Prices will continue to fall. This cascade will prompt more ICOs to liquidate Bitcoins they hold, driving liquidity down even more. Along the falling prices trend, all sellers will pay higher trading costs, sustaining even more losses. Worse, as exchanges struggle to cover trades, liquidity will rapidly evaporate for sellers.

It is anybody's guess if liquidity crunch turns into a crisis. My bet - it will, because in quite simple terms, Bitcoin is already relatively illiquid: it takes hours to sell and spreads on trading are wide or more accurately, wild. Security of trading is questionable, as we have recently seen with, and the market is full of speculation that some of these 'heists' are insider jobs with some exchanges acting as pumps to suck coins out of clients' wallets. The rumours might be total conspiracy theory, but conspiracy theories turn out to be material in market panics.

16/5/17: Insiders Trading: Concentration and Liquidity Risk Alpha, Anyone?

Disclosed insiders trading has long been used by both passive and active managers as a common screen for value. With varying efficacy and time-unstable returns, the strategy is hardly a convincing factor in terms of identifying specific investment targets, but can be seen as a signal for validation or negation of a previously established and tested strategy.

Much of this corresponds to my personal experience over the years, and is hardly that controversial. However, despite sufficient evidence to the contrary, insiders’ disclosures are still being routinely used for simultaneous asset selection and strategy validation. Which, of course, sets an investor for absorbing the risks inherent in any and all biases present in the insiders’ activities.

In their March 2016 paper, titled “Trading Skill: Evidence from Trades of Corporate Insiders in Their Personal Portfolios”, Ben-David, Itzhak and Birru, Justin and Rossi, Andrea, (NBER Working Paper No. w22115: looked at “trading patterns of corporate insiders in their own personal portfolios” across a large dataset from a retail discount broker. The authors “…show that insiders overweight firms from their own industry. Furthermore, insiders earn substantial abnormal returns only on stocks from their industry, especially obscure stocks (small, low analyst coverage, high volatility).” In other words, insiders returns are not distinguishable from liquidity risk premium, which makes insiders-strategy alpha potentially as dumb as blind ‘long lowest percentile returns’ strategy (which induces extreme bias toward bankruptcy-prone names).

The authors also “… find no evidence that corporate insiders use private information and conclude that insiders have an informational advantage in trading stocks from their own industry over outsiders to the industry.”

Which means that using insiders’ disclosures requires (1) correcting for proximity of insider’s own firm to the specific sub-sector and firm the insider is trading in; (2) using a diversified base of insiders to be tracked; and (3) systemically rebalance the portfolio to avoid concentration bias in the stocks with low liquidity and smaller cap (keep in mind that this applies to both portfolio strategy, and portfolio trading risks).

18/4/16: Rollover Risk, Competitive Pressures & Capital Structure of the Firm

Capital structure of the firm, as we discussed in our MBAG 8679A: Risk & Resilience:Applications in Risk Management class in recent weeks, is about counter-balancing equity (higher cost capital with greater safety cushion for the firm) against debt (lower cost capital with higher risk associated with leverage risk). As we noted in some extensions to traditional models of leverage risk, decision to take on new debt as opposed to issue new equity can also involve considerations of timing and be linked to future expected funding demands by the firm.

An interesting corollary to our discussions is what happens when risk of debt roll-over at maturity enters the decision making tree.

A recent paper by Gianpaolo Parise, titled “Threat of Entry and Debt Maturity: Evidence from Airlines” (April 2016, BIS Working Paper No. 556: tries to address this question.

In the presence of low-cost competition airlines, traditional, large airlines tend to alter their debt structure. This effect, according to Parise, is pronounced in the case of legacy airlines forced to defend their strategically important routes from new entrants. Per Parise, “…the main findings suggest that airlines respond to entry threats trading off financial flexibility for lower rollover risk.”

More specifically, Parise found that “…a one standard deviation increase in the threat of entry triggers an increase of 4.5 percentage points in the proportion of long-term debt held by incumbent airlines (a 7.4% increase relative to the baseline of 60%). This effect is particularly strong for airlines whose debt is rated as “speculative” and that are financially constrained, i.e., airlines that have in general a more difficult access to credit.”

On the other hand, “the threat of entry has no significant effect on the leverage ratio.”

Overall, “threatened airlines issue debt instruments with longer maturity and with covenants” and that debt issuance aiming to increase maturity comes via intermediated lending (loans) rather than via bond markets (direct market).

“The results are consistent with models in which firms set their optimal debt structure in the presence of costly rollover failure As Parise notes, “Longer debt maturity allows firms to reduce
rollover (or liquidity) risk, i.e., the risk that lenders are unwilling to refinance when bad news
arrives. Rollover risk enhances credit risk…, magnifies the debt overhang problem…, weakens investment,… and exposes the firm to costly debt restructuring…”

A very interesting study showing dynamic and complex interactions between capital structure of the firm and exogenous pressures from competitive environments, in the presence of systemic roll-over risks in the financial system.