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Exploring the World of Crypto Arbitrage

Oct 25, 2023
15m
Jacob CamilleriCristiano Troffei

Understanding Arbitrage: A Lucrative Strategy

Arbitrage is a well-known concept in financial markets, involving the exploitation of price differences for the same asset in different markets to generate a profit. In the realm of cryptocurrencies, it entails purchasing a digital asset at a lower price on one exchange and selling it at a higher price on another, thereby profiting from the price gap.

Arbitrage in cryptocurrencies typically occurs in three primary ways:

CEX/CEX: This refers to arbitrage opportunities between two centralized exchanges (CEX), where traders exploit price disparities for the same cryptocurrency on different centralized platforms.

CEX/DEX: In this case, traders capitalize on differences in cryptocurrency prices between a centralized exchange (CEX) and a decentralized exchange (DEX).

DEX/DEX: Here, arbitrageurs leverage discrepancies in cryptocurrency prices between two decentralized exchanges (DEX), where tokens are traded on blockchain networks, without the involvement of centralized intermediaries.

How Arbitrage Works: Profiting from Price Disparities

Arbitrage leverages the variations in supply and demand of tokens or coins listed on multiple exchanges. Price fluctuations occur as the supply on each exchange is continually altered by trading actions. Higher supply leads to lower prices, and vice versa.

Crypto arbitrage thrives on the principle that digital asset prices are not always synchronized across various exchanges. Traders adept at identifying these discrepancies execute trades swiftly to capitalize on these fleeting opportunities.

The Shop Analogy: Simplifying the Concept

To simplify the concept, consider two shoe shops, Shop A in California called “Gate.io”, and Shop B in Madrid called “Pancakeswap”. Shop B has 50 pairs of unique Jordan shoes priced at $20 each. Shop A boasts a larger supply, with 100 pairs available selling at a lower price of $10 per pair.

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You seize the price difference and decide to buy 25 pairs from Shop A at $10 each and sell them to Shop A at $15 per pair. As a result, Shop A lowers its selling price to $20 per pair due to the increased supply, while Shop B, with only 10 pairs remaining, increases its price to $20 per pair.

img_arbitrage2.png

This action balances the supply and price disparity across the two shops, situated on opposite sides of the world, while you, the arbitrageur, profit from the process.


Therefore, the disparity of the supply and price of the shoes across the two shops situated on the opposite side of the world has been removed. In the meanwhile the arbitrageur has made profit in the process and now has to search for something else to arbitrage.

Comparatively, a crypto arbitrageur may simultaneously buy Bitcoin on Binance Exchange, and Sell it on Gate.io, or buy PING on Gate.io, simultaneously selling it on Pancakeswap.

Why is arbitrage important for the market?

Arbitrage plays a crucial role in cryptocurrency markets, leading to several benefits:

Price Stabilization: Arbitrage trading helps mitigate extreme price fluctuations, making the market more attractive to both traders and investors.

Market Efficiency: Arbitrage ensures that prices on different exchanges align with supply and demand dynamics, contributing to a more efficient market.

Increased Liquidity: Arbitrage traders enhance liquidity across exchanges, allowing for easier buying and selling of assets with reduced spreads and market manipulation.

Wider Adoption: A well-functioning arbitrage system attracts more participants, both institutional and retail, promoting broader adoption.

Market Maturity: Active arbitrage opportunities attract institutional investors, further legitimizing the cryptocurrency market.

Global Integration: Arbitrage connects exchanges globally, fostering cross-border trading and investment.

Market Resilience: Arbitrageurs aid in market recovery from disruptive events by resolving price differences efficiently.

Pros and Cons of Arbitrage: Is it for You?

Arbitrage offers significant advantages, such as profit potential and risk hedging, but it's not without drawbacks. Execution speed and fees can impact profitability whilst market volatility and low liquidity present risks, particularly in decentralized exchanges. Mitigating these risks through automation and swift execution is imperative. 

Does arbitrage affect traders?

The most glaring effect of arbitrage can be seen in low liquidity, highly volatile markets, especially on decentralised exchanges. As one acquires a token, the price of the token rises on that particular exchange, the arbitrageur instantly buys on another exchange and sells on the one the investor has bought. In large liquid markets, the price impact of the majority is minimal, however on smaller markets, where a significant buy can impact the price by 10%+, the arbitrageur will immediately take advantage of that. As such, one of the strategies that buyers could undertake is to spread buys slowly on small pools, and ideally buy simultaneously on different exchanges. This would mean that the trader has purchased the maximum amount of tokens possible by practically reducing the slippage effect through multiple exchanges. 

The Impact of Arbitrage on Traders

For larger, liquid markets the impact on normal traders is negligible. However, arbitrage can significantly impact low liquidity and highly volatile markets, particularly in decentralized exchanges. A large trade on a volatile market may immediately be arbitraged. Strategies to counter this include spreading buys across multiple exchanges to reduce slippage and minimize the price impact caused by your trade. This effectively removes the opportunity for an arbitrageur to execute a trade against you whilst maximising the amount of tokens purchased for the same USD value.

Conclusion

Crypto arbitrage is an intriguing strategy for traders looking to capitalize on price differences in the world of cryptocurrencies. While it offers the potential for quick and relatively risk-free profits, it is not without its challenges, including execution speed and the impact of fees. It is crucial to understand the value arbitrage gives to any given market and it should not be considered as having a negative impact.

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