WSJ: Automated Trading Programs Manipulate Digital Currency Prices

Automated trading programs, or bots, are manipulating digital currency prices on cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report October 2.

Automated trading software is a program that allows traders to set specific rules for both trade entries and exits, submit orders to a market center or exchange, and then automatically executes them by means of a computer at speeds greater than any human is able.

Trading programs are available for traditional and crypto markets, and can be deployed for both legitimate and manipulative strategies.

Addressing crypto markets, WSJ cites a lack of proper regulation as the main condition that allows bots to execute abusive strategies on an industrial level. Andy Bromberg, co-founder and president of startup CoinList, told WSJ that “this sort of activity is rampant in the market right now. It hurts the market’s reputation, and it hurts individual investors.”

According to WSJ, $80-million digital currency hedge fund Virgil Capital uses its own bots on a number of crypto exchanges around the world. Stefan Qin, managing partner of Virgil Capital, told WSJ that he is in a constant cat-and-mouse game with enemy bots.

Per WSJ, Virgil lost funds on certain trades in Ethereum (ETH) earlier this year after a “harassing bot” targeted the fund. The WSJ further explains the strategy used by the bot:

“The bot’s strategy was similar to ‘spoofing,’ a practice in which traders enter fake orders only to cancel them. The tactic, aimed at tricking other investors to buy or sell an asset by falsely signaling there is more supply or demand, was outlawed in U.S. stock and futures markets in 2010.”

Another example of price manipulation in digital currencies cited by WSJ is trader Kjetil Eilertsen, who began trading Bitcoin (BTC) in 2011. Eilertsen reportedly developed a program called Quatloo Trader, that was promoted as “the best market-manipulation tool in the world of crypto.” The idea of the program is to make market manipulation easier by using built-in tools like a special tab called “whale tools,” which executes several “abusive strategies.”

Eilertsen told WSJ that it is pointless to ban manipulation in digital currencies, and that it would more effective to provide manipulation tools to small traders. “If everybody can manipulate, then nobody is manipulating. You can’t ban anything from people who are dedicated to doing something,” Eilertsen told WSJ.

Notably, similar programs are not permitted on traditional securities exchanges. The New York Stock Exchange regularly monitors operations for illegal trade activities and abusive trading, and punishes violators.

Last week, the WSJ reported that nearly $90 million in illicit funds had been funneled through various crypto exchanges, including ShapeShift. Yesterday, ShapeShift founder and CEO Erik Vorhees refuted WSJ’s claims. He stated that the publication had misrepresented facts and made mistakes in their reporting due to a lack of knowledge of the exchange’s operations and blockchain technology.