Impermanent Loss in DeFi- How Liquidity Providers Can Avoid It
10 Oct 2022
Financial instruments exist to help individuals and institutions save, manage, and grow their assets. Yet many investors find themselves unhappy or lacking motivation to indulge in most of the traditional asset classes due to a variety of reasons, some of which includes issues with accessibility, associated costs and regulatory red tapes, large ticket sizes combined with low returns and more. All these factors have led them on a search for attractive alternatives, conveniently offered by DeFi.
Evolving from the technology underlying Bitcoin, followed by the introduction of the first ever programmable blockchain in the form of Ethereum, DeFi is the application of the very technology to create financial solutions. DeFi, short for Decentralized Finance, now provides a viable alternative to highly centralized traditional financial systems.
DEXs in DeFi
Powered by crypto assets, the applications of DeFi range from simple exchange/swap solutions to lending, insurance, and other yield generation instruments. It is open for everyone to participate, enabling them to invest and generate returns without the hurdles faced in traditional finance. In most DeFi instruments, users are always in control of their funds and play a crucial role in ensuring continued operation of these solutions.
Decentralized Exchanges – DEXs, play a pivotal role in the DeFi ecosystem. Its importance is underlined by their presence in native form on each of the many blockchain protocols out there. Apart from allowing users to exchange one crypto asset to another, they also pave the way for various other DeFi activities like staking and yield farming.
Liquidity Provisioning on DEX
For an exchange platform to operate, they need to have liquidity in the form of tokens for each crypto pair they support. Centralized exchanges maintain a huge liquidity pool composed of user deposits along with their own funds that enables uninterrupted exchanges and trades. However, in a decentralized context, there is no centralized pool. Instead, they rely on the community members providing liquidity by depositing their holdings into respective liquidity pools, in exchange for rewards.
Such a model, automated by smart contracts is known as Automated Market Maker model and the DEXs are called AMM DEXs. Few examples of AMM DEXs on different protocols include Uniswap on Ethereum, QuickSwap on Polygon, QuipuSwap and InstaDEX on Tezos and so on.
As Liquidity Providers (LPs), community members stake their crypto assets, usually in pairs, into the liquidity pools present in automated market maker (AMM) DEXs. Other users looking to exchange their assets can select the relevant token pair listed on the platform and deposit one of tokens into the smart contract to receive an equivalent value of another into their wallets to complete the swap process.
The deposited token gets added to the liquidity pool to affect the withdrawal and transfer of the other token from the same pool.
For their contribution to the ecosystem, LPs receive a portion of the transaction fees on swaps charged by the platform from its users as rewards. Sometimes, the LP tokens received by liquidity providers as a confirmation of their contribution to the pool can be deposited in certain DeFi farms to earn additional rewards.
While liquidity provisioning acts as an attractive passive crypto income generating activity, it is also associated with risks that could lead to LPs losing large sums of value, like rug pulls, flash loan attacks and impermanent loss- the latter of which can be avoided or mitigated with the right information.
The saying “the greater the risk, the greater the reward” applies even more for a segment as volatile as cryptocurrency but a smart investor usually works around the risks present to make steady profits in the long run.
What is Impermanent Loss in DeFi?
Impermanent Loss is an unrealized loss that LPs only notice upon withdrawing their asset pairs from liquidity pools. It refers to a reduction in the dollar value of these staked assets as compared to their dollar value if the LPs just held on to them. By deciding to not withdraw their assets and wait it out instead, there’s a chance that the loss could correct itself- hence named ‘impermanent’.
How Impermanent Loss Occurs, With an Example
It would obviously make more sense to explain such a technical concept with an example that will aid in understanding better.
Let us say, a liquidity provider, LP1 decides to provide liquidity to a 50:50 ETH/DAI pool on Uniswap. The person stakes 10 ETH at a price of $1000 per token and an equivalent value of 10,000 DAI to secure a 10% stake in the pool containing a total of 100 ETH and 100,000 DAI. Following LP1’s contribution, a user decides to swap 50,000 DAI to 50 ETH from the pool. Following the swap, the liquidity pool will have 50 ETH and 150,000 DAI.
Meanwhile, let us assume an increased demand for ETH in the market drives its value by 2x to $2000 per tokens. At this time, if LP1 were to withdraw their staked assets, which is 10% of the pool value at that moment, they will receive 5 ETH and 15,000 DAI valued in total at $25,000.
If the person had held on to the assets without contributing to the pool, it would have been worth $30,000 ($20,000 in ETH and $10,00 in DAI). By contributing and withdrawing from the liquidity pool, LP1 experienced an effective impermanent loss of $5,000.
Those who provide liquidity for highly volatile assets are at a higher risk of losing value due to the occurrence of this phenomenon. However, by keeping in mind a handful of suggestions and playing it smart they can prevent the loss of any value or at least minimize it.
Ways to Avoid Impermanent Loss
Liquidity providers can make use of multiple options provided by DeFi platforms to minimize the magnitude as well as risks of impermanent losses. Some of the tried and tested strategies include participation in yield farming, providing liquidity for stablecoin pairs or low-volatility pairs, opting for flexible pool ratios and single asset liquidity provisioning.
The best form of defense is offense and LPs can be on the lookout for farming programs offered by the same protocols offering the liquidity pools. By farming the proceeds received from the pools, they can bag considerable yields that are often large enough to offset impermanent losses whose occurrence can sometimes be inevitable. A risky strategy, it is something that seasoned investors should give a try.
For those wanting to play it safe, staking stablecoin pairs is the way to go. As the name suggests, the value of stablecoins remains mostly constant albeit for minor fluctuations at times. The absence of volatility with such token pairs makes the chances of dealing with impermanent loss quite low (very slight fluctuations in the value of these coins do occur sometimes).
As the least risky way to provide liquidity, one can expect to earn profits from trading fees depending on the demand for these tokens.
Low Volatility Pairs
The returns on liquidity provisioning for stablecoin pairs may be on the lower end and the next best alternative is participation in pools consisting of low-volatility crypto pairs. At a slightly elevated risk potential, users can stake their assets in such pools being assured of minor price variations between each other. They can choose to invest in those pairs that exhibit similar price fluctuations, in the same direction to evade potential losses.
Flexible Pool Ratios
For those with a greater risk appetite and keen on providing liquidity for assets that are on the more volatile side, liquidity pools that offer flexible ratios balance out the risk. Pools in popular AMM DEXs like Uniswap follow the 50:50 ratio and keep the total value of the pool constant using algorithms. However, such ratios are known to cause impermanent losses frequently.
Instead, pools where one asset has a huge weightage as compared to the other reduces and can prevent such losses. For example, certain DEXs consist of popular pools that allow users to stake token pairs at 80:20, or even 98:2 ratio. re of the ratio 80:20 or even 98:2. Any impermanent loss experienced is minimal and can be easily offset by transaction fees.
Single Sided Liquidity Pools
Pools with flexible ratios like 98:2 prevent users from facing greater exposure to the volatility of two different assets at the same time. A new breed of DEXs led by Bancor – the first protocol to deploy the AMM algorithm providing for single sided liquidity pools, followed closely by InstaDEX on Tezos ecosystem take liquidity provisioning to the next level by allowing LPs to stake and maintain complete exposure to one single asset.
Such protocols also offer protection from the impermanent loss incurred with single asset liquidity provision- a great incentive to provide liquidity to the platform. Therefore, LPs can hold their assets in the pool for long periods of time, generating passive returns in the form of trading fees, staking rewards, and compounding yields.
Investing in Single Sided Liquidity Pools
Liquidity providers can begin to invest in single sided liquidity pools by staking a volatile asset. Meanwhile, as a market maker, the protocol or other users co-invests an equivalent amount of its native tokens and charges fees on its stake until the LP withdraws their asset at which point the co-invested tokens are burnt.
The fee collected is used by the protocol to cover any impermanent loss that LPs face in these pools. Moreover, LPs can also stake these native tokens that they own on the other side of the single asset provision pools. These tokens replace those staked by the protocol which are burnt.
Single Asset Liquidity provisioning pools on InstaDEX– the first platform on the Tezos blockchain to offer Bancor like features allows users to stake any asset of their choice on the relevant liquidity pool for efficient utilisation of the user’s portfolio.
Further, the impermanent loss protection insurance offered by InstaDEX covers LPs from potential impermanent losses after a minimum staking period of 100 days. The insurance fills the difference in value of assets in case of impermanent losses during the time of withdrawal to ensure the LP doesn’t lose any value by contributing to the ecosystem.
Impermanent loss is a by-product of all the advantages offered by DeFi. In the existing conventional AMM structure, it may be unavoidable, but there are always options available for consideration to minimize or overcome it.
With InstaDEX, Instaraise has devised single asset staking and impermanent loss protection insurance as a way to ensure the community is encouraged for their efforts and not penalized by forcing them to accept impermanent loss under volatile market conditions.