Cryptocurrency Risk Disclosures
There are several risks associated with cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency trading.
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- Unique Features of Cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrencies are not legal tender in most jurisdictions, including Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and the United States, and have no intrinsic value. The price of cryptocurrencies is based on the agreement of the parties to a transaction, which may or may not be based on the market value of the cryptocurrency at the time of the transaction.
- Price Volatility.
The price of a cryptocurrency is based on the perceived value of the cryptocurrency and subject to changes in sentiment, which make these products highly volatile. Certain cryptocurrencies have experienced daily price volatility of more than 20%.
- Valuation and Liquidity.
Cryptocurrencies can be traded through privately negotiated transactions and through numerous cryptocurrency exchanges and intermediaries around the world, each with its own pricing mechanism and/or order book. The lack of a centralized pricing source poses a variety of valuation challenges. In addition, the dispersed liquidity may pose challenges for market participants trying to exit a position, particularly during periods of stress.
The cybersecurity risks of cryptocurrencies and related “wallets” or spot exchanges include hacking vulnerabilities and a risk that publicly distributed ledgers may not be immutable. A cybersecurity event could result in a substantial, immediate and irreversible loss for market participants that trade cryptocurrencies. Even a minor cybersecurity event in a cryptocurrency is likely to result in downward price pressure on that product and potentially other cryptocurrencies.
- Opaque Spot Market.
Cryptocurrency balances are generally maintained as an address on the blockchain and are accessed through private keys, which may be held by a market participant or a custodian. Although cryptocurrency transactions are typically publicly available on a blockchain or distributed ledger, the public address does not identify the controller, owner or holder of the private key. Unlike bank and brokerage accounts, cryptocurrency exchanges and custodians that hold cryptocurrencies do not always identify the owner. The opaque underlying or spot market poses asset verification challenges for market participants, regulators and auditors and gives rise to an increased risk of manipulation and fraud, including the potential for Ponzi schemes, bucket shops and pump and dump schemes, which may undermine market confidence in a cryptocurrency and negatively impact its price.
- Cryptocurrency Exchanges, Intermediaries and Custodians.
Cryptocurrency exchanges, as well as other intermediaries, custodians and vendors used to facilitate cryptocurrency transactions, are relatively new and largely unregulated in most jurisdictions. The opaque underlying spot market and lack of regulatory oversight creates a risk that a cryptocurrency exchange may not hold sufficient cryptocurrencies and funds to satisfy its obligations and that such deficiency may not be easily identified or discovered. In addition, many cryptocurrency exchanges have experienced significant outages, downtime and transaction processing delays, flash crashes, and may have a higher level of operational risk than regulated futures or securities exchanges.
- Regulatory Landscape.
Cryptocurrencies currently face an uncertain regulatory landscape in many jurisdictions. In addition, many cryptocurrency derivatives are regulated by the provisions of national and supra-national (i.e. EU) securities legislation; moreover, some state securities regulators have cautioned that many initial coin offerings are likely to fall within the definition of a security and subject to their respective securities laws. One or more jurisdictions may, in the future, adopt laws, regulations or directives that affect cryptocurrency networks and their users. Such laws, regulations or directives may impact the price of cryptocurrencies and their acceptance by users, merchants and service providers.
The relatively new and rapidly evolving technology underlying cryptocurrencies introduces unique risks. For example, a unique private key is required to access, use or transfer a cryptocurrency on a blockchain or distributed ledger. The loss, theft or destruction of a private key may result in an irreversible loss. The ability to participate in forks could also have implications for investors. For example, a market participant holding a cryptocurrency position through a cryptocurrency exchange may be adversely impacted if the exchange does not allow its customers to participate in a fork that creates a new product.
- Transaction Fees.
Many cryptocurrencies allow market participants to offer miners (i.e., parties that process transactions and record them on a blockchain or distributed ledger) a fee. While not mandatory, a fee is generally necessary to ensure that a transaction is promptly recorded on a blockchain or distributed ledger. The amounts of these fees are subject to market forces and it is possible that the fees could increase substantially during a period of stress. In addition, cryptocurrency exchanges, wallet providers and other custodians may charge high fees relative to custodians in many other financial markets.