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Whale Analysis Report – DeFi Perspective – Part I

Posted by
Pedro Herrera

In this report we take a closer look at whale activity in the DeFi sector on both Ethereum and Binance Smart Chain.

In this report we take a closer look at whale activity in the DeFi sector on both Ethereum and Binance Smart Chain. We take special interest in usage of three main protocols: Uniswap, Pancakeswap and Curve.

The following document belongs to a series of reports that intend to analyze on-chain metrics, in this case, Whale Patterns. The report analyzes some of the most important DeFi dapps and intends to draw some patterns in the behaviors incurred by whales within this ecosystem.

N.B. A cryptocurrency whale is a term that refers to individuals or entities that hold large amounts of crypto. Whale movement is a simple signal that can have a huge effect on the price of a cryptocurrency depending on the size, magnitude, source, and destination of the transaction.

Analyzing whale patterns is an on-chain analytics process that comes in handy within the blockchain industry. It allows users and investors to learn about the trends and behaviors incurred by large capital actors. Furthermore, by using the proper tools like DappRadar’s Portfolio page and block explorers, the analysis and insights gain depth.

In the previous whale report, we focused on some of the most traded NFT collections to identify any potential market manipulation risk, but also identify any investment trend. In this report, we try to identify the whale behavior with a focus on DeFi. The value held in the DeFi side is significantly bigger compared to the volumes seen in games and NFTs. Thus, the importance of learning the whale patterns found within DeFi land.

This report will be divided into two parts. The first one will introduce the whales in DeFi, analyzing some of the most important DEXs in the industry, and the whale wallets holding their respective tokens. For part two, we’ll take a look at the whale patterns in lending protocols, making a comparison between DeFi whales in Ethereum and BSC, and whether there is some sort of relation between DeFi and NFT whales. 

Key takeaways

  • Despite the massive interest seen in NFTs and games, the DeFi space attracted over 590,000 daily unique active wallets in Q3, reaching $178 billion in TVL. 
  • Ethereum emerges as a DeFi network where whales thrive as compared with other protocols; Uniswap’s average transaction size was $52,900, while PancakeSwap’s did not surpass $900.
  • Ethereum decentralized exchanges are widely used by whales; Curve in Ethereum transaction size in September was measured at $500,000 on average. 
  • Ethereum DEX token whales show no correlation whatsoever with other categories like NFTs or games, whereas whale holders of CAKE show more diversified portfolios with game and NFT based tokens
  • UNI top 5 whales hold around 20% of the token’s circulating supply, on the other hand, CAKE holders own a mere 0.49% of the token’s circulating supply. 

Table of Contents

  • What are DeFi whales?
  • (Decentralized) Exchange Whales
  • DEX token whale wallets
  • In summary

What are DeFi whales?

Whales transactions refer to those operations performed by certain wallets that transact excessively large amounts of value, regularly more than $1 million. With the help of on-chain analytics tools, we are able to identify some of the patterns incurred by the so-called whales. In this case, the focal point will be shifted to DeFi or Decentralized Finance. 

DeFi relies on smart contracts and complex algorithms – normally referred to as Automated Market Makers (AMM), to create an accessible and permission-less financial ecosystem. The popularity and usage of DeFi have increased since the summer of 2020, and this space is now home to more than $195 billion in Total Value Locked (TVL).

While DeFi democratizes the financial aspect of the blockchain industry, it is undeniable that this sector is a place where whales certainly thrive. Especially, in some blockchains like Ethereum. Simply put, by looking at the average ETH gas fees in 2021 that are measured in gwei, regular users got constantly punished by the network’s high gas fees. The more transactions in the Ethereum network, the higher the gas fees. Especially before the London upgrade that occurred in August. 

At one point during March 2021, the gas fees skyrocketed as a result of the increased DeFi activity. To perform a single trade in Uniswap at that time, may cost users at least $200. For regular investors that trade in that period, the gas fees were detrimental to the investment.  For instance, a person that provided $1,000 on liquidity, ended up spending 20% on gas fees, significantly reducing the capital. On the other hand, for a whale that is transacting one million, the gas fees may be insignificant. Thus, it is not far-fetched to think that DeFi is best suited for whales. 

After the high gas fees seen in March and April, dapps started to look for alternatives. Sidechains like Ronin began to gain relevance, while projects like Aave and Sushiswap decided to extend their services into other blockchains and layer-2 solutions that were not burdensome in terms of transaction fees.

Furthermore, by analyzing the whale activity (transactions that are worth more than $1M) on Ethereum, there is a clear increase in the whale activity during Q2, once the multichain paradigm was in full display. Certainly, the price that most cryptocurrencies, especially BTC and ETH, experienced at that time, boosted the activity. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see that whale activity was higher once DeFi dapps had started extending into multiple networks. 

(Decentralized) Exchange Whales

One of the most attractive features that DeFi offers is yield farming. Like interest rates in traditional capital markets, yield farming in DeFi allows liquidity providers to earn returns for locking their funds within the DeFi protocol. The liquidity provided is then used to provide an end-service like swaps or borrowing, for which the end-users are charged a fee. This type of activity occurs in Decentralized Exchanges or DEXs. Ideally, DEXs will have high liquidity volumes to decrease the latency, thus enabling a better price execution by limiting the impact of price slippage.

DEXs are one of the most important pillars of DeFi, and they exist in two main types: order book-based and liquidity pool-based DEXs. This report focuses on the latter. Liquidity pool-based DEXs basically create the market upon which decentralized trading and token swapping occur. As previously mentioned, providing liquidity into a DEX protocol is one way of yield farming. And when talking about DEXs there are three dapps that should be considered as industry referents: Ethereum’s Uniswap, BSC’s PancakeSwap, and Curve, which is deployed in 7 different blockchains. Thus, we analyze the activity in these platforms to identify any potential pattern incurred by whales in DEXs.

Uniswap

Starting with Uniswap, one of the most important AMM-based DEXs in Ethereum. Contrary to order books, Uniswap relies on liquidity pools, which are basically smart contracts holding one token pair to trade against. In the case of Uniswap, these pools are weighted at 50% for each token. The most popular liquidity pairs on Uniswap include WETH/USDC, WETH/USDT, and WETH/WBTC.

Analyzing Uniswap’s average transaction size hints at a protocol with visible whale activity. The average transaction size observed in Uniswap during the third quarter of 2021 was $37,016, with a high of $52,976 reached in September. This metric increased 130% from Q2 and 256% from Q1. It seems that the whale activity might be increasing in this decentralized exchange dapp. 

Perhaps Uniswap V3, which was introduced in May, incentivized the whale activity. Nonetheless, while the average transaction size is higher than in most dapps, they are still behind other DeFi protocols.

Curve

For instance, Curve, another AMM-based DEX. Curve excels at easing swaps between assets that have similar worth. Curve has extended its features into seven different networks including Avalanche, Polygon, and Fantom. At the time of writing, Curve’s TVL is measured at approximately $17 billion. It is worth noting that Curve has constantly remained amongst the top three dapps in terms of TVL across all blockchains. 

It is also worth noting that Curve, on Ethereum, has basically become a house of whales. Since deploying into Polygon in April, the average transaction size on the Ethereum network increased significantly, more than doubling in the period. In April, the transaction size was $125,300 on average, while during May, the transactions on Curve surpassed $450,000 on average. 

Moreover, since deploying to Avalanche in August, the average transaction almost doubled after decreasing in June. At the end of September, the average transaction size on Curve exceeded $500,000. 

Unlike most of the DEXs, Curve allows liquidity pools with more than one pair, enabling up to three coins in a single liquidity pool. The most significant pools in Curve are ETH/stETH (the tokenized version of ETH staked in Lido), DAI/USDC/USDT, and renBTC/WBTC. The three stablecoin pool is an interesting one for arbitrage purposes. 

PancakeSwap

Moving to another network, BSC is a blockchain where transactions do not regularly generate high transaction fees. In BSC, PancakeSwap is the king of DeFi. PancakeSwap is actually an Uniswap fork and is the most important AMM in the Binance-branded network. PancakeSwap is the most used dapp across all protocols with over 3 million Unique Active Wallets connected during September 2021. 

Despite having more than double the number of users than Uniswap, the volumes transacted in the BSC dapp are a lot smaller on average. Furthermore, analyzing the average transaction of PancakeSwap, there is no comparison with the previously revised Ethereum dapps. During Q3 the average transaction in PancakeSwap floated around $750. 

Even though the functionality is very similar, it is clear that the whale’s preferred option remains Ethereum. Whereas BSC, specifically PancakeSwap, offers a friendlier ecosystem where regular investors can access attractive yields and get familiar with DeFi concepts like farming. Also, it grants users higher exposure to other types of tokens, like a game, NFT, or fan-based tokens. Next, we’ll analyze whales from another perspective; wallet analysis.

DEX token whale wallets

The previous section focused on whale activity, or transactions happening in some of the most important DEXs in Ethereum and BSC. For this section, we focus on whale wallets; i.e. the most prominent token holders of the previously reviewed projects.

UNI is the governance token of Uniswap. In September 2020, most of the current circulating supply was airdropped among wallets that interacted with the Beta version of the unicorn exchange. Although the complete utility of the token is still to be defined, UNI is used as one of the most flexible DeFi assets. Looking at the top 5 wallets holding UNI, we are able to see a high concentration. Approximately 20% of UNI’s circulating supply resides in only 5 wallets. 

Going further, using DappRadar’s Portfolio tool, we also detect that these UNI whales do not have regular activity. It appears that these wallets do not interact frequently in DeFi. Nor do they hold any other DeFi relevant token, like stablecoins or WETH.

On the other hand, CRV and CAKE holders seem entirely different. For instance, CRV whales only hold 9.19% of the token’s circulating supply. Although the percentage is high, it is significantly lower than the one in UNI whales. Another interesting difference is that CRV whales are much more active than UNI whales. And the diversification of tokens is also notable. 

For instance, our portfolio tool shows that this CRV whale wallet holds significant positions in other DeFi related coins such as DAI, Aave TUSD, USDC, USDT, Aave, and WETH. Whereas this other CRV whale wallet, has a high amount of DeFi tokens like Alchemix, YFI, and REN, along with a CRV yield optimizer in YFI. 

The story of CAKE whales is similar to CRV’s. In the sense of the high activity, with the obvious difference of the tokens belonging to BSC. Due to PancakeSwap’s tokenomics that include constantly burning CAKE, staking, farms called Syrups, and most recently, an integrated NFT marketplace, CAKE’s whale concentration is very low. Without considering Binance Centralized Exchange wallets, less than 1% of CAKE’s circulating supply is held by the top 5 whale wallets. 

CAKE whales appear to be more flexible than the ones in CRV, let alone UNI. For example, this whale wallet has most of its portfolio invested in DeFi related tokens like USDT, CAKE, or OOE, but it is still interesting to see a good amount of MPET (MyDeFiPet game dapp), ATLAS, and HERO tokens. All of them are associated with blockchain game dapps. 

Something similar happens when analyzing some of the biggest BUSD whales. Taking this wallet as an example, we are able to identify a diversified portfolio. Standing out we see HERO and SPS tokens. The latter belongs to one of the most popular blockchain games in the industry, Splinterlands, which could be farmed directly in PancakeSwap. Also worth noting is that, in this case, DeFi activity is null on BSC. 

In summary

In this report, we introduce the notion of whales from the DeFi perspective. Investing in DeFi has a lot of opportunities but also entails high risk. Analyzing what whales do, may give us an idea of what smart money does. Thus, learning about proper assessment tools and techniques may become useful when trying to identify trends and patterns incurred by big investors.

Due to the excessive gas fees on the Ethereum blockchain, both investors and dapps searched for alternatives to contrast the high transaction costs. From the investor perspective, it is clear that Ethereum at one moment was not an option to be involved in DeFi. Especially for investors managing lower quantities. Paying 20%, 50%, or even the same amount in gas fees that the original investment hindered activity. The Multichain paradigm certainly alleviates some of those pains, as sidechains, Layer 2 solutions, and other blockchains became relevant options for DeFi activities. 

It’s clear that DeFi on Ethereum is an ecosystem where whales thrived. Even though the gas fees mechanism changed due to the London upgrade, it still remains an ecosystem that favors whales. On the other hand, BSC is a network regular traders may find friendlier in that sense. As demonstrated by the transaction sizes in Uniswap and PancakeSwap. 

It is also worth noting that BSC’s whale wallets have more diversified portfolios. Especially in regards to other peer categories, NFTs, and games. In part two, we’ll deep dive into lending protocols Aave, MakerDAO, and Alpaca Fiance. Also, with the goal of outlining the main differences between whales in Ethereum and BSC, the two most important ecosystems in terms of DeFi at the moment.

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