Insider Trading at CryptoPunks?

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NFTs

Sales volumes spiked by 779% just before big announcement

CryptoPunks trading volumes shot up by 779% overnight, one day before Yuga Labs announced the appointment of Noah Davis as brand lead for the NFT collection. Davis is joining the project from Christie’s, where he’s been the Head of Digital Sales for the auction house since 2020. 

Summary

  • CryptoPunks trading volumes increased by nearly 8x to $8,120,614 on June 18th.
  • Late on June 19th, former Christie’s Head of Digital Sales Noah Davis announced on Twitter that he will join CryptoPunks as brand lead.
  • Amid accusations of blatant, but legal, insider trading, people are wondering what regulations might be introduced to curb people taking advantage of the Wild Web3.

Did anyone else notice the CryptoPunks trading volumes shoot up over the weekend? If you missed the news, here’s a quick recap: 

  • Trading volumes for CryptoPunks went up by 779%.
  • In USD value, sales went from $1,032,567 on June 17th to $8,120,614 on June 18th.
  • Unique buyers went from 16 to 72 in the same period.
  • Total transactions shot up by 619%, from 16 to 115.

Check out CryptoPunks on DappRadar’s NFT Explorer to see for yourself how the collection is performing.

All of these increases came 24 hours before Noah Davis announced on Twitter that he was leaving auction house Christie’s to become the brand lead for CryptoPunks.

Source: Twitter

So who knew that Yuga Labs was bringing in a new brand lead and decided to stock up on NFTs before the news hit the headlines? And secondly, is this insider trading, and isn’t that illegal?

Is this insider trading?

On June 18th, CryptoPunks had its biggest day of trading volume for 2022. 8,369 ETH ($8,120,615 at the time) worth of CryptoPunks changed hands. It was a significant jump, especially as it came during the current bear market.

Source: Cryptoslam

Unless this was a huge coincidence, it seems that some front runners knew about Davis’s move before it was official. In any other industry, this would be insider trading and the US Securities and Exchange Commission would be taking a thorough look through emails, Discord and private messages.

But in the world of NFTs, where government regulators haven’t quite figured out how to classify assets on blockchains, collections like CryptoPunks are essentially deregulated.

This means that when people hear rumors about a new head of branding at a blue chip NFT collection, there is no law against using that knowledge for profit.

Blockchain sleuth uncovers CryptoPunks buyers

One user on Twitter decided that although no one did anything illegal, it was only right that the people who bought the Punks should be exposed.

Firstly, Wazz Crypto produced a list of the top Punks buyers between June 17th and June 19th. Unsurprisingly, Punks OTC came top of the list. Punks OTC is a trading desk that regularly buys and sells Punks.

Source: Twitter

But then after this, it becomes quite clear that something fishy occurred. One freshly opened wallet was funded with 643 ETH from Coinbase on June 19th. The holder then proceeded to purchase eight Punks for a combined 612.86 ETH. The Punks are still sitting comfortably in the wallet, awaiting deployment.

One more enthusiast, known as Beanie on Twitter, came off a three-month break in NFT trading to buy four Punks. DappRadar estimates the wallet’s net worth at over $2 million.

It’s highly likely that some savvy NFT collectors noticed unusual CryptoPunks buying patterns and decided that something interesting was taking place. From here, they bought up some Punks and contributed to increased trading numbers.

But it’s also certainly the case that some people knew beforehand that Yuga Labs and CryptoPunks were about to announce the appointment of Noah Davis. They also knew that excitement and hype would follow and made sure they were holding undervalued assets before they increased in price.

This isn’t the only recent example of dodgy practices taking place inside the web3 community.

OpenSea, Coinbase and their unscrupulous employees

DappRadar reported on June 2nd about the case of OpenSea employee Nate Chastain. As a Product Manager at the secondary marketplace, Chastain allegedly received confidential information that a collection would be on the site’s front page. He would then, allegedly, buy up those NFTs before they spiked in value, then sell them off once they did.

Twitter detective 0xZuwu uncovered the fraudulent activity back in September 2021 but it was only this June that US prosecutors in Manhattan charged Chastain with money laundering and wire fraud.

Source: Twitter

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong also recently responded to allegations of insider trading at the centralized exchange. Apparently, employees at the company were aware ahead of time that a coin was about to be listed. They would buy these up on decentralized exchanges, wait for them to list, then sell them on at a profit.

‘There is always the possibility that someone inside Coinbase could, wittingly or unwittingly, leak information to outsiders engaging in illegal activity,’ said Armstrong. And this appears to be the crux of the issue.

For all the idealistic notions of transparency and fairness that advocates of blockchain technology cling on to, there will always be someone gaming the system. 

In the case of these CryptoPunks trades, we know something potentially unethical has taken place. We also have verifiable evidence of who did it and when it happened. But no matter how decentralized you make things, knowing useful things before anyone else does will always be a form of power. 

For everyone who knew about Noah Davis’s new job before the rest of us, insider knowledge is also a very tidy profit.

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