The cryptocurrency money manager Panxora seeks to raise up to $50 million for a new hedge fund to buy digital tokens associated with the fast-growing decentralized finance (DeFi) sector.
DeFi is a segment of the blockchain industry consisting of automated lending and trading platforms that aim eventually to displace banks and Wall Street firms. But in a sign of just how fast-moving and fickle digital-asset markets can be, the new fundraising effort is getting underway just as prices are tumbling for some of the leading DeFi projects, including Yearn.Finance and Aave.
“This has got the potential to really change the way finance is carried out,” Panxora CEO Gavin Smith said in an interview.
DeFi projects, often referred to as protocols and mostly built atop the Ethereum blockchain, have soared in popularity this year. It has been fueled by the “yield farming” craze that encourages crypto traders to sock digital assets into the trading and lending systems in pursuit of high interest rates, token rewards and fast gains. Dollar-linked tokens known as stablecoins can fetch annualized rates up to 20% through Yearn.Finance, versus 0.01% for a savings account with JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank.
Collateral locked into DeFi projects surged to $13 billion earlier this month, according to DeFi Pulse, a 20-fold increase since the start of the year. Big cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance and Coinbase have rushed to cash in on the trend, listing DeFi tokens while acknowledging that a growing share of market volumes might eventually migrate to decentralized trading platforms.
But just in the past week, the trend has reversed; total collateral in the systems has declined to about $9.5 billion. And as prices tumbled for bitcoin (BTC), the largest cryptocurrency, and ether (ETH), the native token of the Ethereum blockchain, DeFi-affiliated tokens fell even harder.
Aave, a decentralized lender, saw its LEND tokens fall by 12% during the seven days through Tuesday, according to Messari, a cryptocurrency data firm. OMG’s OMG tokens have plummeted 54%, while Yearn.Finance’s YFI tokens are down 29%.
It’s been “an absolute bloodbath,” Messari analysts wrote Tuesday in their daily newsletter. “DeFi’s casino summer could be coming to an end.”
Cryptocurrency analysts say DeFi systems are likely to grow over the long term, though short-term risks are high in the nascent market, and many of the digital tokens are so new that they can be difficult or even impossible to value using anything resembling traditional financial analysis.
Chainlink, a so-called blockchain “oracle” that supplies price feeds to decentralized protocols, is the top-performing digital asset this year among those with a market value of at least $1 billion, climbing more than fourfold in 2020. And that’s after a 45% decline just this month.
“We expect the market to be volatile in the early years,” Smith said. “While there is great potential there will inevitably be setbacks along the way.”
Panxora’s new hedge fund, based in the Cayman Islands and scheduled to start trading on Nov. 2, will primarily buy tokens listed on big centralized cryptocurrency exchanges rather than from the roster of decentralized, automated exchanges like assembled by DeFi developers.
Smith, a former metals-pricing analyst for the Singaporean commodities-trading firm Trafigura, says that’s primarily because few if any decentralized exchanges can guarantee sufficient compliance with anti-money-laundering rules, and also because a token listing from an exchange theoretically implies some level of vetting.
“We have to offer it as a conventional hedge fund that invests in these protocols,” Smith said.