What Is Impermanent Loss?

What Is Impermanent Loss?

Impermanent loss is a well-known term in the DeFi community. It refers to the loss incurred when the value of your tokens fluctuates from the time you deposited them into a pool. The magnitude of the loss depends on the extent of the price change.

This phenomenon is a result of the inherent design characteristic found in automated market makers, a unique type of market. While providing liquidity to a liquidity pool can be a lucrative pursuit, it is crucial to consider the concept of impermanent loss. By understanding and keeping this concept in mind, you can make more informed decisions when engaging in liquidity provision.

Basics

The crypto space has witnessed a surge in volume and liquidity thanks to popular DeFi protocols such as Uniswap, SushiSwap, and PancakeSwap. These protocols have revolutionized market-making by allowing individuals with funds to participate and earn trading fees. This democratization of market-making has facilitated seamless economic activity within the crypto industry.

What Is Impermanent Loss?

When you provide liquidity to a liquidity pool, you expose yourself to impermanent loss, which occurs when the price of your deposited assets changes compared to the time of deposit. The greater the price fluctuation, the higher the risk of impermanent loss. This loss refers to a reduction in the dollar value of your assets at the time of withdrawal compared to the time of deposit.

Liquidity pools that consist of assets with a narrow price range are less susceptible to impermanent loss. Stablecoins and wrapped versions of coins, for instance, tend to maintain a relatively stable price range, reducing the risk for liquidity providers.

But why do LPs still provide liquidity despite the potential for losses? Well, trading fees can offset the impermanent loss. Uniswap, for example, charges a 0.3% fee on every trade, which is directly allocated to liquidity providers. If a pool experiences high trading volume, providing liquidity can still be profitable, even if the pool is highly exposed to impermanent loss. However, the profitability depends on factors such as the protocol, the specific pool, the deposited assets, and prevailing market conditions.

Causes of Impermanent Loss

Consider the example of Sarah, a liquidity provider, to understand impermanent loss. Sarah deposits 2 ETH and 150 DAI into a liquidity pool, where the token pair must have equal value. At the time of deposit, ETH is valued at 75 DAI, making her deposit worth 300 USD.

The pool already contains 15 ETH and 1,500 DAI contributed by other liquidity providers. Sarah holds a 10% share in the pool, and the total liquidity is 10,000.

Now, let's suppose the price of ETH rises to 150 DAI. In response, arbitrage traders rebalance the pool by adding DAI and removing ETH. Despite the pool's liquidity remaining at 10,000, the asset ratio within the pool changes. As a result, there are now 10 ETH and 750 DAI in the pool.

Sarah decides to withdraw her funds. With her 10% share, she can withdraw 1 ETH and 75 DAI, totaling 225 USD. At first glance, it appears she made a profit since her initial deposit was worth 300 USD. However, if Sarah had simply held her 2 ETH and 150 DAI, their combined value would be 450 USD.

This illustrates impermanent loss. Although Sarah's loss is relatively small due to the initial deposit amount, it's important to note that impermanent loss can result in substantial losses, potentially affecting a significant portion of the initial deposit.

This illustrates impermanent loss. Although Sarah's loss is relatively small due to the initial deposit amount, it's important to note that impermanent loss can result in substantial losses, potentially affecting a significant portion of the initial deposit.

It's worth mentioning that this example does not account for the trading fees Sarah would have earned for providing liquidity. In many cases, these fees can offset losses and make liquidity provisions profitable. Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand impermanent loss before engaging in liquidity provision within a DeFi protocol.

Estimating Impermanent Loss

To better grasp impermanent loss, let's analyze its impact on assets in a pool using a graph. It's important to note that this graph does not consider the fees earned from providing liquidity.

Here's a summary of the losses compared to the usual holding:

  • A 1.25x price change results in a 0.6% loss.
  • A 1.50x price change leads to a 2.0% loss.
  • A 1.75x price change incurs a 3.8% loss.
  • A 2x price change corresponds to a 5.7% loss.
  • A 3x price change entails a 13.4% loss.
  • A 4x price change causes a 20.0% loss.
  • A 5x price change results in a 25.5% loss.

It's important to understand that impermanent loss occurs regardless of the direction of the price change. Impermanent loss solely considers the price ratio compared to the time of deposit.

Risks of Liquidity Provision in AMMs

Impermanent loss, despite its name, is not a temporary setback. Once you withdraw your coins from a liquidity pool, the losses become permanent. Although the fees you earn can help offset these losses, it is important to be cautious when depositing funds into an automated market maker (AMM). Different liquidity pools vary in their exposure to impermanent loss, and pools with more volatile assets pose a higher risk. To mitigate potential losses, consider starting with a small deposit to gauge expected returns before committing a larger amount.

When engaging with AMMs, it is crucial to choose well-established and thoroughly tested platforms. In the DeFi space, it is relatively easy for individuals to create modified versions of existing AMMs. However, such forks may introduce bugs or other vulnerabilities that could result in your funds being trapped indefinitely. Beware of liquidity pools that promise unusually high returns, as they often come with tradeoffs and increased risks. Prioritizing reliability and security will help ensure a smoother experience when participating in liquidity provision.

Conclusion

When participating in AMMs and providing liquidity, it is crucial to grasp the concept of impermanent loss. Simply put, impermanent loss occurs when the price of the assets in the liquidity pool fluctuates after the deposit. This exposes liquidity providers to potential losses. Understanding impermanent loss is essential for anyone interested in engaging with AMMs and ensuring they are aware of the risks involved.

Impermanent Loss
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