NFT Lending is Trending

A marketplace called NFTfi, which specialises in loans collateralised by NFTs, has seen a surge in lending volume over the last two months. During the weekend of 3rd July, it hit its highest level with $3.5M worth of non-fungible tokens changing hands. However, we have to look deeper to find the real story.

Richard Chen, a general partner at crypto investment firm 1confirmation, took a look at it and discovered something important. Of that $3.5m, the sum of $3.16M was borrowed by just two whale investors, although there are many on crypto Twitter who doubt that it is two people, and suggest it is a single investor.

The ‘two’ investors borrowed 21,500 DAI against a combined collection of 147 CryptoPunk NFTs. The interest rate on the loan is set by a metaverse-based interest rate protocol called MetaStreet, which acted as sole lender for the loans.

NFTfi specialises in short-term loans, with loans lasting 33 days on average. The interest rate on that period of time is around 4%, which equates to 42% per annum. As might be expected, Bored Apes and CryptoPunks dominate the NFTs offered as collateral.

There is now a rumour floating around that this flurry of activity on NFTfi will launch an airdrop for users. Andrew T of wallet analytics firm Nansen tweeted that NFTfi has been quietly raising funds over the last three months, equivalent to $1m in USDC. He tweeted, “Between that and this possible airdrop farming, could be a token on the horizon.” Others aren’t so sure, with some suggesting there is a pattern at play that looks more like money laundering.

NFT lending is soaring

Whatever the truth of that, NFTfi as a business has been doing extraordinarily well in the NFT lending sector. Since it launched in 2020 it has facilitated 13,402 loans worth $217.6m. It even managed to buck the downward trend of the crypto market in 2022, processing a record $48.7M worth of loans in April, although as market conditions became more strained, volume dropped, with only $15.8M worth of loans being taken out during the month of June.

NFTfi’s excellent results over two years have of course prompted other protocols to enter the market. Arcade, which raised $15M in a Series A funding round in December is one of them and has facilitated $25m worth of loans since it went live in January this year.

Emergence of peer-to-protocol lending

Gmoney, a prolific NFT collector, says that while more protocols are coming along that offer peer-to-peer loans backed by NFTs, the next frontier for NFT lending will be “peer-to-protocol lending.” In a podcast with The Defiant, he said, “At the moment, there’s no peer-to-protocol lending, it’s more peer-to-peer. I think the issue that people are trying to solve is how do you make it a peer-to-protocol lending environment… I know a lot of teams are trying to solve this problem.” Indeed, Messari reviews JPEG’d which offers a token-integrated peer-to-protocol approach, and that because of its utility-driven tokenomics, the demand for the JPEG token is correlated with demand to “maximally utilise the platform.” It will be interesting to observe to what extent peer-to-protocol overtakes peer-to-peer NFT lending, and why.

The Battle Between TradFi and DeFi

Heap of dollar bills eyeglasses and Bitcoin coins. Cryptocurrency analyzing concept

You may have seen numerous articles about decentralized finance (DeFi) and its claims that it will radically change the traditional finance (TradFi) sector. DeFi supporters state that there is a core need for an open, transparent, and secure financial system, and that TradFi simply doesn’t provide that. Essentially, DeFi positions itself as an alternative to the banking system we currently have.

One of the arguments for DeFi is that because it is a blockchain-based concept, it is outside of governmental and regulatory control. This has a strong appeal to those who are concerned about what we have learnt about personal data collection by commercial entities and governments.

DeFi answers the desire for data security and privacy. It also “leverages a set of progressive, agile tools to give control to users,” according to Stably. It also offers features that traditional finance can’t provide, and this makes it an attractive alternative to the current system.

But what are the real differences between DeFi and TradFi? There are three key differences:

  1. In DeFi the public blockchain is the source of trust, whereas in TradFi it is regulatory bodies that are the source of trust.
  2. DeFi is gaining traction because it is open and transparent, and there are fewer barriers to accessing it. The opposite is true of TradFi, especially in terms of the barriers to access, which leaves billions of people unbanked worldwide.
  3. TradFi has its hands tied by regulatory forces, which makes it extremely difficult for its institutions to act with the same agility as DeFi projects.

DeFi’s use cases

There are also three strong use cases for DeFi.

1. Banking

Unlike TradFi, DeFi projects are able to offer banking without borders. TradFi struggles with this, and as mentioned before, this has left billions globally without a banking service. DeFi’s use of blockchain technology overcomes that issue and allows people in developing countries and rmote areas with access to banking via their mobile phone.

2. Circumventing oppressive governments

Oppressive governments are prone to issuing bans and restrictions on financial movement. TradFi can’t offer solutions, but again, because DeFi uses the blockchain and associated tools, it is able to circumvent government restrictions and provide uncensored global financial services.

  • Creative finance

There is a level of creativity in DeFi projects in terms of developing new features and functions. In the past TradFi had a monopoly on financial products, but even those products associated with TradFi can be moved over onto the blockchain, giving DeFi another advantage.

Challenges to overcome

Naturally, while DeFi has advantages, it doesn’t have a clear home run. It also faces challenges.  The biggest one is not hard to identify, and you don’t need to even ask an expert: it is getting the general public to trust the idea of unregulated open-source code. Cryptocurrency doesn’t yet have mass adoption and there is widespread mistrust of it, which bleeds over into the DeFi sector by association. There are fears about hacks amongst other things. Indeed, the DeFi tech is still in its infancy, with much work to be done to make it more trustworthy for a wider audience beyond DeFi fans.

Ultimately, DeFi has a way to go, but it undoubtedly has potential, and certainly as a way to give more people access to banking services. If its works hard on scalability, security and liquidity, it has a real opportunity to replace TradFi.

Dazzled by some insanely high APYs?

Have you noticed that a significant number of DeFi projects are offering insanely high annual percentage yields (APY), which, of course, look very attractive to investors, especially retail investors, who are those most at risk.

There are DeFi protocols that have been built using the proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus protocol offering eye-watering returns to their investors in return for them staking their native tokens. But, as most of us know, sometimes by getting burnt ourselves, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

The issue is that some projects are nothing more than cash grab schemes. Shiraz Jagati at Cointelegraph gives the example of YieldZard, a project positioning itself as a DeFi innovation-focused company with an auto-staking protocol, which claims to offer a fixed APY of 918,757% to its clients. Who finds that believable? All you would need to invest is $1000 to gain a return of $9,187,570! And YieldZard isn’t the only project offering fast and high payouts.

Assessing an APY

How can you as an investor assess the sustainability of projects like this? Here is some advice from Kia Mosayeri, product manager at Balancer Labs — a DeFi automated market-making protocol. “Sophisticated investors will want to look for the source of the yield, its sustainability and capacity. A yield that is driven from sound economical value, such as interest paid for borrowing capital or percentage fees paid for trading, would be rather more sustainable and scalable than yield that comes from arbitrary token emissions.”

Ran Hammer, vice president of business development for public blockchain infrastructure at Orbs, pointed to the fact that DeFi offers a another major innovation to the crypto ecosystem: the ability to earn yield on what is more or less passive holding. But as he says, not all yields are equal by design because some yields are rooted in “real” revenue, while others are the result of high emissions based on Ponzi-like tokenomics.

Understand the source of the ‘yield’

Ultimately, it is very important for investors to understand where the yield is coming from. For example, transaction fees in exchange for computing power, trading fees on liquidity, a premium for options or insurance and interest on loans are all “real yields.” Whereas those that are based on token inflation may turn out to be less sustainable, as there is no real economic value funding these rewards. 

So, if you see a dazzling APY offered, you should consider all of the above, as well as the fact that most returns are paid in cryptocurrencies, and since most cryptocurrencies are volatile, (just look at the market this week!) the assets lent to earn such unrealistic APYs can decrease in value over time, leading to major losses. 

Ethereum fights off its ‘killers’

Ethereum has hit another all time high (ATH), even though the gas fees associated with using some complex DeFi protocols has increased above $1,000. This makes many decentralized finance protocols unusable for casual investors, with average Ethereum transaction fees now at a record $17.67, according to Cointelegraph. However, Bitcoin’s gas fees are not much lower.

But this is not deterring DeFi developers, who appear to be abandoning the so-called ‘Ethereum killers’, such as EOS, and sticking with the old guard. According to a Blockchain Development Trends report by venture capital firm Outlier Ventures, reported by Cointelegraph, “Ethereum remains the most actively developed blockchain protocol, followed by Cardano and Bitcoin.” The report adds, “while some new platforms such as Polkadot, Cosmos, and Avalanche are seeing an increase in developer activity, many of the traditional Ethereum competitors are seeing a decline in core development.”

You can read the Outlier Ventures Full Report here.

DeFi strength supports Ethereum

Certainly in 2020, the majority of DeFi platforms were Ethereum based, and even now “Ethereum still remains the king overall though, with 14% more developer activity than its closest rival, Cardano, and almost double that of Bitcoin in terms of commits,” Outlier Ventures says.

“Ethereum miners have been the key beneficiaries of the fee spike. The industry earned some $830 million in ether last month with 40% attributed from fees alone,” Coindesk reports, also noting that the increase in fees correlates with ETH’s current bullish price run, which also reflects the high demand for ERC-20-based tokens for stablecoin and DeFi projects.

It would also appear that Ethereum’s new ATH is bringing DeFi tokens along with it. Coindesk says: “According to research firm Messari, after ether went on a tear several DeFi tokens including chainlink (LINK), sushiswap (SUSHI) and aave (AAVE) followed the bullish trend, logging historic high prices Wednesday.”

Hunain Naseer, senior content editor at crypto exchange OKEX’s research unit, OKEx Insights said: “Ether made a significant push [since Tuesday] and that is causing projects linked to the DeFi space – as well as DOT, which is seen as a potential ‘Ethereum killer’ – to appreciate and aim for new all-time highs.”

Ethereum also got a big push from Grayscale, which added approximately 24,800 ETH on Tuesday, then worth more than $37.8 million, and it reopened its Ethereum Trust (OTCQX: ETHE) for accredited investors. This had been closed in late December, but as of 29th January 2021, the Grayscale Ethereum Trust had more than $4 billion in assets under management.

What is causing this price drive? It is thought that more investors are starting to see value in the projects behind these DeFi tokens, so market excitement is building. And with so many on the Ethereum blockchain, it seems the Ethereum killers may have more of a fight on their hands than they realised.