Building Trust Takes Time: Limits to Arbitrage for Blockchain-Based Assets

3 Dec 2018  ·  Nikolaus Hautsch, Christoph Scheuch, Stefan Voigt ·

A blockchain replaces central counterparties with time-consuming consensus protocols to record the transfer of ownership. This settlement latency slows cross-exchange trading, exposing arbitrageurs to price risk. Off-chain settlement, instead, exposes arbitrageurs to costly default risk. We show with Bitcoin network and order book data that cross-exchange price differences coincide with periods of high settlement latency, asset flows chase arbitrage opportunities, and price differences across exchanges with low default risk are smaller. Blockchain-based trading thus faces a dilemma: Reliable consensus protocols require time-consuming settlement latency, leading to arbitrage limits. Circumventing such arbitrage costs is possible only by reinstalling trusted intermediation, which mitigates default risk.

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