In the nine days from January 14, 2022 to January 22, 2022, ETH followed Bitcoin on a downward spiral. ETH, the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain, lost 27% in that time. Were the ETH whales collectively selling, holding, or buying ETH?
Whales are the top holders of a cryptocurrency. On the Ethereum network, the top whale wallet holds 1.99 million ETH, representing 1.6% of all ETH in circulation. A person may hold multiple wallets, but linking wallets to people is mostly impossible (except for those in the field of crypto forensics or working at centralized exchanges). For on-chain analytics, I will focus on the wallets. I’ve included a Google spreadsheet below, which contains data from the Ethereum blockchain, for your reference.
In the spreadsheet, the first tab shows the top whale wallet addresses; these were sourced from etherscan.io. The rest of the tabs were generated by me for analysis. I started with the top 5,000 wallets — the most that I can use before running into computing limitations. From there, I excluded non-exchange, non-contract wallets, which are intermediary pools of ETH used to handle transactions for millions of buyers and sellers of tokens, NFTs, defi, etc. Including them would be meaningless — akin to including a bank or stock exchange’s assets when analyzing individuals’ wealth.
Finally, I end up with 4,787 top private individual wallets. These account for 43.7% of all ETH in circulation, giving us quite a broad coverage of ETH ownership. The timeframe covers nine days from Jan 14 to Jan 22, 2022.
What’s in the Data?
The second tab in the spreadsheet shows inflows into each whale wallet every day from Jan 14 to Jan 22; the third tab shows outflows in the same way. The fourth tab shows the inflows, outflows, and net flows side by side for each wallet, where net flow is equal to inflow minus outflow; a positive net flow is a net inflow (i.e. inflow is greater than outflow), while a negative flow is a net outflow. In the sample period, 568 out of the 4,787 wallets had any inflow or outflow. In other words, 88% of the wallets had no activity; this is a sign that the vast majority of whales did not panic during the market selloff, nor did they buy the dip; in other words, they were ‘hodling’, as the lingo goes.
The analysis below are based on the summary data found in the summary tab of the spreadsheet. The first chart shows the price of ETH steadily declining from Jan 14 to 20, then a sharp drop of 14% on Jan 21, followed by another 6% decline on Jan 22, for a 27% total loss.
Meanwhile the total net inflow of ETH into whale wallets was steadily increasing, with the small exception of Jan 18, when there was a net outflow of 22,522 ETH. When the price dropped sharply on Jan 21, the active whales pounced at the opportunity to buy.
In all, whale wallets collectively accumulated a net of 713,198 ETH (i.e. $1.7 billion of new money was spent on ETH) in the face of a 27% price decline during the nine-day period. This also implies that the net sellers were non-whales or smaller whales that aren’t in the sample.
On one hand, whale accumulation in the face of widespread panic shows the whales’ confidence in ETH. Whales tend to be early investors, whose dollar-value holdings are in the millions to billions; they tend to be long-term investors that don’t panic, but rather buy on the dip. This should give us, the ‘small fish’, some comfort that there is price support for ETH from at least 47% of the ownership.
On the other hand, as whales accumulate more of an asset, they set themselves up to later increase their influence on the price of the asset (à la Dogecoin). However, given that ETH is widely held, and the largest wallet accounts for less than 2% of all ETH, it is unlikely that the price-changing power is concentrated in the hands of one or a few players, at least for now. Future articles will cover this topic. Stay tuned.
As a caveat, let’s not pin all of our hopes of price stability and gains on the whales. Though the Jan 14-22 selloff can mostly be attributed to the small players, one should not underestimate the power of many small players, especially if their moves are coordinated, intentionally or otherwise. Look no further than Dogecoin, Shiba Inu, and many other meme coins.
All this to say that the whales’ show of confidence in ETH is comforting, but there are no guarantees. The way to deal with uncertainty is to diversify. Diversification across & within asset classes, across time, has shown to be an effective approach to building and preserving wealth.