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Does mining fuel bubbles? An experimental study on cryptocurrency markets

Lambrecht, Marco ; Sofianos, Andis ; Xu, Yilong

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Recent years have seen an emergence of decentralized cryptocurrencies that were initially devised as a payment system, but are increasingly being recognized as investment instruments. The price trajectories of cryptocurrencies have raised questions among economists and policymakers, especially since such markets can have spillover effects on the real economy. We focus on two key properties of cryptocurrencies that may contribute to their pricing. In a controlled lab setting, we test whether pricing is influenced by costly mining, as well as entry barriers to the mining technology. Our mining design resembles the proof-of-work mechanism employed by the vast majority of permissionless cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. In our second condition, half of the traders have access to the mining technology, while the other half can only participate in the market. This is designed to model high concentration in cryptocurrency mining. In the absence of mining, no bubbles or crashes occur. When costly mining is introduced, assets are traded at prices more than 200% higher than fundamental value and the bubble peaks relatively late in the trading periods. When only half of the traders can mine, prices surge much earlier and reach values of almost 400% higher than the fundamental value at the peak of the market. Overall, the proof-of-work mechanism seems to fuel overpricing, which is further intensified by concentration in mining.

Item Type: Working paper
Series Name: Discussion Paper Series / University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics
Volume: 0690
Place of Publication: Heidelberg
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2020 11:28
Date: September 2020
Number of Pages: 46
Faculties / Institutes: The Faculty of Economics and Social Studies > Alfred-Weber-Institut for Economics
Subjects: 330 Economics
Controlled Keywords: Bitcoin, bubbles
Uncontrolled Keywords: cryptocurrency, financial market experiment
Schriftenreihe ID: Discussion Paper Series / University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics

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