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Bitcoin Liquidity: How Liquid Is Bitcoin?

By Brian Nibley · November 07, 2022 · 6 minute read

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Bitcoin Liquidity: How Liquid Is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a relatively liquid asset, though there are factors that can alter its liquidity at any given time. Bitcoin’s liquidity is usually high as there are a number of established, trusted exchanges on which traders can buy or sell Bitcoin. And given a high number of exchanges trading it, along with the volume of those trades, Bitcoin is generally a fairly liquid asset. Read on to learn more about what makes Bitcoin liquid and more.

Recommended: What Is Bitcoin and How Does It Work?

What Is Liquidity in Cryptocurrency?

Liquidity, as it relates to investing, refers to how easily an asset can be converted to cash — or liquidated — without having an effect on its market price. The easier it is to liquidate something, and the less likely a market participant is to move the price by doing so, the more liquid an asset can be said to be.

Liquidity is often used in reference to investments like stocks. If you were to sell a small number of stocks in exchange for cash, it’d likely be pretty easy, and the markets may not notice at all. But if a “whale” were to sell a huge number of stocks, market makers may notice, and adjust their own behavior, potentially affecting the stock’s value.

Cash is usually considered the most liquid asset of all, while real estate is generally regarded as the least liquid asset class. That’s because selling real estate can take months and involves lots of paperwork, fees, and commissions. Precious metals like gold and silver are also rather illiquid.

💡 Recommended: What Are Considered Liquid Assets?

Is Bitcoin Liquid or Illiquid?

How liquid is Bitcoin? Compared to many other asset classes, Bitcoin could be considered very liquid, at least most of the time.

“Most of the time” is an important qualifier because market conditions are always changing. On an average day, for instance, it can be said that Bitcoin has a high level of liquidity. But during times of crisis and panic selling, or times of euphoria and panic buying, this may be less so — it all depends on market conditions.

The exchange an investor is trading Bitcoin on also matters when trying to gauge liquidity. The more traders and higher volume of an exchange, the greater Bitcoin’s relative liquidity.

Factors That Impact Bitcoin Liquidity

These are a few of the most important variables that can affect Bitcoin liquidity.

1. Volume

Volume, in the financial markets, refers to how much of an asset is being traded within a given timeframe (e.g., daily volume). Greater volume tends to increase liquidity and dampen the effects of volatility. Conversely, lower volume can lower liquidity.

2. Exchanges

Liquidity is integral to how crypto exchanges work. The more trusted exchanges that exist, the more markets there are for people to buy and sell Bitcoin. This translates to greater total volume of Bitcoin being traded, which makes for more liquidity. In the early days of crypto, this was a major obstacle to the liquidity of Bitcoin. But as the crypto space has grown, so has its capacity for trading.

3. Storage

One interesting factor affecting Bitcoin liquidity is how people store their digital assets. This is a factor that is unique to cryptocurrency and doesn’t have much relevance to other assets, like stocks. But because Bitcoin is a scarce digital commodity, the way it is stored matters in relation to liquidity.

People who hold large amounts of Bitcoin tend to be fans of something called cold storage, which involves holding the private keys to a crypto wallet offline. This method is thought to make coins less vulnerable, as they typically cannot be accessed by hackers or thieves of any kind. But if coins are held offline, they are effectively off the market, and therefore reduce liquidity.

Roughly three-quarters of the total Bitcoin supply was illiquid as of the beginning of 2022.

4. Volatility

Liquidity and volatility can be closely related. A lack of liquidity can lead to an increase in volatility if one or more large traders are buying or selling large quantities of assets. Those moves can cause prices to move up or down rapidly if there is a limited supply of an asset on the order books.

When there is a large supply of an asset and many large orders, it takes a greater amount of capital to move the market. At the same time, a spike in volatility can also lead to a drop in liquidity, as panic selling ensues and bid/ask spreads widen.

In general, higher liquidity tends to make for lower overall volatility. This is part of the reason why Bitcoin used to fall or rise by significant percentages, often within a single day. Such moves are less common now, though cryptos remain highly volatile assets.

Determining Bitcoin Volatility

Volatility, to take it back to basics, refers to the price swing for a given asset within a given time frame. In other words, Bitcoin’s volatility would measure how much its value fluctuates on a specific day. The higher the volatility, the more wild or extreme the price swings.

Determining Bitcoin’s volatility involves some rather complex math. In the end, you’re basically calculating Bitcoin’s standard deviation, which measures how far its price moved from the median during a certain time period. If Bitcoin’s price has slowly but steadily gone up over time, you could chart that ascent as a line on a graph — it would deviate on a day-to-day basis from that line, however, as prices rise and fall.

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Can You Liquify Bitcoin?

Yes. There’s enough Bitcoin liquidity for holders to liquify their holdings when needed. Cryptocurrency markets trading hours never stop — traders can buy or sell 24 hours per day, 7 days a week year-round.

In this respect, large market cap cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are generally very liquid, in that traders can enter or exit positions at any time. The same cannot be said of all the thousands of altcoins, which are less popular and may have little to no liquidity on many exchanges.

In traditional financial markets, like stock markets in the U.S., trades can normally only be executed during the hours of 9:30 am to 4 pm EST Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Some derivatives, like futures contracts, may have additional trading hours. But for the most part, stock trading only occurs during regular business hours of the time zone in which a stock exchange is located (like the New York Stock Exchange, for example).

As long as entities are buying Bitcoin an investor’s chosen exchange, they should be able to liquify Bitcoin holdings immediately. Some exchanges may simplify this process from the user’s perspective and simply allow users to enter a sell order for a specific amount, while the exchange handles the details on the backend.

💡 Recommended: Bitcoin vs. Ethereum: Major Differences to Know

What Is the Most Liquid Cryptocurrency?

It’s difficult to determine which cryptocurrency, at a given time, is the most liquid. But highly popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are likely near the top of the list.

Bitcoin has the largest market cap of any cryptocurrency with a market cap of about $370 billion (October 2022) which represents more than 41% of the entire cryptocurrency market (a measure called Bitcoin dominance). But as noted earlier, much of this market cap is likely held in cold storage and is therefore illiquid. So, Bitcoin liquidity is not as high as it potentially could be.

The Takeaway

Bitcoin is a fairly liquid asset, which can’t be said about all cryptocurrencies. There are some factors that determine Bitcoin’s liquidity — including trading volume and storage methods — but overall, it’s fairly easy for investors to liquidate their Bitcoin holdings at any time. As such, in terms of what to know before investing in crypto, Bitcoin liquidity certainly ranks high on the list.

Interested in investing in Bitcoin, or other cryptocurrencies? With SoFi Invest® members can trade popular cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, and more — all while managing their account from the convenient mobile app.

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FAQ

What is the total liquidity of Bitcoin?

Roughly three-fourths of the Bitcoin supply was illiquid at the beginning of 2022. That’s largely due to Bitcoin being held in cold storage or offline wallets, and therefore not available to be traded on the markets to willing buyers.

Is Bitcoin easy to liquidate?

Yes, Bitcoin is easy to liquidate, and may be the most liquid of all cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is easy to liquidate because the crypto markets never close, and because it is a very popular digital asset that always has buyers and sellers looking to trade.

How do you calculate cryptocurrency liquidity?

While there may not be an exact formula or science to calculating liquidity, gauging liquidity involves factors such as a token’s total market capitalization, its trading volume, and its price. Other factors, like exchange availability, are also important.


Photo credit: iStock/Olemedia

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