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An Empirical Study of DeFi Liquidations: Incentives, Risks, and Instabilities

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  • Kaihua Qin
  • Liyi Zhou
  • Pablo Gamito
  • Philipp Jovanovic
  • Arthur Gervais

Abstract

Financial speculators often seek to increase their potential gains with leverage. Debt is a popular form of leverage, and with over 39.88B USD of total value locked (TVL), the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) lending markets are thriving. Debts, however, entail the risks of liquidation, the process of selling the debt collateral at a discount to liquidators. Nevertheless, few quantitative insights are known about the existing liquidation mechanisms. In this paper, to the best of our knowledge, we are the first to study the breadth of the borrowing and lending markets of the Ethereum DeFi ecosystem. We focus on Aave, Compound, MakerDAO, and dYdX, which collectively represent over 85% of the lending market on Ethereum. Given extensive liquidation data measurements and insights, we systematize the prevalent liquidation mechanisms and are the first to provide a methodology to compare them objectively. We find that the existing liquidation designs well incentivize liquidators but sell excessive amounts of discounted collateral at the borrowers' expenses. We measure various risks that liquidation participants are exposed to and quantify the instabilities of existing lending protocols. Moreover, we propose an optimal strategy that allows liquidators to increase their liquidation profit, which may aggravate the loss of borrowers.

Suggested Citation

  • Kaihua Qin & Liyi Zhou & Pablo Gamito & Philipp Jovanovic & Arthur Gervais, 2021. "An Empirical Study of DeFi Liquidations: Incentives, Risks, and Instabilities," Papers 2106.06389, arXiv.org, revised Oct 2021.
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:2106.06389
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Allen, Sarah & Capkun, Srdjan & Eyal, Ittay & Fanti, Giulia & Ford, Bryan & Grimmelmann, James & Juels, Ari & Kostiainen, Kari & Meiklejohn, Sarah & Miller, Andrew & Prasad, Eswar & Wüst, Karl & Zhang, 2020. "Design Choices for Central Bank Digital Currency: Policy and Technical Considerations," IZA Discussion Papers 13535, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
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    4. Titman, Sheridan, 1984. "The effect of capital structure on a firm's liquidation decision," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 137-151, March.
    5. Daniel Perez & Sam M. Werner & Jiahua Xu & Benjamin Livshits, 2020. "Liquidations: DeFi on a Knife-edge," Papers 2009.13235, arXiv.org, revised Dec 2021.
    6. Alderson, Michael J. & Betker, Brian L., 1995. "Liquidation costs and capital structure," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 45-69, September.
    7. Michael Darlin & Nikolaos Papadis & Leandros Tassiulas, 2020. "Optimal Bidding Strategy for Maker Auctions," Papers 2009.07086, arXiv.org, revised May 2021.
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    Cited by:

    1. Teng Andrea Xu & Jiahua Xu, 2022. "A Short Survey on Business Models of Decentralized Finance (DeFi) Protocols," Papers 2202.07742, arXiv.org.
    2. Aetienne Sardon, 2021. "Zero-Liquidation Loans: A Structured Product Approach to DeFi Lending," Papers 2110.13533, arXiv.org.
    3. Castro-Iragorri, C & Ramírez, J & Vélez, S, 2021. "Financial intermediation and risk in decentralized lending protocols," Documentos de Trabajo 019420, Universidad del Rosario.
    4. Estelle Sterrett & Waylon Jepsen & Evan Kim, 2022. "Replicating Portfolios: Constructing Permissionless Derivatives," Papers 2205.09890, arXiv.org, revised Jun 2022.
    5. Carlos Castro-Iragorri & Julian Ramirez & Sebastian Velez, 2021. "Financial intermediation and risk in decentralized lending protocols," Papers 2107.14678, arXiv.org.

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