(Bloomberg) -- The notion that more people are trading cryptocurrencies? Well, it just may be wrong.
Fewer people have been sending Bitcoin to major exchanges in recent months, according to crypto data tracker TokenAnalyst. After peaking in 2017, the number of unique addresses sending the world’s most-popular cryptocurrency to exchanges such as Binance and Bitfinex has been declining, it found.
The number of addresses sending the token to the Bitfinex trading platform is at a two-year low, while the amount on Malta-based Binance -- the world’s largest crypto exchange by volume -- dropped to early 2018 levels, according to TokenAnalyst.
That signals a “lack of retail interest in general currently in crypto,” said Sid Shekhar, co-founder of London-based TokenAnalyst. “If we go by the ‘Bitcoin as safe haven in times of recession’ narrative, the number of new users/buyers should actually be increasing.”
Other data point in the same direction. Bitcoin exchange trade volume in U.S. dollars is at its lowest point since May, and has been trending down since peaking in 2017, according to Blockchain.com. Web traffic to Binance and Hong Kong-based Bitfinex is at a four-month low, according to tracker SimilarWeb.
That said, crypto user data is difficult to monitor due to the anonymous nature of the ownership of the assets. Bitcoin on-chain transaction activity has nearly quadrupled this year, peaking in July following a price rally ended in June, according to tracking service Chainalysis.
Faced with fewer active traders, exchanges -- which make the bulk of their money off of transaction fees -- are increasingly catering to power users. Only about 11% of all crypto holders were sending coins to someone -- as a trade or a payment -- once or twice a week last year, according to a Foundation of Interwallet Operability survey of more than 200 users released in February.
To increase user loyalty and the amount of fees they can charge, a number of exchanges, such as Binance and Bitfinex, have rolled out or expanded availability of margin trading, letting users borrow funds to speculate. Binance began user testing its futures products this month, after allowing traders to lend out their funds to others in August.
“The more products you offer, the more sticky your client,” said Jeff Dorman, chief investment officer at Arca, a Los Angeles-based asset manager that invests in cryptocurrencies. “All consumers prefer a ‘one-stop shop.’”
Binance and Bitfinex officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
The user growth crunch is also seen pushing some of the 200-plus crypto exchanges toward consolidation.
“The whole exchange landscape is very much fragmented,” Ian Taylor, head of advisory services at Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd., said in a phone interview. “There’s been a lot of exchange platforms launched in the last 6-12 months, all offering slightly varying sets of services. What I’d expect to see over time is some sort of consolidation to bolster user growth.”
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