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The cryptocurrency market is notoriously opaque, and while it is tempting to blame Elon Musk for the rise and fall of Bitcoin, recent research has hinted that the real players in the Bitcoin game are a small coterie of crypto whales.

Cryptocurrency trading simulator Crypto Parrot has been doing some number crunching and has discovered that over 18.5m Bitcoin are held by the richest 10% of addresses. This represents 99.05% of the Bitcoin supply which is currently in circulation.

But it gets worse when you look at the maximum supply of the currency, capped at 21m. The ten richest addresses – yes only 10 – account for 88.37%. That represents a massive amount of control over any market, cryptocurrency or otherwise.

Who are the Bitcoin whales driving the BTC price?

  Who are these shadowy players in the Bitcoin market? It is very hard to say precisely, but historical trading activities do go some way towards indicating who they might be.

The big players look to be either large cryptocurrency exchanges or a small collection of wealthy individuals, as well as institutional investors. The exchanges obviously account for the bulk of the retail trading in Bitcoin. It also shows that most investors still prefer to keep their Bitcoin holdings in hot wallets instead of cold storage. Other holders include funds, custodians and high net worth individuals.

A small number of early adopters who have hung onto their Bitcoin stakes have also done extremely well with the price rise and are still in the market. “Notably, these addresses accumulated more Bitcoin cheaply when there were no better practices on how to hold Bitcoin safely,” says Cryptoparrot. “Therefore, factoring in lost coins would potentially add to a push towards widespread supply distribution.”

Despite what Cryptoparrot says, there are still some very large Bitcoin holdings held in anonymous cold wallets, The top three richest Bitcoin addresses, which account for over 3% of total BTC, are all cold wallets. All three are still active sellers of Bitcoin with sales in the last three months

Guestimates have been made as to the actual identity of the biggest hitters. Among them are likely to be Barry Silbert, CEO of Digital Currency Group, Dan Morehead, CEO of Pantera Capital (the first investment fund to see the potential of Bitcoin) and of course the Winklevoss twins.

However, Bitcoin traders need to be aware of just how much influence some of these Bitcoin holders can wield in the market. While Elon Musk can obviously shift the price through his remarks on Twitter, a single big trade from one of these players will also shift the price quickly. Most Bitcoin whales will generally only sell a small part of their stake in the market, when they choose to do so, but sudden buying activity by large institutions can also drive major market rallies. There are two other cold wallets in the top 10 addresses.

Listen: Podcast with Stephen Ehrlich, CEO of Voyager Digital, on trading and investing in cryptocurrencies

What happens when the Bitcoin runs out?

At some point there will be no more Bitcoin to be mined. This is one of its key differences from gold. More supply would only become available if the Bitcoin protocol was altered to provide more. There are currently only 2.7m Bitcoin still to be mined. When the last Bitcoin will be mined is an open debate and even the experts don’t seem to have a clear idea. But this will mean more scarcity which will be an upward price driver.

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Please note this article does not constitute investment advice. Investors are encouraged to do their own research beforehand or consult a professional advisor.

Stuart Fieldhouse

Stuart Fieldhouse

Stuart Fieldhouse has spent 25 years in journalism and marketing, including as a wealth management editor for the Financial Times group, covering capital markets and international private banking, and as an investment banking correspondent for Euromoney in Hong Kong. He was the founder editor of The Hedge Fund Journal.

Stuart has worked at CMC Markets, supporting the re-launch of its global financial spread betting and CFD trading platforms. He is also the author of two books on trading, published by Financial Times Pearson. Based in The Armchair Trader’s London office, Stuart continues to advise fund managers, private banks, family offices and other financial institutions.

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