Impermanent Loss Explained
DeFi protocols like Uniswap, SushiSwap, or PancakeSwap have seen an explosion of volume and liquidity. These liquidity protocols enable essentially anyone with funds to become a market maker and earn trading fees. Democratizing market-making has enabled a lot of frictionless economic activity in the crypto space. So, what do you need to know if you want to provide liquidity for these platforms? In this article, we’ll discuss one of the most important concepts – impermanent loss.
What is impermanent loss?
Impermanent loss happens when you provide liquidity to a liquidity pool, and the price of your deposited assets changes compared to when you deposited them. The bigger this change is, the more you are exposed to impermanent loss. In this case, the loss means less dollar value at the time of withdrawal than at the time of deposit.
Pools that contain assets that remain in a relatively small price range will be less exposed to impermanent loss. Stablecoins or different wrapped versions of a coin, for example, will stay in a relatively contained price range. In this case, there’s a smaller risk of impermanent loss for liquidity providers (LPs).
How does impermanent loss happen?
Let’s go through an example of how impermanent loss may look like for a liquidity provider.
Alice deposits 1 ETH and 100 DAI in a liquidity pool. In this particular automated market maker (AMM), the deposited token pair needs to be of equivalent value. This means that the price of ETH is 100 DAI at the time of deposit. This also means that the dollar value of Alice’s deposit is 200 USD at the time of deposit.
In addition, there’s a total of 10 ETH and 1,000 DAI in the pool – funded by other LPs just like Alice. So, Alice has a 10% share of the pool, and the total liquidity is 10,000.
Impermanent loss estimation
So, impermanent loss happens when the price of the assets in the pool changes. But how much is it exactly? We can plot this on a graph. Note that it doesn’t account for fees earned for providing liquidity.
Impermanent loss chart
Here’s a summary of what the graph is telling us about losses compared to HODLing:
- 1.25x price change = 0.6% loss
- 1.50x price change = 2.0% loss
- 1.75x price change = 3.8% loss
- 2x price change = 5.7% loss
- 3x price change = 13.4% loss
- 4x price change = 20.0% loss
- 5x price change = 25.5% loss
There’s something important you also need to understand. Impermanent loss happens no matter which direction the price changes. The only thing impermanent loss cares about is the price ratio relative to the time of deposit. If you’d like to get an advanced explanation for this, check out pintail’s article.