What Is Impermanent Loss? How to Manage It in DeFi Liquidity Pools

Learn about Impermanent Loss, a crucial concept in DeFi liquidity pools, and how to navigate and leverage it.

Oct 17, 2023

What Is Impermanent Loss And How To Manage It

Key Takeaways:

  • Impermanent Loss (IL) refers to the temporary decrease in value experienced when providing liquidity to a decentralised exchange (DEX) or yield-farming protocol in the DeFi space.
  • Impermanent Loss occurs when the relative value of assets in a liquidity pool changes over time, resulting in a discrepancy between the initial deposit and the value at withdrawal.
  • Impermanent Loss calculators can help estimate potential losses.
  • Strategies to manage Impermanent Loss include selecting pools with correlated assets, considering transaction fee rewards, diversifying liquidity across multiple pools, and understanding the impact of asset volatility.
  • While Impermanent Loss presents risks, providing liquidity also offers rewards through trading fees and additional tokens.

What Is Impermanent Loss (IL)?

In the decentralised finance (DeFi) world, Impermanent Loss (IL) is a phenomenon with a potentially significant impact on a user’s portfolio. It refers to the temporary loss of value that occurs when a user provides liquidity to a decentralised exchange (DEX) or yield-farming protocol. This loss is termed ‘impermanent’, as it is only realised if the user withdraws the assets from the pool.

Read on to understand why IL occurs, how to calculate it, and ways to manage it when trading in liquidity pools.

How Does Impermanent Loss Happen?

Essentially, IL occurs due to constant rebalancing of liquidity pools in response to movements in market price. To understand how IL happens, consider the below example: 

Imagine a trader provides liquidity to a token pair pool that consists of equal amounts of ETH and a newly launched altcoin. Initially, the value of both of the paired assets is equal, and they contribute an equal value to each. However, over time, ETH’sprice increases compared to the altcoin. As a result of arbitrage and the liquidity pool’s algorithms, the proportion of the assets in the pool shifts.

Now, suppose they decide to withdraw liquidity from the pool. If ETH’s price has increased, they would receive more of the altcoin and less ETH compared to their initial deposit. This discrepancy between the value of their initial deposit and the value at the time of withdrawal is Impermanent Loss.

It is called ‘impermanent’, as it is caused by the shift of the value of the tokens in relation to each other; the loss is only realised if the trader withdraws their assets from the pool at that moment.

How to Calculate Impermanent Loss

To calculate IL, the value of the deposited assets in the liquidity pool is comparable to the value of the same assets held in a wallet. To understand this better, consider the example below:

  • Suppose Alice wants to offer liquidity to a 50/50 ETH/CRO pool. In this scenario, let’s say Alice deposits 5 ETH and 5,000 CRO (where the price of 1 ETH = 1,000 CRO). If the pool has a total asset value of 100,000 CRO (composed of 50 ETH + 50,000 CRO), the deposit entitles Alice to 10% of the pool share, which Alice can withdraw at any point. 

But what if the price of one of the assets changes? 

  • After the liquidity provider has made the initial deposit, the price of 1 ETH doubles and starts trading at 2,000 CRO. Arbitrage traders will add CRO to the pool and remove ETH to make the ETH/CRO price match external exchanges. 

Liquidity pools rely on algorithms to adjust the pool and manage the assets. The most basic and widely used formula to calculate IL in scenarios like this is the constant product formula, popularised by DEXs like Uniswap. Using this formula, we determine: 

X * Y = K, where X is the amount of token1 and Y is the amount of token2

Based on the formula, initially, we get:

50 (ETH) * 50,000 (CRO) = 2,500,000

After the arbitrage trading, we now calculate the new holdings of the pool: 

ETH liquidity = square root (constant product K / new ETH price in CRO)

Square root (2,500,000 / 2,000 CRO) = 35.355 ETH

CRO liquidity = square root (constant product K * new ETH price in CRO)

Square root (2,500,000 * 2,000 CRO) = 70,710.678 CRO

If Alice withdraws all the tokens at this point, with 10% share in the liquidity pool, a total equivalent to 14,142 CRO (3.5355 ETH * 2,000 CRO + 7,071 CRO) is received. However, if Alice held the tokens instead, they would be worth 15,000 CRO (5 ETH * 2,000 CRO + 5,000 CRO). 

In this case, Alice’s IL is 15,000 – 14,142 = 858 CRO.

Impermanent Loss Calculators

IL calculators are available to help estimate the potential loss a user may incur when providing liquidity to a specific pool. They take into account various factors, such as the initial asset prices, the pool composition, and the price changes over time.

Below are two useful IL calculators:

CoinGecko’s Impermanent Loss Calculator

GitHub’s Impermanent Loss Calculator

Liquidity Pool Impermanent Loss and Its Impact on Yield Farming

Liquidity pools are an essential component of DeFi and play a crucial role in yield farming, which involves providing liquidity to pools in exchange for rewards, often in the form of additional tokens. However, IL may significantly impact the overall yield-farming strategy.

When participating in yield farming, it is important to consider the potential IL one may incur. The rewards earned from yield farming may not be enough to compensate for the loss in value of the initial deposit due to IL. Therefore, it is crucial to carefully assess the potential risks and rewards when selecting yield-farming options.

Factors Affecting Impermanent Loss

To effectively navigate IL in the cryptocurrency market, there are several key factors a trader might consider:

  • The composition of the liquidity pool plays a crucial role. Pools with assets of high correlation or stablecoin pairs generally experience lower levels of IL. Understanding the dynamics of the assets within the pool can help in assessing the potential risks involved.
  • The time horizon is an important factor to consider. IL is, in theory, temporary in nature, meaning that over time, the loss can be mitigated or even eliminated if the relative values of the assets revert to their initial levels. Therefore, considering the duration of assets locked in pools and the potential for the assets to recover their initial values is crucial in effectively managing IL.
  • It is essential to stay updated with the latest developments in the cryptocurrency market. The introduction of new assets or changes in market conditions may significantly impact the potential risks and rewards associated with IL. Keeping a close eye on market trends and adapting strategies accordingly can help minimise the impact of IL.

Reducing and Offsetting Impact

While IL is an inherent risk to traders when providing liquidity to pools, there are strategies they might employ to reduce their exposure and mitigate its impact.

One aspect to consider is to carefully select the pools in which to provide liquidity. By choosing pools with correlated assets or stablecoin pairs, the potential for IL may be reduced. Additionally, diversifying liquidity can help spread the risk and minimise the impact of IL.

Another strategy a trader might consider is the potential returns from trading fees. Some liquidity pools offer rewards in the form of transaction fees generated by the trading activities within the pool. With careful research, by participating in pools with high trading volumes and fees, a trader can potentially offset IL with the earned transaction fees.

The Relationship Between Impermanent Loss and Volatility in the Crypto Market

Volatility in the crypto market is a significant driver of IL. When the prices of assets in a liquidity pool experience high levels of volatility, the potential for IL increases. This is because the relative value of the assets within the pool can drastically fluctuate, leading to a higher likelihood of IL.

It is important for traders to consider the volatility of the assets in which they are providing liquidity. Highly volatile assets may result in higher IL compared to more stable assets. Therefore, understanding the historical volatility of the assets and the overall market conditions is essential in managing the potential risks associated with IL.

Risks and Rewards of Liquidity Pools

While IL presents a risk, it is important to note there are also potential rewards to liquidity provision. In fact, IL may be a trade-off for the potential rewards that liquidity provision offers. By providing liquidity to pools, a trader contributes to the overall liquidity in the crypto market and facilitates efficient trading. This, in turn, can result in earning rewards like trading fees or additional tokens.

Given the right strategy, the rewards earned from liquidity provision can offset IL and potentially generate additional returns. However, it is crucial to carefully assess the risks and rewards before engaging in liquidity provision. Understanding the dynamics of the assets, assessing the potential volatility, and considering the time horizon are key factors in determining whether the rewards are capable of outweighing the potential IL.

Conclusion: Navigating Impermanent Loss in DeFi

Impermanent Loss is a phenomenon that may significantly impact cryptocurrency assets, and while IL presents risks, with careful consideration and strategic decision-making, traders can navigate it and successfully act as a liquidity provider. Skilled traders may effectively manage IL by carefully selecting the pools in which to provide liquidity, diversifying assets, and staying updated with market trends.

Understanding how IL works, calculating it using IL calculators, and considering the risks and rewards associated with liquidity provision are essential in navigating the crypto landscape.

Due Diligence and Do Your Own Research

All examples listed in this article are for informational purposes only. You should not construe any such information or other material as legal, tax, investment, financial, cybersecurity, or other advice. Nothing contained herein shall constitute a solicitation, recommendation, endorsement, or offer by Crypto.com to invest, buy, or sell any coins, tokens, or other crypto assets. Returns on the buying and selling of crypto assets may be subject to tax, including capital gains tax, in your jurisdiction. Any descriptions of Crypto.com products or features are merely for illustrative purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, invitation, or solicitation.

Past performance is not a guarantee or predictor of future performance. The value of crypto assets can increase or decrease, and you could lose all or a substantial amount of your purchase price. When assessing a crypto asset, it’s essential for you to do your research and due diligence to make the best possible judgement, as any purchases shall be your sole responsibility.

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