What is impermanent loss and how does it work?
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Let’s look at an example:
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.
Let’s say that the price of ETH increases to 400 DAI. While this is happening, arbitrage traders will add DAI to the pool and remove ETH from it until the ratio reflects the current price. Remember, AMMs don’t have order books. What determines the price of the assets in the pool is the ratio between them in the pool. While liquidity remains constant in the pool (10,000), the ratio of the assets in it changes.
If ETH is now 400 DAI, the ratio between how much ETH and how much DAI is in the pool has changed. There is now 5 ETH and 2,000 DAI in the pool, thanks to the work of arbitrage traders.
So, Alice decides to withdraw her funds. As we know from earlier, she’s entitled to a 10% share of the pool. As a result, she can withdraw 0.5 ETH and 200 DAI, totaling 400 USD. She made some nice profits since her deposit of tokens was worth 200 USD, right? But wait, what would have happened if she simply holds her 1 ETH and 100 DAI? The combined dollar value of these holdings would be 500 USD now.
We can see that Alice would have been better off by HODLing rather than depositing into the liquidity pool. This is what we call impermanent loss. In this case, Alice’s loss wasn’t that substantial as the initial deposit was a relatively small amount. Keep in mind, however, that impermanent loss can lead to big losses (including a significant portion of the initial deposit).