Arbitrage is a hot topic amongst crypto traders in South Africa. Very few people however understand what it is exactly. Even fewer people understand the risks and rewards associated with arbitrage. Others prefer to let companies execute these types of trades for them but as a result, end up losing 25% to as much as 50% of their profits.

Arbitrage Bitcoin! What Is It and Why Should You Care?

Arbitrage, simply put, is taking advantage of market inefficiency. What does this mean, you ask? Well, suppose you have access to two markets when others can only access a single market because of their financial, physical, geographical, or similar situation. You are now in a position to take advantage of any price difference for a particular item, stock, or asset which is being traded, in both markets.

What are the Risks and Limitations?

  • TIME – The most important concept of risk to deal with when looking for arbitrage opportunities in any market is time. Remember that you are not the only entity looking for these opportunities, which is why the opportunities usually have very small windows for execution. Once enough time passes, the market efficiency improves and the profitability of the opportunity is reduced.
  • Single Discretionary Allowance (SDA) – In South Africa, we have exchange controls. This means that you are only allowed to transfer 1 million Rand per calendar year out of the country. You can transfer a further R10million per year with the necessary documentation. For the purpose of Arbitrage it means you can transfer R50 000 twenty times, or R200 000 five times, etc … you get the picture
  • Price Movement – The price of Bitcoin (and other crypto coins) is volatile, the price could move against you negatively in the time it takes to buy and transfer coins if you are doing it synchronously (one step at a time). Most successful arbitrageurs have funds on both exchanges and therefore take almost Zero risks in their trades, guaranteeing a profit when locking in the trades. We will discuss both methods below

How to Arbitrage?

Here are the basic steps you should take to make money with arbitrage:

  1. Set up an account with an international exchange like that has a BTC/USD Market
  2. Create an account with a local exchange like that has a BTC/ZAR market
    1. Transfer ZAR Rand from your South African bank account to your Bitstamp (USD) Dollar balance
    2. BUY bitcoin on Platform A (ie in Dollar and SELL bitcoin on platform B (ie. for Rand at a markup
    3. Repeat

The Two Main Approaches to Arbitrage

With both approaches, you have the option to be the maker or the taker. This means that you can either SELL into the existing BUY order book, or you can “make the market” by creating the lowest SELL order in the existing order book. Conversely, the same applies to the source exchange (where you buy the inventory that is being sold on the target exchange).

  • Synchronous Arbitrage
    Here you buy the asset from one market (ie. Bitstamp in USD ($))  and transfer it to the secondary market (ie. in ZAR (Rand)) where you sell it at a profit (arbitrage average margin in South Africa is anywhere between 3% & 7% for BTCUSD to BTCZAR).

    • For
      • Simple to understand
      • Less inventory required
      • Less administration
    • Against
      • Price can move against you in the time it takes to transfer the asset from Exchange A to Exchange B
      • It is a manual process and therefore labour intensive
      • You are restricted to a R1million limit without additional tax clearance (you can still turn a R50k profit (100%) with R50k if you cycle it through 20 times)
  • Asynchronous Arbitrage
    Here you sell the asset on exchange B and immediately buy it back on exchange A. You need balances on both exchanges, so unless you have a hodl stack you are taking price exposure.

    • For
      • Immediately lock-in your profit
      • Less risk in terms of price movement
      • Lends itself well to automated trading with bots like Hummingbot
    • Against
      • You need a settlement schedule (You need to move coins from Exchange A to replenish your balance on Exchange B)
      • More inventory (assets) required in order to have a balance on both exchanges
      • More time consuming if you do not automate it

Where to Arbitrage?

The simplest and easiest way to make money from arbitrage is to find a fast and efficient exchange in Europe with a good reputation. Both Bitstamp and Kraken have been operating since 2011/2012 and have good reputations. Both offer BTC/USD markets and have good liquidity, which is especially important if you want to do automated arbitrage. is probably the better choice (at the time of going to press) if you want to use automation tools like Hummingbot as it already has a built-in connector to Kraken

TIP: When transferring Rand out of the country you may want  to consider shopping around for the best deal, it is easy to use the bank you already bank with but there are specialist providers that can usually offer you a way better deal such as Investec

What do you need to make money doing arbitrage?

  • Start-up capital ( Ideally, you want a minimum of R50 000 otherwise it is too expensive when you consider the bank charges for transferring funds abroad). The more money you have, the cheaper the transfer costs. Consequently, it will result in a bigger profit).
  • Trading accounts on multiple platforms (At least one with a BTCUSD trading pair and at least one with a BTCZAR trading pair).
  • Patience or an automated process using tools like Hummingbot.

How to Automate this Process?

You can automate the process by employing a tool such as Hummingbot to automate your trading. It already has a built-in arbitrage strategy and you simply need to configure the parameters to suit your needs.

Have you done arbitrage trading in South Africa? let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Disclaimer Notice:

This article is intended to educate and should in no way be seen as investment advice or an enticement to use the platform. Bitcoin is highly volatile with big profit opportunities but you should also remember that you could lose part or all of your investment whenever you take part in any high risk investment. Bitcoin trading is not a regulated industry in South Africa, which in itself carries additional risks. IF YOU ARE NOT AN ASTUTE BITCOIN TRADER, SEEK INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL ADVICE BEFORE MAKING ANY INVESTMENTS.