While ether’s (ETH) price has risen by nearly 50% this year, the number of addresses holding large amounts of the currency, popularly known as whales, has declined significantly.
The seven-day average of the number of unique addresses holding 10,000 ethers or more fell to 1,050 on Tuesday. That's the lowest level since January 2019, according to data provided by the blockchain intelligence firm Glassnode.
The whale addresses are down nearly 6% from the December high of 1,115. The metric represents externally owned accounts, or the ones controlled by private keys, and excludes contract accounts that have their own code and are controlled by the code.
The decline in the number of ether whale addresses is in contrast to the recent rise in the number of bitcoin whale addresses. The seven-day moving average of the number of addresses holding 10,000 bitcoins or more rose to 111 at the end of April, the highest since August 2019.
“Some ETH whales could have moved into BTC in anticipation of potential price appreciation in the top cryptocurrency due to effects of the mining reward halving,” said Connor Abendschein, crypto research analyst at Digital Assets data.
The bullish hype surrounding bitcoin’s third halving, which took place on May 11, was quite strong and the event was extensively discussed by analysts over the past few months. The bullish expectations were reinforced by bitcoin's quick recovery to $7,000 in just five days following its drop to $3,867 on March 12.
That may have caused some whales to switch to bitcoin from ether ahead of halving. That is further evidenced by the number of large BTC addresses that jumped by 5% in March while those of ether were on a downward trend.
The divergence could continue to widen because bitcoin is used mainly as a value storage vehicle, according to Jason Wu, CEO and co-founder of the Minneapolis-based digital lending and borrowing platform DeFiner.org. As a result, whales are more likely to hold large amounts of bitcoin than ether, whose main purpose is to facilitate, then monetize, the work done on Ethereum.
Read more: The 3 Factors Fueling Ether’s 2020 Rally
“Ethereum has a big application layer ecosystem, and a lot of transactions happen to meet people’s daily demand for solutions like DeFi, games, rewards, etc. More and more new addresses will be created to hold ETH,” said Wu.
Another possible reason for the decline in the large ether addresses could be the increased investor interest in the decentralized finance (DeFi) space.
“The address owners may have moved a sizable amount of their holdings to smart contracts of various DeFi protocols that support lending, etc. to make more money,” said Ashish Singhal, CEO, and co-founder of the cryptocurrency exchange CoinSwitch.co.
The number of ether locked up in DeFi rose to a record high of 3.23 million in February and currently stands at 2.65 million, up 28% year on year, according defipulse.com. The rapidly growing DeFi space is dominated by Ethereum, and according to defiprime.com, there are 213 listed DeFi projects at press time, of which 199 are built on Ethereum.
The decline in the large addresses is also in stark contrast to the relentless rise in the number of addresses holding 32 or more coins.
The seven-day average of the total address containing 32 ETH or more stood at a record high of 114,625 on Wednesday, a gain of over 4% this year. “The uptick may be attributed to the bullish sentiment around the rollout of Eth 2.0,” said Singhal.
This is because an address is required to maintain a balance of 32 ETH to become a validator in the impending transition from the proof-of-work (PoW) mechanism to proof-of-stake (PoS) mechanism, dubbed Ethereum 2.0.
Read more: Staking, Ethereum’s Mining Alternative, Will Be Profitable – But Barely
In a proof-of-work mechanism (Ethereum’s current protocol), miners solve cryptographically difficult puzzles to complete transactions on the network and get rewarded.
In PoS, instead of miners, there are validators, which lock up some of their ether as a stake in the ecosystem. In layman’s terms, staking is similar to earning interest on a fixed income investment like bonds. Essentially, the protocol upgrade, which might be delayed to the third quarter, will allow holders to earn yield by staking.
It should be noted that the rise in the number of unique addresses holding more than 32 ETH or any balance does not necessarily mean an influx of new investors. A single user can hold multiple addresses.