Cryptonomics: Automated Market Makers

Decentralized exchanges (DEX’s) have continued to expand, and automated market makers (AMM’s) have been the primary technology adopted due to its ease of use and proven decentralized system.

January 18, 2021


Exchanges have been utilized since the inception of cryptocurrencies to facilitate transactions. Exchanges play a role similar to modern-day brokers, matching buyers, and sellers using order books. These are fundamental aspects of markets as they provide services necessary to facilitate transactions.

Traditional exchanges are centralized, meaning a central party owns the exchange and facilitates all transactions on top of holding custody over users’ tokens. As of the recent decentralization boom, we have seen some new players, decentralized exchanges (DEX). DEX’s are transforming the crypto space as we know it, capitalizing on many of CEX’s weaknesses.


You could think of Automated Market Maker (referred to as AMM) as the mechanics behind the decentralized finance industry; it’s a typical type of algorithm that is integrated in most decentralized exchanges (DEX) such as UniSwap SushiSwap and PancakeSwap. This technology allows users to receive price quotes between two assets in real-time in both a decentralized and permission less manner. While all AMM’s use the same basic concepts, the formula of application varies across different types of DEX engines, from the simple calculation process of Uniswap to much more complicated machines of Curve and Balancer. 

What is an AMM?

AMM’s changed the way we interact with coin swaps; they allow for easy exchange across different types of coins in a non-custodial, peer-to-smart contract manner. These exchanges are fully decentralized and are executed using liquidity pools, algorithms, and arbitrage (game theory). AMM’s highlights the trustless nature of trading in a decentralized engine; AMM’s also enable users to make the market by providing liquidity to the protocols liquidity pools. Users who offer liquidity to make the market are incentivized to do so through liquidity and fee incentive structures. The largest AMM is Uniswap, an Ethereum based DEX platform, and they allocate 0.3% of trading fees collected to liquidity providers (LP); the payments are distributed based on the proportion of users holdings.

In contrast, Binance Smart Chain based AMM platforms, like PancakeSwap, reward LPs around 0.17% in trading fees. On top of this fee allocation, users are rewarded in CAKE rewards for providing liquidity. These rewards are fueled through the CAKE block reward, which emits 25 CAKE per block and distributes them across LPs.

Overall, AMM’s revolutionize the traditional market maker set up, which relies on human interaction, working with a firm with vast resources, and complex strategies to ensure a tight bid-ask spread. AMM technology automates the whole process, enabling user interaction directly with a smart contract. 

How Does An AMM Work? 

Unlike CEX platforms, there are no order books available on AMM protocols; users interact with an integrated smart contract and user liquidity provision. Prices are determined algorithmically following an already established formula for price determination by the DEX protocol. This algorithm leverages game theory, relying on arbitragers to equalize the assets price over all mediums of exchange. 

What Is A Liquidity Pool? 

Trades executed on DEX AMM’s are made possible by user liquidity provision, allowing users to provide to a liquidity pool. This “pool” caries out real-time decentralized swaps using the LP’s large reserve of funds. In return for their provisions, LP’s are typically rewarded with a certain percentage of trade fees collected from that pair.

In traditional AMM protocols, LPs provide an equivalent amount of 2 assets, for example, 50% ETH 50% YFII, to become a liquidity provider of the selected pair. 

On PancakeSwap it’s as simple as clicking on the “liquidity” button and following the guide to become an LP. 

Liquidity Provision Risks: Impermanent loss

Liquidity providers in AMM’s suffer what is referred to as “Impermanent Loss” (IL) due to the arbitrage that AMM technology relies on. To keep prices in line with other exchanges users will arbitrage across exchanges with motives of profiting. These users keep the price in equilibrium, but the LP’s are on the other side of the arbitrage, selling or buying to arbitragers at a premium.

For those who wish to learn more about the risk of impermanent loss, check out the following article:

Cryptonomics: What Is Impermanent Loss?

AMM Weakness’

Due to no centralized entities making the market, AMM DEX’s can struggle to maintain ample liquidity for specific token pairs. Typically, CEX’s have very deep liquidity allowing buyers and sellers to agree on prices easier, keeping the spread tight. Due to AMM’s niche nature that relies on liquidity providers to create market depth, specific low-demand token pairs may not be offered or may trade at premiums. AMM DEX’s combat this by providing liquidity incentives, but the issue is still prevalent in specific scenarios.

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The cryptocurrency market is an ever-evolving marketplace that has brought many novel innovations in the last decade. DEX’s have continued to expand, and AMM’s have been the primary technology adopted due to its ease of use and proven system. The wave of AMM’s solves many gripes that come with CEX’s, regarding token custody, Know your customer (KYC), and decentralization. These exact reasons are why users continue to adopt these exchange methods, allowing users to efficiently swap tokens while introducing innovative financial products such as “liquidity mining.”

While AMM’s often lack strength in having substantial liquidity and centralized organization, they introduce a novel solution to traditional CEX’s issues. Overall the DEX AMM boom has just begun, and these models will see jurassic innovation as time continues to press on.

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Ace finds himself as a blockchain enthusiast who is focused on growing with the entire crypto sector. He is an energetic and passionate writer who believes that all things are achievable.