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Source: MV Index Solutions GmbH (MVIS®). MVIS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Van Eck Associates Corporation. Data as of December 8, 2017 (synthesized data from BitMEX, OKCoin, CryptoFacilities, and BTCC which represents non-U.S. listed bitcoin futures trading on these exchanges). Not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of future results or investment advice. Current market conditions may not continue.
A key attribute of a futures market is how its contract’s prices vary by expiration date. The succession of futures prices over time is called the “term structure”. If supply is stable (no seasonality or shortages) then typically futures prices will increase with expirations further in the future. This term structure configuration is called “contango” and it accounts for the fact that carry costs (e.g., time value of money) and profit expectations increase with time. Unless there are big changes in interest rates or the way that Bitcoin exchanges work I expect the level of contango in the Bitcoin futures term structure to be small. Bitcoins don’t cost much to hodl (once you have your hardware wallet) and there’s no apparent seasonality. The chart below from VIX Central shows a typical Bitcoin term structure (click on chart to get current data):
U.S.-listed bitcoin futures contracts may aid institutional investor participation and enable hedging while also potentially helping digital assets develop into an asset class of their own. Currently digital assets trade on platforms that lack proper execution mechanisms, governance, and standard financial industry practices. Futures contracts push trading volume towards regulated exchanges with proper governance, controls and state of the art execution mechanisms. Futures contracts also remove the arduous requirement for investors to custody “physical” bitcoin, which is a major obstacle. In some ways, bitcoin futures are an early attempt to integrate digital assets into the mainframe financial system. With such integration, regulators might also gain a greater understanding of and steadier grasp on digital assets. This may enable the creation of more explicit guidance and regulation around the space. While it is early innings for digital assets, U.S.-listed bitcoin futures may pave the way for a potentially safer, more reliable, and better governed digital asset space and regulated investment vehicles.
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The Bitcoin Network is currently maintained by Bitcoin Core and no single entity owns the Bitcoin Network (see “Description of Bitcoin and the Bitcoin Network—The Bitcoin Network”). However, third parties may still assert intellectual property rights claims relating to the operation of the Bitcoin Network. Regardless of the merit of any intellectual property or other legal action, any threatened action that reduces confidence in the Bitcoin Network’s long-term viability or the ability of end-users to hold and transfer bitcoin may adversely affect the price of bitcoin and adversely affect the Bitcoin Instruments. Additionally, a meritorious intellectual property rights claim could prevent end-users from accessing the Bitcoin Network or holding or transferring their bitcoin, which could adversely affect the value of the Bitcoin Instruments. As a result, an intellectual property rights claim against Bitcoin Network participants could have a material adverse impact on the Funds.
Bitcoin trading occurs on exchanges. These exchanges accept your fiat currencies (like USD and EUR) in exchange for a cryptocurrency (like BTC). These exchanges maintain a liquid pool of bitcoin, allowing users to withdraw their bitcoin at any time. Investors who wish to trade on that exchange can deposit bitcoin into their personal wallet on the exchange, or make a wire transfer to the exchange’s bank account. The exchange notices this transfer, then credits your account.
Still elsewhere, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in a footnote, quoted me saying "Just because you mumble the word 'blockchain' doesn't make otherwise illegal things legal," which I hope is now an official CFTC position. And here is Tyler Cowen on bitcoin volatility and Siegel's paradox: "Volatility is a feature of Bitcoin, not a bug, and that is in part for reasons that have nothing to do with speculation or bubbliness, but rather follow from the contours of the utility function." And: "No, a Guy Didn't Scam $1 Million by Selling Chuck E. Cheese Tokens as Bitcoins."
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Trading these futures instead of actual bitcoins is smart because you are able to access higher leverage by entering contracts with counterparties, while keeping your coins safe in cold storage or elsewhere. Additionally, unlike trading margin on Kraken or Bitfinex, you do NOT have to pay interest on the leverage you have! This is the result of the counterparty structure of futures. High leverage trading, low-fees, and high profit potential.
Do you remember, like, two weeks ago, when people were talking about how the launch of bitcoin futures at Cboe Global Markets Inc. and CME Group Inc. would allow for efficient short-selling of bitcoin and finally deflate the bubble? Smart hedge-fund money was lining up to bet against bitcoin, the thinking went, but had no convenient way to do it on the actual bitcoin exchanges. The only people trading bitcoin were the true believers, so of course it kept going up, but once it was opened up to normal financial players that would end. "The futures reduce the frictions of going short more than they do of going long, so it’s probably net bearish," said Craig Pirrong.
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Bitcoin’s adoption has been on a generally continuous climb since bitcoin first gained mass media attention in 2013. Businesses are starting to accept bitcoin as payment, either directly or, more commonly, through an intermediary service which converts bitcoin payments into local currency. The adoption of bitcoin as a means of payment, however, has been limited when compared with the increase in the price of bitcoin as determined by the Bitcoin Exchange Market, indicating that the majority of bitcoin’s use is for investment and speculative purposes. The continued adoption of bitcoin will require growth in its usage as a means of payment and in the Bitcoin Blockchain for various applications.
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So far, these derivatives market have only been a niche occupied by crypto enthusiasts. That is until one of the newcomers, Crypto Facilities, and an incumbent in the derivatives market have joined forces: Crypto Facilities and the CME Group. The CME Group (controlling, for example, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange that has been around for more than a century) is a large-scale business that is officially regulated and audited by the US financial authorities. It settles its contracts in fiat money rather than cryptocurrency, thus enabling non-crypto experts to speculate on Bitcoin.