An increase in cryptocurrency mining increased the demand of graphics cards (GPU) in 2017. Popular favorites of cryptocurrency miners such as Nvidia’s GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 graphics cards, as well as AMD’s RX 570 and RX 580 GPUs, doubled or tripled in price – or were out of stock. A GTX 1070 Ti which was released at a price of $450 sold for as much as $1100. Another popular card GTX 1060's 6 GB model was released at an MSRP of $250, sold for almost $500. RX 570 and RX 580 cards from AMD were out of stock for almost a year. Miners regularly buy up the entire stock of new GPU's as soon as they are available.
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While cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that are managed through advanced encryption techniques, many governments have taken a cautious approach toward them, fearing their lack of central control and the effects they could have on financial security. Regulators in several countries have warned against cryptocurrency and some have taken concrete regulatory measures to dissuade users. Additionally, many banks do not offer services for cryptocurrencies and can refuse to offer services to virtual-currency companies. Gareth Murphy, a senior central banking officer has stated "widespread use [of cryptocurrency] would also make it more difficult for statistical agencies to gather data on economic activity, which are used by governments to steer the economy". He cautioned that virtual currencies pose a new challenge to central banks' control over the important functions of monetary and exchange rate policy. While traditional financial products have strong consumer protections in place, there is no intermediary with the power to limit consumer losses if bitcoins are lost or stolen. One of the features cryptocurrency lacks in comparison to credit cards, for example, is consumer protection against fraud, such as chargebacks.
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Non-Diversified Status (All Funds, except the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF, the S&P MidCap 400 Dividend Aristocrats ETF, the Russell 2000 Dividend Growers ETF, the MSCI EAFE Dividend Growers ETF, the MSCI Europe Dividend Growers ETF, the MSCI Emerging Markets Dividend Growers ETF, the DJ Brookfield Global Infrastructure ETF, the Equities for Rising Rates ETF, the S&P 500 Ex-Energy ETF, the S&P 500 Ex-Financials ETF, the S&P 500 Ex-Health Care ETF, the S&P 500 Ex-Technology ETF, the High Yield—Interest Rate Hedged, the Investment Grade—Interest Rate Hedged and the Short Term USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF the ProShares Bitcoin Futures/Equity Strategy ETF, and the ProShares Bitcoin/Blockchain Strategy ETF)
Taking their prices from bitcoin futures, the swaps will not handle bitcoin directly. Seeing as Morgan Stanley is a regulated and established financial institution, tying the product to futures contracts is a safer bet than basing them on bitcoin’s spot price, as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Exchange offer fully-regulated bitcoin futures from which Morgan Stanley can pool pricing data.
Now there is an open interest in the futures contract created. The simple act of two traders with no open interest, one making a limit order which then gets filled by the other, is what creates this position. The exchange then holds the 0.2 BTC margin of each party and the Profit and Loss (PNL) of the contract seesaws between counterparties based on market movements. If the exchange is liquid and rational, then the market price of the contract will change as the spot market moves. So if bitcoin price starts going up, futures traders will bid the price up.
On September 17, 2015, the CFTC provided clarity regarding the regulatory treatment of bitcoin in the Coinflip civil enforcement case. There the CFTC determined that bitcoin and other virtual currencies are regulated as commodities under the CEA. Based on this determination, the CFTC applied CEA provisions and CFTC regulations that apply to a bitcoin derivatives trading platform. Also of significance, the CFTC took the position that bitcoin is not encompassed by the definition of currency under the CEA and CFTC regulations. The CFTC defined bitcoin and other “virtual currencies” as “a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value, but does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are distinct from ‘real’ currencies, which are the coin and paper money of the United States or another country that are designated as legal tender, circulate, and are customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance.” On July 6, 2017, the CFTC granted LedgerX, LLC an order of registration as a Swap Execution Facility for digital assets and on July 24, 2017, the CFTC approved Ledger X, LLC as the first derivatives clearing organization for digital currency. On September 21, 2017, the CFTC filed a civil enforcement action in federal court against a New York corporation and its principal, charging them with fraud, misappropriation, and issuing false account statements in connection with a Ponzi scheme involving investments in bitcoin, which the CFTC asserted is a commodity subject to its jurisdiction.
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The Fund expects to gain exposure to bitcoin futures contracts by investing a portion of its assets in a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fund organized under the laws of the Cayman Islands (the “Subsidiary”). The Subsidiary is not registered under the 1940 Act and, unless otherwise noted in this Prospectus, is not subject to all of the investor protections of the 1940 Act. Thus, the Fund, as the sole investor in the subsidiary, will not have all of the protections offered to shareholders of registered investment companies.
The term altcoin has various similar definitions. Stephanie Yang of The Wall Street Journal defined altcoins as "alternative digital currencies," while Paul Vigna, also of The Wall Street Journal, described altcoins as alternative versions of bitcoin. Aaron Hankins of the MarketWatch refers to any cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin as altcoins.
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The Fund generally does not expect to invest directly in futures contracts, option contracts and swap agreements (“Bitcoin Instruments”). The Fund expects to gain exposure to these investments by investing a portion of its assets in the ProShares Cayman Bitcoin Futures/Equity Strategy Portfolio, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fund organized under the laws of the Cayman Islands (the “Subsidiary”). The Subsidiary is advised by ProShare Advisors, the Fund’s investment advisor, and invests directly in Bitcoin Instruments. Unlike the Fund, the Subsidiary is not an investment company registered under the 1940 Act. The Fund’s investment in the Subsidiary is intended to provide the Fund with exposure to commodity markets related to bitcoin in accordance with applicable rules and regulations. The Fund will invest up to 25% of its total assets in the Subsidiary. Except as otherwise noted, references to the Fund’s investment strategies and risks include the investment strategies and risks of the Subsidiary.
Bitcoin isn’t just an unknown commodity: it will always be an unknown commodity. Bitcoin doesn’t have the fundamentals that investors typically use to analyze an asset. Most stocks or bonds can be analyzed based on some trait of the instrument. Stocks have P/E ratios and dividends, for example, while bonds have return percentages. Bitcoin has no fundamentals that can be easily measured.
Since a portion of the Fund’s assets are invested in short positions in bitcoin futures contracts, the Fund will likely decline in value when the price of bitcoin futures contracts goes up (unless such losses are offset by gains in the value of the Fund’s positions in other investments), a result that is the opposite from the results of taking long positions in bitcoin futures contracts.
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Well since then bitcoin is up more than 50 percent; it reached a record of $19,511 early Monday, hours after CME launched its futures contract. "Bitcoin Climbs as Futures Debut Fails to Incite Attack by Shorts," is the Bloomberg headline about Sunday's start of trading on CME. On the other hand, bitcoin was actually down a bit on the first full day of CME trading yesterday, and fell further overnight; "Bitcoin Futures Prices Fall in CME Debut" is the Wall Street Journal headline about Monday's trading. It is of course still very early days for the futures, and it's still possible that the shorts will come in and drive the price down. I guess it's even possible bitcoin bulls and bears will both flock to the futures market and trade with each other to find an efficient and stable price that reflects bitcoin's fundamental value, whatever that is.
There's a lot of ins and outs which can get confusing in arbitrage trading. We won't go into the technicals of why futures contracts trade at a premium to spot price. You can read a full explanation here. If it's not of interest to you, all you need to know is that there's a tendency, the further out in time the futures contract expires, for the premium to spot to be higher and higher in nominal percentage terms.