On 31 October 2017, we discussed the announcement that the CME Group was responding to client interest and launching a Bitcoin Futures contract before the end of this year. CME stated that the contract would be cash settled based on the CME CF Bitcoin Reference rate, a once-a-day reference rate of the US dollar Bitcoin price at 4:00 pm London time. In the run-up to the launch of the futures contract, the Financial Times has written a piece on the likely impact of futures trading on the Bitcoin price.
The title of the piece makes the FT’s view clear, “Prepare to bet against bitcoin as it becomes civilized”. We disagree with using the word “civilized” in this context (see below), but here is the FT’s take.
In recent years, bitcoin has been the wild west of the financial world. Now, however, it is being civilised — a touch. In the coming weeks, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange plans to start listing bitcoin futures, with a centralised clearing mechanism. Cboe Global Markets may follow suit. That will enable investors to bet on the coin’s future value without actually holding it — just as investors can use the Chicago exchange to bet on hog prices, say, without ever handling a pig.
To its credit, the FT reflects the concerns from some CME participants that there is insufficient regulatory oversight and Bitcoin’s stratospheric vol could lead to significant losses for some traders.
Is this a good idea? Some of the CME’s members do not think so. This week Interactive Brokers, an important clearing firm in the exchange, took the extraordinary step of using a newspaper advertisement to ask for more regulatory oversight. It fears that bitcoin is potentially so volatile that these futures will create huge losses for traders, which might then undermine the health of the CME and hurt other brokers, given its part-mutualised structure. The CME — unsurprisingly — dismisses this as poppycock: it argues that any risks will be contained by rules that allow traders to charge more so as to generate fat margins (of about 30 per cent) and thus absorb losses, and by circuit breakers that would stop a trade in the event of wild price swings.