The world’s biggest exchange just joined the bitcoin revolution.
Bitcoin futures started trading Sunday night at CME Group Inc.’s venue, a week after Chicago rival Cboe Global Markets Inc. introduced similar derivatives on the volatile cryptocurrency. CME is a much bigger player in futures, so many traders expected it to make a bigger splash in the nascent space.
CME got off to a faster start with more efficient pricing. Its most-active contract changed hands 221 times in the first hour versus 570 during Cboe’s debut. But that’s a win because CME’s contracts are five times more valuable — they’re tied to five bitcoins compared with only one with Cboe’s futures.
“People were better prepared” for the start of trading at CME, said Bobby Cho, head of trading at Cumberland, the cryptocurrency trading unit of DRW Holdings LLC. “They knew how they were going to hedge their positions.”
CME’s futures traded at about 2 percent above bitcoin itself as of 11:56 a.m. in London on Monday; in the first day, Cboe’s got as much as 13 percent above, a sign trading was relatively inefficient. Bitcoin today climbed 9 percent from its Friday New York close to $19,190, approaching the record $19,511 reached hours earlier.
The CME and Cboe bitcoin futures have some distinct features. The price of Cboe’s product is derived from the cryptocurrency’s price at a single exchange; CME’s is based off four.
“We were waiting for the launch of the CME futures because the price is more robust and the exchange trades much larger volumes,” Jose Miguel Nascimento, head trader at cryptocurrency fund Solidus Capital, said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. “Futures are a very positive development for the bitcoin market, as it will help everyone from miners to traders hedge risk, and having a price curve will help limit price swings.”
The CME futures are another step into the mainstream financial world for an asset created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as an alternative to banks and government-issued currencies. The contracts, which settle in dollars and trade on regulated exchanges, can be bought by institutional investors that are prohibited from buying bitcoin directly on largely unregulated exchanges.
“One of the biggest issues when it comes to investing institutionally in digital assets is banks and larger institutions can’t hold an unregulated instrument in their balance sheet, and a futures contract is something they can hold,” said Gabor Gurbacs, director of digital-asset strategy at VanEck Associates Corp. With futures, “you don’t hold the physical bitcoin, which solves custody issues and counterparty risks with these less-regulated exchanges.”