New York - Bitcoin has landed on Wall Street, and it was welcomed by traders.
Cboe Global Markets started letting people buy and sell bitcoin futures on Sunday evening. Though the exchange operator warned volume might be low - new futures typically take time to build a following - almost 600 contracts traded in the first hour.
Though transactions were smooth, the start wasn’t without some drama: Cboe’s website stalled during the launch. The company said its trading systems were fine, though.
As of 20:11 New York time, contracts expiring in January were priced at $16 300, or about 4.5% higher than bitcoin itself, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The cryptocurrency spiked by more than $1 000 before paring the gain.
“It was pretty easy to trade,” Joe Van Hecke, managing partner at Chicago-based Grace Hall Trading, said in a telephone interview from Charlotte, North Carolina. “I think you’ll see a robust market as time plays out.”
The launch of futures traded on a regulated exchange is a watershed for bitcoin - testing infrastructure that will make it easier for legions of professional traders and mainstream investors to bet on the cryptocurrency’s rise or fall, potentially helping to steer its price.
Until now, trading in bitcoin was driven mainly by individual investors who were willing to risk buying on the mostly unregulated markets where it’s traded for years. Some users of those little-policed venues have been targeted by hackers who’ve stolen digital tokens.
“So far, looking at the contract volume traded, we believe that there is a decent demand and this is driving up the price of bitcoin,” said Naeem Aslam, a chief market analyst at TF Global Markets in London. “Prices are going higher because of the increase in confidence.”
CME Group's exchange is set to start offering similar futures next week.
Once the markets are better established, professional traders will arbitrage between the Cboe and CME futures and bitcoin itself, improving pricing efficiency, Aslam said.
“In the future traders will also start arbitraging and speculation will go in another higher gear,” Aslam said.
At this point, some people who would like to trade the futures are having a harder time accessing the market because not all futures brokers are supporting it initially, said Garrett See, chief executive officer of DV Chain, a sister company of trading firm DV Trading.
Participation may also be limited because of higher capital requirements and tighter risk limits, See said.
Being on the sidelines has been painful. This year alone, bitcoin’s up more than 1 400%. The surge has been driven largely by demand from individual investors, even as technical obstacles keep out big money managers like mutual funds.
Derivatives trading is the culmination of a wild year for bitcoin, which captured imaginations and investment around the world, propelled by its stratospheric gains, and its anti-establishment mission as a currency without the backing of a government or a central bank, and a payment system without a reliance on banks.
The derivatives contracts should thrust bitcoin more squarely into the realm of regulators, banks and institutional investors.