The futures industry has a long standing and fiercely protected image of managing global risk. That reputation has been protected in the face of crashes, public anger at finance and manipulation and fraud.
The launch of bitcoin futures throws into question the industry’s ability to claim it is ultimately force for good.
It makes laughable claims that futures exist to protect the real economy and are not simply a platform for speculators.
Despite being called a “cryptocurrency” Bitcoin is more of a commodity than a currency – more like gold than the Rupee. And it is the world’s first commodity with zero intrinsic value. If the price collapses to nothing, you aren’t even left with a tulip.
Whether they acknowledge it or not, Cboe and CME have added validity to bitcoin with the launch of futures contracts.
Correlation is not causation of course but the astonishing Bitcoin price rally from the already steep valuations of $4000-5000 to the current $16,000+ mark coincided with the announcements by the two exchanges that they would launch futures.
In the mainstream press, the launches have been described as adding credibility to bitcoin.
In part the soaring price is put down to the anticipation of expected rising demand as institutional money flows in to bitcoin and the underlying is bought to hedge futures exposures. If there is any fundamental behind the rally, that is it.
Never has a futures contract been launched on a commodity so volatile and utterly valueless. No major clearer I have spoken with wants to clear them (although some of them are) and the FIA warned this week that they may even pose a threat to the viability of CCPs.
Margin requirements being set by clearing firms are so high and volumes ultimately so small relatively to the size of the industry that the two launches from CME and Cboe are unlikely to pose immediate threats to CCPs or to clearing firms (although the longer term to which the FIA refers the point is of course valid).
But they may damage the reputation of the futures industry. The only risk that bitcoin futures are mitigating are the risks created by their existence.
When, inevitably, the bitcoin price crashes, billions of dollars will be lost in the "cash" market. Fingers may well point at the role of the industry in creating the bubble; the whole system of self-certification with the CFTC may be called into question and perhaps it should be.
Is it a price worth paying to ride a wave of volatility? Surely not.