Cryptocurrency: The future of futures?

Many merchants coming into cryptocurrency markets from conventional finance could look to derivatives as autos for value hypothesis and hedging. There are many selections relating to exchanges and devices; nevertheless, merchants ought to think about just a few key variations between crypto futures and conventional futures earlier than dipping a toe into this quickly rising market.

Associated: 3 issues each crypto dealer ought to find out about derivatives exchanges

Completely different devices

Merchants coming into cryptocurrency from the normal markets shall be accustomed to futures contracts with a set expiration date. Though mounted expiration contracts will be present in cryptocurrency markets, a big proportion of crypto futures buying and selling is in perpetual contracts, also called perpetual swaps. This variation of a futures contract doesn’t have a set finish date, that means the dealer can maintain an open place indefinitely.

Exchanges that provide perpetual contracts use a mechanism generally known as “funding fee” to periodically steadiness the value variances between the contract markets and the spot costs. If the funding fee is optimistic, the perpetual contract value is increased than the spot fee — longs pay shorts. Conversely, a unfavourable funding fee implies that shorts pay longs.

Furthermore, merchants that come to cryptocurrency from conventional finance could also be used to the portability of their positions throughout completely different exchanges. In distinction, cryptocurrency exchanges usually function as walled gardens, that means it’s unattainable to switch derivatives contracts throughout platforms.

Associated: Skilled merchants want a worldwide crypto sea, not lots of of lakes

Regulated vs. unregulated buying and selling platforms

Many of the buying and selling in cryptocurrency futures — round 85 to 90% — is but to be regulated. This example primarily arose as a result of cryptocurrency futures markets sprang up whereas regulators have been nonetheless grappling with extra elementary questions across the authorized standing of digital property. BitMEX paved the way in which for cryptocurrency futures buying and selling by utilizing coin-margined and collateralized contracts. In doing so, the corporate averted the regulatory necessities related to fiat on-ramps. There are round a dozen main buying and selling platforms presently, however solely a small variety of them have achieved regulated standing.

Each the Chicago Mercantile Trade (CME) and Bakkt are regulated by the US Commodity Futures Buying and selling Fee (CFTC). In Europe, Kraken Futures operates underneath a multilateral buying and selling facility license awarded by the UK Monetary Conduct Authority. In Switzerland, Vontobel and Leonteq provide mini-Bitcoin futures contracts through the SIX Swiss Trade.

The regulatory state of affairs could preclude merchants in some international locations from collaborating in buying and selling on non-regulated venues. This circumstance is especially true of the U.S., the place exchanges are aware that the CFTC is now pursuing BitMEX for violating Anti-Cash Laundering laws and the Financial institution Secrecy Act.

Nevertheless, the U.S.-regulated crypto futures platforms have expanded their vary of devices past pure Bitcoin (BTC) futures, possible in response to growing demand. The CME, for instance, not too long ago branched out past Bitcoin futures and choices to offer Ether (ETH) futures too. As well as, Bakkt additionally affords Bitcoin month-to-month futures and choices.

Unregulated platforms provide futures contracts and perpetual swaps towards a broader vary of altcoins, though solely to merchants in international locations the place they’re permitted to function. In any case, most liquidity stays concentrated in BTC and ETH futures, no less than for now.

Operational implications

Differing regulatory landscapes, mixed with how perpetual contracts are managed, lead to some sensible variations between crypto futures and conventional futures. As there is no such thing as a central counterparty clearing system, exchanges expose themselves to a excessive diploma of threat, significantly on condition that many provide excessive leverages of as much as 125 occasions. Subsequently, dropping positions that attain the upkeep margin shall be liquidated.

Exchanges sometimes divert any earnings from liquidations into an insurance coverage fund, which exists to guard merchants’ earnings when their counterparty doesn’t have adequate margin to cowl the commerce. The presence and relative well being of an insurance coverage fund is an important consideration when utilizing an unregulated change. With out a fund, or if the fund turns into too low to cowl the losses incurred by liquidations, worthwhile merchants tackle the danger of getting their positions “auto-deleveraged” by the change.

One other essential operational consideration is change downtime. Lots of the unregulated platforms have a popularity for servers crashing during times of excessive volatility, leading to merchants being unable to shut their positions earlier than being liquidated. Subsequently, it’s value researching a platform’s historical past of downtime earlier than opening an account.

Low limitations to entry

The cryptocurrency futures markets usually have a really low barrier to entry. A dealer can open an account, bear the “know your buyer” course of, deposit funds, and begin buying and selling inside a matter of minutes.

In distinction, the limitations to entry for exchange-traded futures are excessive as a result of contract sizes concerned, that are supposed for institutional merchants. This example can be mirrored within the regulated crypto futures choices. Each the CME and Bakkt, the 2 regulated crypto futures buying and selling venues, have contract sizes of 5 BTC and 1 BTC, respectively. With costs presently exceeding $31,000, these contracts are evidently solely supposed for these keen to make a big funding.

Nevertheless, blockchain affords important potential to remodel the futures markets past cryptocurrencies via asset tokenization. Suppose a futures contract for the Nasdaq-100 or S&P 500 was made obtainable as a token. In that case, it could possibly be traded in fractional increments, reducing limitations to entry and introducing new sources of liquidity into conventional markets.

Associated: Understanding the systemic shift from digitization to tokenization of monetary providers

Such a state of affairs could profit these seeking to introduce a extra fine-grained diversification to their portfolio, which is presently solely doable through contracts for variations (CFD). Whereas they carry out an identical function within the monetary markets, CFDs are solely obtainable through brokers, which reduces transparency for the dealer. It additionally fragments the obtainable liquidity within the broader markets.

Regardless of their fast development, cryptocurrency futures markets are nonetheless very a lot of their infancy, significantly because the institutional influx to crypto is just getting began. Because the markets develop and develop, we are going to possible see new and extra subtle devices emerge, together with some blurring of the boundaries between conventional and digital finance. Moreover, it appears possible that the regulatory state of affairs will proceed to evolve as extra funds circulate in. One factor is for certain: cryptocurrency futures have a protracted future forward.

This text doesn’t comprise funding recommendation or suggestions. Each funding and buying and selling transfer entails threat, and readers ought to conduct their very own analysis when making a choice.

The views, ideas and opinions expressed listed here are the creator’s alone and don’t essentially replicate or symbolize the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Andy Flury is a serial entrepreneur and quantitative buying and selling professional. Andy is a former Swiss Air Power pilot and led tasks on the Swiss intelligence company and varied main banks. He additionally served as senior venture supervisor and software program architect at Siemens Switzerland AG. In 2010, Andy grew to become companion and head of algorithmic buying and selling at Linard Capital AG, a Switzerland-based quantitative hedge fund. Andy holds a grasp’s in industrial administration and manufacturing engineering from ETH Zurich and an Govt MBA from the College of St. Gallen.