11.29.2017
By Rob Daly

Nasdaq Preps for Bitcoin Futures

The competition in the bitcoin futures market unexpectedly grew a bit more crowded as a Nasdaq client leaked the exchange operator’s plans to list bitcoin futures to the Wall Street Journal.

“There were no plans for Nasdaq to discuss this with anyone, except for clients, until the first or second quarter of 2018,” a source familiar with the situation told Markets Media.

The source confirmed that Nasdaq seeks to differentiate itself from the announced Cboe Global Markets and CME Group bitcoin futures offers via the pricing methodology that it looks to implement.

Instead of relying on real-time pricing from a single bitcoin exchange that holds a bitcoin license from the New York State Department of Financial services like Cboe Global Markets or a once-a-day reference price based of pricing from four bitcoin exchanges like the CME Group, Nasdaq plans to use an index that pulls pricing data from more than 50 bitcoin exchanges that will updated every second seven days a week.

In the meantime, Nasdaq does not expect to file for approval by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission until after the first quarter of 2018. “It could be in April, or it could be in August,” said the source.

The source also said that any bitcoin futures contract would trade like any other future on Nasdaq and would have order-price limit protection and the Options Clearing Corp. would clear the trade.

The Intercontinental Exchange is the only major derivatives exchange operator that has not announced plans regarding digital currency futures and declined to comment for this story.

However, NYSE was one of the first movers into digital currencies market when it made a $75 million investment in the Coinbase exchange in January 2015 and launched its NYSE Bitcoin Index four months later.

Of the proposed products, Richard Johnson, vice president market structure and technology at Greenwich Associates, expects that the CME Group may have a leg up on its competition due to most major players already have accounts with the futures exchange.

“That’s going to be the main differentiator,” he said. “They already have the distribution.”

Johnson doubts that there will be much of an arbitrage opportunity between the three exchanges since all of the proposed contracts so far are cash settled.

More experienced crypto-currency hedge funds or traders may look for arbitrage opportunities between the spot markets, the futures markets, and LedgerX, he added.

LedgerX remains the only CFTC-regulated market that currently trades physically settled bitcoin-based options and day-ahead swaps, which act like short-term deliverable forwards. The swap execution facility soft launched trading in its day-ahead swaps on October 16 followed by options trading a day later.

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