Nasdaq joins the Wall Street gold rush to offer bitcoin futures

Selling the future.
Selling the future.
Image: Reuters/Keith Bedford
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If you’re worried about the soaring price of bitcoin, the financial industry has a solution: Bitcoin derivatives.

The Nasdaq exchange will offer bitcoin futures in the first half of next year, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall), while brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald plans to launch bitcoin derivatives on its own exchange around the same time. Nasdaq and Cantor follow the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), which was the first major financial institution to develop bitcoin derivatives. The CME’s bitcoin futures contracts launch next month.

Bitcoin has gained over 1,000% since January. It blew past $10,000 earlier today (Nov. 29) and then surged past $11,000 within hours. Those sorts of returns have turned heads on Wall Street. Hedge funds dealing with anemic gains in the equity and bond markets have been eyeing the cryptocurrency markets to juice their returns as clients clamor for a piece of the action. Dozens of boutique funds have been set up in recent months to try to cash in on the cryptocurrency boom.

Bitcoin futures give sophisticated investors an instrument to hedge their bets in the cryptocurrency and could help professional traders overcome their hesitation to get involved in the bitcoin markets. As bitcoin futures markets are being developed, other tools that traditional investors are used to are also being built.

The problem of safely storing bitcoin, for instance, is a vexing one for a financial institution. Billions of dollars worth of bitcoin have been hacked or lost because of the difficulties in keeping the digital currency secure. The startup Coinbase, which operates the biggest consumer-facing bitcoin wallet and exchange service, launched a product aimed at institutional clients earlier this month. The product, called Coinbase Custody, asks for a minimum deposit of $10 million in assets from prospective clients. That number hints at the amount of money that may be on the sidelines of the bitcoin markets.

The arrival of institutional money is partly why the bitcoin price has surged. The perception that major funds are poised to enter the bitcoin markets is clearly enough of a buy signal for cryptocurrency investors.