November 2, 2017
The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced a plan to launch Bitcoin futures by the end of the year. The price of Bitcoin surged to a new record in response to the announcement. It was reminiscent of the dot.com era, when a dot.com stock would jump 10% if Maria Bartiromo merely whispered the name of the company on CNBC.
Ironically, the cheers for this new contract from the Bitcoin faithful could turn out to be analogous to chickens in the barnyard cheering at the appearance of Colonel Sanders.
GATA released an article about the new Bitcoin futures contract titled “So Long Cryptos.” I’m sure that editorial stance puzzled most Bitcoin price-momentum chasers. Crypto aficionados, for now, overlook the fact that CME futures are used aggressively to push around the dollar-based Comex gold and silver futures contracts.
As GATA points out, the ability to manipulate precious metals futures contracts by the official entities motivated to suppress the price of gold is reinforced by the volume trading discounts given from the CME to Governments and Central Banks who trade on the CME.
If there any reason to assume that the same volume discounts will not be extended to the Bitcoin contract? Another curious feature of the Bitcoin contract is that it will be settled in cash. I would point out the original intent behind futures contracts was to enable producers and users to agree ahead of time on a price that would be paid for the delivery of the underlying commodity associated with the futures contract. Futures were a financing tool intended to facilitate the production and distribution of the underlying commodity product.
The Bitcoin futures contract is settled only in cash – U.S. dollars. To wit, does this not theoretically sabotage the intended purpose of Bitcoin, which is to provide an alternative to fiat currencies? Why would you want to receive fiat dollars rather than delivery of the underlying?
Technically this is not a bona fide futures contract. It’s a derivative of the “index” price of Bitcoin but it does not facilitate the production and distribution of Bitcoin. As such, it’s an instrument of pure speculation. By definition, this opens the door to manipulation by the entities who might be motivated to control the price of Bitcoin. Oh, by the way, those entities can buy and sell the contracts at a price advantage to the speculators by virtue of the volume discounts.
At least with gold and silver contracts, the contract enables the contract owner to take delivery of the actual physical commodity connected to the contract. To a limited extent, this mechanism serves to prevent the complete unfettered manipulation of gold and silver via the Comex futures contract.
With the Bitcoin futures contract, the contract owner is paid cash. The absence of a requirement to deliver actual Bitcoins enables the issuance of an unlimited number of fiat dollar-based paper Bitcoin contracts which can be used to drive the price lower by increasing the supply of the contract relative to the demand. So much for the idea that Bitcoin supply issuance is firmly capped. This could actually be quite entertaining to observe
It’s also quite possible that Bitcoin futures could divert hedge fund trading volume away from gold and silver futures. This would be a blessing in disguise if this occurs. The price-momentum chasing hedge fund algo trading enables the Comex bank manipulation of Comex futures contracts. Remove this source of volume and it will remove to some degree the ability of the banks to push the price around by exploiting the hedge fund algos.
If the percentage of open interest in gold and silver Comex futures contracts becomes skewed toward the users of these contracts who actually take bona fide delivery of the underlying physical gold/silver bars because the non-delivery-taking users move over to Bitcoin futures, it could mitigate the ability of the banks to price-cap the price of gold/silver.
In this regard, investors who prefer to keep their wealth stored in physical gold and silver rather than fiat dollars or fiat Bitcoins will indeed welcome the new Bitcoin futures product.