Banks Issue Last Minute Warning About Risks Of Bitcoin Futures, Ask Regulator For Review

Tyler Durden's picture

As we countdown to the launch of bitcoin futures trading on the CBOE (10 December) and CME (18 December), the big banks – via the Futures Industry Association - have suddenly got cold feet about the risks. We don't blame them, somebody's going to get hurt, the only question is who. The banks are worried it could be them. The FIA’s “primary” members include all of the usual suspects like JPM, Goldman, Citi, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, etc. The risk they are most concerned about relates to clearing houses which, ultimately, they stand behind. The problem, of course, boils down to Bitcoin’s volatility, something we flagged after the CME announced circuit breakers early last month.

Having taken a gamble on bitcoin futures, which are set to begin trading by the end of the year, the CME is now seeking to avoid the consequences of what has emerged as both the cryptocurrency's best and worst selling point: its unprecedented volatility…While the CME already uses daily vol limits on most other markets, including crude, gold and market futures, to temporarily halt trading when price swings get out of control, the CME has never before dealt with something like bitcoin

In June, Bloomberg showed how Bitcoin’s 30-day volatility had risen to 100%, which was comparable (at the time) with one of the most volatile financial instruments they (and we) could probably think of - a three-times levered ETF in junior gold miners.

The CME has proposed three trading limits for Bitcoin futures, 7%, 13% or 20% up or down from the previous day’s closing price. The first two thresholds, for 7% and 13% moves, are “soft” limits, which would trigger a two-minute pause in trading of bitcoin futures. The 20% limit would be a hard stop after which trading would be halted. In the first ten months of Bitcoin trading in 2017, Coindesk calculated there had been 69 days in which Bitcoin moved at least 7%, 11 days in which it moved 13% and two days in which it moved 20%. In fact, we had another 20% intra-day move on 29 November 2017.

As the Financial Times reports, the banks – via the Futures Industry Association – is sending a letter to the CFTC which it will publish today.

The world’s largest banks are pushing back on the introduction of bitcoin futures, raising concerns with US regulators that the financial system is ill-prepared for the launch of the contracts as the value of the volatile cryptocurrency has soared. On Wednesday, the price of bitcoin climbed to a fresh record high of more than $14,000. Institutional investors have been keen to trade the asset but only via a regulated market.

However, the planned launch in the next 10 days of futures contracts by the Chicago exchanges CME Group and CBOE Global Markets, given a green light from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission last week, has prompted a backlash among the major brokers who backstop trading across the industry. The Futures Industry Association, the main futures industry lobby group, plans to send a letter to the CFTC that will be published on Thursday.

We could be forgiven for thinking this is all very “last minute”. The CME announced its launch of Bitcoin futures trading back in October and had been canvassing opinion from market participants, including the banks, for months beforehand. The FT confirms that it was seen a draft of the FIA’s letter in which the latter states that the introduction of Bitcoin futures “did not allow for proper public transparency and input”. This is self-evident, resulting from the launch of futures trading contracts being fast-tracked by all parties after Bitcoin’s price rose parabolically this year. As part of this fast track process, the CME and CBOE adopted a “self-certified regime” for the contracts, meaning that the normal regulatory oversight didn’t take place. As the FT notes, the FIA is belatedly calling for a review.

Using it (self-certified regime) for “these novel products does not align with the potential risks that underlie their trading and should be reviewed”, the draft reads. The CFTC warned last week during its approval process that the emerging cryptocurrency markets were largely unregulated and the agency had “limited statutory authority”. “It is also our understanding that not all risk committees of the relevant exchanges were consulted before the certification to launch these products,” the letter added.

Getting into the “nitty gritty”, even though the banks have been discussing the specification of the contracts for about six months (according to the CME), as the moment of truth approaches, they’ve “zeroed in” on the fragility of clearing houses. With so much Bitcoin trading occurs on other exchanges and outside the hours of CME/CBOE (even if they trade Sundays), the banks have realised their vulnerability.

Futures brokers are worried they will bear the brunt of the risk associated with bitcoin futures, because the margin that backstops the contract is placed in a clearing house. Clearing houses stand between two parties in a trade, managing the risk to the rest of the market if one side should default. They are mutually funded in part by banks to guard against the failure of their largest members. Several brokers among the top 10 largest providers have privately confirmed to the Financial Times that they will not clear the products immediately.

One clearing broker said that it would be open-minded about cryptocurrencies, as they were US dollar products, but only if they were “properly controlled and regulated”. However he added: “We’d still be on the hook in a worst-case scenario as we are exposed as members of the clearing house.”

Sometimes “old heads” are useful in these circumstances. Speaking on Bloomberg TV, Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman, Howard Davies, said he would advise the CME and CBOE against launching Bitcoin futures.

"I’m not quite sure that they know enough about what the underlying is, about the nature of the supply and demand of the underlying. I think it would be a very risky move for them in reputation terms. This is irrational exuberance. This is a very, very unusual market, that shows we’re not in a normal two- way trading market. Blockchain is much more interesting. The idea of a distributed ledger, which makes transactions and payment systems much cheaper and faster in real time is a good one. Blockchain, I think, has got life in it.”

Thomas Peterrfy, the founder, Chairman and CEO of Interactive Brokers (the one who fronts the company’s slightly irritating TV ads) is one of the “giants” of electronic trading in US financial markets. The FT noted Interactive Brokers' stance.

”Thomas Peterffy, a pioneer of electronic trading and head of Interactive Brokers, has warned that the introduction of bitcoin futures into a clearing house could increase systemic risk. On Wednesday Interactive said its clients would be unable to short the bitcoin futures market because of the extreme volatility of bitcoin.

It looks like the banks have realised Peterffy might be right in limiting trading of Bitcoin futures.

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hedgeless_horseman's picture


Banks wonder why people are not happy with 0.001 % savings rates, which are a direct result of money printing?

Fuck them!

Bitcoin is showing what happens when people are offered a deflationary option for their wealth.

Of course the bankers hate it.

silverer's picture

That's pretty good. Where did you find that rate? lol

Arturo's picture

Steam stopped accepting Bitcoins for games. That should be covered by ZH.

MonetaryApostate's picture

>> Banks scared & gonna regulate?

>> Banks control it & about to rape?

BaBaBouy's picture

PHYS GOLD and SILVER Are Screaming BUYZ Right Now ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Its unbeleivable the sheeple don't see this, Yet...

LawsofPhysics's picture

So, hyperinflation it is!!!

This should turn out well...



"Full Faith and Credit"

same as it ever was HH!!!

hedgeless_horseman's picture


That was the wrong gold chart.  Adjusted for inflation?  WTF?   Sorry.

Here is the correct one...

DownWithYogaPants's picture

Whether you believe in BTC or not you have to be enjoying watching these banksters squirm.  

Yeah yeah I know what their next step is but I can enjoy it while it stands.

jcaz's picture

Damn, I hope it goes thru- Goldman promised me that they'd make a futures market in my bowel movements once they get this done,  I gotta lot riding on this......

cheech_wizard's picture

>Yeah yeah I know what their next step is but I can spend it while it stands.


asteroids's picture

There's a REAL problem with BTC these days. It takes FOREVER for a BTC transaction to take place. I used to be of the opinion that BTC was all bullshit. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm hedging my actually owning some.

Golden Phoenix's picture

Guessing you're using a vanilla address. Use a Segwit address and you'll be in the very next block for 30 cents. There is no problem with BTC, it's just that 90% of users don't know about or use the features it already has.

TheJohnnieWalker_Put's picture

Nice graph.



If the banks are so jazzed, why not create a precious metal backed cryto contract?

It could be backed with a guaranteed amount of a deliverable physical. This would hedge a tangible/commodity backstop against a (currently) ridiculous intangible, virtual money.

It could add cred to BitCoin, who's main appeal right now is being free of central bank control (which is a biggie), while creating PM demand at a time PM's are cheap

The cryto/gold (or silver) ratio, has been more linear.

Whatever; I don't think straight crypto future will get off the ground at this point without some help. Launching a futures market at this point is probably a watershed contrarian sign for BitCoin.

MonetaryApostate's picture

It's a black hole, the bankers are just waiting to start bidding on the pillaging of it...

Imagine 20 banks with 400 employees with an unlimited credit line buying, selling cryptos, & then they just all of a sudden pull out.

quadraspleen's picture

then all of the people who've been *actually buying them* for the last five years will step in and buy the fucking huge dip.

Same as it ever was (same as the last 400 or so times BTC has been declared "dead" since its inception, anyhow)

ljag's picture

Yes. What happens when I sell my crypto and get back USD?

IH8OBAMA's picture

I can understand investment bankers like IB being concerned about allowing customers to trade Bitcoin futures.  Futures have a price limit on the exchange at which point trading stops unless the price of the cash comes back inline with the limit price.  Of course, the client is on the hook for any losses but locked markets can be locked for days and most small traders don't have the assets to cover large losses.  The investment banker is then on the hook for any losses the customer cannot cover.

Here's an example that actually happened to a friend's customer trading gold in the late '70s or early '80s.  This person had about $26,000 in his trading account.  As gold (and futures) broke above $1000 for the first time.  This person shorted 10 contracts of gold that only required about $6,000 or $7,000 initial margin at the time.  He could have shorted more contracts.  Anyway, gold started a run up locking the futures contract at the limit.  This went on for several days with the futures opening locked at the limit and staying their for the duration of the session.  No trading was happening in the futures and short sellers were locked into their positions for days as it moved against them.

Anyway, long story short, this person wound up losing in the neighborhood of $250,000 before the firm could manage to get him out of the market.  Fortunately for the firm, this person was able to borrow against some real estate and pay the loss.  If he didn't have those resources though, the firm would have been on the hook for the loss.

It's a lesson in trading futures that I've never forgot.


iamrefreshed's picture

Please stop speaking intelligently, grab a Bitcoin ride ticket and proceed to tell us what color Lambo you are buying (or two).

It's the in thing to do.

Antifaschistische's picture

 “properly controlled and regulated”.    ROFLMAO

caveat emptor...let'er rip

Laowei Gweilo's picture

just wait until a BTC exchange tries to 'clear' lol


quite a few times I've seen Coinbase or other exchanges put up "We are experiencing technical problems/huge backlogs" even with high buying volume


what about the next time, ppl stop buying with the expectation they can sell at a higher price -- the first real 'sell NOW unless you're genuinely holding it long term' moment, and the people all start running for the door

not only that but miners are gonna try push up transaction costs where they can

point is ... and I'm not saying Bitcoin WILL crash .... just that from the exchange performance I've seen, if it does begin to crash a bit, it's going to hit a sell bottleneck that is just going to send it into a tail spin

i mean, hey, keep riding that momentum tailwind but daaamn keep it on a short leesh ;p 

Laowei Gweilo's picture

aaaaand I was right today... hours after this post, BTC flash crashed nearly $4500 exactly for the same bottleneck issue.

again, dunno if it will happen again or not. but if it does wow it's going to crash fast.

NoDebt's picture

That's fucking funny.

Killtruck's picture

BTC is global. Very good chance that it could rip their faces off some dark and stormy night. 

Erek's picture

Serious question:

When the stocks and the bonds crash, what will happen with bitcoin?

Peak Finance's picture

Sold off to cover margin then slow rebound

shitshitshit's picture

they havecold feet because to run their shorting business they realized they would actually need to buy a substantial amount of coins to topple the exchanges... They lost their chance at being the casino.

They can only try dirty tactics now to reverse the movement

AlphaSeraph's picture

Yes. They realized they will not be able to rig/manipulate/naked short Bitcoin the way they do gold/silver. Hence, coldfeet.

Peak Finance's picture

Sorry guys this is simply inaccurate.

They can naked short Bitcoin and if they fuck themselves force a settlement in cash, per the rules of the exchange. 


dasein211's picture

Nope. You don’t need their exchange or clearinghouse to trade. People will simply not deal with them if they can’t manage.

quadraspleen's picture

They can naked short BTC lower, and real buyers will step in to exchange more fiat for "real" BTC on a real BTC exchange, where their buy is settled in BTC, not fiat

Antifaschistische's picture

you can't naked short a bitcoin that hasn't been mined yet...what if they start wanting to take delivery!!  It won't work!!

oh, wait just a second.  (copper, gold, silver, oil, nickel, zinc, aluminum).

Personally, I find it fascinating...that a bitcoin is considered more tangible and real, than any commodity. (ps...and I'm not arguing for any position....I do, truly find it fascinating....this is a true 'get the popcorn' event)

Yogizuna's picture

I find it mentally retarded, but different strokes for different folks...

Crazy Or Not's picture

cold feet etc
Shortage of volunteers to pull the plug on the Tether? - "May incur jail time" - not in Banker's lexicon.

NoDebt's picture

Good.  I hope the banks never have a damned thing to do with Cryptos.  As soon as they get their mits on it, they'll fuck everything up.


shitshitshit's picture

they'll try their best to cut the logistics (i.e. money wires)...

quadraspleen's picture


This is where the rubber hits the road. Expect non-US territories like S Korea, HK and parts of eastern Europe and the rest of the Americas to welcome that trade with open arms

e_goldstein's picture

I want to see them try to short it via the CME.

To prepare, the property managers should unlock the windows in the Chicago Loop and on Wall Street (and not just the rooftops of the JPM buildings).

Tom Green Swedish's picture

They will short it hard every morning. Look at some commodity charts. The texhnolg sucks . It breaks down everybsay. Plus its making criminals money. They hate bitcoin and will break it .

quadraspleen's picture

And my heart bleeds for them.

No, really it does.

ok, I'm lying

Buck Johnson's picture

Exactly, exactly.  You see they think it's okay for you to have those shitty saving rates while they can do whatever with your money and get loans at better rates than you can from the Fed.  They can't stand that they can't control the system of Bitcoin to the degree they want.


thevekja's picture

What's one more systemic risk at this point? Pile it on the dung heap and continue to Ctrl+P your way to global prosperity.

Still long Pb and Pb delivery systems. The time to train is now

silverer's picture

Banks always take care of their own.


I hope the CME has hired extra margin clerks for their new scheme. Can you imagine being short BTC right now? With leverage?

ToSoft4Truth's picture

"trading limits"


Um, Bitcoin is 24/7 and not 9-5. 

marysimmons's picture

These people are clueless what they're dealing with.  What happens when BTC corrects 15% in the beginning of the week, then Korean whales run it up 20% in 12 hours on a Thursday night? Or a Saturday night?

herkomilchen's picture

The limits are hilarious.  As if artifical price controls can change real world prices (just ask Maduro how well that works).  As if global spot Bitcoin prices will pay any attention.  Poor futures traders will just get trapped in unwanted positions, helplessly watching as the outside market moves.

quadraspleen's picture

helplessly pouring their bosses bad money after a train that left the station years ago