Nasdaq Exploring "Total Return" Bitcoin Futures Contract

The battle to establish the de facto standard bitcoin futures contract is intensifying. After the Cboe, and then the CME, launched trading of bitcoin futures on their exchanges late last year, Nasdaq is now considering offering a similar product.

But Nasdaq is investigating how to offer cryptocurrency futures in a way that none of its competitors have so far managed, the CEO of the stock exchange told CNBC Tuesday.


Adena Friedman confirmed earlier reports that the Nasdaq is looking into bitcoin futures, but refused to offer a timeline and emphasized that they're still in their exploratory phase. Though her comments suggest that development is happening.

"We are continuing to investigate the idea of a cryptocurrency futures (contract) with a partner and we continue to look at the risk management around that, making sure we are putting the right protocols in place, making sure there's proper demand, and that the contract is different from what's already out there," Friedman told CNBC.

But speaking during an interview at The Sanctuary in Davos, Switzerland - where cryptocurrencies are bound to be a hot topic of discussion - Friedman said that the Nasdaq will offer a different type of contract: Their model will be what Friedman described as a "total return" model.

"What we might look at is more of a total return futures, so it's a little bit of a different construct," she said, adding that it meant it was "more of an investment than a tracking stock." This suggests the product might track a spot rate rather than any future price.

"We will have to see whether it makes sense at the end of the day, proper client demand, and on a risk-management side 'do we feel confident?,' in which case we would look to go to the CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission)," she said.

While we wouldn't want to mistake correlation with causation, the launch of the futures contracts preceded by several months a series of precipitous selloffs across the crypto landscape. Bitcoin has gotten off to a rough start to the year, and is down roughly 50% from a high just shy of $20,000 reached in late 2017.


However, there's some evidence to suggest that Nasdaq has missed the boat on the bitcoin boom. The CEO of TD Ameritrade told CNBC Tuesday at trading volume in cryptocurrencies has fallen since the start of 2018.

But there's a higher purpose to offering a bitcoin futures contract: It's a battle for prestige. The exchange whose contract becomes established as the de facto bitcoin futures product will win profits and burnish its reputation.