Bitcoin is one step closer to becoming a part of the mainstream financial world. Cboe is launching the first US bitcoin futures exchange at 6PM Eastern, giving speculators a chance to bet on the value of the cryptocurrency through a listed (XBT), regulated entity. You don’t use a digital wallet or otherwise require bitcoins — instead, you trade and settle futures contracts using cash, with a $10 minimum price interval and a $1 transaction fee from January onward. There aren’t any price limits, and you can short your futures (that is, immediately sell them in hopes of turning a quick profit) if your broker allows it.
This isn’t going to be as huge as the expected Nasdaq bitcoin futures exchange. Also, don’t be surprised if your brokerage of choice either doesn’t allow bitcoin futures trading or limits what you can do. Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and others are barring trades at the moment, while Interactive Brokers is both preventing customers from shorting futures and setting a minimum margin of 50 percent. Goldman Sachs is open to them, but only expects to approve futures trading for some of its clients.
Still, Cboe’s exchange could be important. The regulation and added transparency may give more legitimacy to bitcoin, particularly among institutions and investors who see it as a wild experiment. Also, it could help calm down bitcoin’s extreme volatility in recent months. A single bitcoin is worth about $15,550 as of this writing, or roughly $10,000 more than it was worth in mid-October — those kinds of increases (and the crashes that follow) aren’t healthy for a financial industry that needs some predictability. As futures have historically calmed markets down once introduced, there’s a chance bitcoin could enjoy much-needed stability.