Insights Into Bitcoin Futures Contracts: Part 2

Bitcoin futures

This article is the second piece dedicated to explaining bitcoin futures and how they impact the underlying price of BTC.

Periods of Validity

Bitcoin futures are instruments with a limited maturity date. Each contract has its own maturity date (the date of completion of the transaction), after which the contract is considered invalid. According to the validity period, futures are divided into quarterly and serial.

Most futures are quarterly futures. These are standardized contracts for the purchase/sale of transaction objects that are executed in the last month of each season. The last trading day, as a rule, falls on the period from the 15th to the 20th day of each last quarterly month and is indicated by the following symbols:

H – March
M – June
U – September
Z – December

Serial futures are intermediate contracts whose maturity date falls on any other month of the year that is different from the last quarterly. The last trading day of such futures, as a rule, falls on the third Friday of the month. The closing date of the contract is specified in the specification of the futures agreement.

Bitcoin futures present on CME and CBOE and have their own expiration dates:

  • For CME contracts, this is the last Friday of the month or the day preceding it if a holiday falls;
  • For CBOE contracts, the expiration date is the second business day before the third Friday of the month.

Futures Trading Terms

In 2018, direct work with Bitcoin futures is supported on several cryptocurrency exchanges, including OKCoin and BitMEX. As Hacked reported, during the height of the recent downturn, transaction volumes on BitMEX surged to over 40% of the entire market.

If you want to trade Bitcoin futures on regulated platforms through an intermediary broker, you can choose one of two exchanges: CBOE and CME.

Sellers and buyers enter into a contract with the exchange, and all further interactions between them pass through the clearing house of the exchange. Futures trading in Bitcoins consists of three stages:

  1. Entry into the position: At this step, the trader, buying futures, predicts the movement of cryptocurrency value.
  2. Waiting stage: When the trader’s forecast is correct, and the value of the asset moves in the right direction, he chooses the most appropriate moment to close his position. If the forecast is not correct, then the trader must determine the moment when you can leave the market, having suffered minimal losses.
  3. Closing Stage: This is the last stage of futures trading, in which the futures holder sells a contract and fixes its profit or loss.

When futures are bought, the trader pays only the exchange commission and pays the security amount for the contract. Usually, the size of the security collateral is in the range of 4-10% of the amount of the futures agreement. Due to the strong volatility of cryptocurrency, for bitcoin futures, the size of the collateral is always increased and can reach up to 30-50%, but average is 10-20%. The less financial risks, the less will be the size of the collateral amount.

One unit of trading on the CBOE exchange is equal to 1 bitcoin (XBT ticker), and the size of the futures contract on the CME platform consists of 5 bitcoins (BTC ticker). Bitcoin futures is a settlement type of contract, and the execution takes place by determining the difference between the cost of opening a position and the value of the settlement index on the day the futures are closed. Financial indexes are administered by a special party.

How to Trade

Bitcoin futures trading does not have any particular secrets or differences from other trading instruments. The scenario is the same as in the use of other trading tools: to make a profit, you need to predict which direction the bitcoin price will go. You build a forecast for a certain period of time and buy a futures contract.

For example, the most straightforward scheme for using a Bitcoin futures contract looks like this: knowing that the cost of bitcoin will go up, at the time of writing you can buy two-month futures for 10 bitcoins at the price of $4,000 USD. If your predictions come true, and the cost of BTC really goes up, you just have to follow Bitcoin quotes in the market. If during the contract term, the price of Bitcoin rises to $4,500, you can sell futures without waiting for the maturity date and earn your $ 5,000 ($500 profit x 10 bitcoins).

You can get such a profit without Bitcoin futures; it is enough to actually buy 10 Bitcoins and wait for the quotes change in the right direction. But in this case, you will have to operate on the full value of the asset: 10 x $4,000 = $40,000. But when buying Bitcoin futures, you will need to pay only brokerage fees and pay a deposit of 10-20% on average of the futures amount ($4,000-$8,000).

As with any trading instrument, futures trading requires not only basic financial literacy but also a balanced approach to planning, analyzing and attention to details. You should study well all the conditions of the exchange, the schedule of its work, commission, fees, etc.

In order to be able to enter into a futures contract, you will need to open a brokerage account, and each exchange independently decides whether it will allow you to trade on its site or not. Margin requirements are also set by the brokers themselves.

Many trading platforms can protect assets from sudden changes in their value in various ways. For example, on the CBOE exchange, there are such rules for suspension of trading, when the price of cryptocurrency begins to change dramatically. In particular: if the cost quickly rises or falls 10%, then the trades will be stopped for 2 minutes; if the course rises or falls by 20%, the use of the financial instrument will be stopped for 5 minutes.

Futures prices also have different price formations. For example, CME sets prices, taking into account data from the crypto exchanges platforms Bitstamp, Kraken, Coinbase Pro, and ItBit, and CBOE forms the value of the futures contract, starting from the exchange rate on the Gemini exchange.

The Impact of Futures on the Bitcoin Price

There are some concerns that bitcoin futures can be used for aggressive trading. However, if the value of such contracts went out of control, then arbitrators would have intervened.

Bitcoin futures are speculative instruments that allow you to influence the value of BTC without even owning it. Critics, including some from the futures industry, argue that such contracts are premature and, in the worst case, represent a systemic risk, given the underlying volatility of the crypto market.

However, the use of futures on Bitcoin has two significant consequences:

  1. Bitcoin futures, unlike cryptocurrency itself, can be traded on regulated exchanges and this is excellent news for traders concerned about the lack of regulators in the field of digital money.
  2. New trading tools open up opportunities for using Bitcoin in areas where cryptocurrency trading is prohibited. And this will open the door to broader participation in the cryptocurrency market of giant companies and investors from different countries.

Futures contracts will bring more liquidity to the market, which, in turn, will simplify the conduct of operations with cryptocurrency and make trade more profitable. Their use is primarily intended to balance price fluctuations in underlying assets.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Vladislav Semjonov has a legal and financial background. He has been involved in crypto space since early 2017 in both ICO advising positions in several ICO consultancy firms, and as an ICO analyst for VC. He began contributing for in April 2017.