The biggest exchange group in the world is unexpectedly gatecrashing the bitcoin business

Terry Duffy, executive chairman and president CME Group, takes part in a panel discussion titled

caption
Terry Duffy, executive chairman and president CME Group, takes part in a panel discussion titled “Global Markets in Uncertain Times” at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills
source
Thomson Reuters

    CME Group, a leading marketplace for derivatives which handles 3 billion contracts worth about $1 quadrillion annually, is set to roll out bitcoin futures by the fourth quarter. The exchange group said in a press release that client interest triggered the decision to roll out the derivatives product. The price of bitcoin is up more than 500% year-to-date. In September, CME president Bryan Durkin told Bloomberg bitcoin was “very nascent” and that he didn’t think they would roll out such a product in the “very near future.”

CME has changed its mind on bitcoin futures.

The Chicago-based exchange giant, which trades futures and options based on everything from interest rates to real estate, foreign exchange to the weather, said on Tuesday that it would launch bitcoin futures products before the end of the year.

The news comes a month after the firm’s president Bryan Durkin told Bloomberg that bitcoin was “very nascent” and that he didn’t think they would move forward with bitcoin futures in the short-term. Futures are contracts that allow two parties to exchange an asset at a specified price at an agreed upon date in the future.

Cross town rival Cboe has long had a plan for bitcoin futures in the works, and is also preparing for a possible Q4 launch. CME said in a press release the new roll-out is contingent on the necessary regulatory approvals.

“Given increasing client interest in the evolving cryptocurrency markets, we have decided to introduce a bitcoin futures contract,” said Terry Duffy, CME chairman and CEO. “As the world’s largest regulated FX marketplace, CME Group is the natural home for this new vehicle that will provide investors with transparency, price discovery and risk transfer capabilities.”

Bitcoin isn’t completely uncharted territory for the company. It launched a bitcoin price index last year in conjunction with Crypto Facilities Ltd. Crypto Facilities will work with CME on the launch of the futures product.

Bitcoin, the red-hot digital currency, is up well over 500% this year and has gripped Wall Street’s attention. While many have shied away from it, including JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon who called it a fraud, others don’t want to pass up on the opportunity for profit.

And there’s much profit to be made for exchanges. Bank of America Merril Lynch said bitcoin presents exchanges and market structure companies with a $1.6 billion revenue opportunity from bitcoin-linked products.

The figure is a bull case scenario, according to the bank, and is based on the assumption that cryptocurrency volumes end up at about 10% of current fiat currency trading volumes.

Here’s the bank:

“The FX market is highly liquid. For example, spot FX volumes were $1.65tr as of the most recent BIT Triennial survey in April 2016. If these volumes were to materialize, with the same relationship between spot market and futures, and the same revenue per contract, the revenue pool would be about $1.6bn.”

The estimate also assumes “there is no substitution of coin volumes for other contracts.”