Role reversal: Crypto enthusiasts now worried about banks

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Wall Street has a green light to enter the bitcoin market, and a number of bitcoin enthusiasts are very unhappy about it.

On Friday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced it would allow CME Group and CBOE Global Markets to list bitcoin futures. The move could open the floodgates to new investment, as CME and CBOE will become the first traditional U.S. exchanges to offer trading in bitcoin-related financial products.

But dozens of the cryptocurrency's supporters complained that the move marks the end of bitcoin's freewheeling, decentralized ways, and they took to Twitter to decry what they see as an attempt by banks to wrest control of the digital-asset market.

"Bitcoin futures really scare me," tweeted one user, a self-described contrarian investor, "in my opinion it could well be the death of bitcoin as we know it. It's a huge step in the door for the corrupt banks and hedge funds to manipulate price action without owning the (Real Bitcoin)."

Many bitcoiners expressed concern that banks would be able to treat the cryptocurrency like precious metals.

"Before you celebrate understand how futures destroyed silver enthusiasts by banks and exchanges making longs and shorts without caring about actual silver," one account wrote.

Other cryptocurrency enthusiasts welcomed the announcement.

"I think that [the] importance of the development comes more from the sentiment that it projects, than whatever eventual additional trading comes from [the] futures' market,” said David Tawil, a director at Maglan Capital and former investment banker at Credit Suisse.

"The development is a legitimization event. There are many more legitimization events to come, and each one will serve as a positive catalyst for the value of bitcoin," Tawil added. "The goal is for bitcoin to become ubiquitous, cementing its position as a universal currency."

The CFTC’s regulation of cryptocurrency markets has the potential to allow innovation to flourish, added Deborah North, partner at the New York law firm Allen & Overy. "We’ve seen action from the CFTC previously in their approach to derivatives clearing organization registration in the case of LedgerX earlier this year.”

(In October, the New York-based startup gained permission to clear bitcoin derivatives. LedgerX reported clearing $1 million in bitcoin derivatives in its first week.)

The market responded positively to the approval. Following the announcement, bitcoin went above $10,600 in early afternoon trading, after a dip caused by exchange outages earlier in the week had seen the digital currency go as low as about $9,300.

CME's offering — the result of what Terry Duffy, CME's chairman and CEO, called "a lengthy, comprehensive process with the CFTC" — aims to provide investors with "transparency, price discovery and risk transfer capabilities," according to a news release.

"We recognize bitcoin is a new, uncharted market that will continue to evolve, requiring continued collaboration with the Commission and our clients going forward," Duffy added.

It looks as though 2018 will be the year that institutional money is unleashed in the digital-asset market.

Bitcoin mania mounts amid banker skepticism
It’s been month after month of record-breaking, confounding growth for the cryptocurrency, accompanied by regular warnings from banks about bubble speculation.

Hot on the heels of CME and CBOE, Nasdaq announced in late November that intended to list its own bitcoin futures in the first half of 2018. The San Francisco startup Coinbase, which has raised $216 million from a number of heavyweight investors, including USAA, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and the New York Stock Exchange, launched a new business to store bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies securely for large institutional clients.

And three days ago, Tokyo-based bitFlyer, the world's largest bitcoin exchange by trading volume, opened its doors to American users, with a special focus on institutions and experienced traders. Coinbase said it estimates that $10 billion of institutional money is currently sitting on the sidelines.

While the CFTC has green-lit bitcoin futures trading — a move that should give investment banks and hedge funds confidence to enter the market — other regulators appear to be doing their best to halt the gold rush. On Friday, speaking at a conference in Beijing, Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau told his audience that bitcoin "is in no way a currency, or even a cryptocurrency," according to Reuters.

"It is a speculative asset. Its value and extreme volatility have no economic basis, and they are nobody's responsibility," he added. "The Bank of France reminds those investing in bitcoin that they do so entirely at their own risk."

CME plans to begin listing its bitcoin futures contract on Dec. 18.

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