NASDAQ Plans to Let Investors Bet on Bitcoin’s Rise and Fall

By Ben Popper

Bitcoin is back in the news as its price continues a meteoric rise, with the cost of a single coin breaking $10,000 yesterday. Today, it was reported by several major publications that NASDAQ, the second largest stock exchange in the world, plans to launch futures contracts for Bitcoin next year. That would allow investors to bet on the rise and fall of the cryptocurrency, profiting if they are correct about the direction of its future price.

NASDAQ is hardly the first player from the traditional finance world to jump on the Bitcoin bandwagon. At the start of this month, Chicago’s CME Group said it would begin providing futures contracts on bitcoin as well. As The Verge reported this morning, while many well-known bankers and investors continue to deride Bitcoin as a bubble or a Ponzi scheme, almost every major financial institution has been exploring how they might interact with Bitcoin and its underlying structure, the blockchain.

The introduction of various financial products around Bitcoin will amplify the amount of risk investors can take. Cantor Fitzgerald, a large broker which owns an exchange, announced today that it plans to launch Bitcoin derivatives in the first half of 2018. Futures and derivatives allow investors to place bets on bitcoin without owning any of the actual currency, amplifying the amount of financial leverage on the underlying asset. It was an explosion of derivatives pegged to real estate assets like mortgages that underpinned the financial collapse of 2008.

Bitcoin’s rise in price since the start of 2016.
As Bitcoin continues to mint new millionaires, real-world applications for the currency and the underlying technology have so far remained niche. There are countless startups attempting to use bitcoin, blockchains, and other cryptocurrencies. Fueling a lot of this exuberance has been initial coin offerings, where investors can buy virtual tokens in lieu of more traditional equity. This year alone, ICOs have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, passing traditional venture capital as a source of funds.

As veteran investor and financial analyst Josh Brown wrote on his, none of this is likely to change soon:

“These people aren’t going anywhere. Crypto is here to stay. It doesn’t matter if most of the ICOs see their token prices crash by 90% (which is what I think will happen). Walking the halls and having people come up to me to explain their projects, I came to the realization that price crashes alone will not drive these people out. They’ve got business cards, and signs and LLCs and money raised and there will undoubtedly be projects that become real companies, even if the majority disappear. This is how all capitalism works. The crash of the internet economy at the turn of the century didn’t kill the internet itself. Google came around four years later. Three years after that, the iPhone came out. Then Facebook and Twitter. These are all post-crash. So if you’re sick of hearing about crypto, the bad news is that it’s going to be a part of the world for the foreseeable future.”
Predicting exactly when the Bitcoin bubble will burst, as it has many times before, is impossible. But pretty soon, the world’s most venerable exchanges will let you start placing bets.

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