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Cryptoverse U.S. retail traders eye a fresh piece of the crypto derivatives pie

America's mom and pop bitcoin buffs have a shiny new derivatives playground that cryptocurrency analysts hope will fire up a moribund market.
Illustration shows representations of cryptocurrencies

Representations of cryptocurrencies are seen in this illustration, August 10, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

Aug 22 (Reuters) – America’s mom and pop bitcoin buffs have a shiny new derivatives playground that cryptocurrency analysts hope will fire up a moribund market.

Their new platform is cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Global (COIN.O), which on Aug. 16 became the first crypto-focused firm to win approval to offer cryptocurrency futures to U.S. retail customers.

It’s early days. But crypto markets are excited by the possibility that the first regulated and listed crypto firm to offer futures trading to U.S. retail investors might revive a shrinking $2 trillion cryptocurrency derivatives market.

“Coinbase’s approval to offer U.S. futures has the potential to rekindle hope and momentum in the market,” said Lucas Kiely, chief investment officer of digital investment platform Yield App.

Hope and momentum are in short supply in a market that has seen bitcoin languish for months as hawkish global central banks and troubles at crypto exchanges such as FTX and Binance sapped interest in volatile crypto assets.

Coinbase’s announcement also comes at a time when derivatives’ trading volumes have shrunk significantly owing to economic uncertainty, continued regulatory hurdles and low volatility that left investors disinclined to make big bets.

Retail traders in the United States can trade bitcoin directly on licensed exchanges such as Bitstamp and Coinbase. They can trade options on the CME, but only through a broker. Or, they can invest in bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) issued by fund managers such as ProShares and VanEck.

That is why Coinbase’s new offering is creating a buzz. A rush of retail traders, famed for their manic meme-stock trading roused on social media sites such as Reddit, could change things in the crypto world.

Todd Groth, head of index research at CoinDesk Indices, says it is too early to gauge the impact of the launch. “It remains to be seen how Coinbase structures these products,” he said.

DROP IN DERIVATIVES

Derivatives such as options and futures have dominated cryptocurrency trading since such products appeared around 2014, as investors snapped up the opportunity to place bets on bitcoin’s price moves with minimal investment.

They are also heavily favored by institutional investors, whose interest has remained fairly steady this year, with the number of Large Open Interest Holders – those holding more than 25 contracts – in CME bitcoin futures up 5% since the second quarter, according to the exchange’s data.

The dominance of options trading is often cited as a reason for cryptocurrency’s trademark volatility, with investors taking on heavily leveraged bets that can reward them for both gains and losses.

Yet, trading volumes in derivatives decreased by nearly 13% in July to $1.85 trillion, the lowest monthly volume since December 2022 and second lowest derivatives trading volumes since 2021, research firm CCData reported.

Derivatives are big business in crypto markets. Derivatives made up 78.2% of the total cryptocurrency trading volume on centralized exchanges in July, CCData reported.

In the second quarter of 2023, derivatives volume was six times larger than spot volume even as overall volumes fell, according to Kaiko Research.

Spot cryptocurrency trading volumes also fell 10.5% to $515 billion in the same period, CCData showed.

Reuters Graphics
Reuters Graphics

“For now, the derivative market is dominated by offshore exchanges, mainly Binance,” said Dessislava Aubert, an analyst at Kaiko.

“But we have seen its dominance decline this year. This essentially means that there is potential for growth in derivatives trading. In particular, Coinbase could leverage its strong reputation and attract institutional clients.”

Reporting by Lisa Mattackal, Medha Singh and Sumanta Sen in Bengaluru; Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and Mark Potter

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