The first bitcoin futures depend on trading at the Winklevoss twins’ tiny exchange — and that’s a problem

All eyes will be on Cboe Global Markets on Sunday when it launches futures contracts for bitcoin.

The Chicago-based derivatives market is the first established exchange to roll-out futures for the red-hot digital currency. Futures are contracts that will let investors bet on the coin’s future price.

While bitcoin enthusiasts are excited about the attention — and big money — a new futures market could bring to the digital coin, concerns hang over Gemini, the cryptocurrency exchange Cboe is working with to launch the contracts.

Founded in 2015 by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who reportedly own a billion dollars of bitcoin, Gemini is one of the best-connected firms in the cryptocurrency space.

But Gemini is still small, and trading in its price-setting auction is thin enough that it could be manipulated, according to critics. Cboe will be basing the price of its futures on this auction, which means any sudden shift in the set price could make the difference between a contract that is a money maker or a money loser.

Then there’s the fact that Gemini has suffered outages when demand for bitcoin skyrockets.

Gemini tracks the overall market pretty closely with an average difference of just 0.1%, according to Gemini data. The product was designed with one exchange to make it easier for traders to hedge their holdings of the underlying asset. And Cboe would rely on a backup index based on data from six exchanges if Gemini were to crash.

Gemini did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Smallest among rivals

Gemini is much smaller than many of its rivals in the bitcoin-trading space. Ranked fourteenth globally by 24-hour trading volumes, the exchange sees only 1.4% of trading in the entire bitcoin market, according to data from CoinMarketCap.

Screen Shot 2017 12 06 at 4.14.16 PMCoinMarketCap

Its size is concerning to some trading firms which don’t like the idea of an entire market for futures being based on data from one exchange with thin volumes. The logic is, since Gemini is so small, its activity can’t paint an accurate picture of the broader crypto-market.

Cboe’s futures will be based on the auction price of bitcoin on the Gemini exchange. Settlements for the contracts, the payout a trader either receives or pays out for their bet, will be determined each day at 4:00 p.m. The first settlement is not set to occur until January.

“I’m concerned that the Gemini auctions often have very low volume and the lack of liquidity may lead to the futures settling at a price that is not indicative of where bitcoin is trading on other venues, due to the localized supply/demand imbalance in the auction,” Garrett See, the CEO of DV Chain, the cryptocurrency trading arm of Chicago-based DV Trading, told Business Insider.

Market manipulation

John Spallanzani, the chief macro strategist at GFI Group, told Business Insider Gemini’s low volumes could be a problem because it could lead to market manipulation.

“The lower the volumes, the easier to manipulate,” he said. “Since the volume is low and [bitcoin] is unregulated it is conceivable.” […]

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