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Bitcoin Heads to Wall Street Whether Regulators Are Ready or Not

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  • Bitcoin Heads to Wall Street Whether Regulators Are Ready or Not

Two U.S. exchanges, including the parent of the venerable Chicago Mercantile Exchange, are racing to embrace bitcoin, dragging federal regulators into a realm skeptics call a fad and fraud.

The development shows how some big financial players are moving to co-opt the volatile cryptocurrency and lure more mainstream investors into the market, even before regulators have agreed on just what bitcoin is.

CME Group Inc.’s contracts will debut Dec. 18. Cboe Global Markets Inc. didn’t announce a start date. Both got the green light Friday after going through a process called self-certification — a pledge to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission that the products don’t run afoul of the law. The news pushed bitcoin’s price higher.

The moves are a watershed for Wall Street professionals — including institutional investors and high-speed traders — who’ve been eager to bet on cryptocurrencies and their wild swings, but worried about doing so on mostly unregulated markets. The new products are subject to CFTC oversight. CME, Cboe and Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s Cantor Exchange — which is creating another kind of bitcoin derivative, binary options — promised to help the agency surveil the underlying bitcoin market.

“Bitcoin, a virtual currency, is a commodity unlike any the commission has dealt with in the past,” CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo said in a statement Friday. “We expect that the futures exchanges, through information sharing agreements, will be monitoring the trading activity on the relevant cash platforms.”

Trading in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is largely unregulated, and that’s the point. Bitcoin was introduced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as a way of avoiding governments and central banks. Now with its meteoric rise and the proliferation of cryptocurrencies, banks, brokers and mainstream investors want in. And they want regulation, something they’ll get plenty of in a market like CME or Cboe’s.

“The launch of the futures will actually make the market healthier,” Cboe President Chris Concannon said in an interview after the news broke Friday. “It will create pricing equilibrium in the market. Clients who are holding bitcoin now have no way to hedge their risk. These products allow them to hedge, and to take opposing views. More importantly, it brings a wave of regulatory oversight.”

Regulators’ Struggle

U.S. financial regulators have struggled for years to agree on what, exactly, bitcoin is and what risks it might pose. That’s left its enthusiasts and financial professionals unsure which government agencies might try to police the rapidly growing market. In addition to the CFTC, there’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department’s FinCEN, which tracks illicit payments.

The CFTC declared in 2015 that it would treat bitcoin as a commodity. “But the IRS says it’s property, the SEC said now some digital currency is a security, and FinCEN says digital currency is a ‘money-like instrument,’” said Adam White, general manager of GDAX, a cryptocurrency exchange owned by Coinbase. His company is trying to work with all of them, he said, while offering his own definition: “It’s a new asset class.”

After Friday’s announcement, exchanges and the CFTC will have to keep tabs on that underlying market, according to Jeff Bandman, who until June advised Chairman Giancarlo on financial technology issues.

“It’s well understood that bad actors can take actions in the spot market for a commodity where the reward or payoff is the derivatives market and vice versa,” Bandman, who now runs Bandman Advisors, said in an interview before Friday’s announcement. “This would represent a new opportunity for mischief.”

Are ETFs Next?

There are other ways the new futures could spur more vigorous oversight of the cryptocurrency. The contracts, for example, could make it easier to create an exchange-traded fund tied to bitcoin — even after a previous attempt was knocked down.

That could enlist the SEC. In March, the agency rejected a bitcoin ETF proposed by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss — the co-creators of the Gemini exchange — saying necessary surveillance-sharing agreements were too difficult given that “significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated.” Cboe is basing its futures on prices from Gemini.

On Thursday, a top SEC official weighed in. David Shillman, associate director in the agency’s division of trading and markets, said a strong bitcoin futures market could make the regulator more comfortable approving bitcoin ETFs.

Many mainstream investors and their brokers — lured by bitcoin’s meteoric rise this year — wouldn’t mind some government oversight to head off potential abuses. But regulating these futures only works so well if the underlying market isn’t safe.

“The problem with the futures contracts is they are regulated derivatives that are based off underlying trading in unregulated markets,” Richard Johnson, a market-structure analyst at Greenwich Associates who specializes in blockchain, said before Friday’s announcement. “That does create a potential problem.”

Ever since digital currencies began emerging, U.S. regulators have faced a big dilemma: The laws that empower watchdogs and delineate their areas of responsibility were written decades ago when money was minted on paper, companies turned mainly to the stock market for capital, and commodities came from farms, mines or wells. Many authorities have held back, studying what to do.

CME Chief Executive Officer Terrence Duffy sped up that process in October when he disclosed his plan for futures. His announcement of an imminent product caught some CFTC officials by surprise, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

The problem among regulators is that they each have roles with bitcoin, but that there’s too little coordination, said Justin Slaughter, a former top aide to a CFTC commissioner who now consults on financial technology and regulation as a partner at Mercury Strategies.

“It’s been very scattershot, it’s been somewhat confused,” he said.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Crude Oil

Oil Jumps to $67.70 as OPEC+ Extends Production Cuts

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Oil Jumps to $67.70 as OPEC+ Extends Production Cuts

Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, rose to $67.70 per barrel on Thursday following the decision of OPEC and allies, known as OPEC+, to extend production cuts.

OPEC and allies are presently debating whether to restore as much as 1.5 million barrels per day of crude oil in April, according to people with the knowledge of the meeting.

Experts have said OPEC+ continuous production cuts could increase global inflationary pressure with the rising price of could oil. However, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said “I don’t think it will overheat.”

Last year “we suffered alone, we as OPEC+” and now “it’s about being vigilant and being careful,” he said.

Saudi minister added that the additional 1 million barrel-a-day voluntary production cut the kingdom introduced in February was now open-ended. Meaning, OPEC+ will be withholding 7 million barrels a day or 7 percent of global demand from the market– even as fuel consumption recovers in many nations.

Experts have started predicting $75 a barrel by April.

“We expect oil prices to rise toward $70 to $75 a barrel during April,” said Ann-Louise Hittle, vice president of macro oils at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “The risk is these higher prices will dampen the tentative global recovery. But the Saudi energy minister is adamant OPEC+ must watch for concrete signs of a demand rise before he moves on production.”

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Gold

Gold Hits Eight-Month Low as Global Optimism Grows Amid Rising Demand for Bitcoin

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Gold Struggles Ahead of Economic Recovery as Bitcoin, New Gold, Surges

Global haven asset, gold, declined to the lowest in more than eight months on Tuesday as signs of global economic recovery became glaring with rising bond yields.

The price of the precious metal declined to $1,718 per ounce during London trading on Thursday, down from $2,072 it traded in August as more investors continue to cut down on their holdings of the metal.

The previous metal usually performs poorly with rising yields on other assets like bonds, especially given the fact that gold does not provide streams of interest payments. Investors have been jumping on US bonds ahead of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, expected to stoke stronger US price growth.

We see the rising bond yields as a sign of economic optimism, which has also prompted gold investors to sell some of their positions,” said Carsten Menke of Julius Baer.

Another analyst from Commerzbank, Carsten Fritsch, said that “gold’s reputation appears to have been tarnished considerably by the heavy losses of recent weeks, as evidenced by the ongoing outflows from gold ETFs”.

Experts at Investors King believed the growing demand for Bitcoin, now called the new gold, and other cryptocurrencies in recent months by institutional investors is hurting gold attractiveness.

In a recent report, analysts at Citigroup have started projecting mainstream acceptance for the unregulated dominant cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.

The price of Bitcoin has rallied by 60 percent to $52,000 this year alone. While Ethereum has risen by over 660 percent in 2021.

 

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Crude Oil

Oil Prices Extend Gains to $64.32 Ahead of OPEC+ Meeting

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Oil Prices Rise to $64.32 Amid Expected Output Extension

Oil prices extended gains during the early hours of Thursday trading session amid the possibility that OPEC+ producers might not increase output at a key meeting scheduled for later in the day and the drop in U.S refining.

Brent crude oil, against which Nigeria oil is priced, gained 0.4 percent or 27 cents to $64.32 per barrel as at 7:32 am Nigerian time on Thursday. While the U.S West Texas Intermediate gained 19 cents or 0.3 percent to $61.47 a barrel.

“Prices hinge on Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s preference to add more crude oil production,” said Stephen Innes, global market strategist at Axi. “Perhaps more interesting is the lack of U.S. shale response to the higher crude oil prices, which is favourable for higher prices.”

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, together known as OPEC+, are looking to extend production cuts into April against expected output increase due to the fragile state of the global oil market.

Oil traders and businesses had been expecting the oil cartel to ease production by around 500,000 barrels per day since January 2021 but because of the coronavirus risk and rising global uncertainties, OPEC+ was forced to role-over production cuts until March. Experts now expect that this could be extended to April given the global situation.

“OPEC+ is currently meeting to discuss its current supply agreement. This raised the spectre of a rollover in supply cuts, which also buoyed the market,” ANZ said in a report.

Meanwhile, U.S crude oil inventories rose by more than a record 21 million barrels last week as refining plunged to a record-low amid Texas weather that knocked out power from homes.

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