Bitcoin’s big coming-out party on Wall Street has been postponed, if not canceled altogether.
More than a year after major exchange operators introduced Bitcoin futures, and hedge funds scrambled to get in on the game, most of the marquee projects and services designed for institutional investors have yet to launch or have been rolled out to only select clients. Among the obstacles: a price plunge, a confusing regulatory environment, and crypto’s still-sketchy nature.
Cboe Global Markets
(ticker: Cboe) was the first out of the gate. Its Bitcoin futures product, which was settled in cash, instead of Bitcoin itself, began in December 2017, at the height of the craze for crypto. But Cboe has now abruptly pulled back, announcing that it won’t offer new Bitcoin futures after the June contract expires.
Cboe wouldn’t discuss its reasoning, but one likely problem was low volume. Trade volume on March 1 was 753 contracts, versus 6,323 a year earlier.
(CME), which released its own Bitcoin futures product shortly after Cboe, has also seen ups and downs for volume, but its volume has recently outpaced Cboe’s. CME says it has “no plans to make any changes currently.”
Other futures products have yet to appear.
(NDAQ) said in late 2017 that it planned to introduce a Bitcoin product with the fund manager VanEck. As of last week, no such product existed. Nasdaq spokesman Joe Christinat says the company is being “very deliberate.”
“We decided Nasdaq is best-suited to be a technology provider to the crypto industry,” he says.
The plunge in the price of Bitcoin hasn’t helped. The entire crypto market is worth about $130 billion today, down from about $600 billion at its height.
“Even though price movement isn’t everything, obviously price movement impacts the growth of asset classes,” says Alex Gordon-Brander, the CEO of crypto dark-pool provider Omega One. “We’re clearly in a retrenchment phase.”
Gordon-Brander says he is “still extremely bullish on digital assets” and has just started a dark pool for institutional traders in Bermuda. The decision to go to Bermuda points to another issue keeping institutions out of crypto—U. S. regulations remain unclear, so companies have avoided setting up services here.
Other much-trumpeted crypto projects have been muted or delayed.
(ICE) owns a crypto platform called Bakkt;
(SBUX), as of last summer, was going to be its “flagship retailer.” But Bakkt’s launch has been delayed, and Starbucks says it has no new information on its role.
Fidelity announced in October that it was creating a new division with 100 employees to provide services for crypto, including custody and trade execution. Since then, there has been no mention of a start in a press release or other announcement. A spokeswoman directed Barron’s to a blog post on Medium from late January saying the company was “serving a select set of eligible clients” who “are an important part of our final testing and process-refinement periods.”
This month, Fidelity Digital Assets President Tom Jessop said, “I think there was an expectation that, OK, we’re going live in the first quarter, that we would issue a press release saying that we’re live. That would be the shortest press release ever issued. We’re live; we have a number of clients on the platform.”
Fidelity wouldn’t say what that number is.
Write to Avi Salzman at firstname.lastname@example.org