Bitcoins sit on top of a collection of U.S. one dollar bills. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Bitcoin Contracts Still Pipsqueaks in World of Commodity Futures

(Bloomberg) -- The first reliable lens into tick-by-tick liquidity for bitcoin shows a financial commodity that is still a baby relative to its peers.

From 6 p.m. Sunday to 9:30 a.m. today in New York, 2,923 contracts changed hands in a total of 2,494 trades, representing an overall value of $50.2 million, data compiled by Bloomberg show. 

By way of comparison, about $4.9 billion worth of copper futures moved over that span, while $3.6 billion of front-month Nasdaq 100 futures did. Bitcoin futures more closely resembled stock market trading in Discovery Communications, the fourth-smallest company in the S&P 500. It saw about $60 million in shares trade in the first three hours Monday.

Of course, it’s just the first day of trading for bitcoin contracts, and the interest may build over time. But the relatively thin trading, even as futures gained as much as 26 percent, signals that investors don’t necessarily want to bet the house on it.

Bitcoin Contracts Still Pipsqueaks in World of Commodity Futures

“The bitcoin’s super-high volatility is not for everyone’s taste,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives with Charles Schwab & Co. “Part of this is the awareness issue. You’ll be surprised to know that a big number of people that follow bitcoin don’t know about the launch of the futures trading.”

Bitcoin contracts on the Cboe Global Markets Inc. platform are based on the auction price for bitcoin in U.S. dollars from just one exchange, Gemini. Still, the futures are arguably the first access vehicle to the product for institutional investors who were restricted from trading bitcoin on its exchanges due to their unregulated nature. They are also a straightforward way to short an asset that has jumped 16-fold this year.

The futures seem “to have seen primarily retail speculation so far overnight,” said Ilya Feygin, senior strategist at WallachBeth Capital.

Bitcoin is up 4.9 percent at 12:09 p.m. in New York to $16,405.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.