The newest way to bet on bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that has taken Wall Street by storm with its stratospheric price rise and wild daily gyrations, will arrive on Sunday when bitcoin futures start trading.
The first bitcoin future trades are set to kick off at 6 p.m. EST on Cboe Global Markets Inc's Cboe Futures Exchange.
The launch has given an extra kick to the cyptocurrency's scorching run this year. It has nearly doubled in price since the start of December, but recent days saw sharp moves in both directions, with bitcoin losing almost a fifth of its value on Friday after surging more than 40 percent in the previous 48 hours.
But while some market participants are excited about a regulated way to bet on or hedge against moves in bitcoin, others caution that risks remain for investors and possibly even the clearing organizations underpinning the trades.
The futures are cash-settled contracts based on the auction price of bitcoin in U.S. dollars on the Gemini Exchange, owned and operated by virtual currency entrepreneurs Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.
"The pretty sharp rise we have seen in bitcoin in just the last couple of weeks has probably been driven by optimism ahead of the futures launch," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.
Bitcoin fans appear excited about the prospect of an exchange-listed and regulated product and the ability to bet on its price swings without having to sign up for a digital wallet.
The futures are an alternative to a largely unregulated spot market underpinned by cryptocurrency exchanges that have been plagued by cybersecurity and fraud issues.
"You are going to open up the market to a whole lot of people who aren't currently in bitcoin," Frederick said.
The futures launch has so far received a mixed reception from big U.S. banks and brokerages.
Interactive Brokers plans to offer its customers access to the first bitcoin futures when trading goes live, but bars clients from assuming short positions and has margin requirements of at least 50 percent.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc on Thursday said it is planning to clear bitcoin futures for certain clients.