Looking to put bitcoin’s rise in context? How about this: Over the last five years, the world’s most valuable digital currency has risen an astonishing 11,000,000%. Furthermore, since Jan. 1, it has climbed 950%, compared with a total return of 18% for the S&P 500.
Given the torrid pace of bitcoin’s climb, one would imagine that there are few traders left who possess the wherewithal to short the digital currency. And until recently, the options to short bitcoin were mostly offered through unregulated exchanges, and very risky given bitcoin’s volatility.
But increasingly, mainstream exchanges have begun offering bitcoin-based derivatives that could make it easier for retail traders to short the digital currency. CME Group has said it will introduce a suite of bitcoin-linked products by the end of the year, and LedgerX, the first CFTC-approved Swap Execution Facility (or SEF), traded more than $1 million in bitcoin swaps and options during its first week.
In Switzerland, one exchange has introduced options that make it easier for investors to profit if the bitcoin price drops. But other more creative ways to short the digital currency have existed for a while now – in some cases, for years.
“All the options to short in common markets are becoming available in the bitcoin market,” said Charles Hayter, co-founder of market tracker CryptoCompare. “There’s pretty good liquidity for shorting bitcoin. The main difference with shorting the Nasdaq for example, is it will be a lot more volatile, so there’s a lot more risk. The rate to borrow will also be a bit higher."
With bitcoin on the cusp of breaking above $10,000 for the first time, here’s a list of popular options for shorting bitcoin, per Bloomberg.
Contracts for Difference
"One of the most popular ways to short bitcoin is through CFDs, a derivative that mirrors the movements of the asset. It’s a contract between the client and the broker, where the buyer and seller of the CFD agree to settle any rise or drop in prices in cash on the contract date.
'CFD is currently a great market if you want to short bitcoin, especially ahead of that milestone 10K mark, which we think will bring some retracement,' said Naeem Aslam, a chief market analyst at TF Global Markets in London, which offers the contracts. 'The break could push the price well above $10,100 and it would be in that area when we could see some retracement.'"
"Another common way to short bitcoin is through margin trading, which allows investors to borrow the cryptocurrency from a broker to make the trade. The trade goes both ways; a trader can also increase their long or short position through leverage. Depending on the funds kept as collateral to pay back the debt, this option increases the already risky bitcoin trade. Bitfinex, one of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, requires initial equity of 30 percent of the position.
Short-margin trading positions on Bitfinex were at around 19,188 bitcoins on Monday, versus 23,931 long positions, according to bfxdata.com, which tracks data on the bourse."
Borrow to Short Bitcoin
"Most of the brokerages that allow margin trading will also let clients borrow bitcoin to short with no leverage. This will be a less risky way to bet bitcoin price will fall."
"The futures market isn’t as widely developed as CFDs and margin trading, but it’s still possible to make bearish bets on bitcoin with options. For now, LedgerX is the only regulated exchange and clearing agent for cryptocurrency options in the U.S. The CME Group Inc. and the Chicago Board Options Exchange have both asked for approval to list bitcoin futures, so that may open up the market to more investors."
Shorting Bitcoin ETNs
"Investors can also indirectly bet against bitcoin by shorting exchange traded notes with exposure to the cryptocurrency, like Stockholm-based Bitcoin Tracker One, and Grayscale Investments LLC’s Bitcoin Investment Trust. The risk is that these notes don’t always trade in line with bitcoin, so the exposure won’t be perfect."
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Yesterday, Citadel’s Ken Griffin opined that he believes bitcoin is a bubble that will end in tears, joining a list of finance luminaries who have all expressed reservations about the digital currency’s epic rally.
As a reminder:
$0000 – $1000: 1789 days
$1000- $2000: 1271 days
$2000- $3000: 23 days
$3000- $4000: 62 days
$4000- $5000: 61 days
$5000- $6000: 8 days
$6000- $7000: 13 days
$7000- $8000: 14 days
$8000- $9000: 9 days
The rise is even making some central bankers nervous. “The problem with bitcoin is that it could easily blow up and central banks could then be accused of not doing anything,” European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny told Reuters.
But in his confirmation hearing earlier today, incoming Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said bitcoin is still too small to pose a real threat.
"They don’t really matter today," Mr. Powell said. "They’re just not big enough."