Cryptocurrency Futures Defined and How They Work on Exchanges


What Are Cryptocurrency Futures?

Cryptocurrency futures are contracts between two traders that guess on a cryptocurrency’s future value. They permit traders to achieve publicity to pick out cryptocurrencies with out buying them. Crypto futures resemble commonplace futures contracts for commodities or shares as a result of they help you guess on the worth trajectory of an underlying asset.

Cryptocurrency futures commerce on the Chicago Mercantile Alternate and cryptocurrency exchanges.

The primary Bitcoin futures contracts had been listed on Cboe in early December 2017 however quickly discontinued them. The Chicago Mercantile Alternate (CME) launched Bitcoin futures contracts in December 2017 as effectively. The contracts commerce on the Globex digital buying and selling platform, are settled in money. Bitcoin and Ether futures are primarily based on the CME CF Bitcoin Reference Charge and the CME CF Ether Reference Charge.

Key Takeaways

  • Cryptocurrency futures enable traders to take a position on the longer term value of cryptocurrencies.
  • Buyers can select from quite a lot of venues to commerce month-to-month cryptocurrency futures. Some are regulated; others aren’t.
  • Cryptocurrency is thought for its unstable value swings, which makes an funding in cryptocurrency futures dangerous.
  • You’ll be able to commerce cryptocurrency futures at brokerages accredited for futures and choices buying and selling.

Understanding Cryptocurrency Futures

Futures contracts of any underlying asset are derivatives of that asset. These contracts are purchased and offered between two commodities traders, and so they speculate about that asset’s value at a selected date sooner or later.

The contracts have a selected variety of models, pricing, marginal necessities, and settlement strategies that traders should meet.

Under are the contract particulars for Bitcoin futures provided by CME:

  • Contract unit: 5 bitcoin, as outlined by the CME CF Bitcoin Reference Charge
  • Value citation: USD
  • Buying and selling hours: Sunday–Friday, 5 p.m.– 4 p.m.
  • Product code: BTC
  • Margin necessities: 50% money of the contract quantity
  • Listed contracts: Contracts listed for six consecutive months and two extra Decembers
  • Settlement technique: Financially settled

Contract particulars for ETH futures at CME:

  • Contract unit: 50 ether, as outlined by the CME CF Ether Reference Charge
  • Value citation: USD
  • Buying and selling hours: Sunday–Friday, 5 p.m.– 4 p.m.
  • Product code: ETH
  • Margin necessities: 60% money of the contract quantity
  • Listed contracts: Contracts listed for six consecutive months and two extra Decembers
  • Settlement technique: Financially settled

How Crypto Futures Work on Regulated Exchanges

Contemplate the next instance for a CME Group Bitcoin futures contract. Suppose an investor purchases two Bitcoin futures contracts totaling 10 bitcoin. The worth of a single bitcoin when the futures contract was bought was $5,000 every, totaling $50,000 for each futures contracts. The margin requirement for Bitcoin futures buying and selling at CME is 50% of the contract quantity, which means that the investor has to deposit $25,000 as margin. They’ll finance the remainder of the contract buy through the use of leverage.

The contract’s worth varies primarily based on the underlying asset’s value (i.e., Bitcoin). CME makes use of the Bitcoin Reference Charge, which is the volume-weighted common value for Bitcoin sourced from a number of exchanges and is calculated each day between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. London time.

To commerce futures, you may have to have an account with a registered futures fee dealer or introducing dealer.

Relying on Bitcoin’s value fluctuations, the investor can both maintain onto the futures contracts or promote them to a different get together. On the finish of their contracts’ period, the investor has the choice to both roll them over to new ones or allow them to expire and gather the money settlement due.

The steps to conduct commerce in Bitcoin futures are the identical as these for a daily futures contract. You start by establishing an account with the brokerage or change the place you intend to commerce. As soon as your account is accredited, you’ll need one other approval to start out futures buying and selling from the buying and selling service supplier. Typically, the latter approval is a operate of funding necessities and the account holder’s expertise with derivatives buying and selling. 

The identical standards additionally play a necessary function in figuring out leverage and margin quantities to your commerce. Futures buying and selling makes heavy use of leverage to execute trades. Authorities businesses regulate the utmost leverage quantity allowed at regulated exchanges and buying and selling venues.

How Crypto Futures Work on Unregulated Exchanges

The story is a special one at unregulated exchanges. They’ve the liberty to permit extreme risk-taking for his or her trades. For instance, Binance provided leverage of as much as 125 occasions the buying and selling quantity when it launched futures buying and selling on its platform in 2019. That determine was revised to twenty occasions the buying and selling quantity in July 2021.

Do not forget that larger leverage quantities translate to extra volatility to your commerce. Thus, the promise of excessive earnings is offset by the chance of shedding important quantities of cash.

The quantity you may commerce depends upon the margin quantity obtainable to you. Margin is the minimal collateral you should have in your account to execute trades. The upper the quantity of the commerce, the better the margin quantity required by the dealer or change to finish the commerce.

Bitcoin’s dangerous and unstable nature implies that the margin quantities required for buying and selling their futures are typically larger than these for different commodities and belongings. CME Bitcoin futures buying and selling started with a 100% margin, which means merchants needed to put up the commerce’s whole quantity as margin.

As of April 2022, the change requires a 50% margin for Bitcoin and 60% for Ether futures buying and selling. Brokerages supply futures merchandise from many corporations, however they will have totally different margin necessities, one that’s over and above the quantity charged by the supplier.

For instance, CME has a base margin requirement for Bitcoin futures; brokerages like TD Ameritrade, which provides CME Bitcoin futures buying and selling as a part of their product suite, can set margin charges on prime of the bottom charge set by the change.

The place Can You Commerce Cryptocurrency Futures?

The Cboe International Markets (Cboe) was the primary American change to supply Bitcoin futures contracts on Dec. 10, 2017. CME adopted every week later. Based on knowledge from crypto analytics agency, essentially the most outstanding Bitcoin futures buying and selling platforms in April 2022 had been:

  • Binance: The world’s greatest cryptocurrency change by buying and selling quantity additionally accounted for a hefty $4.32 billion of the full buying and selling quantity in Bitcoin futures.  
  • Bybit: Began by a derivatives buying and selling agency in 2018, and accounts for $2.30 billion of whole Bitcoin futures buying and selling quantity.
  • CME: Headquartered in the USA, CME accounts for $2.24 billion of the full buying and selling quantity. 
  • OKX: Whereas it might not be as well-known as Coinbase Inc. (COIN) to U.S. audiences, OKX ranks among the many world’s greatest cryptocurrency exchanges. On account of regulatory compliance causes, OKX isn’t obtainable to U.S. clients.

It’s also possible to acquire publicity to cryptocurrency futures by buying and selling cryptocurrency ETFs. There are a number of Bitcoin ETFs which are linked to Bitcoin futures.

Benefits of Cryptocurrency Futures Buying and selling

The principle benefit of buying and selling Bitcoin futures contracts is that they provide regulated publicity to cryptocurrencies. In a unstable ecosystem with wild value swings, that may be a important level. Bitcoin futures contracts at CME are regulated by the Commodities Futures Buying and selling Fee (CFTC). This provides a measure of confidence and recourse to institutional traders, who comprise a majority of merchants in such contracts.


Bitcoin futures additionally simplify the method of investing in Bitcoin. The investor doesn’t have to create a Bitcoin pockets or put cash into custody options for storage and safety whereas buying and selling as a result of there isn’t a bodily Bitcoin change. An added good thing about cash-settled contracts is eliminating the chance of bodily possession of a unstable asset.

Safer Than Proudly owning Crypto

Bitcoin futures contracts are comparatively safer for dabbling in Bitcoin with out getting burnt as a result of futures contracts have place and value limits that allow traders to curtail their threat publicity to the asset class.

Place Limits

Place limits differ between exchanges. For instance, CME permits a most of two,000 front-month futures contracts and 5,000 contracts throughout totally different maturities. Binance, the world’s greatest cryptocurrency change by buying and selling quantity, has a place restrict adjustment characteristic that permits guide reconfiguration of limits primarily based on previous buying and selling historical past and margin quantities.

The additional out the futures contract expiration date is, the upper the account upkeep quantity will typically be.

Particular Concerns Whereas Buying and selling Cryptocurrency Futures

The variety of venues providing cryptocurrency futures buying and selling is proscribed, as are the numbers of contributors and buying and selling volumes in comparison with different commodities. Which means cryptocurrency futures buying and selling has its personal set of peculiarities.

Buying and selling Quantity

Buying and selling volumes in cryptocurrency futures can mimic these of its spot markets counterpart. Value fluctuations can be excessive, particularly throughout unstable stretches relating to value. Throughout these occasions, cryptocurrency futures might seem to observe spot market costs or commerce at a big premium or low cost to identify costs.

Which means Bitcoin futures might not supply adequate safety in opposition to the volatility of the underlying futures market. The SEC warned traders concerning the pitfalls of buying and selling cryptocurrency futures in June 2021. “Amongst different issues, traders ought to perceive that Bitcoin, together with gaining publicity by the Bitcoin futures market, is a extremely speculative funding.” 

Most Exchanges Are Unregulated

Apart from choose buying and selling venues, resembling CME, cryptocurrency futures buying and selling happens primarily on exchanges outdoors the purview of regulation. Among the many world’s greatest platforms for Bitcoin futures, solely CME is regulated by the CFTC. Binance and FTX, the world’s second- and third-biggest platforms by buying and selling quantity, have opened U.S. subsidiaries solely not too long ago.

Cryptocurrency Futures Choices

Cryptocurrency choices are a comparatively new growth. CME launched buying and selling in Bitcoin choices in Jan. 2020 and Ether futures choices in March 2022.  

Cryptocurrency choices work like commonplace choices contracts in that they’re a proper, and never an obligation, to purchase cryptocurrency at a set value on a future date. On this case, the asset is represented by cryptocurrency futures contracts traded on the CME, with a single choices contract equal to a single futures contract consisting of 5 BTC or 50 ETH. Choices contracts for six consecutive months can be found at a time at CME. They expire month-to-month on set dates, with two extra December contract months.

Merchants can purchase name choices in the event that they suppose the worth of Bitcoin will go up. Alternately, a put possibility is a bearish guess that the cryptocurrency’s value will decline. The good points and losses in each circumstances are totally different. In a name possibility, good points could also be limitless (as a result of the worth can go up indefinitely), whereas the losses are restricted to the premium paid for the contract. In a put possibility, losses could also be limitless (as a result of the worth might go all the way down to zero), whereas the good points are restricted to the premium paid for the choices contract. 

Once more, Bitcoin’s value volatility makes it a dangerous asset for choices buying and selling. The implied volatility of choices contracts is excessive, which means that the worth of a single Bitcoin possibility can also be excessive. Excessive costs can enlarge dealer losses.

The place Can I Brief a Crypto within the U.S.?

You’ll be able to brief Bitcoin and Ether on the Chicago Mercantile Alternate or cryptocurrency exchanges licensed within the U.S.

Are Crypto Futures Authorized within the U.S.?

Cryptocurrency futures are authorized within the U.S. and might be traded on licensed cryptocurrency exchanges or the CME utilizing particular brokers. You’ll be able to commerce cryptocurrency futures choices with brokers resembling Interactive Brokers, Edge Clear, Ironbeam, or Tradestation.

What Is Futures Expiration In Crypto?

Bitcoin and Ether futures expire on the final Friday of the month at 4:00 pm London time.

Investing in cryptocurrencies and different Preliminary Coin Choices (ICOs) is very dangerous and speculative, and this text isn’t a suggestion by Investopedia or the author to spend money on cryptocurrencies or different ICOs. Since every particular person’s state of affairs is exclusive, a certified skilled ought to at all times be consulted earlier than making any monetary selections. Investopedia makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the data contained herein.