Observing the Predictive Power of Bitcoin Futures Over BTC Spot Prices

This month, the spot price of BTC on Sunday, February 23 was around $9,940 per coin. Two days prior to the dump at $9,940 to $9,600 on Monday, CME Group’s Bitcoin Futures daily trade volume dropped significantly to $118 million.

Monday was the lowest drop for CME in 2020, but the global markets exchange has seen a massive influx in open interest. The following Wednesday, CME Group tweeted that open interest touched a record high.

BTC spot markets and bitcoin derivatives exchanges have seen notable price movements recently and a few speculators believe these two types of markets are well connected. During the first week of January 2020, bitcoin futures touched a three-month high and aggregated daily bitcoin derivatives volumes have been in the billions.

Bitcoin futures providers have been seeing a lot of action during the last two weeks as cryptocurrency markets have been extremely volatile. Data shows there’s been significant open interest on both retail and institutional bitcoin derivatives exchanges and Skew research noted bitcoin options open interest was just shy of $1 billion on Monday. Two days later, CME Group reported that open interest in CME Bitcoin Futures touched a record high of over 6,600 contracts and there’s nearly 300 new trading accounts that have been added this year.

Skew.com: ‘Spot Market Corrections Follow the Number of Outstanding Bitcoin Futures Positions’

“CME Bitcoin futures (BTC) open interest reached a record high of over 6.6K contracts on February 19”, the global markets exchange tweeted. “Nearly 300 new trading accounts were added this year, as of February 24.”

On February 26 after the price of BTC slid from $9,600 to $8,580, more than $150 million worth of BTC was liquidated on the trading platform Bitmex. The data analytics provider Skew from the website skew.com tweeted about a large number of liquidations that took place on Wednesday. “$150mln+ liquidations on Bitmex today – highest in 2020”, Skew disclosed.

“Something is cooking”, the Twitter account @cinemaniac20 replied to Skew’s tweet. Skew has also recorded a number of derivatives market events during the course of the last two weeks. For instance, on Wednesday, Skew detailed that Okex hit a record number of BTC options “breaching the $15mln notional mark for the first time.” Today on February 28 as BTC spot markets have temporarily settled, the researcher tweeted:

As the market corrects so does the number of outstanding bitcoin futures positions.

Do Bitcoin Futures Markets Provide Predictive Power for Future Changes in the Spot Price?

Even though BTC spot market prices have slid in value considerably, derivatives providers are seeing increased volumes. Bakkt’s physically delivered bitcoin futures has seen decent trade volume and open interest, but still has yet to surpass the 6,601 traded contracts the platform saw on December 18. On Wednesday, February 26, Bakkt did around half that number with 3,328 ($29.32 million) traded contracts. Open interest at Bakkt on Wednesday was around $11.2 million. Thursday’s Bakkt Bitcoin Monthly Futures only saw 2,163 ($19.34 million) traded contracts and open interest was roughly $11.88 million.

At press time, BTC is down 2.95% in the last 24 hours and the coin is still down 56.7% from its all-time high of $19,600 on December 17, 2017. Speculators in 2017 believed the introduction of CBOE and CME Group bitcoin futures products helped propel the asset to almost reaching $20k. Despite the price hovering around $8,500-8,600 per BTC today, BTC is still up 14% over the last 90 days and 126% for the year against the U.S. dollar. There are far more bitcoin derivatives providers than in 2017 as well, even though Cboe stopped providing bitcoin futures products last year.

A recently published paper written by researchers Seungho Lee, Nabil El Meslmani, and Lorne Switzer discusses the concept of pricing efficiency and arbitrage in bitcoin spot and futures markets. The study notes that bitcoin futures can “provide some predictive power for future changes in the spot price and in the risk premium.” Researchers studied the pricing efficiency of BTC using spot market values and CBOE and CME futures contracts traded from January 2018 to March 2019.

“The basis of Bitcoin is a biased predictor of the future spot price changes”, the study’s abstract summary notes. “Cointegration tests also demonstrate that futures prices are biased predictors of spot prices. Deviations from no-arbitrage between spot and futures markets are persistent and widen significantly with Bitcoin thefts (hacks, frauds) as well as alternative cryptocurrency issuances.”

A number of crypto traders believe futures markets can provide some predictive power for future changes in the spot price. An example of this notion is during the second week of February when the price per BTC was chopped down from over $10.2k to the $9,800 range. The drop followed the unfilled price gap that took place on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Bitcoin Futures chart. Traders have noticed a number of “filling the gap” or “closing the gap” scenarios throughout 2019 and 2020. These events and the recent study shows a noticeable connection between bitcoin derivatives markets and spot trades.

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