In December 2017, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) – parent company of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) – demonstrated admirable restraint by not launching a bitcoin derivative product. "We didn't think it was obvious to rush out a product and be first and settle against an index on a lot of [cryptocurrency] exchanges that are not particularly transparent," said ICE CEO Jeffrey Sprecher.
A Change Of Heart
In an April interview with Bloomberg, Sprecher acknowledged the staying power of cryptocurrencies in the collective consciousness. "There is a trend here that we can't ignore in my mind, so I don't discount it," he said. "It's early days."
"Many people are more comfortable with [technology today] than they are with the institutions of government and society that I grew up with," Sprecher continued. "People put more faith in a guy named Satoshi Nakamoto that no one has ever met than they do in the U.S. Fed." Asked when a cryptocurrency futures contract would debut on one of ICE's exchanges, the executive said, "I don't know," but he "wouldn't rule out anything around currencies."
It sounds like Sprecher was playing coy.
On May 7, 2018, just about one month after that interview, The New York Times reported that ICE has "been working on an online trading platform that would allow large investors to buy and hold Bitcoin." The coverage cited four anonymous sources who were briefed on the matter and requested anonymity due to the confidential nature of ICE's discussions. Nothing is set in stone and the Times even noted that "the project could still fall apart."
That said, ICE has reportedly been engaged in talks about bitcoin swaps. It would not be the first platform to support these financial products, as cryptocurrency derivatives trading platform LedgerX has facilitated bitcoin swaps since October 2017.
Note: Swaps fall under the authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Interestingly, LedgerX counts Mark Wetjen, a former CFTC commissioner, and Ananda Radhakrishnan, a 12-year CFTC veteran, among its independent directors.
Of course, not too many people in the financial world have heard of LedgerX. By comparison (and it should go without saying) Wall Street wolves and day traders alike are familiar with – and regularly put their money into – the New York Stock Exchange, a much-vaunted institution that is nearing its 226th birthday. ICE and NYSE support for a bitcoin-tied financial product could conceivably renew the flow of capital into the cryptocurrency markets, which have fallen dramatically from their December 2017 highs. Whereas bitcoin once traded near $20,000 per unit, the cryptocurrency now trades for about $9,200 per coin (still astounding, but a good deal less than at its manic peak).
In its report, the Times also revealed that ICE had been considering a swap contract tied to Ether, but retreated due to "regulatory uncertainty." In recent weeks, all eyes have been on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and CFTC because nobody quite knows how the agencies will treat the Ethereum network's native token, or the tsunami of related initial coin offerings (ICOs) that washed over the industry during the last couple years. On Monday, the SEC and CFTC apparently held a working group meeting to address the regulatory classification of cryptocurrencies, but thus far no reports have emerged about their inclinations.
Traders and investors foaming at the mouth will just need to wait and see whether ICE's bitcoin swaps pan out or whether the exchange puts the deep freeze on its cryptocurrency plans once again.