Bitcoins Affected by New York's BitLicense May Trade at Discount

Savvy traders could profit handsomely from the bitcoin arbitrage opportunities presented by a future BitLicense, argues Jon Matonis.

AccessTimeIconJul 30, 2014 at 12:47 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 6, 2023 at 2:50 p.m. UTC

With New York's BitLicense scheme officially three months away, sophisticated traders are already devising strategies to profit from the potential arbitrage opportunities.

If implemented in the regulation's final version, the physical address and identification requirements (Sections 200.12 and 200.15) for both sides of a transaction will dilute the inherent privacy of the overall bitcoin network.

Due to potential IP address blocking and other techniques to identify and block New York-based traders, the exchanges operating within the jurisdiction may end up 'ring-fencing' themselves and their customers' bitcoin.

Of course, this was not New York's intention, but if other parties begin to shun 'New York' bitcoins, then those parties that do choose to accept them may only accept them at a discount, making it costly to transfer 'non-private' bitcoins out of New York.

Tainted by government

Typically, we refer to a loss of essential fungibility occurring as a result of some type of positive coin validation required by the government. In this case, it would be the government-approved coins that would be tainted. Perhaps, New York could mandate complete fungibility of their exchanges' coins through legislation, but that would imply subsidizing the exchange rate.

Arthur Hayes, CEO and co-founder of BitMEX (Bitcoin Mercantile Exchange), who has strong derivatives experience with an institutional trading background, explained:

"These regulations are going to make some savvy traders a lot of money. Because there is a premium placed on privacy, the 'clean' coins trading on exchanges with BitLicenses will trade at a discount to coins trading on exchanges that operate in more laissez-faire jurisdictions. Traders with the ability and risk appetite will be able to arbitrage the price differential."

Based in Hong Kong, Hayes is launching a bitcoin futures and options exchange similar to the currency futures exchanges that sprouted up in Chicago after the 1971 collapse of Bretton Woods. Hayes recently participated on CoinSummit's derivatives panel in London, where he said he is counting on large speculators and commercial hedgers to utilize exchange-traded futures and options as a risk management tool for bitcoin.

Jurisdictional differential

Just as WTI (West Texas Intermediate) crude oil contracts vs North Sea Brent crude oil contracts trade at a differential and Chicago wheat contracts vs Kansas City wheat contracts trade at a differential, certain jurisdictional bitcoins can trade with a differential. For now, only a single-type bitcoin futures contract will be traded on BitMEX.

Indeed, newly mined 'virgin' bitcoin have commanded a premium for some time now in certain circles. In 2013-14, Mt. Gox coins frequently traded at either a premium or discount to other bitcoin depending on politics and exchange liquidity.

With physical bitcoin over the counter or with person-to-person trading, Hayes describes a likely scenario:

"The best example would be citizens of New York who wish to anonymously buy Bitcoin. Buyers will need to pay an increased fee to a trader who does not possess a BitLicense. The fee will cover his or her costs of acquiring coins outside of New York, and extra profit for the trader compensating him or her for the extra risks taken."

Bitcoin black market

Free markets solve political and structural problems to increase liquidity, and currencies are no different.

Today, one of the best examples of this is the 'blue dollar' exchange rate in peso-ravaged Argentina, which trades at a 60% premium to the official US dollar exchange rate with the central bank.

The BitLicense-based exchange rate may be the closest thing to an official central bank rate for bitcoin and maybe this is a conscious attempt to develop an institutional wholesale market. Ultimately, it could be a bonanza for those that find themselves with the unofficial bitcoin, just like the happy tourists to Argentina.

It's quite possible that, at the end of the day, we will see a three-tier rate structure for bitcoin:

  1. Virgin bitcoin
  2. Free market bitcoin
  3. Tainted jurisdiction official bitcoin

Hayes added, "At the end of the day these regulations will do nothing but push more trading off exchange and make it more expensive for honest people to obtain financial privacy."

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, CoinDesk.

Follow Jon Matonis on Twitter.

Bitcoin image via Shutterstock


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