Digital assets firm GSR says it's seen record interest in its customizable options contracts as funds, exchanges and miners try to hedge against price volatility.
The Hong Kong-based firm, which offers a host of services including market making, over-the-counter trading and product development for digital assets, told CoinDesk that 2020 was already shaping up to be a good year for the company, with structured products becoming a fast-growing part of their business.
"The pandemic has predictably sparked a rise in trading activity, but it’s only adding to what has been a substantial shift towards risk management in 2020," said GSR co-founder Rich Rosenblum. "Volumes for the custom swaps and options contracts we provide have already surpassed the total volumes for 2019 and we’re on pace for a 400 percent year-on-year increase."
Market conditions have become increasingly unpredictable as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads across Europe and North America. When bitcoin's price plunged from $7,800 to $4,100 last week, volatility shot up from 60 percent to well over 160 percent.
GSR's clients are mostly funds and exchanges. Many are established companies, with payrolls and overheads, who turn to GSR for products that allow them to hedge against volatile market conditions.
The company also works on risk management solutions specific for miners, who as well as dealing with price volatility, also have to prepare for the upcoming bitcoin halving – where the block reward is set to fall from 12.5 to 6.25 BTC. "Many miners have approached us proactively since last Friday, inquiring about protective puts," said Xin Song, GSR's Asia business development director.
As recent volatility has put many options up at a premium, GSR has actually suggested miners begin selling their existing call options, according to Song.
"Selling a call is effectively giving up upside gains in return for earning the option premium – so if the miner either doesn’t believe that [bitcoin] will rally hard before the expiry, or if they are happy to sell their BTC at a higher price in the event that we do, then selling calls makes sense," he said.
"If bitcoin went up to $20,000, the need for hedging products would be less," said Jakob Palmstierna, GSR's director of investment solutions. "However, when margin compression happens ... your incentive to have a risk management strategy to survive for two to five years becomes more crucial."
Options offered on regulated U.S. derivatives exchanges have fallen to rock bottom over the past week. Data from CME shows demand for its bitcoin options largely dried up as market volatility increased; Bakkt has seen no options trading activity since the end of February.
But one of the reasons GSR has seen record volumes is because contracts can be constructed to meet the specific needs of clients, Palmstierna said. Common in the traditional space, the company uses an internal "risk library" that gives clients the ability to create and hold specific volatility expressions on customized timeframes.
Because volatility is usually higher in falling markets, he added, someone who'd had a long bitcoin and long volatility position would have effectively covered or hedged the BTC price over the past week.
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