Bitcoin Futures Premium on CME Surges, Hinting At Institutional Demand

A futures-based ETF, if approved, could bring more buying pressure for the CME futures.

AccessTimeIconOct 6, 2021 at 9:33 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:27 p.m. UTC

Bitcoin’s latest breakout above $50,000 seems to be backed by renewed institutional buying.

Front-month bitcoin futures contracts based on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) are trading at an annualized premium of 12.8% to the spot price. That’s the highest level since mid-April and marks a significant rise from the discount of 0.36% seen a week ago, according to data provided by the derivatives research firm Skew.

The increase in premium “suggests that there is high demand among the CME traders to build long exposure in bitcoin at the moment,” Arcane Research’s weekly research note published Tuesday said. “The front-month contract on CME is by far the most frequently traded BTC futures contract on the exchange, and right now, bullish tendencies seem to be brewing on the institutional platform.”

The analyst community considers CME synonymous with institutions. These large entities prefer to trade futures of any product through an established and regulated exchange like the Chicago-based derivatives giant. Besides, CME’s regulated standard futures contracts trade in denominations of five BTC and require significant capital outlay typical for institutional investors.

Bitcoin was trading at about $50,650, up 5.14% for the week, after it rallied more than 10% last week. Expectations that the U.S. could soon approve a futures-based bitcoin exchange-traded fund are among the main factors powering the cryptocurrency higher.

Bitcoin front-month futures premium (Skew)

ETF Store President Nate Geraci tweeted Monday that the first U.S.-listed futures ETF could be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in two weeks. According to Eric Balchunas, Bloomberg Intelligence senior ETF analyst, there is a 75% chance of a futures-based ETF approval this month, most likely the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF on Oct. 18. The SEC kicked the can down the road on three physically backed bitcoin ETFs earlier this month.

“Rumors of a BTC ETF decision later in the month is spurring further demand,” Matthew Dibb, co-founder and chief operating officer of Stack Funds, said. “Bloomberg is betting on a 75% chance of an ETF this month; however, it is likely to be futures-based.”

“This rally coincides with anticipation of the Proshares ETF approval on Oct. 18,” Dibb said.

Analysts at Arcane Research said a futures-based ETF, if approved, could lead to further buying pressure on the front-month CME futures contract and a higher premium.

That’s because the ETF would gain exposure to bitcoin via regulated futures like those offered by the CME rather than buying the actual cryptocurrency. “An ETF backed by futures will simply buy the nearest dated futures contract and roll it at expiry,” Stack Funds’ Dibb said.

A continued rise in premium may entice carry traders, leading to more substantial demand in the spot market. Carry traders simultaneously enter into a long position in the spot market and a short position in the futures market in a bid to profit from an eventual convergence of the two prices on expiry. The higher the premium, the higher the return from carry trades.


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Omkar Godbole

Omkar Godbole is a Co-Managing Editor on CoinDesk's Markets team.