New York Stock Exchange owner ICE holds back on crypto-futures

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Intercontinental Exchange Inc ICE.N has put a lot of thought into the idea of futures contracts on cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, but has yet to move forward due to the opaque nature of the underlying markets, the New York Stock Exchange owner's chief executive officer said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Cryptocurrencies are seen on a website that tracks the value of initial coin offerings (ICO) in this illustration photo taken September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo

Bitcoin's price BTC=BTSP has surged more than tenfold this year, hitting a record high of $11,850 on Tuesday, amid a chorus of warning that it is a bubble on the verge of bursting.

"We didn't think it was obvious to rush out a product and be first and settle against an index on a lot of exchanges that are not particularly transparent," Jeff Sprecher said at a financial services conference hosted by Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N.

ICE rivals Cboe Global Markets Inc CBOE.O and CME Group Inc CME.O will launch bitcoin futures contracts on Dec. 10 and Dec. 18, respectively, with Cboe also planning an exchange-traded fund based on the red-hot digital asset. Nasdaq Inc has said it will launch bitcoin futures next year.

ICE was an early mover in the crypto space, buying a minority investment in digital currency exchange Coinbase in 2015.

Still, Sprecher said he was not ready to move forward yet on futures contracts based on the type of assets Coinbase trades.

“I don’t know what to make of cryptocurrencies,” he said.

A futures contract allows a buyer and a seller to discover what people think the future price of a product should be. In the case of bitcoin, there have been plenty of buyers flooding its exchanges with cash lately. But it is harder to figure out who would want to short the contract, Sprecher said.

A lot of the wealth that has been created through the rise of cryptocurrencies has gone to China, where much of the “mining” of the assets happens, and to algorithmic traders who entered the market in its early stages, Sprecher said.

“To short that would mean that they have decided to exit and through a legitimate, high-standing, regulated venue, they are exiting, and I look at that and just say, is that going to work out well for me as a venue?”

The Cboe contact will be priced off of an auction on the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange, while CME will derive its price from the CME CF Bitcoin Reference Rate, which uses four exchanges: Kraken, itBit, GDAX and Bitstamp.

Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Matthew Lewis