Bitcoin options are breaking records, and exchanges are competing for this segment. We will tell you what these tools are and how they work
The cryptocurrency market is constantly evolving, integrating with the traditional and inheriting complex financial products such as futures and options.
Some types of fixed-term contracts are already firmly established in the bitcoin industry. This is noticeable by the activity of traders on the CME.
However, the situation with options is somewhat different. These derivatives are difficult to understand among ordinary market participants and are not yet so popular.
Nevertheless, there is a demand for such tools, as evidenced by the growth dynamics of this market segment and interest from platforms such as Binance and Bitfinex.
Bitcoin options have already been offered on CME, LedgerX and Bakkt, which are regulated and oriented primarily on whales. Among the unregulated sites, the leader is Deribit, followed by FTX and OKEx.
ForkLog magazine figured out what options are and what types of options are. We will talk about the features of these tools and the current state of affairs in the segment. In this article you will also find comments by leading market experts on the role of options in the industry.
What are options and how do they work?
An option is a financial contract concluded between two parties - the holder and the seller. The first receives the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a certain amount of the underlying asset at the strike price (strike price) on a specific date (expiration date).
The seller undertakes to buy or sell the asset at the request of the option holder. The latter pays the seller at the time of purchase of the contract a certain amount of money - the so-called premium.
The rights and obligations of the holder and seller differ significantly. The former has the right to choose whether to exercise the option or not. The seller is obliged to fulfill the terms of the contract at the request of the holder.
Parameters such as the type of underlying asset, expiration date, strike price are fixed at the time of issue of the contract, after which they cannot be changed.
Like futures, options are derivative financial instruments and derivatives. This means that they can be based on various underlying assets (BA) - stocks, indices or cryptocurrencies.
“Like the options already existing in traditional finance for all major assets, there are contracts based on BTC and ETH on the cryptocurrency market. They are very interesting financial products“, said Su Zhu, head of Three Arrows Capital, in a conversation with ForkLog.
Options are used both for hedging risks and for speculative trading. For example, a speculator confident in the growth of the underlying asset buys a call option. If the BA price rises above the strike, the trader can use his contract to buy a discounted asset.
“Derivatives such as options allow users to hedge risks and generate revenue. Derivatives play a key role in the traditional financial market. These tools are needed so that the cryptocurrency market continues to grow and develop, being filled with new participants“, said Aaron Gong, vice president of Binance Futures.
Practical use of options
Consider the simplest example of options hedging. Suppose there is a company manufacturing tomato paste, sauces and ketchups. There is a farmer supplying this company with tomatoes. He acts in conditions of fierce competition, close to perfect.
It is extremely important for a company to buy raw materials cheaper to minimize production costs and remain profitable. The farmer, in turn, hopes for a long-term cooperation with the company so as not to lose a major client.
The company offers the farmer an option, assuming the right to buy 10 tons of tomatoes of the next year's crop at the current price - say, $1,000 per ton. To exercise this right, the company pays the farmer an option premium of 3% of the total transaction amount of $10,000, that is, $300.
The farmer will have to, at the request of the company, sell the appropriate quantity of goods at the above price and at a specified time.
A year later, the crop was high, which led to a decrease in the market value of tomatoes to $800 per ton. The company decides not to exercise its right to purchase raw materials for $10,000, as other farmers can buy the same 10 tons of tomatoes for only $8,000.
Thus, having lost only $300 as a premium on an option, the company is insured against price risk. Buying raw materials at a significantly lower market price is more than worth the price of the option contract.
Let's imagine another scenario: the crop turned out to be unimportant and the price of scarce tomatoes jumped to $1200 per ton. Then the company will certainly take advantage of the right to purchase tomatoes for $1000. Thus, the result is any case.
It is easy to guess that the options can be used by miners to hedge the risks of adverse changes in the price of the extracted asset. For example, expecting a decrease in the price of BTC, miners can use options that give them the right to sell cryptocurrency in the future at a price higher than the breakeven point.
“Miners are already very active in options markets. And, probably, they will remain active“, Su Zhu said.
Su Zhu is confident that in the long term, options will make the cryptocurrency spot market more liquid and attractive to a wide range of participants. He added that the growing popularity of such contracts among miners could significantly reduce sales pressure.
“Options give miners the opportunity to fix the price of coins mined in the future. Miners can better manage their production costs and protect themselves from market volatility“, said Aaron Gong, expressing confidence that the popularity of options will continue to grow.
According to him, such tools open up new opportunities and may be of interest to speculators, funds and long-term cryptocurrency holders.
“Institutional investors are also showing growing interest in options and other derivatives. Last week it was reported that the famous Wall Street trader Paul Tudor Jones allocated a few percent from his Tudor BVI fund for bitcoin futures. This is a positive signal, which means that more and more institutions are interested in the cryptocurrency market“, Gong added.
However, option strategies are not suitable for every market participant — effective work with these tools requires certain experience, Co-founder of CoinIndex.agency Julia Sporysh is sure:
“Of course, in order to use this effectively, the miner must have an experienced trader (option strategies are some of the most difficult on the market) - or they will have to unite and work through specialized trading companies. This market exists, although it is not for the general public.”
Also, according to her, options may be of interest to funds and retail traders who have gained a hand in speculative trading.
“Options are an independent and good speculative tool. And if you have positions in futures or in the spot market, it’s just the time to explore new opportunities“, added Yulia Sporysh.
Types of options
There are two main types of options - option call and option put. The first gives the right to the contract holder to purchase a certain amount of the underlying asset from the seller (they also say - the inscription) at the strike price on a certain date in the future. This type of option was used in the tomato example.
The put option, on the contrary, gives the buyer of the contract the right to sell the underlying asset at a fixed price. The latter may be higher than the market at the time of expiration, which is beneficial to the trader.
Market participants use the call, predicting an increase in the price of BA, and put - expecting it to decline.
More complex strategies use combinations of these two types of contracts.
There is also the term “covered option”. For example, an option call is covered if the seller has the amount of the underlying asset corresponding to the terms of the contract.
Options may also differ in the style of execution - American or European.
European-style options require the holder to execute the contract exclusively on the expiration date. Such options, in particular, are presented at CME and Bakkt.
American style implies the possibility of contract execution at any time prior to the date of expiration. Options of both styles are traded all over the world, their names have no relation to geographic location.
There are less standardized, exotic options. However, the popularity and importance of such instruments in the financial market is not so great.
Parameters and conditions for trading certain options are described in the specifications for them, which indicate the expiration date, strike price and other elements of the contract.
Premium, strike price and cash option
The option premium is the amount of money paid by the buyer to the seller. The premium is equal to the value of the contract and, in fact, represents a fee for the risk of adverse changes in the value of the underlying asset.
The option premium is formed by two components:
• Intrinsic value - the amount that the buyer would receive if the contract were currently executed. It depends on the ratio of the price of the underlying asset and the strike.
• Time value - depends on the time remaining until expiration. Usually, the less time it takes to execute a contract, the lower the premium.
As a rule, high price volatility contributes to premium growth, and vice versa. A deal with a close strike price in relation to the current one has much greater chances of closing in profit and, therefore, the premium for such an option will be relatively high.
The strike price is the price fixed in the option at which the buyer of the call option can buy (or sell, if this is a put option) the underlying asset. In turn, the seller of the contract is obliged to sell or buy BA.
Money is an indicator of the ability to receive funds from the exercise of the right to exercise a derivative. In the context of options, cash can be calculated by comparing the spot price of the BA and the strike price of the option. Thus, three options are possible:
• “in the money” option: in the case of a call - if the spot price is higher than the strike (then the intrinsic value of the contract is positive), in the case of a put, on the contrary, if the BA price is lower than the strike;
• option “on money” (or “with one's own”) - equal strike to current stock quotes, intrinsic value equal to 0;
• the option “out of money” (“without money”) - the exercise of the option is not economically feasible; in such a situation, the current price of the underlying asset is lower than the strike price of the call option or, conversely, the spot price of the BA is higher than the strike price in the case of a put.
There are many option trading strategies. Four basic approaches can be distinguished.
Long call - buying a call option, the investor expects an increase in the price of the underlying asset above the strike on the expiration date of the contract. Then he will be able to buy an asset at a discount to the market price and thus earn on the difference. If the price drops below the strike, the buyer risks only the premium paid for the option.
Long put - is a kind of alternative to a short position in the spot market. The buyer of the put option hopes to make money, assuming that the price of the BA falls below the strike at the time of expiration. In this scenario, the investor may sell the asset at a higher price than the market price.
Also, through a put option, an investor can limit the risk of a fall in the price of an asset that has a long position open. According to Su Zhu, miners may use the “protective put” strategy, in whose activity a substantial and prolonged drop in the price of mined cryptocurrency is undesirable. Through such tools, miners can provide profitable or even break-even activity.
Short call - the investor acts as the seller of the contract, counting on a decrease in the price of BA below the strike on the date of expiration. However, the higher the price of the asset, the more losses the inscription bears. Thus, the risk of the seller of the contract is unlimited, and the profit potential is limited by the premium on the sale of the call.
Short put - the seller of such an option expects a premium on it, being firmly convinced that the price of the BA will be higher than the strike.
Combinations of these basic strategies may underlie more sophisticated options trading approaches, such as:
• protective put - purchase of a put option for an available asset;
• covered (secured) call - an investor sells a call option to an existing BA or which will be acquired simultaneously with the sale of the option; the strategy reduces the risk of owning an asset, since a fall in its price is partially offset by a premium;
• straddle - a kind of bet on volatility, which implies the purchase of a call and put option on the same asset with the same expiration date and the same strike price;
• strangle - almost the same as straddle, differs only in different strike prices.
The current state of the cryptocurrency options market
By the end of April 2020, the aggregate open interest (OI) in bitcoin options reached a historic high of $800 million, and in May exceeded this mark.
Source: The Block, skew.
Deribit dominates in this market segment - it accounts for almost 85% of OI. This exchange is followed by OKEx and regulated LedgerX by a wide margin. Bakkt's market share is negligible.
Data: skew as of 05/12/2020
On May 8, OI at Deribit exceeded $1 billion.
Deribit's trading volume exceeds OKEx more than 10 times:
Data: skew as of 05/12/2020.
The following screenshot illustrates that put options prevail on Deribit, and the highest OI is on May 29 expiration contracts at a strike price of $7,000. This type of option is likely to be popular among hedgers that allow BTC prices to return to lower levels.
Data: skew as of 05/12/2020
Call options with a strike of $12,000 and expiration on June 26 are much less OI.
In the first quarter, Bitfinex planned to offer options to the market.
The launch of these derivatives contracts at the beginning of last year was considered by the BitMEX crypto derivative platform.
According to Su Zhu, the successful entry of exchanges into this market is not such an easy task. On the above platforms, simpler derivatives are presented, but options are already a completely different level.
“The main difference between options and, say, perpetual contracts or spot is the much higher technological requirements for the exchange, which must execute such orders. Here, once or twice, it will not work out”, the expert shared his opinion.
Simplified short-term options with an American style of execution appeared at Binance in April. Only the exchange, but not the user, can act as a label for these tools. Thus, the latter is assigned only the role of the buyer.
When asked if Binance could take a significant share of the market for the foreseeable future, Zhu answered the following:
“I think their options are certainly aimed at retail traders using mobile applications. Deribit is more for advanced market players.”
Thus, Deribit is practically a monopolist in the Bitcoin options market. However, it will be interesting to see whether Binance and other players manage to win any significant share in the segment over time.
Options are complex financial instruments, their mechanism of work is unlikely to be mastered immediately by most novice traders. Nevertheless, these derivatives may seem interesting to experienced market participants and, in particular, to miners.
The following advantages and disadvantages of options can be distinguished. Of the advantages of these contracts, we note:
- flexibility of use in speculative trading;
- the ability to use many combinations and trading strategies;
- a good tool for hedging risks;
- the ability to use in any trend - upward, downward, sideways.
- the difficulty of understanding the mechanism of work, especially for novice market participants;
- asymmetric conditions and, accordingly, risks for the buyer and seller;
- the complexity of trading strategies;
- the volatility of an option premium, which depends on the proximity of the expiration date and price dynamics in the spot market;
- low liquidity.
Different industry players have different cryptocurrency options. Some consider them promising tools useful for miners, funds, retail traders and the market as a whole. Others are convinced that such derivatives are archaism.
Nevertheless, options are gradually taking root in the cryptocurrency market. This is evident in the dynamics of trading volume and open interest. In addition, more and more exchanges are trying to add support for these contracts, which contributes to increased competition and further development of the industry.