Is The UK’s Mulling Of Crypto Derivative Ban A Sign Of Things To Come?

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies trade at levels far off peaks, a bit above lows. There is hope that new trading opportunities — such as through derivatives — will boost liquidity and investor count. The U.K. is the latest country to splash some cold water on the notion with hints of tighter regulatory standards. Here’s why speculators may be hoping for the best, but would be wise to prepare for something far worse.  

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” said Winston Churchill. Might the sentiment extend to cryptocurrencies, but — parsing the quote a bit — replace “success” with “ruination?”

At this writing, bitcoin trades were at $6,352. That’s down precipitously from peaks of more than $19,800, but off lows of roughly $5,500. The marquee name in cryptos, though, has had wind taken out of its sails for a while. So too, for that matter, has the crypto space at large, where hundreds of billions of dollars in market capitalization have been lopped off by investors, as evidenced by nadirs seen over the summer.

Investor sentiment turns on a dime, it seems, or on a token. There are two reasons why sentiment has soured — to be sure, lifted at times, but the downtrend has been sticky. Overall, cryptos have fallen for eight months in 2018. The NewsBTC noted on Thursday (Nov. 1) that October has seen more of the same, with a market decline of more than 9 percent, wiping off $20 billion from holdings in the month. Bitcoin stands out for the month with “only” a 4.5 percent decline, while other offerings like XRP slipped roughly 25 percent. Several other names lost more than 20 percent, noted the site.

To be fair, October was a month that saw multiple markets get hit (hard), and Wall Street proper — where stocks, bonds and other assets are traded — was whipsawed. If the trade war and Fed policy interest rates cause panic on the Street, then a few mirror images of regulatory action got traders going in the digital realm.

As has been seen before and will be seen again, the specter of regulation is likely to set off a stampede for the proverbial (crypto) door. It is regulation that could curtail use cases before they even begin, hobbling tokens and exchanges, and perhaps levying taxes and layering on oversight … in short, grounding “sky is the limit” fantasies firmly in reality.

Going off the earlier quote by Churchill, the English icon is an apt opener here, for it is England that may be a regulatory harbinger for the crypto industry — and Churchill’s cheerful quote has a key phrase: “failure to failure.” Success hinges on the introduction of new ways to trade and use cryptos, but it seems like those new avenues of adoption are being closed off. If those avenues are indeed closed off, bitcoin at $6,350 and some change — where the crypto has held up better than peers, underpinned by hope that new use cases will bring back upward momentum — gives way.

The repeated efforts to bring digital coins beyond the realm of speculation have gone from promise to peril time and again, where exchanges are hacked and regulators crack down with bans across the globe — and all the while, enthusiastic traders look for someone else just a bit more enthusiastic than they to unload their positions.

Last week, reported that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is mulling a ban on the sale of derivatives that are based on cryptos. The Financial Times (FT) noted that this would be the U.K. regulator’s “first major intervention” in the cryptocurrency market.

The process surrounding this intervention: The FCA is looking to launch a consultation on the ban, and the launch is coming at the beginning of next year. Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have not taken off, but there are futures traded on some exchanges. Last week, Goldman Sachs was reported to be letting at least some of its clients trade a bitcoin derivative in seemingly limited futures trading and, as noted, will not look to trade other crypto derivative products. The limits are there, or looming, it seems, on a grand scale via England or on a smaller scale (i.e. Goldman, a singular bank). If derivatives are supposed to boost liquidity in marketplaces (and visibility, too), what does it say when such efforts creep on cats’ paws?

In tandem with the derivatives scrutiny (across bitcoin, futures and options), in the U.K., comes a report by the country’s Cryptoasset Taskforce, which the FT noted ties together representatives of the FCA and the Bank of England, among others. The findings are that, per the FCA, it was “clear that in its view, cryptoassets have no intrinsic value and investors should, therefore, be prepared to lose all the value they have put in.” The taskforce found that leveraged derivatives are risky, of course  so much so that the leverage means losses beyond that of the initial investment.

Casting the net a bit wider, the FCA said last week that it will also clarify how bitcoin and others can be regulated, right alongside oversight of the exchanges on which they trade. The FCA also said, “The U.K. will not tolerate the use of cryptoassets in illicit activity, and the authorities will take strong action to address these risks by bringing all relevant firms into anti-money laundering [AML] and counter-terrorist financing [CTF] regulation.”

The year 2019 may dawn as a year of “thou shalt nots” when it comes to cryptos. We’ll part with a paraphrase of the words of two other Englishmen, Gilbert and Sullivan: “It is the very model of a modern major general” … fiasco.