BTC December futures reach $73,500 — Is everyone flipping ultra bullish?

Bitcoin (BTC) has been struggling to break the $60,000 resistance for almost a month. But despite the impasse, BTC futures markets have never been so bullish. While regular spot exchanges are trading near $59,600, the BTC contracts maturing in June are trading above $65,000.

Futures contracts tend to trade at a premium, mainly on neutral-to-bullish markets, and this happens on every asset, including commodities, equities, indexes, and currencies. However, a 50% annualized premium (basis) for contracts expiring in three months is highly uncommon.

BTC futures curve, in USD. Source: bitcoinfuturesinfo.com

Unlike the perpetual contract — or inverse swap, these fixed-calendar futures do not have a funding rate. Thus, their price will vastly differ from regular spot exchanges. Fixed-calendar futures eliminates eventual funding rates’ spikes from the buyers’ perspective, which can reach up to 43% per month.

On the other hand, the seller benefits from a predictable premium, usually locking longer-term arbitrage strategies. By simultaneously buying the spot (regular) BTC and selling the futures contracts, one gains a zero-risk exposure with a predetermined gain. Thus, the futures contracts seller demands higher profits (premium) whenever markets lean bullish.

The three-month futures usually trade with a 10% to 20% versus regular spot exchanges to justify locking the funds instead of immediately cashing out.

OKEx BTC 3-month futures annualized premium (basis). Source: Skew.com

The above chart shows that even during the 250% rally between March and June 2019, the futures’ basis held below 25%. It was only recently in February 2021 that such phenomena reemerged. Bitcoin surged by 135% in 60 days before the 3-month futures premium surpassed the 25% annualized level on Feb. 8, 2021.

While professional traders tend to prefer the fixed-month calendar futures, retail dominates perpetual contracts, avoiding the expiries’ hassle. Moreover, retail traders consider it expensive to pay 10%…

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