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- Akuna Capital, a Chicago-based trader, was one of the first firms to trade bitcoin futures.
- Partner Toby Allen told Business Insider why the cryptocurrency market provides an amazing opportunity for trading firms.
The news that Cboe Global Markets was going to launch a futures market for bitcoin was a landmark moment for trading firm Akuna Capital.
“That’s when we started dedicating resources,” Toby Allen, a partner at Chicago-based Akuna Capital, told Business Insider, referring to crypto trading.
Today the firm, which has traditionally made markets in currencies and energy futures markets, is electronically trading in spot bitcoin in the $1 million to $5 million range. It is currently hiring new talent to expand the cryptocurrency desk.
It was also one of the first trading firms to make markets for Cboe’s bitcoin futures market, which launched in early December. It’s also trading bitcoin futures at the CME, and trades bitcoin options through LedgerX, a US cryptocurrency options exchange.
Allen said the company takes a unique approach when it comes to its cryptocurrency trading operations. Whereas other trading firms have entire units devoted solely to crypto, Akuna has everyone working together across assets.
“We don’t really silo anything here,” he said. “We have a lot of people from tech, quant, and support teams working on crypto. It’s touching everyone.”
The big opportunity for firms such as Akuna isn’t so much the explosive price of bitcoin, which this year has soared by as much as 1,700%, according to Allen.
Rather it is the arbitrage opportunities available in the space. Bitcoin can trade at wildly different prices on any given exchange. At the time of writing, bitcoin was trading at a more than $1,000 premium on US-based Coinbase’s GDAX exchange to Kraken, another US cryptocurrency exchange, according to CoinMarketCap data.
“There is sometimes 10% exchange arbitrage,” Allen said. “As a trader it is such an amazingly fun space to be in compared to traditional assets because of the spreads and technology gaps.”
Crypto traders can buy up bitcoin on an exchange where it is priced lower and then sell for where it is trading higher for a profit.
To be sure, capitalizing on arbitrage opportunities is sometimes easier said than done in crypto, which is known for its immature market infrastructure. If two exchanges show different quotes, it is for a limited quantity and depends on whether a trader can access the exchange and the trade settling. Exchange latency, the speed at which information is communicated between exchanges and trading firms, is far slower in crypto than it is elsewhere on Wall Street.
“Wall Street operates in nanoseconds not tens of seconds,” he said.
Still, Allen said the space provides a “breath of fresh air” for his traders who face much calmer markets on Wall Street. With volatility close to all-time lows and wild price-swings harder to come by, it is more difficult for traders to pinpoint big profit opportunities in US stocks.
As for profits, Allen described volumes as “fantastic” when pressed about how much money the firm was making.
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