Bitcoin: Officially A Commodity

Virtual money is officially a commodity, just like crude oil or wheat.

So says the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which on Thursday announced it had filed and settled charges against a Bitcoin exchange for facilitating the trading of option contracts on its platform.

“In this order, the CFTC for the first time finds that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are properly defined as commodities,” according to the press release.

While market participants have long discussed whether Bitcoin could be defined as a commodity, and the CFTC has long pondered whether the cryptocurrency falls under its jurisdiction, the implications of this move are potentially numerous.

By this action, the CFTC asserts its authority to provide oversight of the trading of cryptocurrency futures and options, which will now be subject to the agency’s regulations. In the event of wrongdoing, such as futures manipulation, the CFTC will be able to bring charges against bad actors.

If a company wants to operate a trading platform for Bitcoin derivatives or futures, it will need to register as a swap execution facility or designated contract market, just like the CME Group. And Coinflip—the target of the CFTC action—is hardly the only company that provides a platform to trade Bitcoin derivatives or futures.

“While there is a lot of excitement surrounding Bitcoin and other virtual currencies, innovation does not excuse those acting in this space from following the same rules applicable to all participants in the commodity derivatives markets,” said Aitan Goelman, the CFTC’s director of enforcement, in a statement.

A request for comment sent to Coinflip’s chief executive via LinkedIn was not immediately returned. Coinflip consented to the order without admitting or denying any of its findings or conclusions.

Since Coinflip is not alone in providing a platform to trade Bitcoin derivatives or futures, Goelman’s words imply that other unregulated exchanges could soon attract the attention of the CFTC.

As such, the CFTC is bringing dealings in Bitcoin, long prized for its anonymity, into the light. While this could help clean up U.S. trading around the product, potentially helping to avoid a repeat of the Mt. Gox escapade, it is also likely to increase the cost of doing business.


Dean Popplewell

Dean Popplewell

Vice-President of Market Analysis at MarketPulse
Dean Popplewell has nearly two decades of experience trading currencies and fixed income instruments. He has a deep understanding of market fundamentals and the impact of global events on capital markets. He is respected among professional traders for his skilled analysis and career history as global head of trading for firms such as Scotia Capital and BMO Nesbitt Burns. Since joining OANDA in 2006, Dean has played an instrumental role in driving awareness of the forex market as an emerging asset class for retail investors, as well as providing expert counsel to a number of internal teams on how to best serve clients and industry stakeholders.
Dean Popplewell