WASHINGTON—Government investigators have demanded that several bitcoin exchanges hand over comprehensive trading data to assist a probe into whether manipulation is distorting prices in markets linked to the cryptocurrency, according to people familiar with the matter.
The investigation followed the launch of bitcoin futures on CME Group Inc.’s
exchange six months ago. CME’s bitcoin futures derive their final value from prices at four bitcoin exchanges: Bitstamp, Coinbase, itBit and Kraken. Manipulative trading in those markets could skew the price of bitcoin futures that the government directly regulates.
CME, which launched bitcoin futures in December, asked the four exchanges to share reams of trading data after its first contract settled in January, people familiar with the matter said. But several of the exchanges declined to comply, arguing the request was intrusive, the people said. The exchanges ultimately provided some data, but only after CME limited its request to a few hours of activity, instead of a full day, and restricted to a few market participants, the people added.
The dispute frustrated CME’s regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, these people said. In response, the commission subpoenaed the exchanges for the data. CFTC officials backed the launch of bitcoin futures, saying they viewed it as a risky but worthwhile project.
The CFTC was upset CME didn’t have in place agreements that would compel bitcoin markets to share trading data tied to futures contracts, these people said. Such agreements would detail what information the cryptocurrency venues would have to provide to CME, including the time of trades, unfilled or canceled orders, the size of orders, and traders’ identities.
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