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A Million-Dollar Bet That Bitcoin Will Hit $50,000

Trader or traders used bitcoin call options expiring next December to make the bullish bets

Someone out there just made a bet that bitcoin will surge above $50,000 next year, trading data show—about triple its current price.

Daily trading records released Wednesday by LedgerX, a startup electronic market for bitcoin derivatives, show that an unidentified trader or traders entered the bullish bets using bitcoin call options that expire next December. The trade wagering on a move to $50,000 was the first of its kind on LedgerX.

Just under $1 million was paid for the options in one or more trades that took place during the 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, the records show. It is unclear from LedgerX’s data who the buyer or buyers were or whether the purchasing was done in multiple transactions or just one.

If bitcoin is below $50,000 on Dec. 28, 2018, the options will expire worthless, and the $1 million will be lost. If bitcoin rises above that level, the options will give their owners the right to buy 275 bitcoins for $50,000 apiece—a transaction that would cost about $13.8 million.

Such a trade could be lucrative if the digital currency skyrockets to $500,000 or even $1 million or more—something some of bitcoin’s most enthusiastic supporters say will happen.

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The digital currency was trading at $16,280.24 late Wednesday afternoon, according to CoinDesk. It is up more than 1,500% from the beginning of this year, an extraordinary run-up that has unleashed a flood of investor interest. But skeptics such as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz call bitcoin a bubble and say its price will inevitably crash.

LedgerX Chief Executive Paul Chou declined to identify who was behind the big call-options play, citing regulatory restrictions. But the scale of the purchasing reflects the mounting interest of hedge funds and other big financial firms in cryptocurrencies, he said.

“Without a doubt, there are institutions out there that are looking at these types of trades or have done these types of trades,” Mr. Chou said. “It’s not an individual, let’s put it that way.”

Bitcoin options have gained popularity in recent months as a way to bet on the cryptocurrency’s ups and downs. At Deribit, a Netherlands-based bitcoin derivatives exchange, an average of around 400 options contracts were trading hands daily in late November, up from 50 to 100 a few months ago, said John Jansen, the company’s chief executive. Deribit has started handling large, institutional-size trades, he added.

Traders have targeted bullish options that would pay out if bitcoin’s price spikes, Mr. Jansen said. Earlier this month, for example, one of the most popular bets at Deribit involved call options that would pay off for investors if bitcoin hits $20,000 by March.

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