What would Satoshi make of it all?
Bitcoin, the currency created to subvert the financial establishment, has shaken off weeks of sickness with the support of Wall Street’s finest.
The original crypto coin has leapt 20 per cent to two-month highs at $30,182 over the past 11 days after BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, revealed hopes for a spot bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) in the United States.
BlackRock filed for a prospective spot bitcoin ETF on June 15, undeterred by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) past record of rejecting every such application. The news helped bitcoin bounce out of the doldrums and snap two consecutive weeks of losses.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s rebel child is invigorated by the prospect of an ETF that offers investors exposure to spot bitcoin on a regulated US stock exchange without the hassle of custody.
Bitcoin’s market value has grown to comprise nearly half of the $1.1 trillion overall crypto market, its highest share in over two years, according to data tracker CoinMarketCap.com. Its share was around 40 per cent at the start of the year, up from a low of 34 per cent in 2018. “The news of the ETF filing is evidence of adoption and interest from top global players, which is, of course, interesting to institutional investors and traders alike,” said Mikkel Morch, chairman at digital asset investment fund ARK36.
Fueling optimism among some crypto advocates is BlackRock’s strong track record of getting the SEC’s green light for ETFs more generally, although it hasn’t filed for a crypto one before. It boasts a 575-1 approval rate, according to Rosenblatt Securities analyst Andrew Bond.
Since the BlackRock filing, Invesco and WisdomTree have also reapplied for spot bitcoin ETFs after they had previous applications rejected by the regulator.
The mini-rush of pitches to the US watchdog comes days after the SEC sued major crypto exchanges Coinbase and Binance for allegedly breaking securities laws, casting a chill over the cryptocurrency market.
Not everyone’s keen to jump in, though.
“You know what the rules of the road are in equities and bonds. But you don’t fully know what the rules are going to be for crypto,” said Rick Meckler, partner, Cherry Lane Investments in New Vernon, New Jersey. “As a consequence it has made it difficult to make an investment class for many people, myself included.”
Rolling over futures
At present, American investors currently looking to gain exposure to crypto on stock exchanges are limited to futures-based ETFs. These funds track bitcoin futures contracts, which come with the additional costs of rolling over contracts on settlement days.
For example, ProShares’ Bitcoin Strategy ETF has risen 62 per cent this year, lagging bitcoin’s 82 per cent jump.
Bryan Armour, director of passive strategies research for North America at Morningstar, said a spot bitcoin ETF could be a more cost-effective way for investors to trade. “It doesn’t appear that most crypto ETF holders are institutional – assets are pretty spread out,” he added.
Crypto investment products are still a tiny part of the overall market. Excluding grantor trusts – limited to accredited investors – such as the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, the current crypto ETF market totals about $2 billion, according to MorningStar Direct, less than 2 per cent of overall crypto market.
BITO, the first bitcoin futures ETF and the fastest to notch $1 billion in market cap after its launch in 2021, ushered in a wave of other futures ETF launches.
About 48 per cent of respondents in a survey this year of 549 international professional investors by TrackInsight, JPMorgan Asset Management and State Street said they would consider investing in single-cryptocurrency exchange-traded products, versus 37 per cent who were interested in investing directly.
“I’d argue BlackRock is just as interested in retail as institutional,” said David Wells, CEO of Enclave Markets. “They may start with institutions but potentially hope that bitcoin is an option that goes into investors’ retirement portfolios, and hoping the BlackRock name is a strong enough impetus to buy, and that’s a big draw for retail investors.”