Can you invest in Bitcoin without actually buying Bitcoin?
The cryptocurrency's rollercoaster ride may have spooked some investors, but there are safer alternatives for the less fainthearted
The events of the past couple of weeks have shown exactly why some people have been wary of investing in Bitcoin. One tweet – one word even – from Elon Musk and the cryptocurrency has whipsawed thousands of dollars in either direction without warning.
Thankfully for some investors, there are other ways to make a bet on the future of cryptocurrency.
Maybe you know nothing about Bitcoin, but you’re interested in the rise of cryptocurrencies. Or perhaps you know a lot about Bitcoin – and you don’t want to touch it, cautious about seemingly random price dips. Or you own Bitcoin already, and you’re looking to invest more broadly in the future of cryptocurrencies. The number of ways to get exposure is growing.
This year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to decide whether to approve exchange-traded funds that track Bitcoin. At the same time, several crypto-related companies have gone public. Meanwhile, some companies are buying so much Bitcoin, their shares are affected by movements in the cryptocurrency’s price.
The expansion of the cryptocurrency financial ecosystem comes as the coins themselves – and the technology behind them – go mainstream. And Bitcoin itself still isn’t offered for purchase in many traditional brokerage accounts.
Here’s a rundown of the alternatives:
Buying traditional stock in a Bitcoin-related company
Companies have structures that might be more familiar to the average investor: executive teams that make decisions and financial results that have to be disclosed. That’s one reason some prefer this route to get indirect exposure to Bitcoin.
“It can be easier for people to get into industries that they already understand and who are adopting these technologies to make them more efficient,” Sweta Bhargav, principal financial adviser at Adviso Wealth in Philadelphia, says. “It can be a better place to start for investors.”
Coinbase Global's direct listing on the Nasdaq last month has been a test of this strategy. Because most of its revenue comes from fees it charges users to deposit and trade funds, the valuations of the crypto exchange fluctuates in close correlation with Bitcoin’s price.
In a filing to the SEC, the company laid it out: “Our net revenue is substantially dependent on the prices of crypto assets and volume of transactions conducted on our platform.”
Alternately, investors could focus on companies that are bullish on Bitcoin and have substantial holdings. Tesla, for example, made a large purchase of more than $1.5 billion. Other public companies that have substantial holdings include MicroStrategy, an enterprise software firm that purchased billions; and Galaxy Digital Holdings, with hundreds of millions.
With companies that do things other than hold Bitcoin, you have to also evaluate their sector and individual product performance.
“The risk-return profile is not exactly the same, as you are also taking a position in the firms themselves and therefore take on exposure to their unique risks,” Michael Kelly of Switchback Financial, says.
Investing in the technology
Bitcoin is a digital currency: Each unit is an encrypted record stored in a public ledger called a blockchain, as you probably know by now. By solving complex mathematical problems to verify transactions of the currency, individuals can be “rewarded” with new Bitcoin.
That opens the door for companies mining Bitcoin, using powerful computers to create units of the digital currency from scratch.
“You don’t have to be a computer geek anymore to mine,” Julius de Kempenaer, senior technical analyst at Stockcharts.com, says. “There are companies who can do it for you.”
Marathon Digital Holdings and Riot Blockchain are two of the largest firms in the sector. On Marathon’s website, the Las Vegas company states that owning a stake “helps you gain exposure to Bitcoin in your portfolio without having to deal with the complications of holding the asset directly”.
The Colorado-based Riot specialises in acquisitions of crypto-related businesses. In April, the company disclosed it was buying North America’s largest Bitcoin mining facility, Whinstone US, in a $651 million cash-and-stock deal.
Grayscale Bitcoin Trust has been the go-to place to gain indirect exposure to Bitcoin since it was launched by Grayscale Investments, a US crypto investment firm, in 2013. The trust allows investors to hold the currency without having to create what’s known as a digital wallet, which stores records of crypto transactions.
You don’t have to be a computer geek anymore to mine [Bitcoin]
Julius de Kempenaer, senior technical analyst at Stockcharts.com
The downside is that Grayscale charges a 2 per cent fee for its management of the fund. “There’s a lot more fees associated with it. If you own Bitcoin directly, you’re not paying any fees to hold it or trading fees for humans to work,” Ryan Cole, a private wealth adviser at Citrine Capital, says.
Moreover, the fund sometimes trades at a discount to the value of Bitcoin it holds.
Coming Up: ETFs
The Bitcoin boom has led to ETF issuers betting we will soon see a fund that tracks the digital coin.
Grayscale Investments says it will turn its Bitcoin trust into an ETF as soon as US regulators allow it. The SEC has yet to approve the structure and several issuers have filed applications in recent weeks after North America’s first Bitcoin ETFs began trading in Canada in February.
Investors argue that a Bitcoin ETF would let them buy and sell the cryptocurrency more easily, and take away the complexities around storage and portfolio integration.
Until then, investors can look at the Amplify Transformational Data Sharing fund, according to Luke Suddards, an analyst for Pepperstone Group. It tracks companies involved in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
“Through this product, you’d be invested in names like PayPal, Square, Visa, listed Bitcoin mining companies and chipmakers such as Nvidia who make the chips used in crypto mining,” Mr Suddards says.
There’s also the option of buying one of the several alternative coins, or altcoins for short, that have been created since Bitcoin launched. Research from exchange platform Binance found that the prices for various currencies tend to be highly correlated, rising and falling together. Litecoin, created in 2011, has outperformed its older rival this year, gaining 178 per cent compared with 87 per cent for Bitcoin. Ethereum, the second-largest digital currency, has risen 440 per cent over the same time period.
Or just buy Bitcoin
It used to be a lot more complicated to own a piece of Bitcoin – either a whole coin or a fraction of one. There were wallets to open, keys to keep track of, and it often times meant dealing with new companies without track records or head offices you could call. Now, several firms – including exchanges such as Coinbase, money transfer apps like CashApp, Venmo or PayPal, brokerages such as Robinhood – have made it easy to buy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, although fees and policies vary.
Published: May 27, 2021 08:30 AM