The long-awaited futures-based Bitcoin ETF has launched. Did the SEC’s blessing legitimize Bitcoin in the mainstream finance world?
After dipping below $30,000 in June, Bitcoin (BTC) went on a nearly four-month rally, appreciating by more than 100%. On Oct. 15, it was able to recapture the $60,000 level after closing the day with a 7.56% spike. The ensuing rally was attributed to the excitement around the SEC giving the green light on the ProShares Bitcoin Futures ETF. Bitcoin has since successfully defended its current price level and managed to inch closer and closer to its all-time high valuation of $64,899.
The listing of ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF on Oct. 19 is believed to provide an additional thrust for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies to mainstream legitimacy. However, a key fact about the new Bitcoin ETF is that it doesn’t invest in Bitcoin directly but instead allocates a portion of its assets to BTC futures contracts.
Listed as “BITO” on the New York Stock Exchange, ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF is the first of its kind, which some argue is 10 years in the making since several Bitcoin ETFs were all mostly held up or blocked entirely by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.
Some of the high-profile applications that are still in limbo are the Bitcoin ETFs of WisdomTree and VanEck. ProShares got the green light because of a particular distinction: ProShares Bitcoin ETF is a futures-based ETF, and it is also filed under mutual fund rules.
The SEC prefers this structure since it lacks jurisdiction over cryptocurrency trading venues that aren’t registered as exchanges in the United States.
As stated on the ETF’s prospectus filed with the SEC, the fund will allocate 25%–30% of its assets to Bitcoin futures contracts. It also notes that it plans to invest in the securities of ETFs organized and listed for trading in Canada as well as other pooled investment vehicles.
These positions are intended to manage inflows and outflows in response to unusual market conditions, increases in margin requirements, or if it becomes too impractical for the fund to obtain exposure to BTC futures. The bigger chunk of the fund’s assets will go to money market instruments, which are then subdivided into U.S. Treasury bills, repurchase agreements and reverse repurchase agreements.
Boosting mainstream acceptance
As mentioned, a Bitcoin ETF helps the entire market gain access, much like the Coinbase listing of a stock exchange earlier this year. This is because investors who may not have direct access to cryptocurrencies but own brokerage accounts will have the opportunity to gain exposure to Bitcoin.
ProShares CEO Michael Sapir said in a statement that BITO provides exposure to investors who buy stocks and ETFs but may not necessarily want to go through the hassles of buying Bitcoin from an exchange or setting up a wallet.
BITO could also be the precursor for other investment product offerings. For one, the largest digital currency asset manager, Grayscale Investments, already plans to convert its flagship GBTC into an ETF “as soon there’s a clear, formal indication from the SEC,” Grayscale communications director Jennifer Rosenthal confirmed. Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein also said that an Ether-based ETF could likely follow suit after BITO’s successful listing.
Aside from these, another futures-based Bitcoin ETF is also set to debut this week. SEC filings show that it accepted the registration request for Valkyrie’s Bitcoin Strategy ETF shares to be listed on the Nasdaq. Melanion Capital, a France-based investment firm, is also set to launch its own Bitcoin-linked ETF on Oct. 22 after getting the nod from French financial regulator AMF. The fund called Melanion BTC Equities Universe UCITS ETF invests in a diversified basket of equities correlated to the daily price movements of Bitcoin, and it will be listed on Euronext Paris.
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Open interest rising
Bitcoin’s positive trading activity has also caused the open interest on BTC futures to rise. Data from cryptocurrency exchange Bybit shows that open interest for BTC futures reached $23.1 billion on Oct. 18. The figure neared its peak in April when total open interest across several exchanges totaled $27.38 billion.
So far, leading the exchanges with the highest dollar value of contracts is Binance with $5.3 billion. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group (CME) is in the third spot with $3.5 billion despite its futures open interest recently reaching an eight-month high. Open interest refers to the number of futures contracts that have yet to be settled. It is often used for determining the strength of a trend or market sentiment.
Bitcoin’s resurgence has caused plenty of investors to feel confident that BTC’s price could see a further spike — even if plenty believed that the newly listed Bitcoin ETF was priced in weeks before. Thus, the bullish narrative is springing back, echoing what investors had been betting on at the start of the year.
The futures contract with a settlement date in December began the year with prices stretching to as high as $74,000. This has whittled down amid a cooling-off period in the market but has aligned again with the rising spot price.
Wagers for a Bitcoin price tag of $100,000 are so in fashion that centralized financial organizations, such as Standard Chartered, offered the same price target for this year or early 2022.
One measure to assess whether higher prices have some viability in the future is the growth of wallet addresses. Adoption has a prominent role in this, and while Brazil is not ready to join El Salvador in making Bitcoin legal tender, such moves will likely increase the number of new wallets.
Data shows that since October 2020, the number of wallet addresses has exhibited steady growth. There are now about 77 million addresses. Moreover, there is also data showing “hodlers,” or addresses that have kept their BTC holdings for at least a year, are also growing in number.
So, as new investment products tied to Bitcoin could likely get a similar green light in the near future, more institutional participation could be on the horizon. Even with just BITO, a whole new class of investors opens up, including the heavyweights in the form of (401k) pension funds and retirement accounts. But regardless of whether Bitcoin reaches $100,000 or not, the new Bitcoin ETF at least shows Bitcoin as a respectable investment.
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