Traditional financial firms finally believe that digital assets are here to stay. Or so one might conclude from the slew of announcements last week from some of the world’s premiere financial players.
Among them is BlackRock — the world’s largest asset manager with $9 trillion in assets under management (AUM) — filed for permission to build a “spot market” Bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund (ETF) — something the United States Securities and Exchange Commission has resolutely resisted.
Others include Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab and Citadel launching EDX, a new cryptocurrency exchange. In Germany, Deutsche Bank — boasting $1.4 trillion in balance sheet assets — applied for a license to custody crypto. There were others too.
Collectively, these developments boosted crypto trading markets. Bitcoin (BTC) gained 20% in the week, surpassing the $30,000 mark for the first time since April. If allowed, a BlackRock Bitcoin ETF listing on the Nasdaq stock exchange would arguably make Bitcoin more accessible to a larger investing public.
Some even anticipated a stampede to Bitcoin due to the BlackRock filing, as others followed with their own, including Invesco and WisdomTree. Fidelity Investments filed for a spot Bitcoin ETF on June 29.
The Great Accumulation of bitcoin has begun. Anyone watching the flurry of ETF filings understands the window to purchase pre-IPO bitcoin before ETFs go live and open the floodgates is closing fast. If bitcoin was the most obvious and best investment of the previous decade, this…
— Cameron Winklevoss (@cameron) June 21, 2023
Others professed little shock about these developments, however, even after a year of crypto-related scandals, bankruptcies, lawsuits and regulatory uncertainty in the United States. By this view, the institutions were just bowing to the inevitable.
“I’m not surprised, since from a fundamental point of view, the movement of digital value is the next obvious evolution of the internet,” Jim Kyung-Soo Liew, associate professor of finance at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, told Cointelegraph. “What is surprising is how the U.S. hasn’t embraced it.”
Last week’s events raise some questions: How enduring are Bitcoin’s most recent price gains? There have been institutional investor sightings before. Will this time be different, or will Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies resume their sideways market activity?
On the other hand, a firm the size of BlackRock really could transform the BTC market, some believe.
Bitcoin has a fixed supply limit of 21 million BTC and its existing inventory is relatively illiquid. Sixty-eight percent of BTC in circulation hasn’t moved at all in the past year, according to Glassnode. There isn’t a lot of stock on the shelves for BlackRock and others to snap up, in other words. If demand exceeds supply, doesn’t that inevitably mean price gains for BTC?
Also, where do retail investors fit in among the new institutional arrivals? Maybe ordinary crypto users are also needed to stabilize the price of Bitcoin.
Finally, assuming the so-called Great Accumulation really is happening, how far can it go? The cryptoverse has a market capitalization of about $1 trillion today, roughly half of which is in Bitcoin. Could the crypto market cap reach a 10-fold increase of $10 trillion in five years?
Has the “great accumulation” begun?
“Anyone watching the flurry of ETF filings understands the window to purchase pre-IPO bitcoin before ETFs go live and open the floodgates is closing fast,” declared Winklevoss, adding: “If bitcoin was the most obvious and best investment of the previous decade, this [spot Bitcoin ETF] will likely be the most obvious and best trade of this decade.”
Is the co-founder of the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange right?
“Clearly, there is significant investor demand for Bitcoin access through regulated investment funds from a broad spectrum of U.S. investors,” Sui Chung, CEO of CF Benchmarks, told Cointelegraph, “Otherwise, BlackRock, Fidelity, Invesco and other major asset managers would not have filed S-1s for Bitcoin ETFs.”
The entry of BlackRock and other investment managers into this new asset class isn’t so unexpected, either. “We’ve long known that BlackRock is enabling BTC investments for clients through their Aladdin platform and Bitcoin private fund,” Doug Schwenk, CEO of Digital Asset Research, told Cointelegraph.
The recent negative news stories swirling around Binance and Coinbase “are not related to Bitcoin and may be seen as an opportune time for a better-known, more regulated brand to provide alternatives that end-buyers can trust. A BTC ETF is a natural step.”
Winklevoss, Saylor and others warn that retail investors had better buy Bitcoin now to get its ostensibly cheaper “pre-IPO” price before BTC’s price skyrockets. Are they correct?
“There is some truth to that given the finite supply of Bitcoin and increasingly low rate of supply growth,” added Chung. “However, plenty of investors bought in the $50k to $69k range and they are still underwater; on top of that, cash earns 5%+ at the moment. To me, trying to time the market, especially one as volatile as crypto, is a fool’s errand.”
Moreover, the Winklevoss scenario “depends on how certain one is that institutions are truly coming and that the ETFs and other infrastructure plays by large institutions will play out,” Justin d’Anethan, head of business development for the Asia-Pacific region at Keyrock — a Europe-based digital asset market maker — told Cointelegraph.
“Forward-looking investors will probably try to front-run that move and buy before any of this is truly released. I’m personally a bit less certain about how soon this will happen, though,” d’Anethan added.
Assuming BlackRock succeeds in its ETF quest and other institutional investors follow, would that stabilize the price of Bitcoin at a substantially higher level than the current $30,000? Or does long-term price stability also require broad retail participation?
“It all depends how much AUM they can gather if they are approved,” answered Chung. “If it’s a substantial amount, then it stands to reason that it would lift the price substantially given the finite supply. Bitcoin and its price is agnostic as to who buys Bitcoin and through what means. Buying demand just has to outstrip selling demand and the price will appreciate.”
Carol Alexander, professor of finance at the University of Sussex Business School, told Cointelegraph that a slew of spot Bitcoin ETFs could actually make BTC less stable and more volatile. “If there’s too many ETFs, all these market makers trying to hedge their positions could be selling at the same time or buying at the same time. It could increase volatility… I disagree with what Winklevoss said.”
Alexander has her own BTC price scenario, which assigns retail investors a key role. In March, when BTC was trading around $20,000, she predicted the coin would rise to $30,000 by June and move sideways through the summer. That has largely come to pass. “So the question is, what’s going to be happening in September?” she asked.
“I’m not saying it will — but it could go up to around $50,000. That’s because people come back after the summer, and there’s more liquidity in the markets.”
But it’s also because retail investors are no longer scared after the long string of crypto drawdowns, scandals, bankruptcies and regulatory actions of the past year. The growing investment in the digital asset market by large financial institutions like Fidelity Investments and JPMorgan Chase has arguably had a calming effect on retail investors.
“I think we’re going to be seeing much more acceptance from really ordinary people starting in September as you get some more regulatory clarity about things. That extra volume of trades could bring the price back up to — I’m not saying $68,000 where it was, that would be too high […] — but there’s that sweet area around the $50,000 mark, which I think will be the next long-term resistance level.”
In a June 19 global survey by Nomura Laser Digital, 90% of professional investors said it was “important” that any digital-asset funds or investments have the backing of a large traditional financial institution — at least before considering putting their clients’ money into it. Maybe this past week’s announcements by BlackRock, Fidelity, Deutsche Bank, et al. are the signal they were waiting for.
“Perhaps,” Schwenk said. “Only time will tell. It’s hard to pick when the tipping point will be. We have had participation from other large traditional firms — BNY Mellon, State Street, Standard Chartered, Franklin Templeton, etc. That hasn’t been enough to satisfy the respondents in the survey yet, but eventually, they will see enough momentum.”
Ten-fold growth over five years?
In the medium term, how high could things go? With the active participation of large TradFi firms like BlackRock, Fidelity and Deutsche Bank, could crypto market capitalization grow from $1 trillion to $10 trillion or more over the next five years, for instance?
“Five years ago, the entire market cap of liquid crypto, as measured by the CF Large Cap Index, was around $250 billion and hit a high of around $2.6 trillion in late 2021,” said Chung. “So 10X would seem to be within the realms of possibility.”
Major institutions putting their distribution networks to work to support further adoption would also provide “a significant tailwind,” he added. “However, interest rates were not 5% in that previous five-year period — they are now. What impact that might have is impossible to know.”
Alexander was less bullish. “A Bitcoin ETF — I don’t even see that it’s needed.” Most ETFs are a basket of equities or a basket of currencies. An ETF with a basket of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether (ETH) and Solana (SOL) “would make a lot more sense,” in her view.
‘Exciting times’ for Bitcoin?
Sightings of institutional investors just outside the boundaries of the cryptoverse have been reported before, but they have never quite entered en masse. Why might this time be different?
“Institutional investors are very slow and thoughtful in their due diligence process,” Johns Hopkins’ Liew said, but “they have finally come to see the Bitcoin light. It’s just too exciting to pass up and their customers are pushing them for products.” From an empirical perspective, some crypto exposure is a good means of diversifying an investment portfolio, he noted, summarizing:
“If institutional investors enter the party, their demand would certainly drive prices higher. It would definitely be exciting times for BTC.”
“The involvement of large financial institutions, whether it be for ETF applications or the new EDX exchanges, represent a significant shift and a decisive moment for crypto markets, in the U.S. and globally,” concluded d’Anethan.