(Bloomberg) — The launch of Bitcoin-futures ETFs was a watershed moment. But for crypto diehards, the Holy Grail remains a physically-backed product.
That was a major refrain among panelists at Thursday’s Bloomberg Financial Innovation Summit, where the topic came up again and again.
Bitcoin is eating gold as fast as it can and will over the next two-to-three years replace all gold exchange-traded funds, said MicroStrategy Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Saylor. It will also emerge as the primary asset index for the Western world and will eventually replace SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, ticker SPY, which is a $425 billion fund that tracks the equity index, he noted.
“To do that, you need the spot ETF,” said Saylor, who has invested his company’s treasury in the digital currency. “And once these spot ETFs roll, I think you’ll see billions, then tens of billions, then hundreds of billions, then trillions of dollars flow into them.”
Such ETFs would hold the underlying Bitcoin and would serve as an institutional on-ramp for investors who want that exposure, said Saylor, who is noted for his maximal views on Bitcoin. He said during the summit that he’d continue to acquire more of it.
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Two funds tracking Bitcoin futures started trading in October. The first, the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, accumulated more than $1 billion in assets in just days, while the second, the Valkyrie’s Bitcoin Strategy ETF, saw a quieter but still-vigorous reception. Their premieres built a lot of excitement about Wall Street acceptance toward crypto — and help pave the way for further applications for similar products.
Futures-based funds are an inferior offerings but are the best thing institutional investors can get right now, Saylor said. “Clearly, the right answer is: let investors buy a trillion dollars worth of Bitcoin via an ETF because the ETFs plug into the existing security structure, the existing prime brokerages, the existing collateral packages.”
Nic Carter, general partner at Castle Island Ventures and co-founder of Coin Metrics, agrees that the futures-based product is “inferior.” He says a spot-Bitcoin ETF would be “the hottest commodity ETF launch of all time, attracting probably well over $100 billion in assets within a month or so.”
Spot-Bitcoin ETFs already trade in other countries, including in Canada. “They work just great,” said Carter. “There’s no explanation for the reticence at the top levels here to approve this product, which obviously should exist and would make life immensely easier for all types of different investors.”
Since the launch of the initial two funds, issuers hoping to capitalize on the momentum, have rushed to file for other similar or offshoot products. Some analysts anticipate that many more such applications could flood the system in the months to come, though regulators have thus far been hesitant around a few of them.
Direxion, a provider of financial products known for its leveraged ETFs, pulled a request late Tuesday to launch the Direxion Bitcoin Strategy Bear ETF. The firm had submitted the application on Oct. 26, and Securities and Exchange Commission staff requested it be withdrawn on the same day, Bloomberg reported this week. Valkyrie has also dropped its application for the Valkyrie XBTO Levered BTC Futures ETF, which would deliver 1.25 times the reference price of Bitcoin.
But U.S. regulators have yet to green-light a physically-backed crypto product. Complaints about investor protections around spot-Bitcoin ETFs “ring completely hollow to me,” Carter said. “Ultimately, the motive is just simply suppressing the growth of Bitcoin.”
Hester Peirce, a Republican member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said the regulator has been public about why it’s rejected a spot product. “The reason is that the Bitcoin markets don’t look like our regulated securities markets,” she said at the summit Thursday. “The thing that regulators are most comfortable with is markets that look like our own.”
As to what could push Bitcoin higher, Caitlin Long, founder and CEO of Avanti Bank & Trust, said the coin doesn’t need a catalyst. “All we care about is that it keeps on trucking,” she said. “At the end of the day, as long as the core Bitcoin blockchain is still adding blocks, then Bitcoin is just fine.”
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