Szymon Białas
min read
Last Update:
March 13, 2024

The world's first and most prominent cryptocurrency has experienced a rollercoaster journey of fluctuating prices. That's a very shorthand way of putting it, but I'm assuming you're well aware that the discussion of the price of Bitcoin is material for at least several seasons of a Netflix drama series. 

From its humble beginnings to record-breaking highs, and subsequent declines, understanding the forces driving Bitcoin's value is essential for comprehending the context in which Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) operate. 

Factors such as adoption rates, regulatory changes, investor sentiment, and technological developments have all shaped Bitcoin's market trajectory. The potential approval of Bitcoin ETFs has been a highly anticipated event in the crypto industry, as discussed in our previous articles.

As interest in cryptocurrency investing grows, Bitcoin ETFs offer a potential new avenue for investors to participate - but this comes with its risks and opportunities. Before that, we should answer one, pretty simple question.

What is a Bitcoin ETF?

A Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) is a type of investment fund that tracks the price of Bitcoin. Unlike buying Bitcoin directly on a cryptocurrency exchange, ETFs are traded on traditional stock exchanges.

This allows investors to gain exposure to Bitcoin's price movements without the need to set up a cryptocurrency wallet, handle private keys, or navigate the complexities of crypto exchanges.

The Road to Approval

A Timeline of Key Milestones

  • 2013: Winklevoss twins file the first-ever proposal for a Bitcoin ETF.
  • 2017-2018: Numerous Bitcoin ETF applications are rejected by the SEC, primarily due to concerns about market manipulation and investor protection.
  • 2021: The first Bitcoin futures-based ETFs are approved in the US, marking a major turning point in the regulatory framework.
  • 2022: The SEC turns down spot bitcoin ETF applications from companies like SkyBridge and Fidelity. Major crypto firms, including FTX, go bankrupt during market lows.
  • 2023: ARK Investments and BlackRock each submit spot bitcoin ETF applications, with BlackRock's filing boosting bitcoin prices. A federal appeals court sides with Grayscale in its battle against the SEC, leading to the launch of Europe's first spot bitcoin ETF. The SEC later decides to review Grayscale's application again, following the court's decision.
  • 2024: On January 10, the SEC approves 11 spot bitcoin ETF proposals, including those from BlackRock and Fidelity. This event marks a significant advancement for the crypto industry.

Why Have Approvals Been Slow?

  • Market Manipulation Concerns: Regulators, particularly the SEC, have historically been wary of the potential for manipulation in largely unregulated cryptocurrency markets.
  • Investor Protection: Concerns exist about the suitability of highly volatile assets like Bitcoin for everyday investors.
  • Custody Issues: Securely storing large amounts of Bitcoin on behalf of ETF investors presents logistical and security challenges.

Types of Bitcoin ETFs

Futures-Based ETFs

These ETFs invest in Bitcoin futures contracts. They are the primary type of Bitcoin ETF currently available.

Key Considerations: Futures markets can introduce complexities like "contango" and "backwardation," which can affect the ETF's ability to perfectly track Bitcoin's spot price. Since their approval, these dynamics have had the following impact... (Add specific data if possible).

Spot-Based ETFs

These ETFs would directly hold Bitcoin, offering a more direct representation of the cryptocurrency's price.

Key Considerations: While not yet approved, spot-based ETFs could potentially offer better tracking of Bitcoin's price compared to futures-based ETFs. Applications for spot-based ETFs remain under regulatory review.

Other Potential Types

Bitcoin Mining ETFs: These could invest in companies engaged in Bitcoin mining operations.

Blockchain ETFs: These might offer broader exposure to companies involved in blockchain technology beyond just Bitcoin.

Risk/Reward Assessment

The type of Bitcoin ETF significantly impacts its inherent risks and potential rewards. Investors need to carefully consider their risk tolerance and investment goals when choosing between different options.

Opportunities for Investors

Bitcoin ETFs offer several potential opportunities for investors.  Firstly, they significantly increase accessibility. By eliminating the need to navigate cryptocurrency exchanges and manage wallets, ETFs open the Bitcoin market to a wider range of investors who may have been intimidated by the technical aspects of direct ownership. 

Additionally, Bitcoin ETFs provide a new avenue for portfolio diversification. Due to Bitcoin's historically low correlation to traditional assets, it can potentially help reduce overall investment risk.  ETFs can be used by various investors, including those seeking long-term exposure to Bitcoin's potential growth, and risk-tolerant investors looking to add a unique and potentially volatile asset to their portfolios.

Key Risks to Consider

Investors should carefully consider several key risks before investing in Bitcoin ETFs. These risks stem from the inherent nature of Bitcoin, the evolving regulatory situation, and the specific structure of ETF products:

Extreme Volatility: Bitcoin is notorious for its substantial price fluctuations, making ETFs that track its price inherently high-risk investments. Investors must be prepared for the possibility of significant and rapid losses.

Regulatory Uncertainty: This space for cryptocurrencies is constantly evolving. Changes in regulations, from potential restrictions to outright bans, could significantly impact the operation, availability, and even the viability of Bitcoin ETFs.

Management Fees: Bitcoin ETFs generally carry higher management fees compared to the transaction costs associated with directly owning cryptocurrency. Over time, these fees can noticeably reduce potential returns, making expense ratios a critical factor to evaluate.

Limited Investor Protections: Bitcoin ETFs offered as exchange-traded products (as opposed to traditional ETFs) are subject to less regulatory oversight, potentially exposing investors to increased risks or conflicts of interest.

Security Concerns: While ETFs eliminate the need to manage private keys, the security of Bitcoin held by these funds remains crucial. Reliance on third-party custodians introduces potential vulnerabilities related to hacking or mismanagement of assets.

Suitability for Retirement Accounts: Regulatory bodies express serious concerns about using retirement savings to invest in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.  These assets might not align with the prudent investment guidelines required for retirement plan administrators.

Making Informed Choices

Investors need to conduct thorough research and understand these risks before adding Bitcoin ETFs to their portfolios.  Before investing, consider your risk tolerance, investment goals, and the potential impact of significant losses on your overall financial well-being.

What You Need to Know

Bitcoin ETFs present both potential opportunities and significant risks. They simplify the process of gaining exposure to Bitcoin and can potentially diversify a portfolio. However, the inherent volatility of Bitcoin, evolving regulations, and the specific structure of ETFs introduce a range of risks that investors must carefully consider.

The key takeaway is that Bitcoin ETFs are neither a guaranteed path to success nor an inherently irresponsible investment.  Whether or not they are suitable depends entirely on an individual's risk tolerance, financial goals, and thorough understanding of the potential benefits and drawbacks.  Informed decision-making is crucial before adding Bitcoin ETFs to any investment portfolio.

Written by
Szymon Białas
Content Marketing Specialist

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