Bitcoin’s adoption growth over the last six to twelve months has increased at a rapid rate, but it’s an understatement to assess this as an entirely different situation from the 2017 crypto bubble we experienced. This time last year, the price of one Bitcoin was sitting at about $7,000 per coin compared to its present $61,000 price tag. That’s about a 9x jump, and we’ve come a long way.
With this growth has come a sweeping acceptance of Bitcoin that’s made its way to the institutional level. Although many are still wary, digital asset managers like Grayscale and others (Osprey, WisdomTree, VanEck, etc.) continue to create their own funds, allowing investors indirect ownership and exposure to Bitcoin and other crypto assets.
The appeal of this form of exposure to Bitcoin is found in the suggested peace of mind that comes along with it, with Grayscale themselves declaring that: “The Products were developed to offer investors ease of mind and an investment product that is familiar to both financial advisors and investors.”
This sounds great in theory, but there’s been some rough sailing upon their introduction.
The institutionalization of Bitcoin is experiencing some growing pains
It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for these funds. Grayscale’s Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) has been trading below the price of Bitcoin since February 22nd, and it’s presently trading at about an 11% discount from NAV as of April 15th.
Lack of demand. This could be viewed as an indication of demand drying up after those on the metaphorical waiting list got in. Reports show that about 80% of the capital flowing into the fund’s holdings were from institutions and businesses seeking to hedge against inflation or interest on their loans, meaning that the use case for GBTC has been very specific.
Caveats and restrictions. On top of the relatively underwhelming performance in the short term, funds like these also come with some asterisks that can be a turn-off for many investors. Case in point, Grayscale’s ETF requires a 6-month lock-up period before being able to withdraw. It also asks for a 2% management fee and suffers from price discrepancies in regards to properly tracking Bitcoin.
With this performance so far, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a mass exodus of the institutions invested at the end of their 6-month lock-up period. This could cause further issues, putting a further stain on the reputation of the Bitcoin funds market.
Will this and other alternatives suffer if Grayscale’s fund continues to disappoint?
That remains to be seen. So far, the SEC has rejected every US Bitcoin ETF application that's crossed its desk citing the potential for market manipulation and a host of other concerns. But with an incoming Chair who is friendly to crypto and blockchain, the SEC may finally be ready to approve them. When that day comes, money will flow fast into these ETFs, continuing the adoption of Bitcoin.
So although we seem to be experiencing what we’d term growing pains for now, the future remains relatively bright for the public acceptance of Bitcoin.