SPDR Launches Japanese ETFs

The funds are unhedged and euro hedged and are physically replicated

Editor, etf.com Europe
Reviewed by: Rachael Revesz
Edited by: Rachael Revesz

Digital currency bitcoin surged in value to around $359.65 as of 2 December from just $209.13 on 24 August, and the rally left cryptocurrency investors gleefully patting their pockets. For those wanting a piece of the action, access is possible through a U.S.-listed ETF,  meanwhile in Europe investors have to sit tight until bitcoin ETFs have been approved by regulators.

ARK Invest recently added bitcoins to one of its ETF portfolios. The group has gained exposure to bitcoin through the purchase of shares of Grayscale’s Bitcoin Investment Trust which is the first publicly traded bitcoin fund.

Bitcoin Considered A Commodity?


Firstly is bitcoin considered a commodity?  It is, at least according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, but other institutions take a different view and there remains confusion among the industry.

ARK Investment Management founder and CEO, Catherine Wood said, “In contrast, the Internal Revenue Service classifies it [bitcoin] as property and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission considers Bitcoin to be a currency.”

Wood stressed that bitcoin should be a currency serving the three main functions of money: a means of exchange, a store of value and a unit of account. For those who are concerned about the volatility of the currency, ARK’s Wood does not believe that Bitcoin is volatile. She highlighted gold and the U.S. dollar have also gone through periods of volatility.

Wood explained bitcoin was in the $200–300 range for nearly a year back in September, when ARK invested in the cryptocurrency, before it soared to around $376 on 30 November.

She said, “Given its upside potential in the remittance market and as a store of value, ARK Invest liked the tradeoff between risk and return and felt confident in it as an investment decision for the ARK Web x.0 ETF and now the ARK Innovation ETF.”

The ARK web x.0 ETF (ticker ARKW) is a U.S. listed ETF and was launched in September 2014 and has an expense ratio of 0.95 percent, with an average market cap of $67 billion. Since inception the fund has returned over 18 percent this year.


New Entrants


The Winklevoss twins are keen to launch and get the go ahead for their Bitcoin ETF which is currently in the process of receiving Securities and Exchange Commission clearance.

Laurent Kssis, director at CEC Capital and an ETF trading consultant, is currently setting up a bitcoin exchange traded note. He explained that one of the main reasons why investors would be keen to invest in a bitcoin exchange traded vehicle is that it would give investors access to the performance of bitcoin using a regulated market environment.

Kssis said, “With an investment fund vehicle (such as an ETN) it would provide some liquidity via market makers and intraday accessibly, and you give investors the option to participate in the performance of bitcoin without having to go into all the registrations.”


UK Bitcoin Regulatory Issues


The U.S. is more advanced when it comes to both bitcoin and ETFs launches. Europe remains sceptical of the currency as there is plenty of uncertainty when it comes to passing bitcoin as a qualified and trusted asset class.

Kssis explained no one has yet received regulatory or tax approval [in the U.K.] to promote bitcoin  under the exchange traded commodity / ETF structure and therefore does not qualify as an investment under certain tax jurisdictions. As a result, those retail investors and advisers keen to get their hands on the cryptocurrency in a passive fund format are still waiting.

Bitcoin Concerns

There are many concerns when it comes to bitcoin and digital security and having online protection in place. Due to these concerns players like IBM are adopting new technology such as Blockchain.

Blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of data records that are hardened against tampering and revision, even by operators of the data store's nodes. A node  is a computer connected to the Bitcoin network using a client that performs the task of validating and relaying transactions. The more nodes there are the more secure the system.

Wood said, “Bitcoin is still very new and often misunderstood or met with skepticism, like most other disruptive innovations in their early stages, similar to the internet in the 1990s.”

She explained ARK Invest focuses on disruptive innovations that they believe will change how the world works. When asked what kind of investors would bitcoin be suitable for, Wood said, “Bitcoin is for those investors looking to make a long-term commitment to a currency that should appreciate over time.

“Bitcoin is part of the ARKW and ARKK ETFs because we have every reason to believe bitcoin and blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin, will revolutionise the way the internet is utilised.”

“While the internet decentralised the dissemination of information, bitcoin and blockchain are decentralising the securitization of information.” added Wood.

Obstacles For Investors

Michael Sonnenshein, sales and business development at Grayscale, a sponsor of the Bitcoin Investment Trust, said that purchasing bitcoin outright can be a harrowing experience for investors.

“More often than not, they don’t know who to purchase bitcoin from. Are there counterparties they trust? What price should they pay? They don’t know how to handle bitcoin safely and securely,” added Sonnenshein.

He explained that even if investors can overcome these challenges, storing bitcoin on one’s own can be a liability.

“If bitcoin holders are hacked or lose the private key to their bitcoin wallet, they have zero recourse,” said Sonnenshein.

One way around this could be by purchasing shares of the Bitcoin Investment Trust which gives investors the ability to gain exposure to bitcoin without the aforementioned challenges and through a titled security in the investor’s name.

Sonnenshein said Grayscale are seeing an influx of investors with various mandates looking to add bitcoin exposure.

“These range from gold investors (there are many overlapping attributes between bitcoin and gold) to investors who are involved with every type of asset ranging from currencies to commodities to those involved with or exposed to the payments space.”

Even hedge funds and family offices are looking to get in on the bitcoin action, added Sonnenshein.

Rachael Revesz joined etf.com in August 2013 as staff writer. Previously an investment reporter at Citywire, she has a background in writing content for retail financial advisors and has covered a wide range of subjects in finance. Revesz studied journalism at PMA Media, which has since merged with the Press Association. She also holds a B.A. in modern languages from Durham University, as well as CF1 and CF2 financial planning certificates from the CII.