A Bitcoin ETF, or Exchange Traded Fund for Bitcoin, allows investors to gain exposure to the price movements of Bitcoin without actually owning or managing Bitcoin directly.
The key differences between Bitcoin Spot ETFs and Bitcoin Futures ETFs include their underlying assets, performance drivers, liquidity needs, potential price divergence, and exposures.
Bitcoin ETFs have emerged as a bridge, allowing traditional investors a taste of the cryptocurrency world.
Financial institutions including BlackRock, Invesco, Ark Invest, and Fidelity have submitted applications for Bitcoin Spot ETFs. There could potentially be more Bitcoin ETFs available for investors if these get approved.
What Is an ETF?
An Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) is a type of investment fund that's traded on stock exchanges, much like stocks. These funds usually hold a variety of assets such as stocks, commodities, or cryptocurrencies and aim to track the performance of a specific index or asset.
For example, an S&P 500 ETF holds shares of the companies listed in the S&P 500 index, seeking to mimic the performance of the index. If the index changes its components, the ETF manager adjusts the fund's holdings to reflect those changes in order to continue tracking the index’s composition and performance.
Unlike mutual funds, which have their net asset value (NAV) calculated once at the end of each trading day, ETFs are traded on stock exchanges and can be bought and sold throughout the trading day at market prices that fluctuate based on supply and demand.
Although the NAV of ETFs is calculated multiple times during the trading day, it's the market price that investors use for trading. This provides investors with greater liquidity and flexibility compared to mutual funds. Moreover, investors can employ various trading strategies such as short selling or buying on margin with ETFs, options that aren't typically available with mutual funds.
What Is a Bitcoin ETF?
Bitcoin ETFs have emerged as a crucial financial instrument in the evolving landscape of cryptocurrency investments. A Bitcoin ETF, or Exchange Traded Fund for Bitcoin, allows investors to gain exposure to the price movements of Bitcoin without actually owning or managing Bitcoin directly. This kind of exposure is preferred by some investors.
The Bitcoin ETF holds Bitcoin or contracts related to Bitcoin’s price, and it trades on traditional stock exchanges, much like shares of a company. As the cryptocurrency market matures, there's been a surge in interest, particularly towards two main types of Bitcoin ETFs: Bitcoin Spot ETFs and Bitcoin Futures ETFs. Each caters to different investment strategies and risk appetites.
What Is a Bitcoin Spot ETF?
A Bitcoin Spot ETF is a type of Exchange Traded Fund that directly holds Bitcoin as its underlying asset. This means that the performance of a Spot ETF is directly linked to the real-time value of the Bitcoins it holds. When investors buy shares of a Spot ETF, they are essentially buying a representation of actual Bitcoin, even though they do not hold the cryptocurrency personally.
For instance, imagine a Bitcoin Spot ETF named "BTC-one". If BTC-one claims to hold 10,000 Bitcoins and has issued 1 million shares, each share would theoretically represent 0.01 Bitcoin. This means that the performance of BTC-one is directly linked to the real-time value of the Bitcoins it holds.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Bitcoin Spot ETFs
Investing in a Bitcoin Spot ETF offers several advantages. First, it provides exposure to Bitcoin's price movements without the need to manage or store the cryptocurrency, eliminating concerns about security or digital wallets. Additionally, as these ETFs trade on conventional stock exchanges, they bring Bitcoin into a regulatory framework, potentially providing a layer of trust to a wider audience. Finally, investing in a Bitcoin Spot ETF can be more straightforward for traditional investors, as it operates within the familiar structure of stock trading.
However, like any investment, there are potential risks. The value of a Bitcoin Spot ETF will fluctuate with the volatile price of Bitcoin. Moreover, the ETF may not always perfectly match Bitcoin's performance due to fees or administrative issues. While ETFs bring Bitcoin closer to traditional finance and regulatory oversight, the broader cryptocurrency market remains somewhat unpredictable. Finally, ETFs are more costly to trade than spot crypto because of additional fees charged by the ETF. Fees of ETFs could go as high as 2.5%, compared to crypto spot trading fees that are usually much lower.
Note that Ethereum Spot ETFs or any other crypto Spot ETFs work in similar ways to Bitcoin Spot ETFs. They share similar benefits and drawbacks.
What is a Bitcoin Futures ETF?
A Bitcoin Futures ETF is a type of Exchange Traded Fund that doesn't hold Bitcoin directly. Instead, it invests in Bitcoin futures contracts, which are agreements to buy or sell Bitcoin at a predetermined price on a set future date. This allows investors to speculate on the future price movements of Bitcoin without owning the cryptocurrency itself.
Let’s imagine a Bitcoin Futures ETF called “BitFutures”, whose primary objective is to track the future price of Bitcoin by buying Bitcoin futures contracts. A financial institution establishes and manages the BitFutures ETF. Say BitFutures plans to buy 1,000 Bitcoin futures contracts that each represent the right to buy one Bitcoin at $55,000 three months from now.
In order to raise the capital to buy these contracts, "BitFutures" issues 10 million shares that represent a claim on the profits (or losses) that these futures contracts might generate. That means each share represents a claim of 0.0001 portion of each futures contract.
Investors can then buy shares of BitFutures on regular stock exchanges, just like they would buy shares of any company. If the market believes Bitcoin will be worth much more than $55,000 in three months, the shares might trade at a premium. Conversely, if the market is pessimistic, the shares might trade at a discount.
Let’s say BitFutures is trading at $10 per share. An investor who believes that Bitcoin prices will rise over the next three months buys 1,000 shares for $10,000. In three months, if the futures contracts are profitable, the value of BitFutures shares would likely increase. If the investor's belief was correct and the price of each share rises to $12, their investment would now be worth $12,000, netting a $2,000 profit.
In essence, when you buy shares of a Bitcoin Futures ETF like BitFutures, you're indirectly betting on the future price of Bitcoin without holding the cryptocurrency or the futures contracts directly. Instead, you're buying a piece of a fund that owns these contracts. Note that Ethereum Futures ETFs work in similar ways.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Bitcoin Futures ETFs
Bitcoin Futures ETFs share similar benefits to Bitcoin Spot ETFs. They offer a way for investors to gain exposure to Bitcoin's price movements without having to buy or manage the actual cryptocurrency. They also operate within a regulated environment, meaning they adhere to the standards set by financial regulatory bodies. Furthermore, they provide more liquidity than other investment vehicles, allowing investors to buy or sell shares of the ETF on traditional stock exchanges easily.
The drawbacks or risks of Bitcoin Futures ETFs include no direct Bitcoin exposure. Investors in a Bitcoin Futures ETF do not own Bitcoin itself but instead own shares in a fund that invests in futures contracts. These ETFs can also be complex, as the performance of Bitcoin Futures ETFs is tied to the futures market, which can be complex. Aside from additional management fees that could reduce returns, the value of Bitcoin Futures ETFs may not always move in tandem with the price of Bitcoin. Lastly, these ETFs face counterparty risks as the counterparty in the futures contract may fail to uphold their end of the deal.
Key Differences Between Bitcoin Spot ETFs and Bitcoin Futures ETFs
The key differences between Bitcoin Spot ETFs and Bitcoin Futures ETFs can be summarized in the table below. Note that these differences are similar if the underlying assets are Ether or other assets.
What Bitcoin ETFs Are Available to Investors?
There are numerous Bitcoin ETFs and Ethereum ETFs available in the market to invest and you can easily find a list of these funds on trustworthy sources. If you are interested in investing in these ETFs, make sure to read the fund details carefully to understand its fee structure, the fund manager, and liquidity.
Different ETFs come with varying fee structures and you need to be aware of the management fees, trading fees, and any other costs that could potentially reduce your returns. Always take into account the reputation and track record of the ETF provider. Established fund managers with solid track records can be a safer bet. Examine the liquidity of the ETFs. Those that enable seamless buying or selling of shares without notable price fluctuations are typically more advantageous.
Moreover, some Bitcoin ETFs might offer diversified exposure to other cryptocurrencies as well. If you're looking to diversify your crypto investments, consider ETFs that hold a basket of digital assets.
A number of prominent financial institutions including BlackRock, Invesco, Ark Invest, and Fidelity have submitted applications for Bitcoin Spot ETFs as of 2023. There could potentially be more diversified Bitcoin ETFs available for investors in the future if they get approved.
Who Should Consider Investing in Bitcoin ETFs?
It's essential to distinguish between Bitcoin Spot ETFs and Bitcoin Futures ETFs and their respective ideal investors.
The ideal investor for Bitcoin Spot ETFs is someone seeking direct exposure to the real-time price movements of Bitcoin without the need to manage or secure the digital asset. This individual might be someone who believes in the long-term value proposition of Bitcoin and wants an investment that closely tracks its market price. They might also be attracted to the simplicity of Spot ETFs over the complexities of futures trading.
On the other hand, the Bitcoin Futures ETFs cater to more experienced investors not just interested in Bitcoin's price but also comfortable navigating the nuances of the futures market. They might be looking to hedge other investments or seek opportunities in short-term price fluctuations, leveraging the futures market dynamics. Additionally, this investor might be willing to accept the potential risks and rewards associated with futures trading, including the intricacies of contract rollovers.
Bitcoin ETFs have emerged as a bridge, allowing traditional investors a taste of the cryptocurrency world. Bitcoin Spot ETFs give direct exposure to the actual Bitcoin price movements by holding the cryptocurrency, while Bitcoin Futures ETFs provide exposure through futures contracts predicting Bitcoin's future price.
However, as with all investments, it's imperative to exercise caution. The world of Bitcoin and its associated investment vehicles is filledwith potential pitfalls. Before making a decision, aspiring investors should immerse themselves in thorough research. Perhaps most importantly, consulting with a trusted financial advisor who can provide insights tailored to individual financial goals and risk tolerance.