The biggest news of 2017 has been the tremendous growth of the cryptocurrency industry. Recently passing $500 billion in total market cap, many of the leading digital currencies, led by Bitcoin, have seen their values increase into record heights time and again over the past 12 months. Bitcoin increased from less than a 1000 $ at the beginning of 2017 to over 18000 $ on Dec 2017 ! Along with those gains, however, there have also been dramatic drops and swings even for bitcoin, the largest digital currency by market cap. Investors and analysts have taken this to be a feature of the new industry, which no one fully understands as of yet.
While I believe that the technology behind the cryptocurrencies (i.e. Blockchain) will have a bright future, I’m not sure which cryptocurrency will be the winner. It is like internet search engines in the 1990’s when everyone was convinced that search engines will have a great future but you can’t guess whether Yahoo , Netscape , AOL will be the winner . It turned out to be neither of these names is the winner but Google which started in the early 2000’s ! Given this analogy, I may be interested in investing a small part of my portfolio (<5%) in cryptocurrency ETF when it will be launched in the next few weeks. Cryptocurrency ETF will be the safest way to invest in such volatile investment vehicle as you will practically own all the big cryptocurrencies and don’t need to guess the winner. If you need to know more about ETFs please read my articles “What is an ETF?” and “Pros and Cons of ETFs”
While searching about cryptocurrency ETF, I found the below interview by etf.com with Hunter Horsely , co-founder of Bitwise Asset Management (BAM), very interesting and wanted to share with you. BAM is a San Francisco-based startup that aims to bring passive investing to the cryptocurrency space. In October, the firm announced the creation of the HOLD 10 Index―a market-cap-weighted index that tracks the largest cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, ripple and others―covering 85% of the cryptocurrency market. Recently, the firm launched the Bitwise HOLD 10 Private Index Fund based on the aforementioned index. Bitwise says that it is the world’s first cryptocurrency index fund. ETF.com recently spoke with Horsley, the firm’s CEO, to discuss the index, the fund and the outlook for cryptocurrencies in general.
ETF.com: Tell me about your new HOLD 10 Index.
Hunter Horsley: It selects the top 10 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization and weights them according to their size, similar to the S&P 500. But cryptocurrencies are different than equities, so while analogies to concepts from other asset classes often get you 80% of the way there, they weren’t designed for crypto. For example, market cap is a useful way of thinking about the value of a cryptocurrency protocol, but there are issues. In equities, the supply of shares of a public company is not always changing. When it changes―if there’s a new issuance or a buyback or a split―there are rules about how widely the company has to publicize it, and it all happens on a specific date, at a specific time and the whole market knows. However, most cryptocurrencies have their supply changing constantly. The rate at which they issue new supply―if it’s logarithmic, or it’s linear, or it’s exponential, or if they have a deflationary regime for supply—is usually one of the most important characteristics of a cryptocurrency. If you’re looking simply at the current price times the current outstanding supply, while that works really well for equities, for cryptocurrency it doesn’t work so well, because you’re ignoring the fact the supply is going to be changing. That’s why we take what we call an inflation-adjusted market cap, where we add in some of the future of supply. Specifically, we add in what we call five-year inflation-adjusted supply, or the next five years of publicly known and scheduled supply changes. We also rebalance and reconstitute monthly, which is more frequent than the S&P 500, which rebalances quarterly. We want to avoid rebalancing so frequently that the index gets caught up in temporary price action, but on the other hand, we don’t want to do it so infrequently that the index becomes not current. Things can change so rapidly in the cryptocurrency market, so you can’t wait a year. If you look at the top 10 cryptocurrencies from a year ago, it’s a very different set than it is currently. The back-tested turnover on the index is about 20% a year. For context, the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) has turnover of 4% annually. The iShares Russell 2000 Small-Cap Index Fund has turnover of 39% annually.
ETF.com: Your newly launched cryptocurrency index fund will track the HOLD 10 Index. Tell us about the fund. There have been some regulatory hurdles that have prevented a bitcoin ETF from coming to market. How does your fund get around those?
Horsley: This first vehicle is a private fund, so it is limited to accredited investors. We want to make investing in cryptocurrency possible for anyone and easier for anyone, so we don’t want to have that limitation, but that’s the case until we can introduce a public version of the fund.
ETF.com: What type of fee structure is the fund going to have?
Horsley: A lot of actively managed crypto funds are charging 2/20, but we’re only charging a flat 2.5% management fee.
ETF.com: What do you say to the typical index fund investor who looks at that fee and considers it high?
Horsley: Compared an S&P 500 or a Vanguard Total Market fund, 2.5% is high. But I think an important reality is that cryptocurrencies are not U.S. equities. It’s still developing and costly to operate it. Cryptocurrency was a $15 billion asset class at the beginning of this year. It’s still only $400 billion today. U.S. equities is a $25 trillion asset class. It’s been around for over 100 years. With cryptocurrency, we’re still figuring out who the service providers are going to be. A lot of the underlying components, like custody, are very expensive and going through the formative development stages. The space, the protocols themselves, as well as the different intermediaries are still developing and standardizing. We want to play a role similar to Vanguard for cryptocurrency. Our model is low cost, inclusive, high volume. We want to provide market access vehicles, not hedge funds.
ETF.com: Are you looking into launching an ETF?
Horsley: Definitely. A lot of people are being excluded today by the practical complexity of having to decide which coins to buy, managing a portfolio, and also because crypto hasn’t been securitized. You can’t buy it through your broker and you can’t buy it through your wealth manager, which are the two channels that most people use to participate in asset classes.You can talk to your financial advisor about investing in the Bitwise HOLD 10 Index fund. But a public fund is something that we want to do.
ETF.com: What’s your price outlook on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general?
Horsley: We’re optimistic about the long-term potential of cryptocurrency, but don’t have a short-term price target to share. There’s currently no agreement or consensus around how the industry’s going to do fundamental analysis on cryptocurrencies. Any price targets you hear are coming from people who’re using different logic or rationales for arriving at those targets. It’s also very important to understand if the person who’s giving a price target has a financial incentive. So often in cryptocurrency, people who’re speculating about the future have an incentive that may or may not be disclosed.Our view is that we’re optimistic about the long-term potential of cryptocurrency. We think it could be one of the most important developments of the coming decades. It’s by no means guaranteed to be that. This year, prices have appreciated by over 2000% and trading volumes are up over 5000%, but I wouldn’t expect that to continue indefinitely. That being said, cryptocurrency isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon; it’s a global phenomenon, so the opportunity is larger.Another thing worth mentioning is that cryptocurrencies are software. Typically, new software technologies are developed and brought to market by private companies. Those companies are often private for a decade. Airbnb, for example, is still a private company. Cryptocurrency is a fascinating phenomenon, because it’s still software that’s in the early stages of being developed and brought to market. But it’s being publicly traded from day one. Can you imagine if Airbnb stock were traded from its first month of existence, how volatile and crazy that would be? That’s the way I think about how things are playing out with cryptocurrencies, which is that these are very young, nascent, developing software. It’s just that they’re publicly trading far earlier than new software projects typically are.
ETF.com: How much of an investor’s portfolio should they have in cryptocurrencies?
Horsley: Everyone has to consider for themselves what makes sense given their risk tolerance, their goals for their portfolio, their time horizons for liquidity, etc. I’ve heard a wide range. A number of financial advisors caution people against investing in crypto at all. If they do recommend investing in cryptocurrency, they generally caution them not to go above 1-2% of their portfolio. Although there are, of course, some people who go way above that. What you often hear from financial advisors right now is, be very cautious and expect to lose your money. But if you’re going to do it, make sure it’s a small allocation.