What is a bitcoin ETF?
A bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) is a financial instrument that offers investors exposure to the bitcoin market.
Specifically, a bitcoin ETF allows an investor to potentially make (or lose) money based on daily fluctuations in the price of bitcoin.
Unlike the asset itself, bitcoin ETFs trade on traditional stock markets or exchanges and are intended for mainstream investors who don’t wish to purchase bitcoin directly.
What is the difference between bitcoin and a bitcoin ETF? There are several characteristics that make them different. These include:
- Ownership: Investors own shares in the fund that holds bitcoin, rather than possessing the bitcoins themselves in a wallet.
- Trading: Today, the crypto market is open 24 hours a day, seven days per week. This is different from traditional markets, which are open during certain times of the day and week. Bitcoin ETFs are subject to these trading time schedules.
- Fees: Like other ETFs, bitcoin ETFs feature management fees charged by those who oversee the fund. Holders of bitcoin only pay fees when making a transaction.
Proponents of bitcoin ETFs argue that these products provide a path for mainstream adoption of bitcoin that avoids some of the security and technical pitfalls of cryptocurrency ownership.
What is the history of the bitcoin ETF?
Exchange-traded products (ETPs) tied to the digital asset market have existed for several years, with the bulk listing outside of American markets.
Canada’s first spot bitcoin ETF was listed in 2021. Europe’s first exchange-traded fund for spot bitcoin launched this past August.
Today, the only bitcoin ETFs approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are bitcoin futures ETFs. The first products of this kind were listed in October 2021.
To date, the SEC has resisted approving a spot bitcoin ETF. The first rejection came in 2017, when Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss unsuccessfully filed for a bitcoin ETF product.
The SEC has argued in the past that proposed spot bitcoin ETFs — and, specifically, investors in such products — would be at at risk of market manipulation.
A group of financial institutions, including BlackRock and Fidelity, are seeking SEC approval for various spot bitcoin ETFs.
The coming months will tell whether the SEC has shifted its stance, especially in light of a recent court loss against crypto firm Grayscale.