How you should have played crypto investing in 2023’s first half

As bitcoin reached $31,000 on Monday, the asset is up 87% year to date. How does that compare to various crypto stocks and ETFs?


Sodel Vladyslav/Shutterstock modified by Blockworks


Investors looking for exposure to crypto can invest directly in bitcoin, ether and other crypto assets. They can also invest in the stocks of industry companies like Coinbase for example, or a range of bitcoin miners.

ETFs that gather such stocks — or even bitcoin futures contracts — into a neat basket are yet another option. 

So as we just passed the halfway point of 2023, which method was the best option?

Well, bitcoin’s price rose above $31,000, as of Monday at 12 pm ET — up 87% year to date. The asset’s price ascension in the last six months comes after it plummeted in 2022 following a peak of nearly $70,000 back in November 2021.   

Bitcoin (BTC) has so far outperformed ether (ETH), which is up about 64% this year. 

A look at Coinbase, MicroStrategy

Crypto exchange Coinbase is up 136% since the start of the year, despite the SEC launching a lawsuit against the company for alleged securities violations — charges Coinbase has denied. 

Berenberg Capital Markets analyst Mark Palmer said in a June 29 research note that Coinbase’s stock price had risen roughly 31% since BlackRock filed an application with the SEC for a spot bitcoin ETF on June 15.

This price jump outpaced the 20% increase in bitcoin’s price over that span, he adds — driven not only by positive sentiment toward the space given the potential entrance of a $9 trillion asset manager, but also given that Coinbase would be the custody provider for the ETF. 

“However, we believe investors looking at [Coinbase] as a play on increasing engagement by institutions with the digital asset ecosystem should first consider the risks the company is facing that could give rise to negative headlines in the near future that would trigger a reversal of the stock’s recent gains,” Palmer wrote.

Berenberg Capital Markets analysts have previously labeled MicroStrategy — a business intelligence firm that has custodied increasing amounts of bitcoin over the last few years — an attractive alternative to Coinbase. 

MicroStrategy has beat Coinbase since the start of 2023, as the stock has risen 158% since then. 

The firm revealed last week that it had purchased an additional 12,333 BTC in the last two months — bringing its total to more than 152,000 bitcoins, currently worth roughly $4.5 billion. 

Many miners up even bigger

Bitcoin miners have seen even higher stock price jumps this year than MicroStrategy, Coinbase or bitcoin itself. 

Bit Digital’s stock price was $4.51 on Monday at 12 pm ET — up about 590% from the start of the year, according to Google Finance data. 

The company, which had 11,513 active bitcoin miners on May 31, produced 113.2 BTC that month — a 31% increase from April. 

Read more: Bit Digital seeks crypto tax shelter in Iceland

Marathon Digital has jumped 348% year to date. The stock price of Hut 8 Mining, which last week secured a $50 million credit facility ahead of its merge with US Bitcoin Corp., is up 289%.  

Riot Platforms, Bitfarms and Hive Blockchain Technologies are up 292%, 274% and 225%, respectively. 

CleanSpark has seen year-to-date returns of 142%, while Argo Blockchain is up 67%. 

How about crypto equity ETFs?

As for crypto-related ETFs that hold many of these companies, the Valkyrie Bitcoin Miners ETF (WGMI) leads the way. 

Despite having just $13 million or so assets under management, WGMI has posted year-to-date returns of about 193%, according to data firm VettaFi — ranking fifth across all ETFs on that metric.

WGMI’s top holdings, as of June 30, were Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Digital, Argo Blockchain, Bitfarms and Bit Digital.

VanEck’s Digital Transformation ETF (DAPP) is a bit behind the Valkyrie fund with returns of 152% so far in 2023, the VettaFi data indicates.

Meanwhile, the Global X Blockchain ETF (BKCH) and the Bitwise Crypto Industry Innovators ETF (BITQ) are each up about 136%, while the Invesco Alerian Galaxy Crypto Economy ETF (SATO) is up about 129%.

Blockchain ETFs issued by fund giants BlackRock, Fidelity and Charles Schwab have lower year-to-date returns than a number of its competitors. The iShares Blockchain and tech ETF (IBLC) and the Fidelity Crypto Industry and Digital Payments ETF (FDIG) are up about 95% and 83%, respectively, while the Schwab Crypto Thematic ETF (STCE) is up 45.5%.

Investors that have opted for the largest blockchain ETF — the Amplify Transformational Data Sharing ETF (BLOK) — have seen returns of about 49%.

Read more: Inside BLOK ETF: ‘We use the miners to play offense and defense’

BLOK launched in January 2018 and has roughly $512 million in assets. Its top holding, at 5.69%, is, as others — each representing a position between 4% and 5% — include MicroStrategy, Marathon Digital, Coinbase and Hut 8. 

BLOK co-portfolio manager Mike Venuto told Blockworks last month that while diversification may give up some returns in the short term, avoiding a concentrated portfolio is good in the long run. 

Exposure to bitcoin futures

While the SEC has not yet allowed a spot bitcoin ETF to launch in the US, funds that hold bitcoin futures contracts first came to market in October 2021. 

The first and largest, the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITO), has posted returns of about 81% in 2023, according to VettaFi. BITO has more than $1 billion in assets under management 

Similar, and much smaller, funds by VanEck, Valkyrie and Hashdex have returned between 78% and 84%.  

A couple funds with bitcoin futures exposure have looked to differentiate. Bitwise, for example, launched its Bitcoin Strategy Optimum Roll ETF (BITC) in March, which is designed to select futures contracts with the lowest level of contango. 

BITC is up just 8% since its launch.   

The Global X Blockchain & Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITS), which invests in crypto equities as well as bitcoin futures contracts, has done much better at 107%.

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