What Is a Bitcoin ETF?

We take a comprehensive look at bitcoin ETFs, including the pros and cons of investing in them.

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Research Lead
Reviewed by: Kent Thune
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Edited by: Kent Thune

In recent years, the world of cryptocurrency and digital assets has undergone tremendous growth and innovation. One of the latest developments in this field is the emergence of bitcoin ETFs, which are becoming increasingly popular among investors, especially as the SEC considers approval of a spot bitcoin ETF.

In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at ETFs investing in bitcoin, including what they are, how they work, and the benefits and risks associated with investing in them. 

What Is a Bitcoin ETF? 

A bitcoin ETF is an exchange-traded fund that tracks the performance of bitcoin with futures contracts, which are derivative investment securities that allow investors to speculate on the future price of assets. By investing in an ETF, investors can gain exposure to the price movements of bitcoin without holding the digital currency itself. 

Bitcoin futures contracts are agreements between two parties to buy or sell a specific amount of bitcoin at a predetermined price on a specific date in the future. The futures market provides investors with a way to hedge against potential price swings in the underlying asset, which, in this case, is bitcoin. 

The first bitcoin ETF to trade on an exchange is the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITO), which made its debut on October 19, 2021. 

How Do Bitcoin ETFs Work? 

Bitcoin ETFs operate much like traditional ETFs, with the primary difference being that they are tied to the performance of bitcoin futures contracts instead of traditional assets like stocks or bonds. The ETFs invest in the underlying bitcoin futures contracts and other financial instruments that are tied to the performance of bitcoin.

Bitcoin futures ETFs are traded on stock exchanges just like individual stocks, and their price is based on the underlying bitcoin futures contracts they hold. Investors who want to gain exposure to the price movements of bitcoin can buy shares in a bitcoin futures ETF, just as they would with any other ETF.

The primary benefit of bitcoin ETFs is that their design provides investors with a convenient and efficient way to invest in Bitcoin without having to directly purchase and hold the digital currency. These ETFs are managed by professional fund managers who are responsible for overseeing the underlying assets, including bitcoin futures contracts, and ensuring that the ETFs track the performance of bitcoin as closely as possible. 

Pros and Cons of Investing in Bitcoin ETFs 

There are many potential benefits of investing in bitcoin ETFs, such as the convenience of investing in bitcoin futures without directly holding the cryptocurrency or having to purchase futures. However, there are also many potential risks of investing in bitcoin futures ETFs, including volatility and liquidity risk. 

Before considering the purchase of a bitcoin ETF, investors should evaluate the pros and cons of investing these unique funds.

Pros of Investing in Bitcoin ETFs 

  • Diversification: Investing in a bitcoin ETF can add a new asset class to your portfolio and help diversify your holdings. This can reduce the overall risk of your portfolio and increase the potential for returns over the long term. 
  • Convenience: Investing in a bitcoin ETF eliminates the need to directly purchase and hold bitcoin, which can be a complicated and time-consuming process. The ETF is managed by professional fund managers who oversee the underlying assets, including bitcoin futures contracts, and ensure that the ETF tracks the performance of bitcoin as closely as possible. 
  • Accessibility: Bitcoin ETFs are traded on stock exchanges, just like individual stocks. This makes them accessible to a wider range of investors, including those who may not have the technical expertise or resources to invest in bitcoin directly. 
  • Professional Management: The fund managers of a bitcoin ETF are responsible for overseeing the underlying assets and ensuring that the ETF tracks the performance of bitcoin as closely as possible. This can provide investors with a more hands-off approach to investing in the digital currency. 

Cons of Investing in Bitcoin ETFs 

  • Market Volatility: Bitcoin is known for its high level of volatility, and the price of bitcoin can fluctuate greatly in a short period of time. This can result in large losses for investors if they are not properly prepared for the potential ups and downs of the market. 
  • Regulatory Risk: The regulation of cryptocurrencies and bitcoin ETFs is still in its early stages and can be subject to change. This can result in uncertainty for investors and potentially impact the value of their investments. 
  • Liquidity Risk: The liquidity of bitcoin ETFs can be lower than other traditional assets, such as stocks or bonds. This can make it more difficult for investors to sell their shares or access their funds in a timely manner. 
  • Counterparty Risk: When investing in a bitcoin ETF, you are relying on the counterparty to fulfill their obligations under the futures contract. If the counterparty is unable to fulfill their obligations, it can result in losses for the investor. 

Will the SEC Approve of a Spot Bitcoin ETF?

There have been some recent developments that could make it more likely that the SEC will approve a spot Bitcoin ETF in 2023. A spot bitcoin ETF is an exchange-traded fund that tracks the price of bitcoin. Like a physically backed gold ETF, if an investor buys shares of the fund, they are essentially buying a portion of the bitcoin cryptocurrency held by the fund, and the value of the ETF will be directly correlated to the price of bitcoin.

Bottom Line on Investing in Bitcoin ETFs

Investing in bitcoin ETFs can offer investors a convenient and accessible way to gain exposure to the price movements of bitcoin without directly holding the cryptocurrency. However, as with any investment, there are also risks investors should consider. Therefore, it’s important to carefully evaluate the benefits and risks of investing in a bitcoin ETF before buying shares.

Kent Thune is Research Lead for etf.com, focusing on educational content, thought leadership, content management and search engine optimization. Before joining etf.com, he wrote for numerous investment websites, including Seeking Alpha and Kiplinger. 

 

Kent holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and is a practicing Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) with 25 years of experience managing investments, guiding clients through some of the worst economic and market environments in U.S. history. He has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching classes for The College of Charleston and Trident Technical College on the topics of retirement planning, business finance, and entrepreneurship. 

 

Kent founded a registered investment advisory firm in 2006 and is based in Hilton Head Island, SC, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Outside of work, Kent enjoys spending time with his family, playing guitar, and working on his philosophy book, which he plans to publish in the coming year.