An illustration showing the cryptocurrency bitcoin with a price chart in the background.
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Shares of the first U.S. bitcoin-linked exchange-traded fund rose slightly in their trading debut on Tuesday.
The ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, ticker ‘BITO,’ was last up about 3%. The fund tracks CME bitcoin futures, or contracts speculating on the future price of bitcoin, rather than the crypto itself. It’s meant to allow market participants to have access the bitcoin market and hedge and direct exposure to bitcoin pricing.
That means investors in the ETF should expect the price and performance of the shares to differ somewhat from the price of bitcoin itself. This isn’t ideal for existing investors; many of them take a long view on cryptocurrencies and had hoped for an ETF that would track physical bitcoin that investors could buy and hold.
The price of bitcoin was slightly higher Tuesday morning, adding 2% to about $62,864, according to Coin Metrics, nearing its all-time high of 64,899 from April 14th. Bitcoin futures gained about 2% as well.
“The fund seeks to provide capital appreciation primarily through managed exposure to bitcoin futures contracts. The fund does not invest directly in bitcoin,” states ProShares website on the fund. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.95%.
ProShares is the eighth-biggest ETF provider by assets, according to ETDB.com. The firm is known for its funds that use leverage to track moves in certain indexes multiplied by a certain amount. ProShares executives rang the opening bell at the NYSE, where the ETF will trade.
The crypto industry has been longing for a bitcoin-related ETF for many years. In about 2017, asset managers began applying to launch spot bitcoin ETFs but their proposals were rejected by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which maintained none were able to prove market resistance to manipulation. The rush of applications for futures-based ETFs came this year shortly after Chairman Gary Gensler took the helm at the agency.
“What you have here is a product that’s been overseen for four years by the U.S. Federal regulator CFTC, and that’s being wrapped inside of something within our jurisdiction called the Investment Company Act of 1940, so we have some ability to bring it inside of investor protection,” Gensler told CNBC’s ‘Squawk on the Street’ Tuesday. “It’s still a highly speculative asset class and listeners should understand that underneath this, it still has that same aspect of volatility and speculation.”
Some argue the impact of an ETF, particularly one tied to futures contracts, is lessened by adoption of crypto by companies and fintechs. Investors have many ways to get indirect exposure to bitcoin without actually owning it, through institutional-grade funds, financial apps like PayPal and Square’s CashApp, or crypto-related equities like Coinbase and mining stocks.