One of the fun things about jigsaw puzzles, for those of you that haven’t tried them, is the satisfying snap of pieces fitting together to reveal part of a picture. Another is watching the whole picture emerge as more pieces join.
In July of last year, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said that national banks . That was a pretty big deal, as, should national banks start to offer this service, investors could in theory ask their habitual institution to custody all their holdings, be they stocks, bonds or crypto. So much easier. A major barrier to crypto investment removed.
In September, the OCC said that they , such as holding reserves. Banks had been doing this for some time, but in an uncertain regulatory environment. Now they had official approval to do so. Stablecoins backed one-to-one by fiat held in bank reserves are not deemed a risk in one of the most regulated industries in the U.S.
And then this week, the federal banking regulator saying that national banks and federal savings associations can use public blockchains to store and validate payments. It effectively awards blockchains the status of “payment network.”
Do you see the picture emerging? It’s not just about expanding the range of products banks can offer clients. It’s not just about offering better payment services. It’s about the convergence between traditional and crypto markets. It’s also about the role of the dollar in the economies of tomorrow.
Let’s look at why this emerging picture is worth paying attention to:
The jigsaw puzzle metaphor I introduced at the beginning reminds me of one of my favorite philosophies: “Just when you think you have life’s puzzle all figured out, someone hands you another piece.”
The crypto markets are like that. Just when you think you understand the potential impact of and other decentralized value tokens, you find out that this story is not just about a new type of market. It’s also about traditional markets and how they evolve.
While there are many hurdles yet to overcome, and many more pieces of legislation and regulatory guidance needed, we are getting a glimpse of what the finance of tomorrow could look like. And blockchains and crypto assets play a meaningful role in the emerging picture, which depicts so much more than rising prices and portfolio allocations – it sketches a new way of transacting, something that eventually will affect all of us.
Everyone knows that all bubbles pop when a needle appears on the scene. It’s hard to imagine anything as messy and noisy as an insurrection being compared to something as small and sharp as a needle, so let’s mix metaphors and go with the sudden appearance of a “bump in the road.”
But that didn’t happen – the main U.S. stock markets continued to go up, and call options saw their So, either traditional U.S. markets are not in a bubble, or we have not yet had that bump.
Yet, if it’s not 10-year yields edging over 1% for the first time since March … If it’s not a greater likelihood of corporate tax increases or antitrust legislation … If it’s not, heck, the realization that political polarization has pushed faith in the democratic process to a generational low, then what will that bump look like? I shudder to think.
The optimist in me likes to think that the strength of the market in the face of greater political turmoil than I’ve ever seen, demonstrates unbending trust that the U.S. democratic institutions will hold, no matter what. That’s touching. But it doesn’t feel true.
To confuse things further, crypto assets also had an extraordinary week, with BTC and throwing up returns of over 34% and 60% respectively.
(Yes, I know that all three columns in the above chart are the same – it’s the way the dates worked out. This coincidence is just yet another detail that makes this week particularly weird.)
What makes this confusing from a traditional investment point of view is that bitcoin is a and things were definitely crazy this week. But the stock market is telling us that everything is fine.
And it’s not that crypto assets and stocks are becoming more correlated. The 30-day correlation (not useful from an investment point of view, but a handy narrative device) between BTC and the S&P 500 has turned negative for the first time since last February.
As I type, the BTC price is again flirting with $40,000, double what it was three weeks ago. Could this also be a bubble?
The difference between the movements in BTC and ETH is that they have strong fundamental drivers behind them. These include the multiple “bumps in the road” that we referred to above, and the growing awareness from institutional investors that these assets were designed to operate separately from the traditional economy, with different incentives and accounting mechanisms.
That said, a short-term correction from these levels would not be surprising (although demand may be such that it doesn’t happen). And if traditional markets crash, it is likely we will see crypto assets head down as well in the rush to liquidity. But, looking further ahead, the underlying fundamentals have never been stronger.
(Now is a good time to remind you that nothing in this newsletter is ever investment advice.)
· The Stone Ridge investor letter is – one of the most eloquent and insightful (not to mention amusing and moving) pieces I’ve read in a long time, on the nature of money and why bitcoin matters.
· Investor Bill Miller, whose flagship mutual fund in 2020 beat the S&P 500 Index for the straight second year, and markets are underpricing inflation risk. And then there’s this: “Warren Buffett famously called bitcoin rat poison. He may well be right. Bitcoin could be rat poison, and the rat could be cash.”
· He also pointed out, , that bitcoin “gets less risky the higher it goes.”
· Skybridge Capital, the hedge-fund investing firm headed by Anthony Scaramucci, Monday and said its exposure to bitcoin has already reached $310 million.
· According to Michael Sonnenshein, former Managing Director and now CEO of digital asset manager Grayscale Investments (owned by DCG, also the parent of CoinDesk), , including pensions and endowments, is starting to participate in the company’s crypto asset funds.
· This is the best quote I’ve seen on why even skeptics should be investing in bitcoin, : “Bitcoin is the perfect vehicle for exploiting mankind’s infinite stupidity,” says Julian Rimmer, a sales trader at Investec Plc. “A small percentage of one’s portfolio must be held in this ‘asset’ because gullibility never goes out of fashion.”
· JPMorgan’s Global Markets Strategy team that puts a long-term theoretical price target on BTC of $146,000, assuming BTC’s volatility converges to that of gold.
· Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek, said in an op-ed that she will put some money into bitcoin, but confesses that her “go-to inflation hedge will remain gold for the simple reason that it isn’t new.”
The CFA Institute Research Foundation, part of the global association for investment professionals, “Cryptoassets: The Guide to Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Cryptocurrency for Investment Professionals” was written by Matt Hougan and David Lawant, respectively CIO and analyst at crypto fund manager Bitwise. TAKEAWAY: This publication is significant since the CFA Institute is a respected source of continuing fund management education. Their promotion of a guide not only validates cryptocurrencies and tokens as worth considering for portfolios; it also puts a well-written and thorough information document in front of the association’s almost 200,000 members.
Cryptocurrency exchange Bakkt, backed by NYSE parent Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), is in via a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings, according to Bloomberg. TAKEAWAY: That the first large crypto SPAC is an infrastructure play highlights the difference between now and 2017. Back then it was about shiny new tokens and “decentralized protocols.” Now infrastructure dominates new funding.
The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) is now in terms of open interest in the world. TAKEAWAY: This is indicative of the growth of institutional interest in crypto markets – the CME is one of the few U.S.-regulated crypto derivatives exchanges, and is therefore the venue for most U.S. institutional activity in bitcoin futures. The growth is spectacular, given that the exchange started Q4 in fifth place (see our for more on this.)
Bitwise Asset Management revealed that its to $500 million, up from $100 million reported in late Octobers. TAKEAWAY: More evidence, if any was needed, of growing institutional interest. Most of the increase came from the multi-asset fund, which shows that investors are starting to think beyond bitcoin.
Crypto custodian BitGo , which converts bitcoin into an Ethereum-based token, to the Tron network. Previously only available on the Ethereum network, WBTC converts bitcoin into a bitcoin-backed token on a different blockchain. BitGo has also enabled Wrapped Ether (WETH) on Tron. TAKEAWAY: This expands the of BTC, as well as its potential attractiveness to professional investors. WBTC tracks the value of BTC, but can also be used in decentralized finance applications, some of which offer yields of over 10%.
The ban announced in October by the U.K’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on the sale of derivatives and exchange-traded notes (ETNs) to retail investors . TAKEAWAY: This is unlikely to have a material impact initially as professional investors can still access these products, and retail investors can still buy crypto assets. It is a clear indication, however, of how much investment independence the FCA , even with ample information.
The spread between the six-month implied volatility for ETH and BTC of 46%. TAKEAWAY: This tells us that the market is expecting higher volatility for ETH relative to BTC, which in a bull market implies higher returns.
You might have seen that CoinDesk (yes, us) TradeBlock, the industry’s leading crypto index provider. TAKEAWAY: This gives us access to deeper data sets on market movements, as well as robust indices for crypto asset prices. It will also allow us to better serve the professional investor audience, combining information, insight and data.