Bitcoin tops Nasdaq in survey of world’s most crowded trade

Its popular now for investors to buy each and every dip in Bitcoin price, but also for hedge fund managers to talk about what a bubble Bitcoin is. Who knows which side is right – maybe its both.

I will say this chart from Bespoke Investments caught my eye:

My main issue with this is that Bitcoin is in its infancy and starting from zero. Many saying “its a bubble” follow the bitcoin price from 6 cents to the current level and say that simply based on the percentage return makes it a bubble.

Whats clear is that if you are a money manager it has to be painful if you missed this ride up.

From the Nasdaq:

Bitcoin tops Nasdaq in survey of world’s most crowded trade

     ft.com
Source: ft.com

Ominous omen? Bitcoin, the crypto currency that has exploded higher this year, has overtaken the also-buoyant Nasdaq Composite as the world’s most crowded trade, according to a closely watched survey released on Tuesday.

Some 26 per cent of investors polled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch in the first week of September said betting that bitcoin will rise is the most crowded trade of them all. That puts it ahead of 22 per cent voting for the Nasdaq and 21 per cent pointing to an anti-dollar wager. Nasdaq was pinned at about 30 per cent in the August survey.

Bitcoin has been garnering more mainstream appeal of late and has been catching the eye of risk-loving retail traders. It has surged from $968 to the dollar at the end of 2016 to above $5,000 last month, according to Coindesk data. It traded at $4,352.58 on Tuesday.

Notably, other crowded trades in recent history have not ended too well. The dollar was at the top for much of the start of this year, according to BofA Merrill. The currency has tumbled 10 per cent against six major trading partners since December 30.

 

 

From CNBC:

Bitcoin’s nearly five-fold climb in 2017 looks very similar to tech bubble surge

  • David Ader, chief macro strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence, shows how bitcoin’s gains resemble that of the Nasdaq Telecommunications Index before the tech bubble burst.
  • Bitcoin has gained nearly 400 percent this year, helped by increased interest from institutional investors.
  • However, digital currency expert Chris Burniske points out the market value of bitcoin is still a fraction of what stocks were during the dot-com boom.

Short seller Andrew Left targets Grayscale’s Bitcoin trust  

When charted, bitcoin‘s rapid gains resemble how stocks surged into the tech bubble before collapsing.

David Ader, chief macro strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence, matched a graph of the Nasdaq Telecommunications Index at its peak in 2000 to bitcoin’s five-year run to all-time highs.

“This is the price chart for an overly frothy market, in my opinion. I just don’t see anything quite as comparable to this in bubblelicious terms,” said Ader, a former top-rated bond market strategist.

Bitcoin climbed more than 3.7 percent Thursday to a record of $4,802.74, up nearly five times in price this year and about 67 percent higher for August, according to CoinDesk.

Source: Informa Financial Intelligence

“I think it’s going to come to a sorry ending,” Ader said. “I don’t know anybody who’s actually used a bitcoin for any purpose legal or otherwise. This looks like an overly frothy market and frothy markets lose their froth.”

Ader said he used the Nasdaq telecom index since many of those stocks led the Nasdaq composite’s overall gains during the tech bubble. The Nasdaq telecom index shot up more than 700 percent from 1995 to 2000, before collapsing 90 percent in the next two years. The index remains about 75 percent below its record high.

Bitcoin’s meteoric surge this year comes as many on Wall Street are becoming more interested in the digital currency and the blockchain technology behind it. New digital asset investment funds are rolling out and the Chicago Board Options Exchange is planning to launch bitcoin futures.

Many investors also bought bitcoin this month after it survived a relatively uneventful split on Aug. 1 into bitcoin and bitcoin cash, an alternative version supported by only a few developers. Bitcoin cash is up about 180 percent from its Aug. 1 low, to Thursday’s price of $588, according to CoinMarketCap.

However, bitcoin could split again this fall because there’s another upgrade proposal, and others have warned that the speculative forces behind bitcoin could quickly turn against it.

Here are a few of the alarm bells sounded this summer:

By percent change, analysis from Bespoke Investment Group shows how bitcoin’s surge has already well surpassed that of any major stock market bubble.

Source: Bespoke Investment Group

That said, some well-respected names on Wall Street have also issued positive reports on the digital currency.

Lee and Moas both reason that bitcoin can climb to those levels if even a fraction of the trillions of dollars in gold or other traditional investments move into the digital currency.

Bitcoin has a market value of about $78 billion, and digital currencies overall are worth $170 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.

That makes the value of all digital currencies less than 5 percent of the more than $4 trillion inflation-adjusted value of stocks during the tech and telecom boom, said Chris Burniske, author of the upcoming book, “Cryptoassets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond.”

“If people think this is the ‘big bubble,’ then they don’t have an appreciation for how big the idea of cryptoassets really is,” he said.

Many digital currency enthusiasts agree there is speculation in the digital currency. But they note that, just like the dot-com bubble, companies that were able to utilize the underlying technology then became global giants.

Whats Wall Street Waiting For?

Why Is Wall Street Slow to Move into Crypto?

  1. Regulation
  2. Clearing

Not the sexiest topics, so we’ll keep it short.

Hedge funds and Wall Street firms have been slow moving into trading and investing in cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin. There are some

Enterprise Ethereum Alliance
Enterprise Ethereum Alliance

indicators that sentiment is shifting such as JP Morgan (and others) joining the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance and Goldman Sachs initiating research coverage of Bitcoin.

Assume for a second that sentiment is suddenly 100% positive and that all the “scam” and “crime” stigma has left the building. So, whats the problem?

Regulation of Bitcoin, Ethereum

Party of the beauty and attraction of crypto is the decentralization and lack of regulation. There are many reasons why this is beneficial. But if you’re a big bank or managing billions of dollars, regulation matters. First, Bitcoin is not “legal” in all countries. Just look at what China did a few months ago when they started “regulating” Bitcoin. As per wikipedia: “While private parties can hold and trade bitcoins in China, regulation prohibits financial firms like banks from doing the same.” Not only is there  (outside) risk of the US doing this, but if you’re a fund thats has Chinese investors or does business with China this clouds the water.

Most assets are also considered collateral. If I have $10 million in gold I can bet that the bank I deal with would consider that an asset against which I can borrow. Does every bank see Bitcoin in that same light?

What about tax treatment – the IRS has made some comments but I’d say nothing is set in stone. Just this month the IRS is talking to Congress about strategy.

A lower risk, but still foreseeable is the risks of regulators such as the SEC or FINRA coming after you for engaging in (for example) an investment used to launder money. Maybe you buy Monero and build up a large position and

Bitcoin SEC Regulation - image courtesy CoinDispatch.com
Bitcoin SEC Regulation – image courtesy CoinDispatch.com

those assets are seized because the FBI thinks they were used in some hacking blackmail scheme. Probable? Probably not. Possible? Sure.

The facts are that until a regulator “green lights” Bitcoin and/or Ethereum its going to be tough for large institutions to trade or invest.

When Might Regulators Weigh In?

I’ve been watching the SEC’s ruling on the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF launch. Its taken years for a ruling, and earlier this year it was initially rejected. However in April the SEC decided to take another look. I think its a bit underestimated the impact that approval would have to the price of Bitcoin. This would give not only a regulatory stamp of approval, but paves the way towards clearing and settlement of Bitcoin at an institutional level.

Clearing and Settlement is a Major Problem

Take stock or ETF trading as an example. When funds (or anyone as a generalization) trade publicly listed stock that stock clears through a central clearing house called the DTC. If I am a hedge fund and have my assets at say, Goldman Sachs (your “prime broker”), I can trade stock with JP Morgan. JPM sends the stock to my account at Goldman through the DTC. Its a pretty seamless process and universal to US stock trading.

Now, lets say I’m a hedge fund and I want to buy $1 million Bitcoin. Buying is easy enough – you go to one of the exchanges, wire money and buy your Bitcoin. The problem is there is no way to get your Bitcoin back to your prime broker. No, a wallet even with vaulted cold storage wouldn’t work. The risks associated with that are high, but the mechanics of trading in and out are a huge hindrance. If the fund needs to immediately raise assets by selling Bitcoin they need to have immediate access to those coins. While yes, you can work out the mechanics if you are a small fund or “crypto” is your dedicated business. But for large institutions who want to simply invest in crypto this is a major hindrance.

How Could Clearing Change?

One possible way is for clearing houses/prime brokers like Goldman or Morgan Stanley to have some type of central clearing wallet. Linked to that wallet would be “sub-wallets” for each fund that owns Bitcoin. Therefore if I go to Gemini Exchange and buy 1000 Bitcoin, I tell Gemini to send that Bitcoin to Morgan Stanley on my behalf. Morgan Stanley then has custody and can allocate the Bitcoin to my funds sub-wallet. This “sub-wallet” concept seems to peripherally exist and I’d imagine banks could pay someone to hash it out rather quickly.

If the Bitcoin ETF launched this would circumvent all of this, because you could just buy the ETF and it would clear via the DTC like all other stocks and ETFs. (Yes, I am aware the GBTC exists, but the premium on that product is absurd). To this point I think this clearing/custodial aspect is probably one of the problems the SEC is having with the product.

In the End

I’m confident these issues will be worked out. The fact that they haven’t yet makes (in my opinion) Bitcoin and Ethereum such an interesting investment at the moment. The door is currently cracked open to big investors, but eventually we could see a real flood of assets.