The first bitcoin-linked exchange-traded fund began trading on Tuesday.
After months of applications filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission by various ETF providers, the ProShares futures-based bitcoin ETF made its market debut on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “BITO.”
Following the announcement on Friday that the SEC would allow such an ETF, the price of bitcoin surged past $62,000, but some crypto experts are still skeptical of the SEC’s decision to approve a futures-based bitcoin ETF.
“This is not something for retail investors to buy, in my opinion. There’s plenty of outlets to buy bitcoin directly,” Tyrone Ross, CEO of Onramp Invest, which provides crypto asset management technology for financial advisors, tells CNBC Make It.
“Buying a futures ETF, where the average retail investor does not understand ETFs or futures, which are complicated, is not the best product for retail investors.”
Here’s what to understand before buying a futures-based bitcoin ETF, Ross says.
“I think the main thing to understand is you’re not buying actual bitcoin,” Ross says.
A bitcoin futures ETF tracks contracts that speculate on the future price of the digital asset, rather than the current or “spot price” of the cryptocurrency itself. As a result, the prices of the ETF and bitcoin won’t match.
That means the price of a futures-based bitcoin ETF could trade at a premium during a bull market or at a discount during a bear market.
And with this type of ETF, “You’re getting exposure to the futures market. There’s a whole bunch of nuance,” Ross says.
Futures market phenomena, like when the manager has to roll out of an expiring contract and into the current contract, will impact this fund’s ability to effectively track bitcoin’s actual price and could raise trading costs for the fund.
That’s why “the futures market is very obtuse for the average investor,” Ross says. But, overall, “I think the main thing to understand is, you’re not buying bitcoin.”
Ross recommends researching what futures contracts are and understanding how each operates before buying a futures-based ETF.
Though Ross says that the introduction of a futures-based bitcoin ETF is good for the overall bitcoin and crypto market, he warns that it may not benefit retail investors individually.
“An ETF is going to drive more of that institutional money in, but they’re going to make a ton of money,” Ross says. “It does help the liquidity of the market, but what about the retail investor? We’re supposed to help those folks, [and that’s] not necessarily what is happening here.”
Other financial experts, along with some in the crypto community, agree with Ross. Some argue that the intermediaries involved in a potential ETF investment, including hedge funds and providers, would benefit more than retail investors, especially if the ETF trades at a premium during bull markets.
“Direct exposure is the best way for a new investor” to get into bitcoin, Ross says. The futures-based bitcoin ETF is “just a product to help [hedge funds and other middlemen] make more money, and folks are going to buy without understanding.”
However, a futures-based bitcoin ETF could be helpful for those unsure of how to safely buy bitcoin, or those who prefer to not have the responsibility of protecting and securing their bitcoin wallet. The price of bitcoin often swings as well, so an investor buying the cryptocurrency directly would have to be able to stomach the volatility.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to predict future performance of any asset.