Could cryptocurrencies steal gold's crown?  

In mid-October, the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy exchange-traded fund (ETF) commenced trading under the ticker (BITO). This represented the first U.S. asset giving exposure to bitcoin-pegged futures contracts (not spot prices). Despite not receiving formal approval from the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC), the NYSE Arca certified its approval for listing, allowing investors to trade the BITO ETF under federal law without SEC intervention. Consequently, the new ETF allows for trading through regular investment accounts, circumventing the need to invest through cryptocurrency exchanges—which tend to have security issues and are relatively less accessible for traditional investment groups. On its first day of trading, the ETF raked in roughly USD 550 million—one of the largest opening days on record for an ETF—and reached over USD 1 billion in volume of transactions. Moreover, open interest—a dial used to determine market sentiment and strength behind price trends—in bitcoin has surged in recent weeks.  


While the launch of BITO has allowed traditional institutional investors an easy way into crypto and could promote speculative trading, some market analysts see the ETF as a new investment vehicle for hedging inflation, which has surged globally in recent months on loose monetary policy from the Fed, ongoing supply bottlenecks and recovering activity. This is predominately due to the lack of sensitivity of gold—the classic inflation hedge—to rising price pressures, which is causing investors to look for alternatives. Moreover, Bitcoin is far from the only game in town: The coin’s dominance over the crypto market has fallen from 70% to 40% as of mid-October, as other crypto assets, including ‘stablecoins’ and CBDCs, gain popularity.  


Looking ahead, our panel of analysts sees U.S. inflation overshooting the Fed’s 2.0% average inflation target until at least 2026. As such, concerns over inflation could continue to push more investors into crypto asset classes in the years ahead. Moreover, the Federal Reserve will hold its next monetary policy meeting in early November, and markets are anticipating a concrete timeline on QE tapering—a key decision that could alter the market’s views on the likely path of inflation. How BITO and other crypto assets react to the news will show to what extent they currently act as useful bellwethers of inflation expectations. That said, gold prices are seen remaining elevated in the years ahead, despite some safe-haven demand moving into cryptocurrencies. 

Insights from Our Analyst Network

Commenting on the new ETF’s role in the market today, analysts at JPMorgan noted: 

“In all, by itself the launch of BITO is unlikely to trigger a new phase of significantly more fresh capital entering bitcoin. Instead, we believe the perception of bitcoin as a better inflation hedge than gold is the main reason for the current upswing, triggering a shift away from gold ETFs into bitcoin funds since September. This flow shift remains intact supporting a bullish outlook for bitcoin into year-end.” 

Reflecting on G7 policymakers and digital currencies more broadly further down the road, Teunis Brosens, digital finance and regulation economist at ING, said:

“While ‘stablecoins’ today are operating more or less in a regulatory vacuum, policymakers are actively working to change that. The European Commission has launched proposals for ‘stablecoin’ regulation as part of itsDigital Finance package. Once in force, there is little that stands in the way of a euro-Diem launch from a regulatory perspective. While it remains unclear when EUpolicymakers will conclude negotiations and ‘stablecoin’ and other crypto-asset regulationcan enter into force, it is very likely to be a few years before 2026, the currently foreseen earliest digital euro launch year.” 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of FocusEconomics S.L.U. Views, forecasts or estimates are as of the date of the publication and are subject to change without notice. This report may provide addresses of, or contain hyperlinks to, other internet websites. FocusEconomics S.L.U. takes no responsibility for the contents of third party internet websites.

Author: Steven Burke, Economist

Date: October 27, 2021

Twitter @FocusEconomics

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