Bitcoin ETFs test investor commitment to gold-backed paper

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(Reuters) – A surge of interest in bitcoin exchange-traded funds is prompting some investors to swap out holdings in gold-backed ETFs, although analysts and fund managers said they are unlikely to challenge bullion longer term.

Spot bitcoin ETFs could offer investors looking to hedge against inflation an alternative to gold. ETFs track an index, commodities, bonds or a basket of assets like an index fund.

And January’s U.S. regulatory green light for ETFs that track the price of the world’s largest digital asset has set the ETF market – worth trillions of dollars – up for further gains.

The advent of ETFs in gold in the early 2000s added a major pillar of support to the market by creating new demand, causing prices to soar in subsequent years.

“We anticipate that bitcoin could substitute for gold in some investor portfolios. It may serve a similar role as a hedge against global disorder and financial system dysfunction,” said Jason Benowitz, senior portfolio manager at CI Roosevelt.

Since the Jan. 10 U.S. approval, two of the biggest new spot bitcoin ETFs, iShares Bitcoin Trust and Fidelity Wise Origin Bitcoin Fund, had accumulated $5.45 billion and $4.13 billion in assets respectively as of Feb. 14, LSEG Lipper data shows.

Meanwhile, the largest gold-backed ETF, New York’s SPDR Gold Trust, saw outflows of $768.9 million over the same period, while the iShares Gold Trust had outflows of $284.6 million.

NEW HAVEN?

The launch of the new products comes against a rally in the prices of crypto tokens. Bitcoin surged more than 150% in 2023, while gold climbed a far more modest 13%.

“Overall, the crypto industry is maturing and … with more regulatory approval and a new legitimized product, it’s a growing threat to older havens like gold in some regions,” Nicky Shiels, head of metals strategy at MKS PAMP SA said in a note.

Even so, some fund managers and analysts urged caution against migrating from gold ETFs, citing bitcoin’s volatility.

“Gold has been valued for thousands of years, while bitcoin is in its infancy,” said Bryan Armour, an ETF analyst at Morningstar.

Gold is typically seen as a safe place to park money in times political or economic uncertainty, such as a rapid rise in inflation.

“Given that gold doesn’t pay dividends like many stocks, its more useful for wealth preservation than wealth generation,” said Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Bitcoin speculators have vastly different aims and appear willing to gamble on rapid price rises in a search for hot returns, which are by no means guaranteed,” Streeter added.

(Reporting by Ashitha Shivaprasad and Manya Saini in Bengaluru; Editing by Arpan Varghese, Veronica Brown and Alexander Smith)

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