BlackRock’s entry reflects a change in institutional outlook on crypto

On Jan. 20, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with over $8.7 trillion assets under management, appeared to have given the green light to two of its associated funds, BlackRock Global Allocation Fund Inc. and BlackRock Funds, to invest in Bitcoin futures. 

In this regard, the prospectus documents filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission suggest that BlackRock is looking to dabble in Bitcoin (BTC), especially as the first ever cryptocurrency has been added to the company’s lists of derivative products cleared for use.

Furthermore, over the last few months, the company’s executive brass had spoken positively about Bitcoin, alluding to the fact that in the near future, a number of institutions may look toward digital assets to expand their list of financial offerings.

For example, in an interview last November, Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of BlackRock, said that Bitcoin has the potential to “take the place of gold to a large extent.” A somewhat similar sentiment was echoed by the company’s CEO, Larry Fink, who told the media that Bitcoin has caught the attention of the masses and has the potential to possibly evolve into a global market of its own.

Lastly, it’s also worth remembering that exactly one month ago, BlackRock posted a job advert seeking a qualified individual for the role of vice president, blockchain lead for its New York office. According to the post, the role required applicants to be able to devise and set in motion various strategies that can help “drive demand for the firm’s investments and technology offerings.”

What does BlackRock’s entry mean for the market?

BlackRock investing in Bitcoin futures is a significant step forward for the global crypto ecosystem, as it brings tremendous credibility to Bitcoin as a new asset class. Jason Lau, chief operating officer of cryptocurrency exchange OKCoin, told Cointelegraph that this move will set the stage for other asset managers to follow since most traditional asset managers are typically “consensus followers,” adding:

“With BlackRock’s announcement, other asset managers are going to be able to point to BlackRock’s work in convincing their investment committees and the client investment boards about the potential and maturity of BTC and the crypto ecosystem.”

Currently, CME futures and investments trust shares issued by Grayscale and Bitwise are two of the primary vehicles for institutions to get involved with crypto. However, due to this severe limitation, there have been large premiums from trusts versus the underlying price of BTC. For example, Lau stated that during the recent BTC price appreciation in December, Grayscale had a 40% premium on Bitcoin’s underlying value.

Kyle Samani, a managing partner at Multicoin Capital — a thesis-driven investment firm — told Cointelegraph that BlackRock’s entry is a big step forward for the entire industry. He believes that by enabling some of its funds to go long on BTC, it will allow more investors to join the space.

Is BlackRock late to the party?

While some are rejoicing at the news of BlackRock making its way into the crypto market, Maksim Balashevich, founder and CEO of Santiment — a market intelligence platform for cryptocurrencies — told Cointelegraph that from a purely “behavior analyses” standpoint, it’s not just the big headlines that should be considered.

Instead, the reaction of the masses, which, more often than not, is the single most crucial factor that determines market price action, could be more decisive. He added: “BlackRock’s entry is no special event but just yet another ‘latecomer’ from ‘big money’ funds. The move won’t have any implications except further professionalizing, increasing the liquidity of the market.”

When asked about the impact BlackRock’s entry may have on Bitcoin’s potential value stabilization, Balashevich pointed out that despite these “big moves,” crypto volatility is here to stay and that many more ups and downs will happen in the coming months. “Players like BlackRock are sharks playing against each other,” he said.

Lastly, on the subject of whether the point of saturation in terms of institutional entry into this space is getting closer, he believes that the industry is indeed “getting very close to the top” and that “there aren’t too many big players left to enter the market.”

Could an SEC-approved Bitcoin ETF be on the horizon?

Historically, the SEC has rejected a number of ETF proposals — such as those submitted by Phoenix Wilshire, Gemini, etc. — sighting price manipulation, lack of liquidity and price indexing sources as key concerns. However, with BlackRock making inroads into this space, it seems as though the stage may finally be set for an ETF being approved sometime in 2021, as Lau pointed out:

“An increasing number of large reputable financial firms a la BlackRock, Guggenheim, SkyBridge, etc. are entering the crypto space and lending their sign of approval. This may give the regulatory body more confidence in the maturation of the crypto market and the need for an ETF to give further access to crypto.”

He pointed out that it will be extremely interesting to see if BlackRock’s ETF business, iShares, decides to become the first major mover to recognize this fast-opening window of opportunity and file for an ETF itself. Recently, investment management firm VanEck has once again submitted an application with the SEC to create a new Bitcoin ETF. This move was followed by another similar application submitted by Valkyrie Investments. So the ETF race is back on following a brief period of calm.

Also, with Bitcoin recently scaling past the $42,000 threshold, it appears as though a number of Wall Street institutions are quickly warming up to the crypto industry, as is highlighted by the fact that MassMutual recently became the latest big-name player from the realm of traditional finance to acquire $100+ million worth of BTC.

Not only that, a number of high-profile investors such as Paul Tudor Jones and Stanley Druckenmiller have cozied up to this relatively new asset class in recent times and from the corporate domain, companies such as Square and PayPal have purchased Bitcoin.

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