In 2013, I posed a question that seemed out of character (many also said that it was “irresponsible”) for a financial journalist. The question was “Do Bitcoins Belong in Your Retirement Account?“
I asked this question based not entirely on speculation, but with an eye on prudent asset-allocation strategies. It was my belief at the time that since bitcoins had a dollar-denominated value and were trading on worldwide exchanges, they could be considered an investable asset.
I also believed that if I was to invest in something so speculative, they could be considered as appropriate for the alternative investment sleeve of my portfolio. After all, advisors were (and still are) advising clients to have a small portion of their portfolio (typically around 10%) invested into “non-correlated” assets such as gold, real estate or hedge funds to protect in order to manage the risk of your portfolio.
At the time, I made the case that bitcoins could be considered an alternative investment, and as a writer focused on retirement, I took the added step of trying to find an investment that would be suited for my retirement account. You can read the columns here about this journey, but suffice it to say that I was able to invest into something called the Bitcoin Investment Trust (BIT), which was initially only for accredited investors and required me to hold the investment (without the ability to sell it) for one year.
In 2014, six months after making a $25,000 SEP contribution into the BIT, I wrote of how I lost one-half of my investment due to the drop in the price of bitcoins. I invite you to read the comments to that column because I don’t believe that any writer was ever called “stupid” or an “idiot” so frequently. To all of those who commented and showed me such love, I must say that I appreciate it because at least you read the column, so thanks!
At the time, rather than mulling over my situation of losing money, I looked at the glass-half-full” perspective that there were actually good things happening regarding bitcoin and I decided that even though prudent investment rules would say “sell,” I felt that there were huge opportunities around bitcoin, so I decided to stay the course. Plus, I was unable to sell as the BIT investment required me to hold it for one year.
At the end of 2015, things were different. The BIT had become GBTC, which is an investment that can now be bought and sold by any investor. It had transformed (by design) into the first investment that an investor can actually participate in the ups and downs related to the bitcoin-price fluctuations without having to buy bitcoin directly from an exchange, such as Coinbase.
In a column I wrote of how GBTC had increased over 100% since my last article detailing my 50% loss in my retirement investment. At the time, I was making a profit in this investment and at the end of 2015, bitcoin was valued over $400, and GBTC was trading at $63 a share.
It should be noted that the net asset value (NAV) of GBTC is based on one-tenth the value of a bitcoin. If bitcoin was $400 and GBTC was trading at $63, it’s trading at a premium to its underlying value. This clearly shows how there’s an interest on the part of investors to participate in bitcoin through these types of investments.
Six months into 2016, I’m reporting back to you that, as of this writing, bitcoin is over $700 and GBTC is trading over $100 a share. It has clearly been the best investment in my retirement account.
Do I wish that I bought more? I based my initial investment on an allocation as an alternative investment in my portfolio and thus a smaller position that my equity holdings, so I’m content that these returns came within the context of, what I consider was based on a prudent asset-allocation strategy.
Time to take them seriously
At this point, the time has come to finally declare that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies should be considered investment options for investors.
Chris Burniske of ARK Investment Management, and Adam White of Coinbaserecently wrote a white paper that takes my view of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as alternative investments a step further by declaring that they should be considered their own asset class.
If you’re unsure of what I mean by other cryptocurrencies, the reality is that although bitcoin is the dominant digital currency (with a market cap of over $10 billion currently), it’s not the only one. ETHER is another cryptocurrency from Ethereum that has surged from around one dollar in late 2015 to a current price of over $16, having been higher but running into some problems of late. Ethereum has been considered a competitor and complement to bitcoin, and its relevance is such that the largest crowdfunded investment, The DAO was funded with over $150 million of ETHER.
Although you can buy bitcoin and ETHER on an exchange such as Coinbase and the GDAX, you’d have to venture into the many small cryptocurrency exchanges out there to gain access to other currencies such as DASH, LiteCoin, or even TrumpCoin. The truth is that it’s not easy for the average investor to participate in these assets, and you need be aware of current regulatory issues, and that’s why a company called Lawnmower is working on make investing in portfolios of these cryptocurrencies simpler and available to investors.
However, now is the time for investors and advisors to get their heads out of the sand and recognize that not only should these types of vehicles be considered as investment options, but that it’s now time to also start paying attention to blockchain-related activities that many current public companies are involved in.
Blockchain is the underlying technology for bitcoin, and it’s been recognized as a powerful and efficient model for financial companies to pursue. If you’re not interested in investing in cryptocurrencies and have been following recent activities of companies such as Chase and IBM in their activities related to incorporating blockchain technology into their current systems, that may also be a way that you can also invest in this new technology of bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Find companies that are making a commitment to blockchain technologies and invest directly in them. I’d venture to say that you’ll probably see an ETF around that at some time in the near future.
What I’ve come to realize through this investment journey is that we live in a time of rapid changes and as investors, we need to pay attention to those disrupting developments out there to identify potential investment options. Many people are likening the opportunities around blockchain and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, to where the internet was many years ago. Only history will bear that out. But if investors only stay tied to the status quo investment options that we’ve been lulled into for years, and ignore the new technologies and disruptors out there, you’ll miss some huge investment opportunities.
Do your own research. Get familiar with what’s going on around bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies. This is not only true of investors, but of advisors and wealth-management firms as well. For clients will soon recognize that if their advisor is not discussing these options with them or is only redirecting them back into the “same old” investment options, they may come to the conclusion that it may be time to find a new advisor or do more on their own.
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