In her latest anti-crypto opinion piece for the Financial Times, columnist Jemima Kelly provides a critical analysis of the recent developments in the Bitcoin landscape, particularly focusing on its market recovery, the approval of spot Bitcoin ETFs by the U.S. SEC, and the broader implications for the cryptocurrency’s legitimacy.

Here are the key points from Kelly’s opinion piece:

  • Market Recovery and ETF Approval
    • Kelly notes the significant recovery in crypto prices, with the market valuation roughly doubling over the past twelve months. This recovery comes after a tumultuous period in late 2022 when the market tanked and many crypto companies collapsed.
    • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) approval of 11 spot Bitcoin ETFs is highlighted as a pivotal moment. These ETFs allow investors to gain exposure to Bitcoin through regulated products, a development that some, including BlackRock’s Larry Fink, view as legitimizing Bitcoin as an asset class.
  • Skepticism Despite Developments
    • Despite these developments, Kelly maintains a skeptical stance. She questions whether the approval of spot Bitcoin ETFs truly marks a game-changer for Bitcoin and challenges the notion that crypto has now become a legitimate asset class.
    • She references comments from industry figures like Michael Saylor and Brad Garlinghouse, who have lauded the SEC’s approval as a monumental development for crypto. However, Kelly suggests that the reality is more mundane, with crypto transitioning from a rebellious alternative to a tool for portfolio diversification.
  • SEC’s Stance and Gensler’s Remarks
    • Kelly points out that the SEC’s approval of Bitcoin ETFs is not an endorsement of Bitcoin or crypto more broadly. She cites SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s statement that Bitcoin is a speculative and volatile asset used for illicit activities, emphasizing that the commission’s decision was the result of a court ruling rather than a change in stance.
  • Comparison with Other ETFs
    • The article compares the spot Bitcoin ETFs with other unconventional ETFs approved by the SEC, such as the “God Bless America” ETF and the “Inverse Cramer” ETF, to illustrate the diverse and sometimes controversial nature of ETF offerings.
  • Continued Criticism of Crypto
    • Kelly continues to criticize the crypto sector, highlighting its speculative nature and the absurdities that still exist within the space, such as fraudulent schemes. She concludes by reaffirming her commitment to critiquing the crypto industry, despite its recent strides towards mainstream acceptance.

Vanguard, a leading American investment management company renowned for its low-cost mutual funds and ETFs, has taken a firm stance against integrating cryptocurrency-related products, such as Bitcoin ETFs, into its portfolio. Recently, Janel Jackson, Global Head of ETF Capital Markets and Broker & Index Relations, and Andrew Kadjeski, Head of Brokerage & Investments, articulated the rationale behind this decision.

On January 24, in an article on the Vanguard website, Jackson and Kadjeski explained why Vanguard is steering clear of offering any crypto-related investment products. Jackson confirmed that Vanguard has no plans to launch a Bitcoin ETF or similar products, citing the company’s stringent product launch process that focuses on lasting investment merit and meeting client needs. Despite the increasing buzz around Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, Vanguard does not view them as suitable for long-term investment portfolios.

While Vanguard recognizes the potential of blockchain technology to enhance the efficiency of capital markets, this interest does not extend to cryptocurrencies. The firm is actively exploring blockchain applications in areas other than crypto. Jackson categorizes cryptocurrencies more as speculative ventures than legitimate investments, noting their lack of inherent economic value or cash flow, which can destabilize portfolios. This perspective is supported by a Morningstar article that highlights the increased risk profile associated with even a modest allocation to crypto in traditional portfolios.

Kadjeski pointed out the extreme volatility of Bitcoin, with significant price swings being a common occurrence in the crypto market. This volatility can entice investors to engage in frequent trading, which is contrary to Vanguard’s philosophy of promoting saving and long-term investing. Vanguard’s history of avoiding fleeting investment trends, like internet funds in the late 1990s, demonstrates its focus on long-term investor needs, a strategy that has proven beneficial for their clients over time.

The firm’s brokerage platform reflects this cautious approach, having previously removed access to high-risk financial instruments like leveraged and inverse funds, ETFs, and most over-the-counter stocks. The decision to exclude crypto-related products aligns with Vanguard’s mission statement and investment philosophy, which prioritizes the long-term success of investors. Although this approach may not be universally popular, Vanguard’s leaders remain committed to their principles, aiming to offer investors the best chance for investment success.

Recently, during an interview with CNBC at Davos 2024, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon delivered a vehement critique of the flagship cryptocurrency. Dimon, known for his skepticism, focused on the distinction between blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. He acknowledged the value of blockchain technology, particularly for its utility in supporting smart contracts and the potential for real-world asset tokenization. However, he maintained a critical stance on cryptocurrencies, especially those he perceives as lacking intrinsic value and primarily used for speculation or illicit purposes.

Dimon expressed his disinterest in non-productive assets, which, in his view, include both gold and Bitcoin. He categorized cryptocurrencies into two groups: one that supports smart contracts and can be used for practical applications, and the other, including Bitcoin, which he sees as speculative and potentially used for illicit activities. He raised concerns about the future of Bitcoin, speculating on the uncertainty that might ensue once the cap of 21 million bitcoins is reached. He humorously suggested that Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator, might reappear at that point, leading to unforeseen consequences for the cryptocurrency.

Despite his criticisms, Dimon acknowledged that people are free to engage with Bitcoin as they choose, at least for the time being. However, he advised caution and personally recommended avoiding it. He also warned that if Bitcoin’s association with nefarious activities isn’t addressed, it might prompt the U.S. government to consider banning the cryptocurrency. This stance reflects Dimon’s cautious approach to the rapidly evolving and often contentious world of cryptocurrencies.

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