How to think about bitcoin ETFs and your portfolio

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This was going to be a column about whether you should buy a spot bitcoin ETF.

It’s still going to be that. But first we have to dispense with the only-in-2020s madness that transpired around the products’ approval.

As you may know by now if you’ve been following news about the hotly anticipated spot bitcoin ETFs, yesterday afternoon the official Securities and Exchange account on X (fka Twitter) posted that the products had been approved. That tweet was followed, some 15 minutes later, by a post from SEC Chair Gary Gensler saying that the other account had been compromised and the approval had not, in fact, happened. Bitcoin prices gyrated wildly between these two statements, first surging and then plunging.

That swing was mirrored on the face of our guest on live video, Samir Kerbage, chief investment officer of Hashdex, one of the ETF issuers looking to get the thumbs-up from the SEC. Kerbage’s broad smile turned to a more rueful grin as the situation unfolded.

It was an unfortunate situation that gives fodder to the SEC haters within the crypto community. (Anthony Scaramucci posted, without evidence, “I think Gensler is lying.”)

It also does no favors, though, for those trying to legitimize and broaden the appeal for bitcoin. Even if it was a mistake on the part of the SEC, even if it was a hack of some kind — if you’re a retail investor, is this just another sign of the circus that surrounds cryptocurrency?

Meanwhile, if all still goes to plan, the ETFs could still be approved later today and begin trading tomorrow, as reported by my colleague David Hollerith.

So should you buy it?

So forget about the roller coaster for a moment. Let’s get to the real question for investors: Should you actually buy one (or more) of these things?

I asked a handful of strategists and traders, both bitcoin fans and not, and came up with some useful guidelines for retail investors.

The first question is whether you’re interested in bitcoin as an underlying asset: “If you weren’t sold on BTC as a portfolio asset yesterday, an ETF launch shouldn’t make a difference,” points out Dave Nadig, financial futurist at VettaFi.

Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers, echoes that sentiment and harkens back to earlier, FOMO-driven periods for both crypto and other assets.

“If your primary motivation is simply that everyone is talking about it, that’s a terrible reason. Sure, one can sometimes make money simply by following the herd in the short term, but that strategy rarely works longer term.” (Sosnick will appear on Yahoo Finance Live in the 10 a.m. ET hour today).

Bitcoin bull Tom Lee of Fundstrat has long touted the appeal of the cryptocurrency. He also likes the ETF wrapper for retail investors: “A spot Bitcoin ETF is one of the easiest ways for an investor to get exposure to Bitcoin. And easier than buying it on a crypto exchange,” he said in an email. That said, he cautions that bitcoin remains “hyper volatile,” whether one invests via an ETF or in the underlying crypto.

Next is the question of how much of your portfolio to allocate to bitcoin. Lee says 2%. Nadig says “a lot of folks settle on” the 1% to 3% range.

Matt Tuttle of Tuttle Capital Management, an “ETF guy” who has filed for approval for a 2x leveraged bitcoin ETF, puts the number a little higher. “I would look at bitcoin the same way you look at other ‘alternative’ investments, so for most that’s 5-10%,” he said.

And Sosnick has a simple rule of thumb: “No more than you can afford to lose without regret.”

Finally, which product or products should investors buy?

“All things being equal, cheaper is better,” Tuttle said, a sentiment widely shared. The strategists also said criteria like liquidity and who is custodian of the underlying assets could be important (for most of the ETFs, that’s Coinbase).

The SEC itself offered advice in an earlier essay yesterday: “If you do choose to purchase digital currencies or tokens, recognize that they are new. There may be significant risk involved in putting your money into something that hasn’t been around very long. A good rule of thumb when investing in a new product is to only invest money that you are willing to lose, so that it’s not financially devastating if the investment doesn’t pan out,” wrote Lori Schock, the agency’s director of Investor Education and Advocacy.

That message, at least, seemed legit.

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