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New Blockchain ETFs Investing in Pick and Axe, Not Gold

Two new ETFs, focused on Blockchain, filed with the SEC, look to give investors exposure to firms building or using the technology.

With the price of cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, reaching new highs and attracting most of investor attention, what is missed is the “distributed ledger” technology—called blockchain—that makes bitcoin possible. Bitcoin is an interesting idea, observers say, but it’s the underlying technology that is the real disruptor, and will change how financial transactions take place.

Two separate companies filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week to launch new exchange traded funds tracking blockchain. And rather than being short-term bets on the movement of the new currencies, these funds will take “a pick and axe” approach; they liken it to investing in mining equipment or Levi’s jeans during the gold rush. They’ll be investing in the companies both developing the technology and the companies that are positioned to improve their financial performance by adopting it.

“There was high risk in being a gold miner back then,” said Christian Magoon, founder and CEO of Amplify ETFs, which filed for the Amplify Blockchain Leaders ETF, an actively managed fund. “The better business was selling Levi’s jeans and picks and axes to the miners.”

“We’re not making the claim that crypto is the next big thing; what we’re saying is that this technology that’s beneath the bitcoin infrastructure is the next big thing,” said Eric Ervin, CEO of Reality Shares, which also filed for the Reality Shares Nasdaq Blockchain Economy.

Ervin, a former advisor at Morgan Stanley, said while blockchain now is associated only with cryptocurrencies, whose valuations are up and down, blockchain has broader applications. Advisors should look at this index as a long-term investment that will benefit from an emerging technology that takes away a lot of the friction in financial transactions—from security, to recordkeeping, to structural inefficiencies. “The common joke is, ‘You got a problem? Put a blockchain on it,’” Ervin said. “It can solve almost every potential problem that we might think of because it’s so powerful.”

“We’re really bullish on the space and the technology and how we think it’s going to change and impact a lot of lives, almost like the Internet did,” he added. “This is like 1994, where we’re looking forward and we’re seeing TCP/IP getting developed, and email ... we don’t even fully grasp just how big this is going to be. That’s where we think blockchain is.”

The Reality Shares index will invest in companies either implementing, using or developing blockchain technology in their business, and will mostly consist of technology and financial companies. Some possible constituents include IBM, Alibaba, and Hive, a crypto mining and exchange company. It may also include consulting firms such as Anderson Consulting, which is helping big banks and institutions to innovate using the technology.

To determine which companies will go into the index, each blockchain company will be given a blockchain score, based on such things as patent applications and economic impact. The companies will then be ranked based on their score, and the 50 to 100 companies with the highest scores will be in the index.

Although Magoon couldn’t talk about specific holdings, he said the majority of the fund—around 80 percent—will invest in companies receiving revenue from blockchain, companies that have been investing the most into blockchain initiatives and companies engaged in multiple research consortiums around blockchain.

The other 20 percent or so will invest in blockchain applications, including but not limited to digital commodities, through exchange listed products. 

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