A highlight from 1239. Bitcoin ETF Approved By October? Bloomberg Intelligence INTERVIEW
All right, so today we're going to dive into some interesting stuff. I think you guys are going to like it. It'll be breaking down some of the ETF news that, of course, we heard last week and, of course, some of the interesting aspects around what was going on with BlackRock. We'll break all that down today. I think you guys are going to love it. My name is Paul Baron. Welcome back into Tech Path. Joining me today is Eric Balshunis, who is a senior ETF analyst over at Bloomberg Intelligence. Great to have you on the show. Great to be here. Thank you. Hey, Eric. So a couple of things I wanted to kind of touch on. Obviously, some of the things that everybody was looking at last week was, of course, the delays. The letters started coming in on Friday. We saw all that happening. There was a little bit of a slowness of the BlackRock news. Just your opinion. Why do you feel like that was happening in the way that it was happening? Yeah. I don't understand because BlackRock was up after some other people, or before them, rather. And so it didn't appear as though the delays were chronologically rate -based. It didn't appear as though the delays were based on size. There was no rhyme or reason. It seemed random. And BlackRock came a little later. And the weird thing is, on the site where they consolidate all of them, BlackRock was never added. Yet, on a different place, they did delay BlackRock. So I've long equated what I'm doing here to Jim Garrison, played by Kevin Costner in the movie JFK. There's all these things that could be something, like did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? And in the movie, he uncovers all this, some legit, some not legit, circumstantial evidence that there was multiple shooters and a conspiracy. So this reminds me of one of those things that probably means nothing in terms of that. That said, just the fact that BlackRock filed is big, and that does mean something. And obviously we can get into that, but certainly BlackRock getting delayed and Fidelity, it shows that they just delayed them all. For a minute there, there was a thought that would delay some of the smaller ones and just approve BlackRock and or Fidelity. But again, we had thought all along this was going to be delayed, because this lawsuit happened like two days before. So it was not a surprise. If they're going to put them out, I think they need more time to work with the issuers and develop some kind of a game plan and make sure all of the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted. So that would not happen in two days. So no biggie. All right. So you mentioned, obviously, the fact that BlackRock is filing in the first place. That's really the huge news here. When you look at BlackRock's position of filing, along with other major proponents, we'll just use there Fidelity as well. And you look at the likelihood with this, obviously, they have a very low ratio of losses when it comes to our non -confirmed ETFs that they've filed. What would make, first of all, what would make BlackRock to have this much confidence to go ahead in this market, the way that this market has been evolving with Chair Gensler and everything that's been happening with the SEC, it's not, it doesn't feel like it's a slam dunk. Why would BlackRock go out on a limb? Yeah. So we have a couple of theories. The best, I mean, BlackRock is a publicly traded company. They're looking to make money. Larry Fink has to appeal to his board that he's doing new things. And it does feel like BlackRock was full on into ESG. That kind of has died a bit. And it seems like this might be taking its place in terms of something BlackRock can do to grow its business, because you cannot make money battling Vanguard in terms of selling like cheap beta ETFs, because even at three basis points on $100 billion, it's not a ton of money and it's not a high growth area. It's growth for assets, but not necessarily for revenue. So we think they're obviously motivated by having a new area they can launch in. Vanguard will probably never launch a Bitcoin ETF, so they're worried about Vanguard there. They could charge a decent fee and they can make it have a new revenue stream. So I think that's largely their motivation. I also think Larry Fink, in my opinion, has heard some back channel that he thinks the U .S. is losing the sort of global battle to be a leader in the crypto space. And I think that frustrates him to a degree. So I think those are two reasons. Back to the revenue, though, think about this gold ETF GLD was launched in 2004, I believe. To this day, it's still the third highest revenue generating ETF, even though there's many cheaper ones. And the reason is, if you could be the big one that has all the liquidity or a lot of it, that gives you pricing power. You don't ever really need to lower your fee because there's just so many investors who just prize liquidity above all else. So we think BlackRock thinks they have a shot to be the one, the GLD of Bitcoin, and that that's going to be a nice little business for them. And we were talking, if it had the same assets as GLD, it would be, again, top five revenue generating ETF. GBTC, by the way, which isn't even an ETF, if it were, it would make the same money as GLD. So like two, GLD and GBTC are in the top five if you ranked all ETFs by revenue. And so I just think that's their primary motivation. I think they also like, what they tell you publicly is they're in the business of sort of democratizing investing and bringing down frictional costs. And I do believe they believe that and they would do that in this case. That said, I think revenue is definitely a motivator. Yeah, for sure. OK, so a couple of things you mentioned there. One, of course, is Larry Fink's position around ESG. He has been a very strong proponent of sustainable governance throughout the last few years. You know, in his letter to his investors over the past couple of years, that's been a big part of it. Now you move into Bitcoin. Bitcoin often accused as one of the most non -friendly carbon neutral tokens and projects out there. But yet at the same time, you have BlackRock potentially on the lead position here for an ETF. How do they balance that out? I get it that they've kind of backed off the ESG message. But how do you balance that out to the investors? Look, I mean, I'm just going to be frank. A lot of ESG, if you get too moralizing when it comes to ESG, it's tough because guaranteed you do something that makes you a hypocrite. It's just the way it is. So I think they backed off a little. And ESG ETFs haven't really sold that great. Even BlackRock took money out of its own ESG ETF from its models. Let's just face it. All this evidence is pretty strong that the term ESG is under pressure and ESG investing, I think, is also going to face some headwinds for like, what are we really doing here? How does it actually impact anything? It just, you know, I've seen this happen. This trend gets a little ahead of its skis. The media love this story. They really hyped up ESG. It's going to save the world. The millennials are into it. And then, boom, it started underperforming and it got political. And so reality set in and it's now going to be probably relegated to a very niche status in the ETF world. One to two percent market cap of the total. I mean, I look at it just in the sense of, hey, it's a capitalist market. Capitalists are going to do things that capitalists do, and that is find where the market flows. And this is obviously what's happening right now. A couple of things you had mentioned around the potential of this ETF going through. I know your percentage right now with you and James has been climbing. Have you changed your position since last Friday before the holiday in terms of percentage of approval? No. Seventy -five percent factored in the delay on Friday. We assumed that. We'd be shocked if they approved them. That said, we went from 65 percent to 75 after Grayscale. And the reason for that is in our 65 percent, we had a 70 percent chance likelihood that Grayscale would win based on our senior legal analyst. So the fact that they won gave us a little extra juice. The other thing is it was three to oh in terms of how that lawsuit was, the ruling came down. Two of the judges came from Democrats. That's really important because there are political workings here. Gensler has a Democratic boss. He is a Democrat. And if enough Democrats start to just move over on this issue and shift to the middle or to the crypto side, it makes Gensler's position more politically untenable by the minute. And so he could keep moving the goalposts legally, I think, as long as he wants. But it's going to begin to look more and more desperate and he's going to face more backlash. And this is a big deal for us. So we thought it was the decisiveness of the ruling, the language, like everything you said has to go out the window. Your whole reason for denial is vacated. And the fact that two Democrats signed on to that, huge. Then the second part was the media attention. Once every six or seven years, do I see ABC News or CNN have an ETF in the headline? I know this because ETFs are in their own little underground. Every now and then, though, something big happens. And ETFs were all over mainstream news. New York Times, ABC, Washington Post. This also matters because the headlines were like, SEC loses, paves way for spot Bitcoin ETFs. Well, now people are just sort of thinking this is going to happen because the New York Times said it and people on Capitol Hill read this. They don't necessarily read crypto trade publications. mainstreamness So the of the media attention and how they were presenting it also made us think that the pressure would increase. And our senior litigation analyst looked at the legal side and determined the SEC has very little wiggle room. That was his words. So when you add the PR aspect to the legal aspect, that's where we upped it a little bit to 75%. That still leaves 25 % for this theory, which is that Gensler being potentially a stubborn guy and or just truly, truly not feeling this should ever happen, even though, again, the stuff that's come out is way more dangerous, 2x Bitcoin futures, come on. Anyway, what he might do is he might lock into some other reason, like custody. I don't know what the custody is safe, then he might start to look at how custody could delay these further. And he may make that the next denial. Like I said, it's going to look more and more desperate every time they latch on to a new issue, but it's possible. And that's why we leave the 25 % opening for that. I want to jump over and onto the Grayscale side of things. From an analyst position, and you look at Grayscale's current scenario playing out, obviously there's a little bit of lead time here. Maybe they do some changes in the way they submit a spot ETF. What is in the future of Grayscale's potential of getting into the ETF game? So Grayscale is going to be tricky. We have this phrase that Grayscale may win the case and lose the race. I'll make some of those things rhyme if you're a headline writer. But anyway, Grayscale is a private placement trust that was just for accredited investors. We've never seen anything like that just, boom, become an ETF. We've seen mutual funds convert to ETFs. I think one closed -end fund converted to ETF, separate accounts, but I guess it's possible. It's just unprecedented. And given you just embarrassed the SEC, it's possible the SEC says, let's make you refile and get in the back of the line, and we'll prove all the other ones first. So this has been somewhat of our theory all along in why BlackRock filed. BlackRock saw a scenario where, I doubt the SEC told them this. That would be a little, I think that's illegal, but let's just say BlackRock thought of this whole scenario, which is, you could see this is a pretty viable thesis. Hey, let's file, because if the SEC loses to Grayscale, you know they're going to be pissed off at Grayscale pursuing them and embarrassing them. And maybe if we're sitting there waiting, just, oh, hey, by the way, SEC, if you want to use us and our new surveillance sharing agreement that we put in here, which is kind of novel, as an excuse as to like why you never approved Grayscale, and you can make them wait, and you can leave this whole thing with the adults in the room of BlackRock, right, you know we're not going to mess this up. I could see that appealing to the SEC, and I could see BlackRock seeing how that would appeal to the SEC. So you get to save face and kind of enact a little revenge on Grayscale in the process. Now, possibly Grayscale could sue them again for that, I don't know. But I see how that would possibly be one of the reasons BlackRock thought they had a route to approval first. Interesting. Well, I think in that kind of scenario, I mean, it makes sense in the essence of this being such a political landscape as it is right now, because you're right, it's all really kind of a card game right now, especially around the issue of ETFs. I want to get into the potential of the impact on the market. And I remember in a podcast you had mentioned potential here around $20 billion in the first couple of months, $150 billion in the first year or two. When you look at that market, do you feel like that is where this, this I'm assuming with BlackRock leading the way as kind of the premier ETF? Yeah, if you have a BlackRock ETF, okay, that's prime time. I mean, we have a saying on the team that BlackRock and Vanguard ETFs are the new IBM. And what I mean by that is if you're a 65 year old financial advisor and you were a broker 30 years ago, it used to be said, you could never get fired for buying IBM. It's just, it's just too good. It's like all American company. No, none of your clients are going to be like, what did you get me into? Now it's, you can't get fired for buying a BlackRock or Vanguard ETF. It's just, it's too good a deal. It's just too bulletproof. Whereas if you went into some crazy hedge fund and stuff, they make it mad, right? But BlackRock and Vanguard ETFs, solid. So once you put it into a BlackRock ETF, it sort of goes into this, it elevates it, I think, for the financial advisors who are like maybe willing to use as a hedge or an alternative, or they have younger, you know, their, their clients' kids are into it. And they're like, ah, now, now I feel comfortable, safe and willing to do this because I use ETFs in the rest of my portfolio. I trust BlackRock. I certainly don't want to custody it myself. They're going to do it. I feel safe with them. The fee's not that bad. It costs one basis point to trade, to trade. I think that's very powerful. And so when I come up with the 150 billion, here's the math, right? One is that's about how much gold ETFs have. Two is if you take advisors and wealth managers, they have $30 trillion that they run for the rich boomers of America, basically. If only 0 .5 % of that comes over, that is 150 billion. So that's, I think, pretty fair because I think you have some advisors who might allocate 2%, but then some that just find it to be repelling and do nothing. So I think 0 .5 to me seems like a pretty fair number. Even it could be low. That's how I get to the 150 billion over time. And gold is about there. So GBTC has 20 billion. So I think you could, let's just say that moves over instantly. That's where I get to the 28 billion pretty soon because either the people move or it just converts over. And then you get BlackRock Fidelity, you're adding to that. And I think also they'll steal some business from the exchanges, frankly. I think if you're in a crypto exchange and you're charging 30 to 150 basis points per trade, this ETF trading on NYSE at one basis point is going to be appealing. So I also think institutions could get into it, especially the one that becomes very liquid because I wrote a book called The Institutional ETF Toolbox. And institutions don't need ETFs generally. They can get everything on their own in separate accounts for almost cheaper than ETF. And they like it private. They feel like ETF is kind of like the dirty public pool down the street. That said, what the ETF does have is even an institution can't resist this liquidity. And it's also anonymity. So if an institution wants to get short or long crypto quickly, it would use this most liquid Bitcoin ETF as a way to put that trade on. We see that happen with GLD all the time. If you look at GLD or SPY, these are things that institutions can get. But the liquidity in them is great because they can go in there with no contracts, anonymous. They don't move the market and they can just get that into their portfolio quickly. So the most liquid spot Bitcoin ETF, I think, will even draw big fish in. So you add a lot of that together and I think you're looking at that much money. Now, let's say there's another FTX that could delay some of this. But I was pretty impressed at how quickly Bitcoin, how resilient Bitcoin was to FTX. It was in the gutter both PR and price wise for a little bit, but not that long. Like I said, Bitcoin, even though I don't understand every aspect of it, I respect its resiliency. It just keeps coming back. Yeah, it's one of those that has made its way finally into the mainstream. Now, I think a lot of this has been legitimized with companies like BlackRock obviously getting involved. But to your point, before we go on to other ideas around this, because there are other components key here that might make sense for how successful BlackRock might be. I wanted to go to James Saffert's post here, one of your colleagues there. Some of the key dates that, let me zoom in on that, you're going to look at a couple of dates here. You've got iShares coming in on 10 .17. There's quite a few coming up right here in the middle of October and even early October with GlobalX. They've got a refiling, I think, coming in. Anyway, when do you think the next potential timing would be for a lot of these potential ETFs to maybe get a green light, if there was a window here? Yeah, so I've got to be honest, I like October because, I don't know, first of all, it gives the SEC two months to work this out, roughly. October is when the Bitcoin futures ETF launched. We're also going to have a whole slew of Ether futures ETFs in October. As you get closer to Christmas, I think maybe the odds go down a little because the holidays hit. October is just a very vibrant month in general, and you've got a slew of deadlines coming up in October. But I sometimes put the deadlines aside and I think that, because if we're going strictly on deadlines, and they want to punt, punt, punt, the first deadline is ARK in January, final deadline where they have to approve or deny. And I don't know if they want to put ARK out first, and that'd be two months ahead of anybody else. They'd be playing Kingmaker. And I think after Bitto, they let Bitto out first like a week before Valkyrie, and Bitto has 95 % of all the volume assets. So I don't think they want to play Kingmaker here. So my guess is they're going to scrap the timeline and we're going to wake up one day and hear probably going to be a scoop or from Coindesk Wall Street Journal or something, or Bloomberg hopefully, that the SEC has decided to say okay to these and they're going to work it out. They'll launch in two weeks. That's my gut. I just don't know if they punt in October and they keep punting and they get to January and they actually deny ARK. I don't know. That makes it feel like just every other denial that's ever existed. So I don't know. I'm leaning towards we're just going to wake up one morning and we're good. I could be wrong. How does this play out, Eric? If that were the case, let's go the absolute negative side of this and they do punt and they finally go to the deadline. They don't push out ARK. They basically do a denial. What does that look like on BlackRock's record? Does BlackRock even worry about that at all or are they like, hey, this is getting out of hand here? You mean if BlackRock's denied in October again? No. I mean, look, what can they do? There's not a ton they can do. Well, if they approve others and let BlackRock, that would upset them, I think. But as long as they're in the group, their main goal is to be outburst. I think their goal is to be one of the ones launched on day one. So as long as that happens, whether it's in October or frankly next year, I'm sure they're fine with that. Now, I think the longer you wait, the longer you get into the situation of what I think also bothers Larry Fink, which is the US is behind the rest of the world in this big time. They've got spot Bitcoin ETFs all over the world and they work fine and they have less liquidity from big time market makers like we have here. So if they can work well during overseas a period like FTX and the percent premiums are pretty tight, they're going to work here. And this is why ETFs are so good. They allow arbitrage. And so I think by releasing the ETF in the US sooner rather than later, it just makes a lot of sense in terms of that race with the rest of the world. But again, Genzer clearly is tough. But the last SEC guy is Jay Clayton. And he said on CNBC after the Grayscale ruling that they have to approve them. It's inevitable. JP Morgan, my colleagues in the sell side, who I'll just say this. I feel we stick our necks out a little more and we're trying to be progressive. JP Morgan now finally after Grayscale says, yeah, they're probably going to approve them like, well, OK, well, welcome to the club. We've been here for a little while. Yeah. Very conservative position. Yeah. And Bernstein said the same thing. But again, as you get these bigger banks actually coming out, again, the narrative then becomes the SEC is approving them. And so, again, it's almost like a self -fulfilling prophecy at some point, especially, again, as you see headlines in The New York Times, it paves way, paves way.