Money management firm VanEck is both skeptical of bitcoin and planning to sell a related investment product, illustrating a rising perception that the surge of interest in the digital currency creates a high-risk opportunity that may be too big to miss.
Last Thursday, Joe Foster, portfolio manager and strategist for VanEck's flagship International Investors Gold Fund (INIVX) said in a manager commentary piece for July that bitcoin will likely never "replicate or replace" gold's place as a safe haven asset due to fundamental differences between the two.
"Bitcoin and other digital currencies are a fad that has attracted the attention of programmers, speculators, and early adaptors," Foster said. "It is my opinion that governments will not allow digital currencies to reach the critical mass needed to challenge the utility of fiat currencies" such as the dollar.
"At best, digital currencies may eventually occupy some middle ground as a niche product," he said. "At worst, they become a failed experiment that ends in tears."
One day later, VanEck filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a VanEck Vectors Bitcoin Strategy exchange-traded fund that would initially invest in bitcoin futures contracts and trade on the Nasdaq.
"Performance of the Fund is determined by the price movement of the underlying digital asset (i.e., Bitcoin), the rate of change and the change in volatility," the filing said.
The fund will be an actively managed ETF that seeks to "provide total return" without tracking the performance of a specific index. Derivatives like futures allow investors to bet on potential gains or losses in bitcoin's price without buying the digital currency itself.
"Joe Foster makes a great case for gold relative to bitcoin as a currency and store of value," VanEck told CNBC in an emailed statement. "VanEck believes that the technology underlying digital assets, known as distributed ledger technology, has tremendous potential to revolutionize finance and trade. Digital assets are an investable asset class in their own right and continue to be integrated into the broader economy."
The SEC declined to comment on the filing.
Many digital currency enthusiasts have called bitcoin "digital gold" and predict that a small percentage of gold's roughly $7.5 trillion market value will flow into bitcoin, sending the digital currency's price many multiples higher. Bitcoin has more than quadrupled this year, hitting a record high on Monday above $4,300 — triple the price of an ounce of gold.
Despite the many risks of the young digital currency world, analysts like Standpoint Research founder Ronnie Moas said cryptocurrencies' rapid gains are not something he "could keep [his] hands off of."