Buy these stocks — including Nvidia, Square — to ride bitcoin fever, strategist Tom Lee says

Key Points
  • Fundstrat strategist Tom Lee recommends possible bitcoin equity plays for investors who want to ride the wave.
  • Lee was the first major strategist on Wall Street to give bitcoin an official price target; he sees the cryptocurrency hitting $25,000 by year's end.
  • The stocks recommended by Lee include Nvidia, Square and Cboe, all of which have some direct exposure to the volatile digital asset.
Tom Lee, Fundstrat Global Advisors
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

One of Wall Street's top strategists and a longtime bitcoin fan has unveiled his top stock ideas to clients as a way to play the cryptocurrency craze.

Fundstrat's Tom Lee was the first major strategist to issue an official price target on bitcoin and now becomes the first to give clients direct bitcoin equity plays.

Many investment mandates require managers to steer clear of volatile assets and stick to traditional equity markets; despite bitcoin's stellar success over recent weeks, the cryptocurrency may be too volatile for standard investment rules.

In addition to recommending stocks, Lee noted his $25,000 year-end target for the price of one bitcoin.

"We believe investors should have exposure to blockchain, particularly given bitcoin has essentially zero correlation to equities, bonds and commodities — hence, as a portfolio strategy, bitcoin is a good diversification tool," wrote Lee in a note Friday.

The digital asset took Wall Street by storm Thursday, jumping from $13,000 to highs above $19,000 in roughly one day. Bitcoin has since cooled off a bit, now trading just under $16,000.

The first group of bitcoin plays Lee highlighted includes the CME Group, Chicago Board Options Exchange (Cboe) and Goldman Sachs.

Cboe, the largest U.S. options exchange, announced in August its plans to launch its own bitcoin derivatives trading products, offering cash-settled bitcoin futures to both institutional and retail investors. They begin trading Sunday evening. Bitcoin fans argue that the launch of such products by Cboe and others help legitimize the trade and may help stabilize the otherwise volatile token.

For its part, CME followed suit in October with Chairman Terry Duffy saying, "Given increasing client interest in the evolving cryptocurrency markets, we have decided to introduce a bitcoin futures contract." Fundstrat's Lee included Goldman in the group because he expects the bank "to be the first investment bank to be involved in bitcoin trading."

Though options exchanges and investment banks may see upside thanks to the bitcoin mania, technology and chip companies are also set to climb, added Lee. Chipmakers like Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices that produce graphics processing units (GPUs) necessary for bitcoin "mining" should perform well if bitcoin presses upward.

Nvidia founder, President and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang
Getty Images

"GPUs are used by miners for many tokens other than bitcoin. Bitcoin mining is almost exclusively via ASICs (specialized chips)," explained Lee. "But as blockchain grows, and as transactions grow, mining will grow and therefore require more GPUs."

Both Nvidia and AMD were higher Friday, each up more than 0.5 percent.

Lee rounded out his top picks with Overstock and Square.

Online retailer and blockchain incubator Overstock has exposure to digital currency through its Medici Ventures segment and was the first major retailer to accept digital currency bitcoin as payment back in 2014. Earlier this year, Medici subsidiary tZERO announced a joint venture to trade digital coins launched in initial coin offerings in September; shares of Overstock have climbed about 90 percent since the announcement.

Even before its foray into bitcoin, Square had been a promising prospect on the Street, by providing software and hardware technology to turn mobile devices into point-of-sale solutions.

Shares of Square spiked after its CEO, Jack Dorsey announced in November that the company will allow users to buy and sell bitcoin through its app, though Lee cautioned that the service isn't a full bitcoin exchange. Square's stock is up more than 180 percent this year.