Big money remains wary of bitcoin due to high risk
Despite all the hype surrounding the rapid growth of digital currencies, mainstream institutional investors still opt to stay away from the newly-emerging market.
Since 2011, the world’s most popular digital currency, bitcoin, outpaced all the world’s currencies, except for 2014. The combined value of the world’s cryptocurrencies has increased tenfold this year to more than $170 billion.
However, extreme volatility, weak regulation along with high liquidity keeps big money managers away from bitcoin and other digital currencies, unwilling to risk other people’s cash.
According to the financial technology research house Autonomous NEXT, 84 crypto hedge funds have opened up in 2017, bringing the total to 110 with combined assets of about $2.2 billion.
Apart from a few most of the funds remain small with a limited track record. That shows that bigger institutions, such as pension funds, insurance companies, and large mutual funds are still avoiding cryptocurrencies.
“While cryptocurrencies are probably here to stay, they are difficult to analyze, wildly volatile and some may be prone to fraud. Diversification is a good thing, but that doesn't mean investing in everything just because it's there. We favor assets with a long track record in producing returns or reducing risks,” said Trevor Greetham, the head of the multi-asset team at Royal London Asset Management, which is part of the Royal London life insurance company.
A few crypto funds are worth hundreds of millions of dollars with most in the $5 million to $20 million range, according to Autonomous NEXT partner Lex Sokolin. The range is way below the threshold most institutional investors would deal with.
“For many institutional, discretionary fund managers, those funds wouldn't get cleared because the big question would be around liquidity,” said James Butterfill, head of investment strategy at ETF Securities in London, as quoted by the media.
To invest in a basket of hedge funds that includes a crypto fund is seen as one way to mitigate risk for mainstream investors. However, the portfolio of a major European bank, which invests in more than 100 hedge funds, reportedly doesn’t include crypto funds.
“It's a very controversial proposition. It's unlikely that most established hedge funds will make big bets on this because you could put your core business at risk,” a banker, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Asset managers say committees at institutional investment firms will rule out digital currencies due to the relative risks of these asset classes.
“Your risk-budgeting committee will say: you can't hold a lot of that because of the amount it increases risk in your portfolio. I do expect volatility to decrease over time, but risk budget teams tend to look historically,” said Butterfill.