Beginner’s Guide to Bitcoin Investment: BTC Spot ETF vs BTC Spot Trading

4 min readJan 11, 2024

On January 10, 2024, the long-awaited U.S. Bitcoin spot ETF was successfully launched, a development keenly watched by both cryptocurrency investors and traditional financial institutions. This launch marks Bitcoin’s entry as a significant player in the global ETF market, which boasts a market size of over $10 trillion. Qualified institutions and retail investors will now have the opportunity to engage in Bitcoin investment through major financial markets, including the Nasdaq Stock Market, New York Stock Exchange, and Chicago Board Options Exchange.

The debut of the spot ETF in America introduces an additional method for Bitcoin investment. This article aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to BTC spot ETFs, highlighting their fundamental differences from the current spot trading available on cryptocurrency exchanges, and offering insights into this innovative investment option.

Explaining Bitcoin ETFs

An Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) is a fund that’s traded on stock exchanges. Typically, ETFs track an index, a group of assets, or the price of an underlying asset. They come in various forms, such as stock ETFs, bond ETFs, commodity ETFs, currency ETFs, REITs ETFs, and the focus of our discussion, cryptocurrency ETFs. Popular examples include the commodity-based Gold ETFs and the stock-based S&P 500 index ETFs, making them a staple in the financial markets.

Previously, the SEC approved BTC futures ETFs, which are based on futures contracts. For instance, ProShares’ Bitcoin futures ETF follows the price of Bitcoin futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). Unlike a spot ETF, a futures ETF doesn’t hold actual Bitcoin, leading to a price difference between the ETF and the spot price of Bitcoin.

In contrast, a BTC spot ETF, like the iShares Bitcoin Trust issued by BlackRock with Coinbase as its custodian, is backed by physical Bitcoin. Purchasing shares in this ETF is essentially buying into a portion of the Bitcoin reserves managed by Coinbase on behalf of BlackRock.

This structure makes the BTC spot ETF an indirect way of investing in Bitcoin, stirring greater interest among investors compared to futures ETFs. The availability of Bitcoin purchase through such ETFs on major exchanges like Nasdaq and NYSE is anticipated to significantly boost the demand for Bitcoin.

BTC Spot ETFs vs BTC Spot Trading

Investors often wonder about the key differences between spot ETFs and spot trading, especially when considering investment options. Spot ETFs cater to traditional financial investors, and here’s why:

  1. Spot ETFs are more accessible for beginners. Newcomers in the cryptocurrency exchange market face challenges like understanding coin deposits, withdrawals, owning a crypto wallet, and safely storing their Bitcoin. In contrast, purchasing a spot ETF is as straightforward as buying stocks, making it a more accessible option for those accustomed to traditional finance.
  2. Spot ETFs benefit from stricter regulation. In the U.S., the number of compliant crypto exchanges is limited, restricting BTC investment choices. The aftermath of FTX’s bankruptcy is likely to steer traditional investors towards the more secure and SEC-regulated spot ETFs, as opposed to the unpredictable nature of crypto trading platforms.
  3. Spot ETFs do not entail direct BTC ownership. While asset management companies backing spot ETFs are required to purchase BTC, the investors themselves do not hold Bitcoin directly. For those aiming to be actively involved in the Bitcoin ecosystem or use Bitcoin for transactions, acquiring BTC through spot trading on a crypto exchange is more suitable.
  4. Trading hours for spot ETFs are restricted. Unlike the 24/7 cryptocurrency markets, spot ETFs adhere to the specific trading hours of exchanges like Nasdaq and NYSE. This limitation means that during off-hours, ETF investors must wait, whereas spot traders can immediately respond to market changes.

The unique benefits of ETFs have not substantially altered the landscape for current Bitcoin investors. Instead, their primary role has been to forge a link between traditional finance and the cryptocurrency world. The approval of the BTC spot ETF has sparked mixed reactions: while some are optimistic, viewing it as a potential gateway for trillions of dollars in investments, others are more cautious, expressing concerns about the potential for an overly centralized concentration of holdings. Regardless of these differing viewpoints, the ETF represents a pivotal move towards establishing Bitcoin as a key player in the global investment arena.

Disclaimer: This article is for reference only and offers no financial advice.

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