Nickel Research Centre

Nickel News Roundup - Week 13

29th March, 2024

Market Overview:

Digital assets returned to bullish momentum this week, as GBTC sell-offs slowed and Bitcoin recovered above the previous cycle’s record high.
  • Bitcoin returned to growth this week, breaking back above $70,000 after GBTC outflows slowed
  • Bitcoin exhibited a consistent upward trajectory throughout the week, growing from a Friday low of $62,770 to a Thursday high of $71,550
  • Ether mounted a more modest recovery from last week’s decline, with the shadow of reported SEC investigations and lowered odds for a spot ETF still hanging over the asset
  • Ether grew from a Saturday low of $3,287 to a weekly high of $3,664 on Tuesday, after trading between $3,300 and $3,500 throughout the weekend
  • Overall digital asset market capitalisation grew to $2.65tn, broadly in line with Bitcoin’s weekly movements
  • According to industry monitoring site DeFi Llama, total value locked in DeFi once again neared the $100bn mark, with a total of $98.5bn

Digital assets returned to their positive year-to-date movements this week after a fortnight of cooling off. BlackRock’s new tokenised fund registered significant interest, Bitcoin ETFs broke more records after 50 days of trading, major projects agreed a merger, Sam Bankman-Fried was finally sentenced for his role in FTX fraud, and much more.

What happened: BlackRock tokenised fund gains nearly a quarter-billion dollars

How is this significant?

  • Following on from last week’s news of BlackRock filing for a tokenised money market fund, reports emerged this week indicating that the fund is already experiencing major investor interest
  • Within a week of its debut, the tokenised fund—hosted on the public Ethereum blockchain—has attracted more than $240m
  • The BlackRock USD Institutional Digital Liquidity (acronym: BUIDL) records share ownership on Ethereum via tokens which aim to maintain a $1 value, but allow “investors to earn yield while holding the token on the blockchain”, which means much more passive returns than any existing stablecoins, which would require lending or staking on DeFi platforms to generate returns
  • Earlier this year, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has argued for the tokenisation of every financial asset, and this fund marked BlackRock’s second major foray into digital assets, after the runaway success of its IBIT Bitcoin ETF ($13bn of assets and counting)
  • Carlos Domingo, founder of BlackRock’s tokenisation partner Securitize stated that BUIDL has three primary use cases; “crypto companies seeking to manage their treasuries on blockchains, [including] decentralized autonomous organisations (DAOs)... crypto projects focused on creating derivatives of Treasury bills… and as an alternative to stablecoins, [to] be used as collateral for borrowing and trading”
  • He told Bloomberg the fund brings a new level of professionalism and legitimacy to the industry; “It’s very institutional, it is managed by the largest asset manager in the world. There’s no counterparty risk to any crypto company”
  • One crypto company to embrace the fund’s potential for prudent returns was real-world asset (RWA) tokenisation project ONDO Finance, which transferred $95m of funds to BUIDL, citing blockchain-enabled benefits such as “instant settlement and around-the-clock subscriptions and redemptions”
  • This rapid growth places BUIDL second amongst tokenised funds issued by major TradFi institutions, behind Franklin Templeton’s $360m OnChain U.S. Government Money Fund (FOBXX)
  • However, Franklin’s fund was launched in 2021, and tokens are not directly transferable between fund investors
  • In a new report, Bernstein wrote that BUIDL was a breakthrough which “brought in key ecosystem partners from both the traditional world and the crypto world”
  • Analysts Gautam Chhugani and Mahika Sapra said the fund “would facilitate interoperability between both sides and would comfort more traditional customers to adopt on-chain funds, without major friction points”, and added that the use of a major public blockchain “allows for a wider design space for interoperability and programmability”
  • In other tokenisation news, HSBC launched a tokenised gold retail product to Hong Kong traders this week, providing fractionalised ownership over vaults held by HSBC in London’s gold market
  • In a press release, HSBC Hong Kong general manager Maggie Ng commented “We are proud that HSBC Gold Token, powered by HSBC Orion, is the first retail product in Hong Kong that is based on distributed ledger technology, as authorised by the Securities and Futures Commission”

What happened: ETF news

How is this significant?

  • After crypto fund outflows reached record levels last week amidst widescale GBTC sell-offs, spot ETFs recovered this week and helped drive Bitcoin into recovery mode
  • Bloomberg ETF analyst James Seyffart expects selling on GBTC to slow, positing that “Outflows were likely related to bankruptcy—they were mostly Gemini/Genesis selling. *Expecting* that to slow over the next ~week. They had a total of ~$3.9 bln of $GBTC to sell”
  • On Wednesday, ARK 21Shares crossed $3bn AUM after posting its best-ever inflows at $200m
  • That same day, Fidelity posted its worst-ever day of flows ($1.5m) but still managed to maintain its run of no net daily outflows
  • BlackRock’s inflows alone ($324m) were able to counteract GBTC’s outflows ($300m), thus leading to positive inflows worth near a quarter-billion dollars ($243.5m)
  • On Tuesday, Bitcoin ETFs completed 50 days of trading; and led the global rankings of all ETFs by AUM after 50 days
  • Out of 11,338 funds listed, four of the ten spot Bitcoin ETFs managed to crack the top 20, with BlackRock’s IBIT and Fidelity’s FBTC at first and second respectively
  • Even the fourth-ranked Bitcoin ETF managed to outperform gold ETFs after 50 days; as Bloomberg’s Eric Balchunas tweeted “$IBIT and $FBTC in league of their own. $BITB > $GLD!”
  • IBIT accounts for over half of BlackRock’s year-to-date ETF inflows, whilst FBTC has provided 70% of Fidelity’s
  • Both IBIT and FBTC currently lead the entire ETF market in consecutive inflow days, but still have some way to go for the record of 160 consecutive days
  • Nevertheless, their 50+ consecutive days have only ever been achieved by 30 other ETFs, and none of them managed it from launch
  • Bitcoin ETF issuer WisdomTree received a charted from the NYDFS to operate as a trust company, allowing it to release its WisdomTreePrime crypto app in New York
  • The US also gained an 11th spot Bitcoin ETF, following the conversion of Hashdex’s Bitcoin Futures ETF, now trading as a spot ETF under the ticker DEFI (albeit with up to 5% allocation still reserved for futures products)
  • Bitcoin ETF issuers Bitwise filed an S-1 form for a spot Ether ETF, despite current uncertainty over approval due to reported SEC investigations of the Ethereum Foundation
  • Bitwise’s application included a correlation table between Ether spot and CME prices, as approval for futures products in Bitcoin pressured the SEC into granting spot ETFs
  • Fidelity also filed an S-1 form this week, pushing ahead with plans for a spot Ether ETF regardless of SEC hostility towards the asset
  • BlackRock CEO Larry Fink remained quietly confident on Ether ETFs, whilst touting the success of IBIT
  • He told FOX Business that IBIT is the “fastest growing ETF in the history of ETFs”, and added “I'm very bullish on the long-term viability of Bitcoin. We're creating now a market that has more liquidity, more transparency, and I'm pleasantly surprised, and I would never have predicted that before”
  • There were also further developments regarding international alternatives to US spot Bitcoin ETFs
  • Hong Kong appears set to approve in-kind spot Bitcoin ETFs in Q2 this year, according to a new Bloomberg Intelligence report
  • This would offer a key point of differentiation versus the US market, where cash-settled status means Bitcoins must be sold upon redemption; potentially creating more downside pressure for the market than in-kind products
  • Noelle Acheson, author of “Crypto is Macro Now” commented “The Asian crypto market is much larger than the U.S. crypto market in terms of volume… listed ETFs in Hong Kong could channel a significant amount of money into 'approved' portfolio allocation... Even a tiny percentage of Chinese investors finding a legal way [to invest in Bitcoin] would be significant”
  • Meanwhile in the UK, the London Stock Exchange announced it would launch a market for Bitcoin and Ether ETNs on the 28th of May
  • This date was chosen “to enable the maximum number of issuers to be present in the market on the first day of trading”, with an April 15th application deadline for opening day listings
  • A leveraged VolatilityShares Bitcoin ETF (BITX) has proven popular in South Korea, attracting over $120m of inflows since the start of the month, making it the fifth-most bought foreign security in the country
  • Subeen Shim, digital asset analyst at Kiwoom securities told Bloomberg “Korean investors seem to be approaching BITX as an alternative to Bitcoin spot ETF, which is blocked in the country. Rising Bitcoin prices also contributed to the move”

What happened: Coinbase experiences mixed results in SEC legal challenge

How is this significant?

  • Publicly-listed US crypto exchange Coinbase faced a legal setback this week, as a federal judge ruled against its request to dismiss the SEC’s securities lawsuit against it
  • The SEC alleges “unregistered sale and offer of securities” conducted by the exchange through its staking program; charges which Coinbase denies
  • However, this ruling is unlikely to yield any immediate effects; Bloomberg litigation analyst Elliott Stein believes that the case “likely enters a prolonged discovery phase of months if not years”
  • Coinbase chief legal officer Paul Grewal tweeted “We were prepared for this, and we look forward to uncovering more about the SEC’s internal views and discussions on crypto regulation… Early motions like ours against a government agency are almost always denied. But clarity is the ultimate goal and today’s decision continues us on that path”
  • Despite the likely lengthy legal wrangling to emerge from this ruling, there was a silver lining for Coinbase; US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla did agree to dismiss SEC allegations that “Coinbase acted as an unregistered broker by making its Wallet application available to customers”
  • The SEC also sounded the opinion that Ripple should pay $2bn in fines as a “significant sanction” deterrent against non-compliance in the digital asset industry—despite the fact that a judge found they only committed a limited scope of securities violations, and that SEC appeals against the charges they lost were without merit
  • In other enforcement news, crypto asset exchange KuCoin was charged with money laundering violations by the DOJ
  • Interestingly, the CFTC alleges in the action that KuCoin undertook unregistered commodities trading of Ether and Litecoin, stating that “KuCoin solicited and accepted orders, accepted property to margin, and operated a facility for the trading of futures, swaps, and leveraged, margined, or financed retail transactions involving digital assets that are commodities including Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), and Litecoin (LTC)”
  • This of course would appear to run directly contrary to sister agency SEC’s reported attempts to classify Ether as a security

What happened: Leading crypto AI projects set for merger

How is this significant?

  • On Wednesday, news emerged that three major crypto AI projects planned to merge into one business—and thus also consolidate three disparate tokens into one
  • The merger could be viewed as a match made in macro heaven, adding the overall market enthusiasm for all things AI to the resurgence of a digital asset industry emerging from crypto winter
  • According to a statement issued later on Wednesday, SingularityNET, and Ocean Protocol will merge their tokens into a single token known as ASI, with a fully diluted value of about $7.6 billion
  • Chief Executive Officer Humayun Sheikh stated “We wanted to build one of the world’s first open and decentralised networks which actually enables AGI (artificial general intelligence) to be in reach of all the stakeholders which provide support to building the network. It’s an alternative to the big corporations which exist and are controlling the AI space. It’s open source and is decentralised and has all the tools to build artificial intelligence”
  • The three protocols will continue operating separately in their fields of expertise, whilst using the ASI token and being governed by a new “governing council for the so-called Artificial Superintelligence Alliance”
  • In other crypto AI news, FTX secured additional funding for its creditors this week by agreeing a deal to sell two-thirds of its stake in artificial intelligence firm Anthropic for $884m
  • Buyers included UAE sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, Jane Street, and Fidelity
  • This already represents a handsome profit on the firm’s initial $500m investment, with a third still available to liquidate down the road
  • The decision not to divest the entire stash may prove prudent; a few days later Amazon made Anthropic its largest venture investment, bringing total spend on the company to $4bn following a new $2.75bn allocation

What happened: Digital asset firms renew hiring efforts

How is this significant?

  • According to a new Bloomberg report, digital asset firms have shifted their staffing practices from firing to hiring; “although in a more subdued manner than during the last crypto boom”
  • Coinbase, Binance, Kraken, and KuCoin—all facing regulatory pressure in the US—are amongst those hiring for hundreds of positions, alongside TradFi firms like Fidelity increasing their digital asset expertise
  • In terms of metrics, industry-specific recruiters have registered significant upticks; “ said it had seen a 50% increase year-over-year in job postings between January and February, and a further 45% rise in March. CryptoJobsList said it’s seeing almost double the number of jobs ads in March so far versus a year ago”
  • However, the Blockchain Association notes that although year-on-year increases are impressive, current hiring levels remain well below historical highs, at just over half the open job listings during the 2021 bull market peak

What happened: Sam Bankman-Fried sentenced to 25 years in prison for fraud

How is this significant?

What happened: VC news

How is this significant?

What happened: Insurance brokers Marsh introduce nine-figure crypto custody cover
How is this significant?

  • Global insurance brokers Marsh announced a new facility this week targeting crypto custodians, including institutions
  • Marsh clients globally will have access to a maximum $825m insurance capacity, “backed by Lloyd’s syndicates and London-based international insurers”
  • Coverage is available to organisations storing their digital assets via cold storage or Multi-Party Computation (MPC) solutions
  • Jacqueline Quintal, Global Digital Asset Leader, Marsh Specialty, said in a press release: “We anticipate continued focus on and activity in the global digital assets space, as organisations navigate the complex risk environment and interconnected, expanding ecosystem of stakeholders… we look forward to supporting clients globally as they focus on building their operational resilience and market presence in this fast-growing sector”
News Roundups