The First Bitcoin ETF Offers Easy Way to Profit from Virtual Currency (GBTC)

The first Bitcoin ETF for "ordinary" investors to buy is almost here...

The Bitcoin Investment Trust got approval last week from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to sell its shares on the OTC Markets. It should start trading within the next couple of weeks. It is currently listed on the OTC Markets "pink sheets" under a temporary symbol, BTCV, but will have a permanent ticker of OTCMKTS: GBTC.

The fund gives investors a way to invest in Bitcoin without going to the trouble of buying Bitcoin and worrying about having a secure place to store it. It marks another step forward in Bitcoin's long march to mass adoption.

It also opens up Bitcoin ETF investing to regular investors...

How the First Bitcoin ETF Will Work

Strictly speaking, the Bitcoin Investment Trust is not an exchange-traded fund . It's a hedge fund exploiting a rule that allows owners of the shares to sell them to others after 12 months with FINRA approval. The fund was launched in September 2013, so that time limit has elapsed for the earliest buyers.

Until now, only accredited investors (individuals with at least $1 million in assets or net income of $200,000 a year) could buy shares. Now those shares can be re-sold into the market.

In practice, the BIT will function like a gold ETF. The Bitcoin Investment Trust will hold the actual bitcoins. And each share of the fund will be worth about one-tenth of a bitcoin.

The debut of the first publicly traded Bitcoin fund is a big positive for the cryptocurrency, but it gets better.

The Bitcoin Investment Trust will soon have company...

The Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF Took a Harder Road

The arrival of the Bitcoin Investment Trust on the OTC Markets means it has beaten the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust . The Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF is expected to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sometime this year.

But going through the SEC is why Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss lost the race. Their Bitcoin ETF, which will use the ticker Nasdaq: COIN, will be a fully compliant exchange-traded fund.

In that sense, the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF will have more legitimacy than the BIT, since the BIT lacks SEC approval. And it makes the market for Bitcoin Investment Trust shares less reliable, as availability depends on the willingness of current shareholders to sell.

That's why the Winklevoss twins have gone to the extra trouble of meeting SEC requirements with their Bitcoin ETF. They've taken the same strict attitude toward Gemini, a U.S.-based Bitcoin exchange the twins plan to launch.

Looking at the big picture, having publicly traded Bitcoin funds means Wall Street is getting behind the digital currency.

What the Arrival of Regulated Bitcoin ETFs Means

Government-blessed Bitcoin ETFs offer a glimpse of a future in which Bitcoin will be an integral part of the financial system.

"The Bitcoin industry is moving faster than any one person can fully comprehend," said Money Morning Defense & Tech Specialist Michael Robinson. "I believe 2015 will mark a turning point in the brief history of this fast-growing virtual currency."

The flow of big money into Bitcoin tells us the digital currency is here to stay. And Bitcoin ETFs are just one example.

Venture capitalists poured $347.27 million into Bitcoin-based startups last year and $105.83 million in just the first two months of 2015.

And some of that money is coming from Wall Street's most venerable institutions. In January, the New York Stock Exchange led a $75 million round of Series C funding for Bitcoin payments and wallet platform Coinbase.

Last fall the Tera Exchange became the first Bitcoin derivatives platform to win approval from the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. And Tera has strong ties to Wall Street. CEO Christian Martin worked for both Merrill Lynch and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ). Chief Commercial Officer John McGuire spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ).

Last month former Goldman executive director Timo Schlaefer launched Crypto Facilities Ltd., a Bitcoin derivatives operation based in London.

High-level Wall-Street types would not take lead roles in Bitcoin ventures unless they believed in the future of the digital currency. They know the almost limitless uses for the blockchain - the technology that underpins Bitcoin - is where its true value lies.

Bitcoin ETFs are just one piece of this much bigger puzzle.

"This will be the year that Bitcoin moves beyond its realm as the world's leading virtual currency to become a major global force," Robinson said.

After The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the Bitcoin ETF was coming, the Bitcoin price popped 9.4%. CoinDesk's Bitcoin Price Index rose as high as $270.24 Monday - its highest level since late January.

BIT is sponsored by Grayscale Investments, part of SecondMarket Inc.'s spin-off Digital Currency Group. Barry Silbert, CEO of Digital Currency Group, is a prominent Bitcoin advocate. Until the GBTC ticker goes live, Merriman Capital will supply quotes under the temporary symbol. Merriman has 30-day exclusivity to make a market in the shares.

The Bottom Line: The Bitcoin Investment Trust gives investors a way to invest in Bitcoin without buying and holding it. While technically a hedge fund, it will function like a gold ETF. Along with the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF, the BIT heralds deeper involvement from Wall Street types, which will speed mass adoption.

How to Use a Bitcoin ATM: A Bitcoin ETF is a good way to invest in Bitcoin, but what if you want to buy Bitcoin to spend it? Don't laugh. Within the next decade, using Bitcoin to buy things will be commonplace. And the easiest way to get those bitcoins will be from a Bitcoin ATM.Here's everything you need to know about how to buy bitcoins from a Bitcoin ATM...

Follow me on Twitter @DavidGZeiler .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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