Suppose you could trade your bitcoin for shares in, say, Apple Inc, just as the company is on the cusp of rolling out its biggest product release in years. Or perhaps use that bitcoin stash to buy stock in London-listed Vodafone to enjoy its 5.4% dividend yield.
That's what First Global Credit wants to do with a new derivatives product for bitcoin holders that will allow them to participate in global equities markets, without cashing their bitcoin in for fiat. The fund allows investors to keep their funds in bitcoin, while seeking returns with those holdings.
First Global formally launched yesterday at Inside Bitcoins Las Vegas, a three-day digital currency conference running through 7th October at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.
Blue-chip stocks for bitcoin
First Global sells a type of derivative known as a 'contract for difference' (CFD). Further, it has created 109 CFDs that are based on blue-chip technology stocks, index funds for the major markets, including the S&P 500 and FTSE 100 and popular exchange-traded funds.
When a First Global customer buys a 'share' of Apple through the fund, for example, she does not own the underlying equity. Instead, she owns a CFD issued by First Global. First Global then buys the Apple share and holds it in its own account, Smith explained.
If Apple declares a dividend – it usually yields just under 2% since it resumed paying dividends regularly in 2012 – then the Apple CFD holder at First Global will receive a dividend in the form of a credit in her First Global account.
The First Global customer can withdraw dividends or sell her Apple CFD holdings at any time, according to Smith. If the investor was long Apple and the stock price went up, then she would receive the difference between the purchase price and the sale price. She would then cash out of the trade in bitcoin.
"The investor will walk away with bitcoins," Smith said.
CFDs and regulation
CFDs are derivatives that can be created for almost any type of security, including treasury bonds, foreign exchange rates, commodities and indices. Unlike futures contracts, they don't come with a delivery date. Instead, CFDs based on stocks mimic the purchase of actual shares.
The benefit of a CFD is that it allows buyers to gain exposure to the underlying asset at a fraction of the cost of actually acquiring the asset. This is because CFDs can often be bought on margin, meaning the buyer need only pay a small percentage upfront.
CFDs are offered by big banks like Barclays, for example, which offers its customers contracts on thousands of equities and commodities. Many countries allow trading in CFDs, like the UK and Australia. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), however, does not allow trading in CFDs, so US residents generally don't have access to these derivatives.
Leverage trading risks
One of the reasons CFDs aren't allowed by the US regulator is because of the high levels of leverage they typically require. Even Smith acknowledged that trading CFDs with large amounts of borrowed money can be risky, although he is quick to point out that it's using too much borrowed money and not the contracts that are the potential issue:
First Global will offer margin trading, he said, but at "conservative" levels. Traders can leverage up to five times what they deposit with First Global.
The company charges commissions on each trade of 1.45% for long-only investors and 0.1% for active traders. An additional financing fee of 2.08% is also levied to make up for the difference when taking bitcoin deposits from clients, but buying securities in fiat. Active traders must also pay a holding charge of 0.1% if contracts are held overnight.
Smith stressed that First Global will not be taking risks with investors' money. The fund will match all buys with underlying securities on a "one-for-one" basis, he said. In addition, the fund has a hedging strategy to ensure that its holdings aren't affected by violent moves in either the cryptocurrency or traditional equities markets.
Hedging risk is Smith's specialty. He comes to the bitcoin markets from two decades devising hedging strategies for commodities and derivatives at Credit Suisse and Trafigura, one of the largest global commodity trading firms.
At Trafigura, he constructed strategies to hedge metals and oil. He set up the bitcoin fund with Marcie Terman, who holds the post of communications director. The two have funded the company themselves, with no outside investment.
Smith explained that First Global, which is currently domiciled in Belize, will move to the European Union in the coming months, and that customers will be expected to comply with know-your-customer (KYC) checks.
"We can't offer the anonymity that some people would like to have. But the flipside is we are operating fully within the legal framework," he said.
First Global is looking to expand the range of securities offered to include fixed-income assets and commodities in the future.
Disclaimer: This article should not be viewed as an endorsement of any of the companies mentioned. Please do your own extensive research before considering investing any funds in these products.
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