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South Korea's Surge in High-Yield Bitcoin ETF Investments


Lauren Miller

March 27, 2024 - 08:37 am


South Korea's Enthusiasm for Bitcoin ETFs Breaks New Ground

(Bloomberg) -- In a remarkable turn of events, a high-risk exchange-traded fund (ETF) in the United States—constructed to amplify the daily outcomes of short-term CME Bitcoin futures—has been met with overwhelming enthusiasm from investors in Korea. The VolatilityShares’ 2X Bitcoin Strategy ETF, known by its ticker BITX, is specifically engineered to chase after extraordinarily high yields through a phenomenon commonly referred to as "leverage compounding." However, this same mechanism may also contribute to a perilous side effect known as "volatility drag," which has the potential to erode profits over extended periods.

This sophisticated financial tool has reportedly garnered significant attention in South Korea, with investors zealously injecting a net total of $122 million into BITX during the month of March. This activity positions the ETF as the fifth most acquired foreign security in the nation for the month, ranking just below the automotive titan Tesla and above American depositary receipts (ADRs) for TSMC, the prominent semiconductor company. Data from the Korea Securities Depository shines a spotlight on this trend.

The allure of investments linked to cryptocurrencies appears to be capturing the Korean market broadly, with MicroStrategy—a company with Bitcoin evangelist Michael Saylor at its helm—sitting as the third most pursued foreign security in March. Meanwhile, the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITO), yet another derivative product grounded in futures, held the 22nd spot on the investment tally.

Experts believe that Korean investors are gravitating towards BITX as a surrogate for direct Bitcoin ETFs, which face regulatory roadblocks within the country. Subeen Shim, a digital asset analyst hailing from Kiwoom Securities in Seoul, suggests that the recent uptick in Bitcoin prices has also played a hand in steering investors toward these leveraged ETFs.

Since the introduction of spot Bitcoin ETFs in the United States on January 11, BITX, the inaugural leveraged cryptocurrency ETF in the country, has attracted unprecedented demand. In the span of March alone, the ETF witnessed an impressive $834 million in new investments, second only to leading names such as Fidelity and BlackRock in terms of spot ETF inflows. Notably, of the March capital surge, BITX enjoyed a substantial single-day infusion of $52 million on a Tuesday, according to data meticulously gathered by Bloomberg.

BITX’s management assets achieved a zenith, topping at a record $1.47 billion on Monday, as Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market value, showcased a resurgence following a brief price retracement the previous week.

Senior analyst Sumit Roy relayed to Bloomberg via email that like its leveraged ETF counterparts, BITX is tailored for aggressive traders who are not averse to engaging with higher volatility levels. Roy emphasized that leveraged ETFs are optimally held for transient timeframes, alerting that if retained longer, the daily portfolio rebalancing process might culminate in capital erosion.

"The more an asset swings, the greater the potential decay becomes. Given Bitcoin’s infamy as a dramatically fluctuating asset, this decay translates into a tangible threat," Roy elaborated on the risks associated with volatile investments like the BITX ETF.

A burgeoning interest in these specialized funds has catalyzed the launch of an array of novel offerings within the sector. A competing product, Valkyrie’s BTFX, has already been initiated, while established entities such as ProShares, Direxion, and T-Rex have lodged formal filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), expressing their intention to roll out leveraged Bitcoin ETFs of their own design.

Stephane Ouellette, CEO of FRNT Financial, opined that it is a fairly routine strategy for ETF issuers to first create leveraged funds as this offers a channel for lesser-known providers to carve out a reputation in the more sophisticated structured ETF market. He added that larger asset managers tend to reap rewards from the burgeoning customer demand for spot ETF products.

Amidst this financial fervor, Bitcoin reached a record-breaking $73,798 in early March influenced by the robust demand for U.S. spot ETFs that trail the digital currency, which collectively witnessed a net inflow of $11.7 billion since their inception.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.


In a world where the possibilities of digital investment seem boundless, South Korean investors have shown a particular affinity for leveraging the volatility of cryptocurrencies to their advantage. This comes even despite the inherent risks associated with these high-stakes financial instruments, such as the potential for significant loss due to the intrinsic volatility of the assets underlying these funds. Yet, the promise of high returns continues to draw a robust contingent of traders willing to navigate these turbulent waters.

The increasing popularity of products like BITX serves as a bellwether for the global acceptance of Bitcoin and its fellow cryptocurrencies within mainstream investment portfolios. It underscores a broader trend of integration between traditional finance and the burgeoning world of digital assets—a convergence that continues to shape the future of investing.

Amidst regulatory hindrances in certain regions, alternatives such as leverage-based ETFs have provided a workaround for investors eager to partake in the crypto economy. In South Korea, where restrictions have impeded the availability of spot ETFs tied directly to cryptocurrencies, products such as BITX offer a parallel path for participation, though not without the accompanying caveat of increased risk.

Market experts watch closely as new entrants emerge in the leverage-based ETF arena, challenging the status quo and offering investors diversified means to stake their claim in the volatile yet lucrative crypto space. With each new fund and each dollar allocated, the narrative of digital currencies evolves, painting a picture of an asset class that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore in the global financial landscape.

As Korea continues to surge ahead in its embrace of Bitcoin-linked ETFs, other countries and markets watch with keen interest. The integration of such investment products into the Korean financial fabric is emblematic of a trend that could see similar acceptance in broader circles, contingent on evolving regulatory environments and market appetites.

Yet, the rush towards BITX and similar vehicles is not without scrutiny. With the specter of volatility drag looming, investors are cautioned to approach these products with the understanding that while the rewards can be significant, so too can the losses. Prudent investment practices dictate that such ETFs be approached with the knowledge that they are meant for short-term strategies and not long-term holdings.

As progressive investors in South Korea and beyond continue to push the boundaries of investment norms, the question remains as to how the traditional financial sector will adapt. Will the rise of volatile, high-reward ETFs like BITX compel a reevaluation of investment strategies, or will they serve as cautionary tales for future financial innovations? The outcome of this economic experiment is as unpredictable as the markets it seeks to master.

For now, the ascendancy of the BITX ETF in the Korean market signifies a noteworthy milestone in the embracing of cryptocurrency-based investment strategies. It reflects a wider sentiment that—despite the risks—there is a persistent and growing appetite for instruments that can harness the dynamism of digital assets for potent financial gain.

This intersection of traditional financial acumen with cutting-edge technology encapsulates the current state of global finance. As investors from Seoul to San Francisco assess the implications of BITX's success and monitor the continuous stream of capital towards similar products, one thing is certain: the crypto revolution within the investment world continues to advance, challenging traditional paradigms and escorting in a new era of financial strategy and speculation.

Despite the pendulum of Bitcoin prices swinging with characteristic unpredictability, the conviction behind such investments remains unwavering. The market's embrace of BITX in South Korea is not merely a passing trend but a manifestation of the deepening conviction among many investors that, within the capricious folds of the crypto market, lies the potential for unprecedented rewards.

In conclusion, the informed yet audacious strides of South Korean investors in March have set the stage for subsequent chapters in the continuing integration of cryptocurrency investment vehicles into the mainstream. As the financial world keeps a close eye on the East, one thing is certain: South Korea's enthusiasm for Bitcoin ETFs like BITX is blazing a trail that others may soon follow.