What’s happening: Bitcoin leaped above $48,000 for the first time ever after Tesla (TSLA) said Monday that it would soon accept Bitcoin as payment for its vehicles. The electric carmaker, led by crypto enthusiast Elon Musk, also disclosed that it’s holding $1.5 billion of reserve cash in Bitcoin rather than traditional currency.
The move indicates that cryptocurrencies are starting to go mainstream in Corporate America after years of skepticism. It’s one thing for Musk to identify as a “supporter of Bitcoin.” It’s another for Tesla, a S&P 500 company, to accept direct Bitcoin payments and make a sizable investment.
“Tesla … has de-risked the acquisition of #bitcoin by public companies and accelerated the digital transformation of corporate balance sheets,” tweeted MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor, a Bitcoin advocate. “Treasurers are now thinking about how to convert a non-performing asset into the best performing asset.”
Even before Musk’s move, there were signs that Bitcoin was gaining traction among those who had shunned cryptocurrencies due to their extreme volatility.
Grayscale Investments, the world’s largest digital currency asset manager, has said that an explosion of interest from institutional investors helped drive assets under management above $20 billion by the end of 2020. It managed just $2 billion at the start of last year.
In a recent interview, CEO Michael Sonnenshein told me that Grayscale is no longer just fielding interest from family offices and hedge funds. Endowments and pension funds (primarily outside the United States) are also looking to build cryptocurrency exposure.
“It’s really about recognizing the benefits of owning Bitcoin,” Sonnenshein said. “There’s certainly the diversification angle.”
In an era where central banks are printing a seemingly endless stream of money, investors are drawn to the “verifiable scarcity” of Bitcoin, he noted. Bitcoin is designed so the total number of coins that will ever be issued is 21 million, bolstering the case for those who view it as a “digital gold.”
Not everyone is ready to take the leap. Deepak Puri, Americas chief investment officer at Deutsche Bank Wealth Management, told me that he’s hearing “a lot more talk from clients” eyeing Bitcoin. But the wealth management team was not actively advocating for crypto investments as of late January.
Watch this space: There’s plenty of chatter that the rapid spike in Bitcoin prices will lead to a painful correction. But Sonnenshein said Grayscale’s clients are mostly making long-term plays, and don’t get too worked up over short-term moves.
“When you see days [with] Bitcoin dropping 10% … we’re not fielding calls and emails from investors panicking,” he said. “We’re seeing investors opportunistically using those drawdowns in price to add to their positions.”
Big picture: Tesla isn’t the only Bitcoin bull in town these days. And if the trend holds, more could join the frenzy in the weeks and months to come.