Tracking Institutional Bitcoin Adoption

Michael Saylor's decision to move MicroStrategy's treasury into Bitcoin last August set off a wave of Bitcoin enthusiasm among institutional investors, and 8 months later, the enthusiasm hasn't let up.

Dozens of institutions - public companies, private companies, hedge funds, and even insurance firms - have been hoarding Bitcoin on their balance sheets and reducing the available supply of Bitcoin on major exchanges.

As a result, Bitcoin prices are up 10x in the last year, with almost all of that growth happening after MicroStrategy's first Bitcoin purchase.

Still, only a few dozen institutions have made public announcements about their Bitcoin holdings, and the vast majority of the world's largest businesses still remain on the sidelines holding their treasuries in fiat money.

As Bitcoin matures into an acceptable investment for storing corporate funds, public statements and regulatory filings can help us understand the scale of institutional interest in Bitcoin and help us model changes to Bitcoin's supply and demand.

At the beginning of every month, I am writing a report for subscribers covering the changes to Bitcoin holdings among institutional investors. To start, let's examine the changes in institutional Bitcoin holdings since 2021 began.

Public Company Bitcoin Holdings

Tesla is responsible for a majority of the Bitcoin added to public company balance sheets so far this year, even considering the Bitcoin they sold in February to test market liquidity.

Bitcoin mining companies Marathon Digital Holdings and Bitfarms both began storing Bitcoin on their balance sheets this year, while their mining competitors Hut 8, Digihost, Argo, and HIVE added to their Bitcoin holdings as well.

Nexon, a Japanese video game company, Meitu, a Chinese web app company, and MercadoLibre, an Argentinian e-commerce company, also began holding Bitcoin as a treasury reserve asset in 2021. Nexon's purchase of 1,717 BTC for $100M marked the highest price a public company has paid for their Bitcoin reserves, with an average purchase price of $58,241 per coin showing strong institutional demand for Bitcoin above $50,000 per coin.

Finally, Coinbase's SEC filings showed holdings of 4,482 BTC as of December 31, 2020. The company has not yet reported Q1 2021 results.

Private Company Bitcoin Holdings

It isn't easy to keep track of private company Bitcoin holdings since their reporting requirements are almost non-existent. The numbers above are only updated if and when these companies choose to report changes to their Bitcoin holdings.

Seetee was the biggest private company to announce a Bitcoin purchase so far in 2021. A subsidiary of one of Norway's largest industrial conglomerates, they have quickly become Bitcoin advocates and intend to heavily invest in the Bitcoin ecosystem over time.

The Tezos Foundation sold over 6,000 Bitcoin to fund their operations and bootstrap the Tezos ecosystem. For years, they have been consistently selling portions of the Bitcoin generated from their 2017 ICO.

Bitcoin Fund Holdings

The big story for Bitcoin funds in 2021 has been the approval of 4 Bitcoin ETFs for trading on Canada's Toronto Stock Exchange. Over 36,000 BTC have been added to the ETFs of Purpose, 3iQ, Evolve, and CI since trading began.

Even more impressive, the Bitcoin added to Canada's ETFs didn't come from Canada's existing Bitcoin funds. The 3iQ Bitcoin Fund and the Ninepoint Bitcoin Trust have both seen net inflows so far in 2021.

The ETF inflows in Canada are an under-appreciated signal that market demand for a Bitcoin ETF is very strong right now.

Other big movers include Grayscale's Bitcoin Trust, which added over 46,000 BTC under their management in 2021, and London-based Ruffer Investments, which sold roughly 40% of the Bitcoin position they built up in November 2020.

Other Bitcoin Holdings

The entities above don't fit into traditional institution categories, so they get their own category.

The most significant change here in 2021 is the movement of Bitcoin derivatives onto the Ethereum network. Wrapped Bitcoin, Ren Bitcoin, and other projects have built ERC-20 tokens that track the price of Bitcoin, while retaining the composability of an ERC-20 token. Over 1% of all Bitcoin supply is now represented on Ethereum as a Bitcoin derivative, and the trend shows no sign of slowing.

The Celsius Network is another significant Bitcoin holder, albeit on behalf of their customers. They added over 32,000 BTC under their management in 2021.

Summary

When 2021 began, the institutions listed above were in control of 1,323,676 BTC. Since then, they have added 267,233 BTC to their holdings, and are now in control of 1,590,909 BTC.

At the price of $57,000 per Bitcoin, their collective holdings are worth over $90 billion today.

On the surface, that is an enormous sum of money, but there is still far more institutional money outside of Bitcoin than in Bitcoin today.

  • Almost all of the Fortune 500 companies in the world still have no Bitcoin exposure. The ones who do have mostly dabbled in Bitcoin, with the exception of MicroStrategy which has fully invested their treasury.
  • Canada's Bitcoin ETFs show that the desire for Bitcoin exposure in an ETF format is strong. Over 36,000 BTC have been added to 4 ETFs in the last two months, and given the relative size of America's financial industry, an ETF approval in the US could have a much larger buying impact.

I will continue to track the flow of institutional Bitcoin holdings each month, and will share my updates and trends to watch with subscribers moving forward.

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Data notes:

Public company Bitcoin balances are listed using the latest available data. Some public companies report changes months after they are made, so some of today's Bitcoin holdings figures may be revised in future reports.

Certain companies denominate their Bitcoin holding announcements in dollars, making it difficult to determine the exact number of Bitcoins they hold. In these cases, estimates are made based on the average price of Bitcoin during the purchase period, or on the date of announcement if no purchase period is provided.

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