BlackRock, Inc. (BLK) is not yet calling cryptocurrency an investable asset, but the world's largest fund company is keeping a close eye on the developments in the burgeoning market. Isabelle Mateos y Lago, chief multi-asset strategist at BlackRock, told Bloomberg TV this week that the company is keeping cryptocurrency under watch but that there are a few issues with it from safety, liquidity and regulatory perspectives. "This is a very new thing, and to us at this stage, this not an investable asset class," said Mateos y Lago. "We're not advising anyone to put money in it."
Having said that, the BlackRock executive did note that interest in cryptocurrency and blockchain is enormous and that the company will continue to watch these markets. "The fact that interest has persisted despite these repeated hacks, despite regulators waking up and trying to catch up with this new development and gradually weeding out all the illegal uses suggests there really is something to it. Clearly, it is evolving very fast," she said during the Bloomberg interview.
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The comments from Mateos y Lago come after BlackRock Chief Executive Larry Fink called blockchain, which underpins cryptocurrency, a "real technology" at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. However, Fink has been quoted in the past as saying that bitcoin is an "index of money laundering."
BlackRock's stance when it comes to giving customers access to bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading matches what its biggest rival Vanguard has said about digital currency. In an interview with CNBC, Vanguard's new Chief Executive Tim Buckley said that the firm will not invest in bitcoin, nor is Vanguard planning on giving its clients a way to do so. "You will never see a fund from Vanguard on bitcoin," Buckley said in the CNBC interview. "We tend to stay away from assets that don't have underlying economic value. They don't generate earnings or cash flows."
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, in general, have garnered a lot of attention from investors given the meteoric rise in the price last year. After starting 2017 at around $1,000, bitcoin surged to more than $19,000 at one point last year. More recently, the cryptocurrency has been trading at around $9,926. The launch of bitcoin futures from CME and CBOE World Markets gave the market a bit of legitimacy and prompted a handful of online brokerages – including TradeStation, TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE – to offer their clients access to the futures.
However, the volatility associated with bitcoin has prompted regulators around the world to warn investors about the risk associated with the unregulated digital currency. And it is that volatility that has led the fund companies to remain skeptical about cryptocurrencies. "The bitcoin – its value is based off of scarcity – and an artificial scarcity that's out there," said Vanguard's Buckley. "It's really tough to imagine where the long-term return comes from other than speculation." Buckley linked bitcoin to gold, another asset class in which the fund giant is not invested.