Should you add Bitcoin to your portfolio in 2021?

January 21, 2021, 11:40 AM UTC

This article is part of Fortune‘s quarterly investment guide for Q1 2021.

2020 will go down as the year Bitcoin truly caught on.

It’s the year hedge fund leading lights such as Stanley Druckenmiller and Paul Tudor Jones abandoned their reservations and bought in. It’s also the year that corporations ranging from Square to Mass Mutual to the tech firm MicroStrategy converted hundreds of millions of dollars of their own treasuries into the cryptocurrency.

The Bitcoin boosters are finally rivaling the naysayers. But as the price of Bitcoin now lurches between $30,000 and $40,000 after a long period of mostly sub-$10,000 dormancy, should retail investors bite too? And what’s the best way to do so?

The case for Bitcoin

The bull case for Bitcoin runs counter to that of the U.S. dollar. The strongest investment thesis for Bitcoin is encapsulated by the “money printer go brrr” meme that sprouted up on social media to pillory government responses to the pandemic. Bitcoiners are, in short, fed up with the Fed. They claim the drastic measures the Federal Reserve is taking to combat the economic fallout of coronavirus lockdowns, unemployment, and potential business bankruptcies will devalue the greenback. (“Brrr” is the whimsical sound the Fed’s hypothetical money machine might make as it readies stimulus packages.)

Traditionally, when Cassandras fear currency debasement, they choose alternative investments to protect their wealth. Commonly they pick gold, a precious metal whose worth has, generally, stood the test of centuries. There’s only so much to go around and, for about as long as recorded history, there’s always been a market for it. Bitcoin believers maintain that their beloved cryptocurrency is, effectively, “digital gold.” Like the yellow stuff, it’s a scarce resource, except that the issuance is limited by its software code rather than earthly extraction. Like other tech products, the promise of Bitcoin is that it may improve over time, possibly even graduating to become a useful means of payment one day.

As Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey puts it, “The Internet wants a native currency, and I think Bitcoin is probably the best manifestation of that so far.” If Bitcoin is to be the next gold, then it’s got quite a runway—even after accounting for the recent rise in value. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase told clients in a recent research note that the price could reach $146,000 in the long term as it eats into interest for gold.

The counter case

Not everyone is buying that argument. “Bitcoin basically takes advantage of people’s stupidity and greed,” counters Peter Schiff, a longtime goldbug and chief executive of Euro Pacific Capital. He believes the underlying asset is worthless outside of speculation.

Michael Sonnenshein, CEO of Grayscale Investments, a digital currency investing firm, says the markets indicate otherwise. He notes that Bitcoin’s price rocketed through 2020 “at the same time that gold investment products experienced some of the largest outflows on record.”

“I certainly don’t believe that to be a coincidence,” continues Sonnenshein, whose company is notable for having run a marketing blitz encouraging people to “drop gold” for Bitcoin. “Many investors have woken up to Bitcoin being a superior store of value or inflation hedge in their portfolios than gold,” he says.

Getting down to digital gold tacks

The simplest way to own Bitcoin is to buy some from a trustworthy entity. Retail investors can buy Bitcoin directly from a regulated exchange like Coinbase. They can then stash their holdings there, as they would a bank. More sophisticated investors, who aren’t afraid to juggle cryptographic keys—long strings of alphanumerics—can transfer the funds out of such third-party coffers to a personal digital wallet, like those the U.K.-based firm Blockchain helps people set up online.

Anyone who seeks the tax advantages of a retirement savings account will have a harder time. In the U.S., Grayscale offers one solution to the problem by selling big-time investors—institutional and accredited ones—shares of a Bitcoin-backed “trust” it established in 2013. Retail investors can buy shares in the so-called Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, or GBTC, after the earlier owners have offloaded their holdings on secondary markets, through brokerages like Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and Robinhood. Because of the inefficiencies of workarounds such as Grayscale’s, share prices tend to be out of whack with the price of the underlying Bitcoin. Rayne Steinberg, chief executive and cofounder of Arca, a digital asset investment startup, says that premium is “a huge tax on an unsophisticated investor.” Until regulators sign off on a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, that tax is something retail investors will have to live with.

The U.S. SEC, worried about the possibility for price manipulation and illiquid markets, continues to swat down Bitcoin ETF applications from the likes of VanEck and the Winklevoss twins’ Gemini exchange. But cryptocurrency enthusiasts are optimistic that President Joe Biden’s selection of Gary Gensler, a former CFTC chair and MIT academic with a reputation for crypto-savviness, to lead the SEC might signal a Bitcoin ETF approval—the industry’s holy grail—is coming. “Call it nine months to two-year time frame, if I were a betting man,” says Brett Messing, president and chief operating officer of SkyBridge Capital, a “fund of funds” hedge fund that launched a Bitcoin fund in January. “You want to own Bitcoin before that.”

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