Michael Sonnenshein is the CEO of Grayscale. In this interview, we discuss Grayscale’s lawsuit with the SEC, Genesis’s lending practices and bankruptcy, GBTC and the intercompany relationships at DCG.
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The Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) brought institutional investment into Bitcoin and helped Bitcoin to mature. Launched in 2013, as a subsidiary of the Digital Currency Group (DCG), it was devised as an official means of gaining exposure to Bitcoin for high-net-worth entities. Many, including Grayscale, have sought to provide a spot price ETF, but, in the absence of SEC approval, GBTC has served as an attractive alternative investment vehicle. In November 2021, GBTC had over $43 billion AUM.
GBTC is one of many funds Grayscale provides covering a plethora of digital assets, including Ethereum, Solana, Zcash and Bitcoin Cash. However, GBTC is the most dominant: at this moment GBTC represents nearly 75% of Grayscale’s total AUM. With its 2% annual fee based on Bitcoin’s spot price, GBTC is a valuable part of Grayscale and DCG’s portfolio. At the current Bitcoin price, GBTC commands approximately $420m in fees.
Grayscale is currently dealing with some major issues. Since early 2021 GBTC has been trading below its net asset value (NAV). This discount is currently hovering around all-time lows at 46%. GBTC holders cannot redeem their shares for the underlying asset. They have to sell their shares in an open market and shoulder this discount. Those not forced to sell feel effectively trapped.
Grayscale is subject to a number of investor lawsuits, and an activist campaign seeking to unseat Grayscale as the manager of GBTC. Concurrently, Grayscale is suing the SEC over the latter’s refusal to convert GBTC into an ETF. The mechanisms of an ETF allow for arbitrage trading keeping the share price aligned with NAV. This is Grayscale’s strategy for reducing the current GBTC discount.
Grayscale has also been caught up in the bankruptcy of the crypto lending firm Genesis, another subsidiary of DCG. According to a Financial Times report, DCG is selling shares in Grayscale funds, “at a steep discount” to pay back Genesis creditors. There are more fundamental questions about the role of Genesis’s lending. According to Bitcoinist, the failed hedge fund Three Arrows Capital took a $2.36 billion loan from Genesis backed by 17 million GBTC shares.