At a time when some discount brokerages are embracing bitcoin futures and are ready to offer bitcoin exchange-traded funds if they are approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, owner of the Merrill Edge robo-advisor service, is banning clients from investing in the Bitcoin Investment Trust, which is run by Grayscale Investments. The ban extends an existing policy barring access to newly launched bitcoin futures. Clients with fee-based advisory accounts managed by Merrill will, however, have to sell their holdings.
The decision to block access to the fund was due to concerns about the "suitability and eligibility standards of this product", an internal memo circulated to approximately 17,000 advisers states.
A spokeswoman for Merrill Lynch confirmed the decision, which applies across the firm and includes self-directed accounts, the paper said.
Grayscale's Bitcoin Investment Trust is an open-ended trust that is invested exclusively in bitcoin and derives its value from the price of bitcoin.
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It was created for investors seeking exposure to bitcoin through a traditional investment vehicle, and trades over the counter. And UBS does not support or facilitate the trading of cyrptocurrencies, according to a person familiar with the situation. JPMorgan Chief Executive James Dimon has called bitcoin a fraud, while Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s Warren Buffett questioned whether governments would let it keep growing unabated.
The price of Bitcoin started 2017 at under $1000. After starting the year around $1,000, the cryptocurrency traded at around $18,000 in December.
In recent trading Wednesday, bitcoin was just under $15,000.
The report indicated that Merrill representatives have viewed the ban as a mixed bag. Some believe it is in the best interest of their clients while others fail to see a justification in not catering to investor demand. If anything, he said, "I wish we could short it". Others think the cryptocurrency carries too much risk and would rather not be involved in it. When you buy a currency, you buy that country based on its underlying economy and monetary supply.