By Saikat Chatterjee and Simon Jessop
LONDON (Reuters) - Hedge fund Brevan Howard said on Monday that it was expanding its crypto business, the latest sign that institutional interest in the asset class is gaining momentum.
Brevan, more famous for its bets on macroeconomic trends, has been among the most high-profile of major hedge funds moving into the world of crypto trading, known for its volatile markets and scope for outsize gains.
The asset manager said it would launch a new unit, BH Digital, to manage cryptocurrency and digital assets. It said it would also hire Colleen Sullivan, currently CEO of the digital arm of trading firm CMT, to lead private and venture investments in crypto.
Brevan's expansion comes on the back of other high-profile money managers venturing into this space in recent months. Hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones has invested in bitcoin while Man Group trades bitcoin futures.
An annual report published by PriceWaterHouseCoopers, Alternative Investment Management Association and Elwood Asset Management found total assets under management of crypto hedge funds globally nearly doubled to $3.8 billion in 2020 from US$2 billion in the previous year.
The rise in institutional interest comes as a wider range of cryptocurrencies become available while bitcoin and ethereum, the world's best known coins, are trading well below their record highs.
"What was initially seen as something of a fad now appears to be becoming a more permanent structure of the financial landscape and this has started to see what were initially fringe financial instruments moving to become more mainstream and very much forcing the institutional interest we are now seeing," said Stuart Cole, head macroeconomist at London-based Equiti Capital.
The rise in institutional interest has rippled over to the trading space. Eurex, Deutsche Boerse's derivatives exchange, launched bitcoin futures on Monday to feed on the growing interest.
Coinbase, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, says institutional interest in trading cryptocurrencies has soared this year.
In its second quarter letter to shareholders, Coinbase said turnover of cryptocurrencies hit a record $462 billion in the three months to June. Of this amount, $317 billion was traded by institutional investors and the rest by retail clients.
This ratio has flipped from the first quarter of 2018 when retail investors accounted for the lion's share of cryptocurrency trading.
While hedge funds and exchanges have scrambled to capture trading revenues, global banks have been relatively slow to latch on to the trend, with their wealth management clients largely pushing them to offer cryptocurrency trading.
Citigroup Inc is considering offering bitcoin futures trading for some institutional clients while Standard Chartered has formed a newly minted research division for cryptocurrencies.
Graphic: Big money comes into cryptocurrencies: https://graphics.reuters.com/CRYPTOCURRENCIES-VOLUME/gdpzyqybrvw/chart.png
(Reporting by Simon Jessop and Saikat Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Bernadette Baum)