It's not every day, or even every decade, that an entirely new asset class is born. Yet, through a combination of computer science, cryptography, economics and network theory, digital assets have arrived and are proving that they are an asset class unlike any other.
As they transform our global financial infrastructure and challenge modern monetary theory, we believe digital assets are one of the most exciting investment opportunities of the 21st century.
New asset classes are rare and powerful because they offer a unique return stream that can diversify a portfolio. This might seem like a simple concept, but few investors truly appreciate the impact this can have on the return/risk profile of a portfolio, and subsequent wealth creation. As Cliff Asness, managing principal and chief investment officer of AQR Capital Management, has said, "Diversification is the one free lunch of investing, and when you see a free lunch, the only rational thing to do is eat."
Consistent with modern portfolio theory, we generally subscribe to the notion that the optimal return/risk ratio for a portfolio can be found on the efficient frontier. But contrary to conventional wisdom, we think many of today's asset allocators are missing out on a free lunch. That's because digital assets represent a brand-new investment opportunity that is uncorrelated to other asset classes and investors are generally underallocated to this sector. It is our view that the optimal beta portfolio lies somewhere higher than what was previously believed to be the efficient frontier, and digital assets are the proverbial "missing piece of the puzzle."
Digital currencies, like bitcoin, seek to fulfill the role of a decentralized global currency and store of value. Others, like zcash and monero, build upon bitcoin's role by offering privacy-enhancing features. Digital commodities, like ethereum, fuel decentralized applications that can execute condition-based transactions through the use of smart contracts, while assets like ethereum classic are a hybrid currency and commodity, combining the monetary attributes that have made bitcoin a digital store of value with the smart contract capabilities of ethereum. These are just a few examples of how digital assets are functioning today.
Moreover, digital assets are at the intersection of some of the most significant trends reshaping the global economy, including:
- Advancements in financial technologies and payment infrastructure.
- Regulatory shifts, altering financial industry economics and increasing the cost of compliance.
- Demographic shifts, driven by the next generation of investors entering their prime earning years and retirement obligations, financed primarily by equity and bond investments, coming due.
Combining the growth opportunities that digital assets offer as a new technology and the store of-value characteristics that many of them possess as alternative currencies, digital assets may have the potential to provide both inflation protection and growth exposure concurrently.
In Figure 1, we examine the relationship that some established digital assets have to traditional assets and each other through a correlation matrix constructed from rolling one-month returns over the last 1 1/2-plus years.