While the Federal Reserve’s top brass has cast a skeptical eye on cryptocurrencies, the central bank may be a surprisingly early adopter of the first Bitcoin-linked junk bond.
After the pandemic froze credit markets last year, the Fed bought bond exchange-traded funds to get things moving again. That made it the fourth-biggest owner, as of late March, of the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF.
About 0.01 per cent of that ETF, commonly known by its JNK ticker, is dedicated to the junk bonds MicroStrategy Inc. issued Tuesday to buy Bitcoin. So, that technically means the Fed — assuming it still holds the fund — just contributed a teeny bit to help MicroStrategy’s crypto foray.
“It’s a pretty small amount, but to be honest I’m surprised to see it in there so soon,” Athanasios Psarofagis, ETF analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, said of MicroStrategy’s rapid inclusion in the fund. “Fixed-income portfolio managers have a bit of discretion of which bonds they can have in the portfolio, so they could be adding a small potion ahead of a possible index inclusion.”
It’s an amusing twist of fate, given the stance U.S. policy makers have taken on cryptocurrencies. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in April that they are simply vehicles for speculation, a sentiment echoed by European Central Bank and Bank of Japan officials as well. Meanwhile, Fed Governor Lael Brainard said last month that regulation needs to “evolve” and widen with regard to crypto.
It’s not just JNK. Another Fed holding, the iShares Broad USD High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (ticker USHY), also owns a small sliver of the MicroStrategy debt, according to Bloomberg data.