🎙 "ETH and Most DeFi is Trading Cheaper Than Web2 and With Better Growth:” VanEck's Matthew Sigel

In this week’s episode we speak with Matthew Sigel, head of digital asset research at VanEck, an asset management firm overseeing $80 billion, which has shifted its focus heavily into crypto. They started out with investments almost exclusively in Bitcoin,...

In this week’s episode we speak with Matthew Sigel, head of digital asset research at VanEck, an asset management firm overseeing $80 billion, which has shifted its focus heavily into crypto. They started out with investments almost exclusively in Bitcoin, but now, with Matthew on board, the firm is becoming increasingly bullish on Ethereum and DeFi.

Matthew has a very methodical way of analyzing cryptocurrencies, applying the same rigorous methods used in traditional finance, and so it becomes even more compelling to hear him make the case for Ethereum’s market cap growing to $2 trillion. He also believes even after this year’s bull run, Ethereum and most DeFi protocols are trading cheaper than Web 2.0 and with better growth.

We also talk about how to best capture DeFi’s growth and Matthew believes investors should have exposure to Etheruem and the top smart contract chains, because he's found that while Eth is the market leader, the smaller coins have historically outperformed. Still, Matthew wonders whether all the growth of TVL isn’t just essentially venture capital being pumped into these protocols. Even if that’s the case, he says, it’s not so bad if that means DeFi will be able to get some leverage in Washington, which he believes is pushing investors into inferior crypto products. That’s what VanEck is trying its best to improve while following the rule book.

The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Camila.

🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:

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Matthew Sigel: Sure. So my early work experience was as a financial journalist. So I covered markets at Bloomberg, CNBC, NHK, the Japanese broadcaster. And working in media, especially TV, there's so much effort that goes into the logistics, as you know, of getting sound and video on air, that was especially true in the early part of my career before the internet was so widespread, and it started to get kind of frustrating as to the depth that I could explore any one topic.

I got tired of interviewing people with bigger balance sheets than me all the time. So I had this itch to try managing money and did what a lot of reporters do, which is make relationships and network and started studying for the CFA, found myself at AllianceBernstein for interviews and in front of Cathie Wood, and she just picked me out of obscurity. Because Cathie is the kind of person who looks for nontraditional backgrounds, and then kind of trains her people.

“I got tired of interviewing people with bigger balance sheets than me all the time.”

So, I spent four years there. Originally, we were managing a US thematic portfolio. We launched a global fund in the beginning of the crisis, bought a lot of Web 2.0 names, a lot of China, had great performance for a couple of years with that Global Fund. But I just found myself missing things about journalism that you can find on the sell side, so writing things and getting feedback from people instead of just prices, which I guess at that young age I found stressful, and a little lonely.

So I moved to the sell side, spent 10 years at a Hong Kong-based broker called CLSA in a variety of sales and research roles, eventually settling into writing a weekly market newsletter, macro-thematic in nature that tried to combine some top down themes with like bottoms up security selection. And this is how I pivoted into crypto because in 2017, I wrote a piece called “Google is Evil,” which by now is very consensus. My piece went through all of the natural monopoly characteristics of these Web 2.0 giants and some of the destructive impacts that they were having on my old industry, the journalism industry.

And the conclusion of that piece was “Google is Evil,” buy Google. But I also timestamped my first Bitcoin buy in that piece, because I started thinking about what are the technologies and the market-based solutions that will eventually disrupt these platforms, because the high return on capital would invite competition eventually. And to me, Bitcoin seemed to be the embodiment of the killer app that would leverage that decentralized technology to eventually threaten these profit pools. And that was early days. But I kept crypto and Bitcoin on my radar and owned Bitcoin by then, so I was monitoring it.

And then in 2020 when COVID hit and the world kind of turned upside down and watched even further erosion of credibility by mainstream media, at least as far as I was concerned, there was just a wider and wider gap between what people were actually believing and what they were reading in the media. And that's, for me, one of the primary narrative arcs of crypto is that for some, it's a play on disillusionment. And that's not all it is, but it's part of what it is, on any side of the political spectrum, together with the Fed's monetary policy and the upcoming Bitcoin having, that seemed to be a perfect backdrop for crypto and I started pounding the table and buying more, writing more, meeting more people and landed here at VanEck shortly thereafter.

“And that's, for me, one of the primary narrative arcs of crypto is that for some, it's a play on disillusionment.”

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