Bitcoin Holdings: Unveiling the Dominance of Individuals Over ETFs, Corporations, and Governments

Bitcoin is the world’s first and most popular cryptocurrency, created by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Bitcoin has a limited supply of 21 million coins, which are generated through a process called mining. But who owns these coins, and how are they distributed around the world?

According to data released by Swan Media on X, Bitcoin is already a decentralized currency, with no single entity or group controlling more than 10% of the total supply. The data shows that Bitcoin is held by a diverse range of actors, from institutional investors to individual users, from governments to non-profits, from exchanges to DeFi platforms.

Here is a breakdown of the major categories of Bitcoin holders, based on the data from Swan Media:

  • ETFs: Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are investment vehicles that track the performance of an underlying asset, such as Bitcoin. ETFs allow investors to gain exposure to Bitcoin without having to buy or store the coins themselves. Grayscale, the largest Bitcoin ETF provider, and its nine new ETFs held 647,374 BTC as of last Friday, equivalent to about 3% of the total supply. Swan Media cited 580,000, citing unupdated data. Other Bitcoin ETFs include Bitwise, VanEck, and Valkyrie.
  • Listed companies: Some publicly traded companies have invested in Bitcoin as part of their treasury management strategy, to hedge against inflation and currency devaluation. MicroStrategy, a business intelligence firm, has the largest Bitcoin holding among listed companies, with 190,000 BTC, worth about $8.5 billion at current prices. Other notable companies that own Bitcoin include Tesla, Square, Marathon Digital, Riot Blockchain, and Galaxy Digital.
  • Unlisted companies: Some private companies also hold Bitcoin, either for operational purposes or as a long-term investment. Block.one, the software company behind the EOS blockchain, has about 160,000 BTC, acquired in 2018. Mt. Gox, the infamous exchange that went bankrupt in 2014 after losing 850,000 BTC, still has about 140,000 BTC in its custody, pending legal proceedings. Tether Holdings, the issuer of the stablecoin Tether, holds 62,000 BTC as part of its reserves, according to its transparency report.
  • Governments: Some governments have acquired Bitcoin, either through confiscation, seizure, or purchase. The US government holds 215,000 BTC, mostly from law enforcement actions against criminal activities involving Bitcoin, such as the Silk Road case. The US government is the largest Bitcoin holder among governments worldwide, according to Swan Media data. China follows with 190,000 BTC, mostly from mining bans and crackdowns. Ukraine has 46,000 BTC, mostly from seized mining equipment. Vietnam, where this article is written, also has Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, according to the National Assembly audit data from October last year. It holds 1.1 billion won worth of cryptocurrency at the market price at the time.
  • DeFi: Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a fast-growing sector of the blockchain industry, that offers alternative ways to borrow, lend, trade, and invest, without intermediaries or censorship. DeFi platforms use smart contracts to enable users to interact with various financial services, such as lending, borrowing, swapping, staking, and more. Some DeFi platforms use Bitcoin as collateral, liquidity, or payment. There are about 158,000 BTC wrapped in other DeFi areas, such as WBTC, RenBTC, tBTC, and sBTC. Wrapped Bitcoin (WBTC) is the most popular way to bring Bitcoin to DeFi, with over 100,000 BTC locked in its smart contract.
  • Individuals: The largest and most diverse category of Bitcoin holders is individuals, who own Bitcoin for various reasons, such as speculation, savings, remittance, donation, or simply curiosity. It is hard to estimate the exact number of individual Bitcoin holders, as some may use multiple wallets, exchanges, or custodial services, while others may share or lose their private keys. However, based on the data from Swan Media, there are about 14.5 million Bitcoin addresses that hold more than 0.01 BTC, which is roughly $450 at current prices. Assuming that each address represents one individual, this means that there are at least 14.5 million individual Bitcoin holders in the world, or about 0.2% of the global population.

All of these categories combined represent only 10% of the total Bitcoin supply, which means that 90% of the Bitcoin is either lost, dormant, or unknown. As some Bitcoin maximalists say, concerns that ETFs may damage the essence of Bitcoin are truly unfounded, as Bitcoin remains a decentralized and scarce asset, with a diverse and growing community of supporters.

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