The 3 Best Bitcoin Stocks in 2017

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When the calendar does finally flip to 2018, there's a really good chance we'll look back and refer to 2017 as the year of the cryptocurrency. At the beginning of the year, the aggregate market cap of all cryptocurrencies was a mere $17.65 billion. By Nov. 12, the 1,276 listed digital currencies had an aggregate market cap of $192 billion. You know, just your standard 988% return in 10 months and 12 days. By comparison, it's taken the S&P 500 decades to deliver the same return for long-term investors.

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Leading the charge has been the crypto trio of bitcoin, bitcoin cash, and Ethereum. Bitcoin cash, which came into being just months ago after bitcoin's soft fork, recently exploded higher by 300% in a matter of days, briefly surpassing the market cap of Ethereum. Speaking of which, Ethereum has seen its value increase by nearly 3,700% year to date, to a market cap of $29 billion. Meanwhile, bitcoin, while "underperforming" in a sense compared to its peers, has gained 485% this year (through Nov. 12) and has a market cap of $95 billion.

2017's best bitcoin stocks

As you might imagine, the popularity of, and gains in, bitcoin have made it an attractive investment. Of course, decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges where bitcoin can be bought aren't for everyone. Instead, investors have been eagerly looking for bitcoin exposure in the stock market. The following three equities, which have direct and/or indirect ties to bitcoin, have been the best bitcoin stocks of 2017.

Bitcoin Investment Trust: Up 623%

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top bitcoin stock in 2017 has been Grayscale's Bitcoin Investment Trust (NASDAQOTH: GBTC), which is up 623% through Nov. 12. The Bitcoin Investment Trust owns a relatively fixed amount of bitcoin, making it easy for investors to calculate its net asset value. Considering its listing on the over-the-counter boards, buying into the Bitcoin Investment Trust gives investors potentially improved liquidity, and perhaps a bit of extra transparency, over purchasing bitcoin directly on a decentralized exchange.

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But there's also a downside that's pretty tough to overlook. Namely, its market cap has consistently ranged between 25% and 100% higher than its net asset value in recent months. In other words, investors have been willingly paying a huge premium to have a stake in an equity that holds bitcoin, rather than purchasing bitcoin from a decentralized exchange. Is added liquidity worth paying 25% or 50% more than the underlying value of the coins? I really don't think so, which is why this could be the most dangerous bitcoin investment.

And should you need an added reason to keep your distance, the annual management fee for essentially sitting on bitcoin is a hearty 2% of your investment.

Overstock.com: Up 199%

Another company that's caught the bitcoin bug is online retailer Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK), which has gained 199% since the year began. But unlike the Bitcoin Investment Trust, bitcoin isn't directly responsible for all of Overstock's gains this year. Although Overstock is the very first major retailer to accept bitcoin (which it's done since 2014), as well as Ethereum, bitcoin cash, LiteCoin, Dash, and Monero, it's the company's subsidiary, tZero, that's drawing all of the attention.

For months, tZero has been building out the Medici t0 blockchain.  For those unfamiliar, blockchain is the technology that underlies most virtual currencies. It's the digital and decentralized ledger that records transactions without the need for a financial intermediary like a bank. Best of all, since its usually open source, tampering with the logged data is practically impossible. Blockchain could very well be the future for the financial services industry.

With regard to Overstock, its Medici t0 will be a blockchain-based securities lending system that'll go toe to toe with Wall Street firms. However, the Medici t0 blockchain is expected to do so more efficiently, securely, and for a lower cost than traditional Wall Street firms. There's a lot of hype surrounding this blockchain project, which is a big reason Overstock has rallied so much. It remains to be seen if the hype can deliver tangible results.

NVIDIA: Up 102%

Graphics card manufacturer NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) is another top bitcoin stock, having mustered a gain of 102% since the beginning of the year. In years' past, the high-powered graphics cards made by NVIDIA were used to mine bitcoin. Today, however, a more specialized chipset known as ASIC handles most bitcoin mining. Nonetheless, NVIDIA's graphic cards remain a staple for mining a number of burgeoning cryptocurrencies.

But herein lies the dilemma for NVIDIA's shareholders: The company doesn't break out what percentage of its sales and sales growth is a direct result of digital currency mining. The company recently reported $1.56 billion in gaming revenue in the third quarter, which is 25% higher than the previous year, and the category where mining sales would be included. But there's simply no further breakdown within the gaming category, which leaves Wall Street and investors to guess.

However, investors have been able to take advantage of NVIDIA's growth in data centers and the cloud, which is where its true long-term foundation lies. In just the past seven quarters, data center sales have jumped from $97 million to $501 million. Because NVIDIA has this rapidly growing enterprise and gaming foundation, this is probably the most palatable investment of all stocks with cryptocurrency ties.

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Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Nvidia. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.