SEC clears way for Bitcoin ETFs in milestone for crypto market


They finally did it.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has paved the way for retail investors to gain access to the world’s largest digital asset, Bitcoin, by approving the first sale and distribution of 11 exchange traded funds that will track the daily or “spot” price of the asset.  


Late Wednesday afternoon, following a series of embarrassing technical missteps and a hack of the SEC social media account, the Commission voted 3-to-2 to greenlight the ETFs sale in the US.

Until now, small investors wishing to trade digital assets would have to buy and sell them on unregulated crypto exchanges and, in some cases, fell victim to scams and fraud. The most notable example being the $8 billion of customer funds embezzled by convicted former crypto kingpin Sam Bankman-Fried on his now-defunct FTX exchange. 

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on Friday that it would delay enforcement of certain assets from a new disclosure rule for off-exchange securities until Jan. 3, 2022. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Starting Thursday, ETF’s tracking the daily or spot price of Bitcoin will begin trading on the Nasdaq, the New York Stock Exchange, and the CBOE, a key marker in the maturation and mainstreaming of the $1.7 trillion crypto market. They can purchase the ETFs through some of the nation’s most venerable asset managers, such as BlackRock, Fidelity and Grayscale, which specializes in digital assets and traded on the world’s most regulated stock exchanges.


In 2021, the SEC approved the sale of a Bitcoin ETF that tracks the futures market. The key difference is that futures products can only be sold to accredited investors, or those considered “sophisticated” and have a high net worth.

The new spot Bitcoin ETFs can be sold to any investor. They can be purchased through brokers or on a discount-brokerage app, meaning potentially millions of new investors could soon be owning a piece of the crypto business.  

“I am celebrating the right of American investors to express their thoughts on bitcoin by buying and selling spot bitcoin ETP,” said SEC Commissoner Hester Perice. “And I am celebrating the perseverance of market participants in trying to bring to market a product they think investors want.” 

Peircs was one of the 3 commissioners that voted to approve the ETFs.

The crypto industry’s journey to this point was not a smooth one. The regulatory oversight of crypto has been fraught since the SEC began its attempts to regulate it in 2017 when former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton brought enforcement actions against several so-called initial coin offerings. In his last act as SEC Chair, Clayton brought litigation against cross-border payments company Ripple for selling the token XRP to finance the buildout of its platform, claiming that doing so without SEC approval was in violation of securities laws.

However, courts have looked askance at the SEC’s attempts to regulate the crypto market in recent months given the regulatory gray area concerning digital coins. Ripple spent $200 million fighting SEC action and won a mixed victory after three years in the courts where a U.S. district judge ruled that the company’s sales of XRP to institutional investors like banks did indeed violate securities laws, as the SEC claimed, but its sales to secondary market investors on crypto exchanges did not.


The SEC has said it plans to appeal the ruling.  

SEC, Bitcoin logos

The seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is being displayed on a smartphone, with Bitcoin visible on the screen in the background, in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium, on January 9, 2024.  (Photo Illustration by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The SEC’s current chair, Biden appointee Gary Gensler, has been even tougher on the crypto industry, filing more than two dozen enforcement cases against it just in 2023. Some of those actions included big exchanges like Coinbase and Binance, which both plan to fight the commission in court, as Ripple did.  

But it was one loss in particular that experts say paved the way for the Commission’s approval of the Bitcoin Spot ETFS. Grayscale’s August 2023 victory over the SEC when a DC appeals court ruled the agency could not outright deny the firm’s request to convert its Bitcoin Trust product into a Spot ETF.

The judicial panel ruled the SEC must take a closer look at the application, which was the signal many would-be ETF issuers were waiting for that courts prefer a tighter regulatory touch than what the SEC was pursuing.   

Spot bitcoin ETF applications from major asset managers and crypto outfits poured in during the summer. Cathie Wood’s Ark21Shares product and other crypto firms like Bitwise had already submitted their applications earlier in the year, bringing the total number of applicants to 11 by the end of 2023.  

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – DECEMBER 04: Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, attends a roundtable discussion titled: “Financing the New Climate Economy,” during which he described the urgent need for a “new financial landscape” for funding investments in (Sean Gallup/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, who was once a bitcoin bear, told FOX Business in October that he now sees Bitcoin as a store of value and an international asset. The change in tune from Wall Street, paired with pressure from the courts and the support of someone with Larry Finks gravitas (he runs the largest money manager in the world) made the approval of a Bitcoin Spot product inevitable, experts say.  


Securities lawyers say Gensler’s contempt of the asset class was apparent early on by the way in which the agency mandated the ETFs be structured – in-cash only – meaning investors can only buy and redeem shares of the ETF using cash, not bitcoin. This is a deviation from traditional commodities-based ETFs which allow their customers to purchase shares using the underlying asset. 

The SEC remains concerned that the cryptocurrency market is largely unregulated and susceptible to bad actors with malicious intentions.  

In approving the ETFs, the SEC weighed those factors, FOX Business has learned, though it recently came to the conclusion that allowing investors to trade bitcoin in security-form on highly regulated exchanges is better than having small investors trading digital coins through opaque means.   

Adding to the myriad of hurdles the industry cleared leading up to Wednesday’s approval came from a series of flubs from the SEC itself including a hack on the agency’s official X (formerly Twitter) account on Tuesday, falsely announcing the ETF’s were ready to begin trading.   


A representation of bitcoin is seen in an illustration picture taken on June 23, 2017.  (Benoit Tessier/File Photo / Reuters Photos)

Late Tuesday, the price of Bitcoin jumped close to $48,000 on the news before the SEC regained control of its account with Gensler taking to his personal account to retract the statement and inform the market that his agency’s account had been compromised.  


The mysterious circumstances and unprecedented nature of the event lead many industry watchers to believe the SEC would further delay approval beyond the deadline. Minutes before the close of trading Wednesday, the SEC fumbled again when it prematurely posted approvals of issuer’s applications, only to take them down again before making its official announcement after the 4pm closing bell. 


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