Apr 26, 2022 - Economy & Business

Pressure grows in bitcoin ETF saga

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Bitcoiners are an argumentative bunch, but if there's one thing they really want — as soon as possible — it's an exchange traded fund (ETF) that holds actual bitcoin in the United States.

Why it matters: An ETF would make it easy for the casual investor to hold a little bitcoin in the same account they hold stocks in. That's nice for those who want that.

  • Because no small number probably would want it, that would likely mean the price of bitcoin would go up, which also would be nice for bitcoiners.

Of note: Yes, there are U.S. Bitcoin ETFs now, but they only trade bitcoin derivatives (futures) that only exist on regulated marketplaces.

  • The ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF began trading in October.

What's new? The world's largest bitcoin fund, the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, would like to convert to an ETF, but it has not been permitted to do so.

What they're saying: "The SEC has run out of excuses for continuing to deny spot Bitcoin ETFs. Treating ETFs dissimilarly, like Bitcoin Futures and those holding bitcoin directly, is a violation of the SEC’s responsibilities under the Administrative Procedure Act and Exchange Act," Craig Salm, of Grayscale's legal team, tells Axios via a spokesperson.

  • Earlier this month, another bitcoin futures ETF (again, derivatives, not actual bitcoin) was approved but under a different law than the prior ones. This is thought to strenghten the case for a spot ETF.

Yes, but: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been reluctant to approve such an instrument for a while.

  • The Winklevoss brothers, co-founders of Facebook and founders of the crypto exchange Gemini, were the first to try for a spot ETF all the way back in 2013.
  • In 2018, the SEC told the twins that they did not believe bitcoin was safe from market manipulation.
  • The problem with bitcoin is that it trades all over the place, all over the world. You could trade it in your backyard with a shady character, if you want.

Nevertheless, it's getting a little hard to keep track of all the companies trying to launch one. ETF applications from Fidelity, SkyBridge and First Trust have failed recently.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is not waiting for Gary Gensler's green light.

The intrigue: Isn't an ETF like, totally against the core ethos of bitcoin? Wasn't the ideal that bitcoin cut out middle men and empowered individuals to exercise sovereignty over their property? Yes.

  • Bitcoin's a lot of pressure that way. Some folks just want "number go up."
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