Mar 14, 2024 - Business

How Grayscale nabbed the coveted BTC ticker

Illustration of "BTC" in a stock ticker typeface surrounded by green stock ticker arrows.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

When is BTC not bitcoin? When it's a ticker symbol.

Why it matters: The world of bitcoin ETFs is both highly commoditized and fiercely competitive. One way to stand out from the crowd is to boast the coveted BTC ticker symbol — and it turns out that's what Grayscale has managed to do.

The big picture: Grayscale laid the groundwork for this week's announcement of its new bitcoin ETF more than three years ago when it bought an equity stake in ClearShares, an ETF provider.

  • As part of that deal, ClearShares snapped up the BTC ticker and attached it to a small ETF that no one cared about — the Piton Intermediate Fixed Income fund.
  • In 2021, Grayscale had already long been agitating for a bitcoin ETF and knew that once such things were allowed, controlling the BTC ticker would give it an advantage over the competition.

Between the lines: It's not clear whether the BTC ticker was on the short list of "reserved" tickers that are held back by the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to attract new listings.

  • Even if it was, however, ETF companies like ClearShares are some of the exchanges' best customers, putting them in a strong position when it comes to nabbing coveted tickers.
  • Case in point: ETF provider VanEck ended up with the BUZZ ticker for its "social sentiment" fund, meaning that BuzzFeed was forced to make do with BZFD.

What we're watching: If and when US Steel gets acquired, the X ticker will revert to NYSE, which will have the option of adding it to its reserved list. (By adding X, however, it would have to release some other ticker currently on the list.)

  • If Elon Musk ever decided to take his social network public, or even his space-exploration company SpaceX, he would almost certainly want the X ticker and thereby be forced to list with NYSE.
  • That event might be many years off, however. Most of the time, the exchanges reserve tickers only for IPOs they expect in the next year or two — which means it's possible X could end up becoming available to the first company that asks for it.

The bottom line: Grayscale effectively bought control of the BTC ticker three years ago. Now it gets to use it.

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