Bitcoin ETFs Win SEC Approval, Bringing Easier Access to Biggest Cryptocurrency

The asset management industry has tried launching a spot bitcoin ETF for over a decade. Hopes are high they will lure more investors into crypto.

AccessTimeIconJan 10, 2024 at 9:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 7:41 p.m. UTC

U.S. regulators approved bitcoin ETFs, dramatically broadening access to the 15-year-old cryptocurrency.

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday declared effective key filings from the markets seeking to list the groundbreaking products. They will begin trading on Thursday.

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  • Bitcoin's price topped $47,500 following the decision. Other cryptocurrencies rallied, too.

    For full coverage of bitcoin ETFs, click here.

    About a dozen companies, including BlackRock, Fidelity and Grayscale, sought to create bitcoin (BTC) ETFs. In recent days they've announced – and, in some cases, slashed – the fees they plan to charge investors, suggesting a fierce battle to win investors' money is ahead. These are spot ETFs, meaning they hold bitcoin itself, versus the already-approved bitcoin futures ETFs, which hold derivatives contracts tied to BTC.

    The green light from the SEC follows many years of delays and outright rejections of numerous attempts to launch spot bitcoin ETFs. It also comes just a few months after the agency was handed a resounding loss in court. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in August ruled the SEC was "arbitrary and capricious" in its decision to reject Grayscale's attempt to convert its roughly $26 billion Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) into a spot ETF.

    In a statement, SEC Chair Gary Gensler pointed to a court loss in 2023 as part of its impetus to approve the dozen or so filings on Wednesday.

    "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the Commission failed to adequately explain its reasoning in disapproving the listing and trading of Grayscale’s proposed ETP (the Grayscale Order). The court therefore vacated the Grayscale Order and remanded the matter to the Commission. Based on these circumstances and those discussed more fully in the approval order, I feel the most sustainable path forward is to approve the listing and trading of these spot bitcoin ETP shares," he said.

    Advocates for a spot bitcoin ETF have long argued that a regulated trading product focused on the world's oldest cryptocurrency would allow institutional and retail clients to gain exposure to bitcoin's price movements without requiring them to set up wallets or otherwise directly invest in the digital asset. ETF shares, for example, will be available to any U.S. investor with a brokerage account.

    SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce, a longtime advocate for the digital asset industry, said the logic behind the regulator's previous rejections for spot bitcoin ETF filings was "perplexing."

    "Although this is a time for reflection, it is also a time for celebration. I am not celebrating bitcoin or bitcoin-related products; what one regulator thinks about bitcoin is irrelevant. I am celebrating the right of American investors to express their thoughts on bitcoin by buying and selling spot bitcoin ETPs," she said.

    However, SEC Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw said she dissented from the approval order, saying "substantial evidence indicates" the bitcoin spot market is not safe from fraud or manipulation. Spot and futures products are not the same, she said, disagreeing with the 2023 court judgement.

    "Today we rely on a questionable correlation between a disaggregated, unregulated spot market and a futures market that the SEC itself does not regulate. As I noted, we rest our laurels on the idea, or hope, that whenever fraud and manipulation in that underlying spot market occurs it should hopefully become apparent in the surveillance of that futures market. I’m not convinced that such transparency will exist," she said.

    The SEC approval early this year became seemingly a sure thing toward the end of 2023. A flurry of meetings between the agency and the proposed ETF issuers, alongside numerous amendments to the applicants' ETF S-1 filings, gave the impression of "i's" being dotted and "t's" being crossed ahead of launch.

    NYSE Arca, Cboe BZX and Nasdaq filed their final 19b-4 submissions at the end of last week, bringing the filings more in line with the amended S-1 filings submitted by the would-be ETF issuers, which also include companies Galaxy/Invesco, Ark and Franklin Templeton.

    Earlier on Wednesday, brokerages like Fidelity and E-Trade began putting tickers tied to some of these ETFs onto their platforms.

    With rising optimism about spot ETFs, the price of bitcoin shot from around the $27,000 level on Oct. 1 to over $45,000 at the start of 2024.

    Jenn Rosenthal, vice president for communications at Grayscale, said in a statement, "I am happy to confirm that the Grayscale team has received necessary regulatory approvals to uplist GBTC to NYSE Arca, and we will share a press release with additional information shortly."

    Hashdex Chief Investment Officer Samir Kerbage similarly said it was "a monumental day in the history of digital assets."

    The SEC initially published, then seemingly deleted, an order approving the U.S.'s first spot bitcoin ETFs (exchange-traded funds) on Wednesday.

    UPDATE (Jan. 10, 2024, 21:15 UTC): Updates headline, adds details throughout.

    UPDATE (Jan. 10, 21:30 UTC): Adds statement from SEC Chair Gary Gensler, Commissioner Hester Peirce and Hashdex CIO Samir Kerbage.

    UPDATE (Jan. 10, 21:45 UTC): Adds statement from Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw.

    Edited by Nick Baker.


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