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SEC Chair Hints Some Stablecoins Are Securities

Stock tokens and stablecoins backed by securities might be treated as securities under U.S. law, SEC Chair Gary Gensler said.

Jul 21, 2021 at 4:17 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:28 p.m. UTC

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler said cryptocurrencies whose prices depend on more traditional securities might fall under securities laws.

Speaking to the American Bar Association on Tuesday, Gensler said some platforms are offering crypto tokens “that are priced off” securities and resemble derivatives products. In his view, any security-based products will have to comply with trade reporting rules and other laws, he said.

“Make no mistake: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a stock token, a stable value token backed by securities, or any other virtual product that provides synthetic exposure to underlying securities,” he said. “These platforms – whether in the decentralized or centralized finance space – are implicated by the securities laws and must work within our securities regime.”

Gensler warned that his agency may bring future enforcement actions as well, noting that “we’ve brought some cases involving retail offering of securities-based swaps,” seemingly referring to a case the SEC brought against financial app Abra, which paid $300,000 in penalties on charges of selling security-based swaps to retail investors last year. 

Crypto exchange Binance also recently announced it was closing its stock token business, though technically U.S. customers should not have been able to access this service.

Gensler didn’t specify any tokens in his speech, but his remarks come amid increased regulatory scrutiny around digital assets, with stablecoins in particular popping up more and more in congressional hearings.

Yesterday, Circle, the issuer of USDC, published a breakdown of the assets backing the stablecoin. In addition to cash, the token is backed by money market funds, commercial paper, corporate and municipal bonds and certificates of deposits issued by foreign banks.

Some of these reserves, including the money market funds, bonds and commercial paper, are currently treated as securities under U.S. law.

Tether, the issuer of the world’s largest stablecoin, USDT, has also said its reserves included investments in commercial paper and corporate bonds. 

Gensler isn’t alone in his view that stablecoins that are backed by securities should be treated as securities. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) previously told CoinDesk that “it gets hard to say” that such a stablecoin isn’t itself a security. 

“I think you could easily craft a stablecoin that meets a test that says ‘no, this is not a security,’” the lawmaker said. 

Stablecoins that are backed by securities should be regulated by the SEC, he said.

DISCLOSURE

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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