The final hours are ticking down for an appeal from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in its dispute with Grayscale Investments over establishing a spot bitcoin (BTC) exchange-traded fund (ETF). If the agency does nothing further by midnight Eastern, Grayscale's application to convert its Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) to an ETF formally returns to life.
Industry observers are widely expecting the SEC to let the deadline run out because the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision 45 days ago was clear and even harsh in its assessment of how the agency declined the application, calling it "arbitrary and capricious" and saying the regulator was inappropriately trying to treat a spot ETF differently than a similar futures ETF. However, as the SEC is forced to rethink the Grayscale effort, it technically has the authority to further extend the dispute if the commission wants to find fault with other aspects of the application.
At stake is what could be an easily traded, mainstream investment product focused on bitcoin. The industry hopes a spot ETF will bring investors in from the sidelines.
Grayscale first applied for its GBTC closed-end fund (currently with roughly $17 billion in assets under management) to be converted into a spot bitcoin ETF in October 2021. Grayscale – a unit of Digital Currency Group, which is also the parent of CoinDesk – isn't alone in its pursuit of this approval. High profile financial firms including BlackRock and Fidelity are also awaiting SEC word on their applications for spot bitcoin ETFs.
"GBTC remains operationally ready to convert to an ETF upon appropriate regulatory approvals," Jennifer Rosenthal, a Grayscale spokeswoman, said on Friday.
SEC spokespeople didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Even in a victory for ETF applicants, plenty of questions remain as to when the first product would go online, and whose it would be. The approvals required from the SEC are wide-ranging and involve multiple divisions at the agency, and it's unclear whether the agency would approve several applicants at once or proceed on a timeline based on when applications came in. As for the markets, experts are guessing that the SEC's eventual approval of the ETFs is at least partially priced in.
"That makes it less clear how much more bitcoin could outperform if a favorable U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) decision occurs," David Duong, head of institutional research at Coinbase Institutional, wrote in a monthly report sent to subscribers on Thursday.
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