Bitcoin ETF Confusion Abounds

A hacked X/Twitter account and misunderstood filings make for a wild countdown to an expected approval.

AccessTimeIconJan 10, 2024 at 7:30 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 7:39 p.m. UTC
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The crypto industry can breathe a sigh of relief: It looks like a federal U.S. regulator will let the world's largest traditional finance asset managers and other firms list and trade shares of a vehicle giving retail and institutional investors exposure to the price of a decentralized, trustless, stateless digital asset (if you're in the U.S.). But of course, the bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) drama wouldn't be complete without, well, drama.

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Stop it

The narrative

On Tuesday afternoon Eastern time, the official X (formerly Twitter) account belonging to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that all outstanding applications to list and trade shares of a spot bitcoin ETF had been approved. The problem was that none of these applications had been approved; the account was "compromised" and someone posted a 'shopped graphic.

On Wednesday, Cboe BZX exchange started taking some additional steps to list and trade shares of spot bitcoin ETFs, further suggesting we may be close to an approval.

Why it matters

A spot bitcoin ETF is seen as a vehicle that retail traders can invest in (through everyday brokerage accounts) and institutional investors can access (because the shares are registered securities).

Breaking it down

Tea leaves

First off: There are tons of little signs that suggest a spot bitcoin ETF is getting approved, probably later today. Cboe has filed acceleration requests to register that it will list and trade shares of various ETFs. It also sent letters out on Tuesday saying it planned to begin trading pending approvals.

Fidelity's brokerage has started setting up pages for some of the ETFs that may launch as soon as Thursday morning. E-Trade later started doing the same, suggesting they're also preparing to let their customers buy and trade shares of these products.

Combined with the back-and-forth between SEC officials and issuers, these signs all hint that an ETF may well launch – soon. And if one is approved, it's likely the entire slate will be allowed to go live.

Confusion abounds

Of course, this isn't crypto unless there's some ridiculous drama. On Tuesday, the SEC's X/Twitter page was compromised, leading to a tweet saying the ETFs were approved. X's Safety team claimed that an unknown party was able to gain control over the phone number associated with the @SECgov account, and that the account did not have the security measure known as two-factor authentication enabled.

SEC officials have, as of the time of writing this, not responded to a request for comment on what happened or on the X statement.

(Editor's note: I recommend enabling two-factor authentication on your accounts, especially in this day and age. You can use hardware keys like Yubikey or software tools like Authy or Google Authenticator, but token-based 2FA is better than text-messaging based 2FA. This is not an endorsement of any particular tool, just naming some examples.)

On Wednesday, adding to the confusion, some individuals misinterpreted the filings from Cboe announcing its acceleration requests, saying those were in fact approvals. They're not – they're just procedural – but the filings again suggest the approvals may happen.

What we might see

If an ETF is approved, we may learn about it soon. Like, really soon. But officially, we'll know when the SEC declares a registration effective, which will likely first show up in its EDGAR database.

"If the Commission declares a registration statement effective, that is reflected on EDGAR," an SEC spokesperson told me last week. "Any Commission 19b-4 orders will be posted on our website and then published in the Federal Register."

This will probably happen somewhere between 4 p.m. ET (21:00 UTC) and 5:30 p.m. ET (22:30 UTC). Bloomberg Intelligence's Eric Balchunas set a range from 4-6 p.m. Either way, that's the magic window.

An individual affiliated with one aspiring issuer said the recognitions may come earlier in the window, giving issuers a chance to file their post-effective amended statements announcing their intention to begin trading on Thursday morning. Those statements may come on Thursday morning itself, though, depending on timing.

For the next few hours at least, we'll be in this weird limbo where all signs suggest an approval is imminent, but nothing is certain.

Stories you may have missed

This week

soc 011023

Monday

  • 17:00 UTC (12:00 p.m. ET) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission's Technology Advisory Committee voted to recommend a report on decentralized finance to the broader commission.

Wednesday

  • 19:00 UTC (2:00 p.m. ET) A House Financial Services subcommittee is holding a hearing on the Financial Stability Oversight Council, where crypto will come up.

Elsewhere:

  • (The Air Current) An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft lost a plug door shortly after takeoff last week, explosively decompressing and making an emergency landing a few minutes later. No one appears to have been seriously injured, and the Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all U.S.-based MAX 9 aircraft pending further inspections. Preliminary inspections by Alaska and United have already identified loose bolts (Disclosure: I'm invested in Boeing shares).
soc twt 011023

If you’ve got thoughts or questions on what I should discuss next week or any other feedback you’d like to share, feel free to email me at nik@coindesk.com or find me on Twitter @nikhileshde.

You can also join the group conversation on Telegram.

See ya’ll next week!

Edited by Nick Baker.

Disclosure

Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Nikhilesh De

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.


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