SEC Throws Cold Water on Bitcoin ETF Plans

sec

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has thrown cold water on exchange-traded fund (ETF) providers jockeying to list the first bitcoin ETF.

Thought to be a game-changer for cryptocurrency adoption, bitcoin ETFs would provide investors with the ability to obtain exposure to the flagship cryptocurrency through a conventionally-wrapped investment product.

Fund providers have sought SEC approval for cryptocurrency-derived ETFs for years, but the SEC has been reluctant to lend its approval to these products, which would likely be popular among retail investors.

The rush to list a bitcoin ETF intensified following the launch of the first bitcoin futures contracts, as the general consensus among analysts was that the SEC would quickly approve a fund that invested exclusively in futures contracts, which currently trade on two regulated US exchanges.

However, several recent developments indicate that this may not be the case.

Most recently, the SEC sent two investment industry trade groups a lengthy letter outlining a number of “significant investor protection issues” that fund sponsors must answer before the agency will consider approving a bitcoin ETF.

“We believe…that there are a number of significant investor protection issues that need to be examined before sponsors begin offering these funds to retail investors,” Dalia Blass, director of investment management at the SEC, wrote in the letter, which was dated Jan. 18.

Blass said that the SEC was chiefly concerned about the liquidity of the futures markets, as well as how to assign a fair market value to what would be intensely-volatile products. However, she also touched on a variety of other topics, including market manipulation, custodial issues, and arbitrage.

“[T]he innovative nature of cryptocurrencies and related products, as well as their expected use and utility in our financial markets, means that they are, in many ways, unlike the types of investments that registered funds currently hold in substantial amounts. In light of these considerations, we have, at this time, significant outstanding questions concerning how funds holding substantial amounts of cryptocurrencies and related products would satisfy” federal securities laws, Blass said.

Earlier this month, the SEC reportedly asked fund providers to voluntarily withdraw their bitcoin ETF applications, citing some of the concerns outlined in the letter above.

Notably, the agency also pressured the first blockchain-focused funds to remove the word “blockchain” from their names, although these ETFs — which primarily invest in companies experimenting with blockchain technology — were allowed to begin trading this week after complying with this request.

Featured Image from SEC/Flickr

South Korea Cryptocurrency Trading Ban Is Still Undecided

south korea cryptocurrency trading ban

South Korea’s Blue House has clarified that there is not a cryptocurrency ban being considered by the country. Even though two Korean Bitcoin exchanges were raided, the government is not planning to ban cryptocurrency any time soon. They even further clarified that many different government organizations would be coordinating to fully allow regulated cryptocurrency trading.

Yu Yong-seok, a spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Justice clarified to Korean press that their previous words were not indicative of the entire South Korean government’s stance he said that the position that cryptocurrency was only used for gambling “[…] is a position of the Ministry of Justice, not a government position.”

South Korea cryptocurrency trading ban won’t be happening in the short term

The political party currently in the Blue House, the South Korean equivalent of the American White House, commented:

“The government announcement should be based on detailed reviews and coordination. If there is a problem, we should warn and prepare in advance. “The behavior we showed today was the opposite. Minister of Justice Park Sang-ki, who is responsible for the announcement today, has lost confidence.”

Some are even petitioning for Attorney General Park’s removal from office. The South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance additionally revealed that they first heard of the supposed Korean cryptocurrency trading ban of 2018 through media reports – and were shocked. Cryptocurrency is at a size now that individual arms of government can’t act alone. Even in the United States, the different statuses of Bitcoin in different regulatory bodies has somewhat stifled innovation, even just at the federal level not including individual states’ additional requirements such as the BitLicense.

Minister of Justice Says South Korea Prepares Bill to Ban Cryptocurrency Trading; Raids Coinone and Bithumb

south korea bans cryptocurrency trading

The Justice Ministry of South Korea has announced plans to ban cryptocurrency trading. While this is not a ban on the use and holding of cryptocurrency, the effect on exchanges is already being felt. Multiple Korean cryptocurrency exchanges have been raided by local tax authorities and police. The alleged crime? Tax evasion. The finance ministry had increasingly been looking into local cryptocurrency exchanges, especially as their activity grew to eclipse that of Korean stock exchanges such as Kosdaq. Korean official Park Sang-ki said at a press conference:

“There are great concerns regarding virtual currencies and justice ministry is basically preparing a bill to ban cryptocurrency trading through exchanges.”

Korean cryptocurrency exchanges raided by authorities

The two largest Bitcoin exchanges in Korea, Coinone and Bithumb, were raided during this past week. According to a Coinone employee that spoke to Reuters under conditions of anonymity, the exchange is cooperating with authorities on the tax matter. He said:

“Local police also have been investigating our company since last year, they think what we do is gambling.”

In addition to exchanges, the finance ministry is also looking into the banks that are providing virtual currency account services to exchanges, and possibly other companies. According to reports, six local bank are under the eye of financial authorities for offering such services.

Cryptocurrency Market Cap retreats on false news of Korean cryptocurrency trading ban

Since the release of this news, cryptocurrency markets across the world have reacted to the news negatively. Korean exchanges were a major driver of volume prior to these events, and were largely perceived to have captured the activity of other Asian cryptocurrency traders, such as those in China. Which cryptocurrency exchange becomes the top of the pack now, remains to be seen. One thing seems certain though, the days of the top volume exchanges being based in South Korea and driving the all time highs are long gone.

CFTC Proposes Bitcoin Regulations to Curb Unlicensed Futures Trading

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) proposed regulations that will curb unlicensed bitcoin futures trading within the country.

The proposed regulations, announced by the CFTC on Friday, explicitly place bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies under the framework for “actual delivery” that currently governs the purchase of physical commodities such as gold and oil.

Under this framework, exchanges and traders must demonstrate an ability to physically deliver the commodities to their owners within 28 days of purchase. Otherwise, the purchase constitutes a futures contract and is subject to a litany of other regulations governing futures trading.

The full text of the proposed regulatory language has been reproduced below

(1) a customer having the ability to: (i) take possession and control of the entire quantity of the commodity, whether it was purchased on margin, or using leverage, or any other financing arrangement, and (ii) use it freely in commerce (both within and away from any particular platform) no later than 28 days from the date of the transaction; and

(2) the offeror and counterparty seller (including any of their respective affiliates or other persons acting in concert with the offeror or counterparty seller on a similar basis) not retaining any interest in or control over any of the commodity purchased on margin, leverage, or other financing arrangement at the expiration of 28 days from the date of the transaction.

The key point in the proposed language is that the seller may not retain “any interest in or control over any of the commodity” for more than 28 days following the date of the transactions. According to a 23-page document (PDF) accompanying the proposed regulations, this includes exchange-controlled deposit wallets where the trading platform operators — not the traders — retain control of the private keys.

Although the CFTC has long classified bitcoin as a commodity, the physical delivery provision was a thorny issue for cryptocurrency market participants because bitcoin does not exist as a physical entity.

Last year, the CFTC reached a $75,000 settlement with overseas exchange Bitfinex after the commission found that the exchange continued to hold the purchased bitcoins in exchange-controlled wallets after the actual delivery exception expiration date.

The Bitfinex case highlights an important point regarding the extent of the commission’s jurisdiction. The regulations would not just apply to U.S.-based exchanges, but also foreign trading platforms that provide services to Americans. Consequently, this regulatory guidance could lead overseas exchanges that offer margin trading to further restrict access to U.S. residents.

The CFTC will accept public comments on the proposed bitcoin regulations for 90 days, a period that will commence following their publication in the Federal Register.