bitcoin ETF Wall Street

Could a bitcoin ETF finally see approval this week?

Well, I wouldn’t get too excited, but we have reached another important moment in the bitcoin ETF decision process.

November 5th marks the deadline for public comments on nine proposed ETFs. After today’s deadline, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will make a decision to approve or deny.

So, what do you need to know?

1. The Nine Bitcoin ETFs Were Previously Rejected

The SEC will consider nine bitcoin ETFs this week; two from Proshares, Five from Direxion, and two from Granite Shares.

All nine were rejected back in late-August.

The reasons for rejection were not rooted in concerns over bitcoin itself. Rather, the SEC is worried about manipulation, fraud, and a comparatively small market size.

Further reading: What is a Bitcoin ETF? (And Will it Trigger a Bitcoin Price Surge?)

2. The SEC Decides to Review the Decision

In a strange twist, SEC Commissioner Hester Pierce tweeted shortly after the initial rejection. She implied the decision was made by SEC staffers, and the Commission would now review the applications on a higher level.

Hester Pierce SEC bitcoin ETF tweet

3. New Rules Introduce Public Comment

At the same time, the SEC introduced a new process whereby “interested parties” were invited to comment on the proposed bitcoin ETFs.

“Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED, pursuant to Commission Rule of Practice 431, that by November 5, 2018, any party or other person may file a statement in support of, or in opposition to, the action made pursuant to delegated authority.”

The deadline for these public comments is November 5th.

The SEC may, therefore, reveal its decision at any point in the coming days, weeks, or months.

4. “Godfather of ETFs” Says Approval is Coming “No Time Soon”

Reggie Brown, the so-called “Godfather of ETFs” and senior managing director of Cantor Fitzgerald (a prominent ETF firm) is bearish on the prospects of an ETF approval.

While speaking at a Georgetown University conference last week, he said, “it’s very difficult for the Commission to wrap their heads around a positive approval because there’s no data yet…the markets just aren’t here.”

5. Approval in 2019?

It’s widely considered that forthcoming ETF proposals from VanEck and Solid X have a better likelihood of approval. Not only are they based on physical bitcoin (rather than bitcoin futures contracts), the two companies have significant experience with launching and running ETFs.

While their initial proposal was rejected earlier this year, the group will submit a follow up in 2019.

Conclusion

We expect to hear a decision from the SEC in the coming days or weeks, but don’t hold your breath. The bitcoin and cryptocurrency market has not sufficiently evolved since the previous rejections, so we’re unlikely to see a change of heart just yet.

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bitcoin etf price

Bitcoin ETFs were all over the news during 2018. 

Many voices called them out as some kind of magical act that would lead the price of Bitcoin to its former glory and maybe even higher than that. 

While an approved ETF could be the catalyst that kicks off a new bitcoin bull run, there is still misunderstanding and misinformation among crypto enthusiasts. 

It’s time to answer some burning questions: what is a bitcoin ETF? What consequences will it have for the future bitcoin price? And, of course, how likely it that a bitcoin ETF is approved in the coming months?

What is an ETF? (A Simple Explanation)

To start with, let’s define an ETF itself.

ETF stands for Exchange-Traded Fund. It’s a fund that tracks and mirrors the price of an underlying asset (like gold, for example). An ETF might also track a basket of assets (like tech stocks).

Shares of an ETF are traded on real stock exchanges and generally do not differ from traditional stocks in terms of trading.

Some of the most popular ETFs include those for gold (GLD) and crude oil (USO).  

The main advantage of an ETF is simplicity and convenience. It is much easier to trade an ETF than it is to purchase gold or bitcoin or oil itself.

what's an etf
Credit: Stocks to Trade

Who Makes and Approves ETFs?

ETFs are created by asset management firms. The firm buys the underlying assets (i.e. bitcoin) and keeps them under custody before creating an ETF.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is responsible for approving an ETF. Once they are approved, investors can buy shares of the ETF from a stock exchange. 

An ETF share represents a certain percentage of the fund, but it does not represent ownership of the underlying asset. If you buy a bitcoin ETF, you are not buying bitcoin itself.

ETFs are popular investments for diversifying portfolios with minor monetary and timely expenditures. 

What is a Bitcoin ETF?

A bitcoin ETF is an investment tool that would track the price of bitcoin. If approved, it would introduce an easy way for investors to get exposure to bitcoin without having to buy or store it directly. Traders would be able to buy and sell shares of the bitcoin ETF on a regulated stock exchange.

Although Bitcoin is already one of the most liquid assets on earth, it still can’t be traded on a regular stock exchange.

As well as the added convenience, investors could buy the bitcoin ETF through their existing, familiar investment account.

bitcoin etf on the stock exchange

Why a Bitcoin ETF Could Lead to “Big Money” Institutional Investors

The most significant benefit of buying ETF shares instead of real bitcoins, apart from its availability on stock markets, is the fact that institutional investors don’t have to store it themselves. 

Therefore, there is no risk of the bitcoins getting stolen. 

Big institutions are currently prohibited from buying bitcoins directly, but an ETF would make their participation in the market a reality.

Regarding that, there are currently two different types of bitcoin ETFs proposed by multiple asset management firms: physical-backed ETFs and futures-backed ETFs.

What is a Physical-Backed Bitcoin ETF?

As you might have already suspected, a physical-backed bitcoin ETF gains its value through actual bitcoins. 

This means an asset management firm needs to buy bitcoins from the market and then store them in their own wallets or custody service. 

Price swings in the ETF should, therefore, be reflected by the price of an actual bitcoin. If bitcoin’s price increases by one percent, the price of a physical-backed ETF should rise by one percent as well.

What is a Futures-Backed ETF?

When trying to set up a futures-backed ETF, the issuing company does not have to buy actual bitcoins, but bitcoin “futures contracts”. Futures are financial instruments that are used to bet on the future price of that asset.

All futures contracts expire on a certain date, although there are different timeframes, e.g. weekly or quarterly. 

Futures traders are confronted with higher risks, but also higher rewards. Regarding the ETF, the issuing company has to update their future contracts every time the contracts expire.

Historic Bitcoin ETF Proposals and Rejections

Although Bitcoin ETFs received a lot of media attention in 2018, there have been dozens of attempts to push one through before. 

Two of the most popular applicants might be the Winklevoss twins, who have supported bitcoin for several years. As CoinDesk investigated in 2017, the brothers submitted their first ETF proposal in mid-2013, with numerous additional proposals in the following years. Unfortunately, the SEC was not satisfied with their offerings so far. 

Winklevoss Twins bitcoin ETF
Credit: Forbes

Besides Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, many other players are heavily interested in issuing a Bitcoin ETF. As Block Explorer previously reported, the SEC rejected nine applications solely in August this year. This includes multiple proposals for a futures-backed ETF by ProShares, Direxion, and GraniteShares, in collaboration with the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).

Often referred to as the most promising ETF is a proposal given by a collaboration of the investment firm VanEck, the blockchain company SolidX and the CBOE. 

In this case, the ensemble is proposing a physical-backed ETF. Experts think this particular group has a higher chance of approval, due to their past experience issuing ETFs. 

The date for a decision has already been postponed by the SEC for the second time. While the next date would be on December 29, it is very likely that it will be changed another time. 

What Does the SEC Need to See Before It Approves a Bitcoin ETF?

According to most experts, it probably seems more logical to introduce a physical-backed ETF than a futures-backed one. 

However, from the angle of an asset management firm, it’s actually quite the opposite. Roughly 85% of all Bitcoin ETF applications are futures-backed ETFs. 

A major reason for this trend is, without a doubt, the frequently discussed custody question. Securely storing large amounts of cryptocurrencies has been a great stumbling block for many big players, like exchanges, in the past and present. 

Additionally, bitcoin futures are already a financial instrument open to institutions and have been approved by the SEC before. Consequently, it appears like a smaller step to introduce a futures-backed ETF. 

However, a very critical development the SEC wants to see, before approving an ETF, is a steep reduction of market manipulation and fraud attempts.

When rejecting nine ETF proposals in August, the SEC stated that 

SEC“…the Commission is disapproving this proposed rule change because, as discussed below, the Exchange has not met its burden under the Exchange Act and the Commission’s Rules of Practice to demonstrate that its proposal is consistent with the requirements of the Exchange Act Section 6(b)(5), in particular the requirement that a national securities exchange’s rules be designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices.”

 

Further reading: Bitcoin ETFs: Why Do They Keep Getting Rejected?

Bitcoin ETF Quotes and Predictions

Since ETFs are one of the hottest topics this year, there have been several voices expressing their opinions, about if and when an ETF could be on the cards.

For example, FIC Network Founder Arturs Ivanovs told Finance Magnates that:

“Volume from institutional investors would facilitate a significant regulated market that would reduce the scale of price manipulation thereby easing the SEC’s concerns. An ETF would also open up the market to more retail investors.” 

 

After being asked for a date, Ivanovs said, “2020 is my prediction.”

Income Locker CEO Csaba Csabai thinks that there might be other hurdles that need to be cleared. “There is still technological development needed to make Bitcoin exchange-tradable because when buying an ETF, someone has to actually purchase bitcoins,” he said in a conversation with Finance Magnates. Nevertheless, Csabai also sees a silver lining, as he went on with “if the rate of adoption continues to grow at the current pace, we will soon see an ETF, because it’s the only way institutions can access this asset class, so solving it as soon as possible is in their best interest.”

In an interview with ETF.com, Spencer Bogart, Needham & Co vice president of equity research said:

spencer bogart bitcoin etf quote“We have pegged the odds at less than 25 percent. That is because the very first thing the SEC lists in its own mission statement is protecting the investing public. When you think about the game theory aspect of this, if I work at the SEC and I approve this ETF. and it goes well, nobody is probably going to come around and pat me on the back and give me a promotion. But if I approve it and a lot of money flows into it, and something goes wrong, I am likely to lose my job.”

 

However, there are also parties that don’t believe in a Bitcoin ETF at all. Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini believes that the crypto space has several issues, like fraud and manipulation, that will make an ETF not feasible in the near future. In a debate at CoinTelegraph’s BlockShow, Nouriel recently stated that “The academic evidence is, that this market is totally manipulated.” He later continued, “How do you expect anybody, who is an institutional investor, who has to be compliant with the rules and regulation, KYC/AML, to enter the space.” 

Could an ETF Influence Bitcoin’s Price?

To answer this question, one clearly needs to distinguish between a futures-backed and a physical-backed ETF. As already elaborated in the beginning, to create a physical-backed ETF the issuing firm needs to buy bitcoin from the market.

Although those deals wouldn’t be made on a regular crypto exchange, it would inevitably have an effect on bitcoin’s price, due to the immense amounts of bitcoin that would be needed for an ETF. 

In addition, an approved ETF would attract countless speculators, who would probably buy bitcoin right away.  So yes, a physical-backed ETF would, with almost full certainty, have a great impact on the price of bitcoin. 

In regard to a futures-backed ETF, the impact might not be as big as with the physical one. The issuer would only need to buy futures contracts, hence the price wouldn’t be directly affected. 

Futures would most probably help to spread adoption in institutional circles, but this would only be valid in the long term. In the worst case, it could even have a negative impact on bitcoin, as the past has already shown when bitcoin futures were introduced for the first time. 

Still, we can’t be sure about the impact before an ETF has even been officially approved.

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bitcoin crime

At the FinTech Canada conference this August, leading cryptocurrency trial attorney Brian Klein gave an excellent overview of how cryptocurrencies have been used for illegal purposes and what law enforcement officials are doing to crack down on it.

Known for representing high-profile clients like Bitcoin early-adopter Erik Voorhees, Brian Klein is the founder and chair of the non-profit Digital Currency and Ledger Defense Coalition (DCLDC) and the chair of the American Bar Association’s blockchain technology, digital currency, and ICO national institute.

In his talk, Klein points to the law enforcement efforts and litigation around the Silk Road as an early example of crime with a cryptocurrency element. At the time, the closure of the online black market and related arrests made headlines worldwide.

But how have things moved on in 2018?

Cash (not Crypto) is Still King in Criminal Activity

In criminal law, cash is still king.

While cases like the Silk Road made sensational headlines, cryptocurrency rarely plays a truly innovative role when it comes to more traditional criminal activity. 

Cryptocurrency may offer advantages for long-distance transactions and online shoppers, but most criminal acts today are still paid for in cash. 

The crypto element may add a modern flair and conjure images of shadowy figures in Guy Fawkes’ masks but, for the most part, digital currencies remain a payment method rather than a new frontier in criminal acts.

bitcoin silk road
The now-defunct black market Silk Road website used to buy drugs with bitcoin

Cryptocurrencies Are the New Swiss Bank Account: Money Laundering and Tax Evasion

You might still see movies where bank robbers demand that funds be wired to a Swiss bank account, but when it comes to money laundering and hiding assets, cryptocurrency has increasingly replaced the wiring of funds to jurisdictions that favor banking secrecy. 

A key advantage of cryptocurrency is that it’s not tied to a single jurisdiction or set of laws – unlike Switzerland, which tightened its banking regulations after a large tax evasion investigation in 2008.

With cryptocurrency, there’s also no need to rely on intermediaries to handle transfers. And while a bank can be forced to turn over someone’s account information, there is no central authority for the Bitcoin system.

However, as noted in Klein’s talk, most current digital currencies operate on a public, permanent ledger. Bitcoin, for example, isn’t fully anonymous as many believe. Each transaction can be tracked, analyzed and de-anonymized — if the authorities can link a wallet address to a particular criminal – now or in the future.

The Emergence of Privacy Coins

Privacy coins circumvent some of the potential risks of making cryptocurrency transactions available on a public ledger. 

Indeed, Bloomberg noted that criminals are increasingly ditching bitcoin for privacy coins like monero and zcash. 

Monero logo

While there are different types of privacy coins, they typically obscure their ledger through a variety of methods including single-use wallets and transaction keys, as well as “coin mixing”, which involves pooling different transactions together to obscure the amount and parties involved in any given transaction. 

In his talk, Klein notes that privacy coins are a key source of concern for law enforcement and regulatory agencies.

Fraud and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

Reports suggest that as many as 80% of ICOs offered in 2017 were fraudulent. 

Perhaps the largest was Pincoin, an ICO that raised $660 million during the ICO fever of 2017. Shortly after raising the money, Pincoin vanished, taking investor money with it. This is what’s known as an “exit scam.”

As a result of these scams, investors have asked securities regulators to intervene.  The problem? In the US, there’s no set answer on whether ICOs are “securities.” 

What’s a security? A security is a financial instrument, like a stock, bond or investment contract, that you are able to trade or transfer to someone else. If something is a security, it is often subject to regulation and must be registered with the regulators.

Until ICOs are classified as a security, we don’t know if they are something the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) can regulate.

So long as they remain unregulated, ICOs fall outside the oversight and authority of securities regulators, potentially leaving investors more exposed to fraudulent activity

Although the SEC’s Chairman has previously claimed that ICOs are securities, the issue is still relatively untested in the courts. This leaves many ICOs operating in a grey area. 

How Are Law Enforcement Officers Cracking Down on Illegal Crypto Activity?

This is still relatively new territory for law enforcement agencies and governments. However, they are increasingly capable of de-anonymizing transactions and tracking criminal activity. Below are just a few of the ongoing themes of law enforcement activity in the crypto space:

  • Governments and law enforcement are collaborating on an international scale. This includes sharing information, joint investigations, and global agreements around extradition.
  • Law enforcement is increasingly capable of tracking cryptocurrency transactions, especially where the ledger is public. AI and machine learning are also making it easier to analyze the blockchain and pierce anonymity.
  • On the blockchain, transaction history is not just public – it’s permanent. This can create a permanent chain of evidence for law enforcement to review and rely on, especially over time, as new data is gathered and different wallets and accounts are identified.

Conclusion

Bitcoin has been linked to illegal activity ever since the infamous Silk Road black market emerged. The cryptocurrency ecosystem has also played host to its fair share of scams, hacks, and frauds. 

However, we should also remember that every bitcoin transaction, by design, is recorded in a permanent, transparent log. If bitcoin is used for nefarious purposes, that transaction is preserved forever.

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blockchain island Malta

When the market-leading cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced in March it was moving its operations to the Mediterranean island of Malta, it made the industry sit up and take notice. The move raised a multitude of questions and a few proverbial eyebrows.

What makes Malta an attractive hub for cryptocurrency companies?

Why would a major exchange such as Binance go through the arduous process of setting up shop in such a seemingly isolated place at the other side of the world?

Does Malta make special exemptions and concessions for crypto-based firms operating on the island?

What’s the deal?

Binance Moves its Operations to Malta

binance malta blockchain island

Malta was once primarily known more for its stunning natural features such as its dominating cliff faces, its crystal blue waters and its world-class dive spots. These days it is becoming known as Blockchain Island and the home of major crypto exchanges, investment firms, and blockchain tech startups, with Binance leading the exodus from Asia and beyond.

Chased Out of China

Although originally founded in China, Binance has since become locked in legal disputes across not only its homeland but also in Japan and Hong Kong.

As crypto regulations tighten across Southeast Asia for exchanges as well as ICO projects, Binance was one of seven crypto-based firms that received a warning letter from the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong not to trade digital assets.

Regulatory crypto crackdowns across Asia fueled Binance’s decision to seek pastures new. The crypto exchange decided to move their whole operation to Malta. And they also suggested that others should follow suit, which they did. When first announcing their move, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao made a statement on his Twitter feed that said:

“Malta is very progressive when it comes to crypto and fintech. We think it is a good place for other crypto businesses to look into as well.”

 

Binance CEO cz tweet about Malta

The following message from the Maltese prime Minister Joseph Muscat on his Twitter account welcoming Binance gives a fascinating insight into the difference in attitude between Blockchain Island and the current restrictive crypto climate across Asia.

Malta prime minister tweet Binance

Other Crypto Companies Now Operating in Malta

When a company as large and integral to the crypto industry such as Binance moves its operations to Malta and encourages others to do the same, that’s exactly what happens.

Other massive crypto exchanges such as Bittrex and OKEx are also running some or all of their operations out of Malta. The list of blockchain-related companies continues to rise as crypto investment firms such as Neufund and Coinvest have also made the move.

From blockchain startups to ICO platforms Malta is now a melting pot of crypto-related businesses such as Decentralized Ventures, STASIS, Loci Nexus, the non-profit organization Bitmalta, nChain and the Maltese crypto startup Learning Machine, just to name a handful.

Malta - blockchain island

Why Does Malta Appeal to Crypto Companies?

The obvious reason why so many crypto companies are making Malta their home is largely due to the favorable digital currency regulations on the island. On June 4, 2018, Malta became the first nation to create official regulations for crypto operators.

The Maltese parliament passed three bills that established clear and concise regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and distributed ledger technology (DLT). The three Maltese crypto regulatory bills are as follows:

Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act (MDIA Act)

This act was created to establish the Malta Digital Innovation Authority and can certify DLT platforms. This law is in place to focus largely on internal governance and to outline the Authority’s responsibilities to certify distributed ledger platforms to ensure authenticity and the legal compliance of those wishing to make use of a DLT.

Innovative Technology Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS Act)

This bill is used to set up crypto exchanges and other crypto companies. It’s called the Innovative Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS Act) and is also primarily created to deal with DLT certification and platforms.

Virtual Financial Assets Act (VFA Act)

The third and final bill of this three-pronged attack focuses on regulating ICO projects, wallet providers and exchanges. The Virtual Financial Assets Act (VFA Act) was created to establish a regulatory regime that can keep the crypto industry in Malta in check.

The most interesting factor in regards to the three bills is they can be applied to a wide range of industries and technologies and are not necessarily anchored directly to the crypto or financial sector in Malta.

“We Understood Early on That the Serious Operators Wanted Legal Certainty”

When talking about new regulations, the Junior Minister of Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, Silvio Schembri said:

Malta representative“When we started looking into what was needed for the blockchain industry to flourish, we understood early on that the serious operators wanted legal certainty. As of now, operators are functioning in jurisdictions of legal uncertainty. Operators fear that one day a government in that particular legislation will tell them they aren’t within the law – even though there are currently very few laws in place. This is creating legal uncertainty and we wanted to change this

 

Clear, concise, common sense and straightforward thinking are the foundations of Malta’s cryptocurrency regulations and the main reason why this picture-perfect Mediterranean island is now the most desirable destination in the world for all manner of crypto-related businesses.

A “Calculated Risk”

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat admits that its new laws are a “calculated risk” by fast-tracking blockchain companies and removing bureaucracy. For the moment, however, it appears to be paying off.

Is Malta the Future Epicenter for Cryptocurrency in Europe?

A recent report by a blockchain investment company called Fabric Ventures has shown a massive shift in worldwide ICO token sales. Europe is now leading the world in crypto-asset token sales with $4.1 billion in 2018, which vastly dwarfs Asia with $2.6 billion and the USA with a total of $2.3 billion.

As Europe leads the way for crypto and blockchain technology adoption, could Malta become the future epicenter for blockchain and cryptocurrency in Europe, which ultimately means the world?

Malta might be one of the tiniest nations in Europe, but small things can sometimes cast a big shadow. With a growing reputation as the world’s first blockchain island, easy-to-follow regulations and a welcoming attitude that doesn’t just accept blockchain and crypto, but actually encourages them, it’s no wonder that megalodon crypto exchanges Binance has made Malta its home.

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hooded man with hand out bitcoin regulation

Welcome to your daily Block Explorer roundup. Hope you had a great weekend! Today we’re looking at bitcoin regulation as Coinbase’s UK CEO claims we need more. But first, let’s take a glance at the markets.

All the top 20 coins are in the green today after a fairly quiet weekend.

1. Bitcoin – $6715 (+ 0.7%)
2. Ethereum – $277 (+ 1%)
3. Ripple XRP – $0.33 (+ 1.8%)

Things are strangely calm out there at the moment. In fact, bitcoin is around the least volatile it’s been all year. Historically, a period of calm is usually snapped by a wild swing upward or downward, so don’t be surprised if we see some big price movements this week.

Biggest winner and loser in the top 20

IOTA crypto logo transparent background

Biggest winner: IOTA (+ 15%)
Biggest loser: Zcash (- 0.1%)

IOTA is leading the pack today after Fujitsu said it is “well-equipped to help roll out IOTA as the new protocol standard.” IOTA aims to facilitate the ‘internet-of-things’ using blockchain technology, so a partnership with IT giant, Fujitsu, will open a lot of doors.

Does crypto need more regulation?

“[Regulation] is the best way to provide individuals and institutions a safe environment to invest.”

That’s the verdict from UK Coinbase CEO, Zeeshan Feroz. He told CCN that regulation is a good thing for the cryptocurrency market in 2018, explaining that a lack of regulation leads to risk in the market.

“We see the value in having some form of regulation for crypto exchanges as a means of ensuring due diligence and transparency in the crypto space.”

The issue of regulation in crypto is a controversial one. Many claim it will bring transparency to the market (and allow institutional investors to wade in). Others, however, see it as destroying the values and decentralized ethos on which bitcoin was built.

Where do you stand on bitcoin regulation? Do we need more to help attract  investors? Or should we keep bitcoin as decentralized as possible? Let me know in the comment section below.

Wild bitcoin price predictions 2018: from $3,000 to $20,000 +

Over the weekend we’ve had yet more wild price predictions for bitcoin.

The bull: Tom Lee of Fundstrat Global Advisors doubled down on his previous prediction that bitcoin will rise above $20,000 by the year-end.

He says hedge funds are playing a bigger role in bitcoin behind the scenes which could lead to a surge in prices. He also pointed to the correlation between bitcoin and emerging market stocks.

The bear: Anthony Pompliano had originally predicted a $50,000 price tag by the end of 2018. He now says he was wrong, by about four years.

He sees bitcoin plunging to $3,000 and says the market might not bottom out until late 2019. As for a full recovery, that’s not on the cards until 2023, based on how long it took bitcoin to recover from previous spikes.

With four months left in the year, where do you see the price of bitcoin going? $3,000 or $20,000+?

That’s all for today’s roundup. We’ll see you back here tomorrow.

In case you missed it: Why do Bitcoin ETFs Keep Getting Rejected?

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