SEC’s ‘Crypto Mom’ lowers expectations of Bitcoin exchange-traded fund vote in 2019

Securities and Exchange Commissioner Hester Peirce downplayed expectations Tuesday for a commission vote on a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund or product in 2019.

“[W]e have applications. … those are subject to a very specific time frame where we have to act within a certain amount of time, and so that’s what it’s going to depend on,” Peirce said at an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “And those are very arcane rules as to whether it happens or not, so I can’t speculate on the timing.”

Last September, Peirce expressed optimism about obtaining a vote on the subject of an ETF, a stock exchange-traded fund that would allow more everyday investors to bet on Bitcoin’s price. That price could skyrocket, thanks to anticipated increase in demand if that approval were to come. Peirce hoped to advance a commission vote before the end of 2018, though the applicant in the case she pushed for a vote on withdrew and refiled their application, citing delay caused by the partial government shutdown.

Staff at the SEC have been hesitant to approve applications for a Bitcoin ETF, at least until they learn more about the underlying spot markets for the digital asset. Staff at the SEC, who answer primarily to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, have taken a cautious view of cryptocurrencies, as has Clayton himself.

Peirce said commission staff remained in the driver’s seat on the decision.

“[I]t’s complicated because a lot of that authority is delegated to the staff so then it’s a question of whether it gets pulled up to the commission or not,” the commissioner, whose permissive stance on Bitcoin regulation earned her the Twitter moniker “Crypto Mom” last year.

In the meantime, the SEC has also promised to publish “plain English” guidance as to when a digital token may not qualify as an investment security.

The SEC asserts that most digital tokens, which can be used in the mechanics of an application or document contained in a number of computers, like Bitcoin’s blockchain, also qualify as investment vehicles that should follow the same registration laws and regulations as stocks. Peirce was hopeful that guidance will come soon, though much of the SEC’s work was interrupted by the record-long partial government shutdown.

“I think we’ll see that in the near term, but I don’t have a time frame, but I know the staff is working on that,” said Peirce.

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