Does bitcoin have a friend in Donald Trump?
Investors are eagerly awaiting a decision by the Securities and Exchange Commission on whether it will approve the first exchange-traded fund to track cryptocurrency bitcoin, and the newly inaugurated president could be a powerful ally in their corner.
Last week, President Trump said “we can try to cut regulations by 75%—maybe more,” although he didn’t give specifics. On Monday, he signed an executive order that is meant to severely cut the number of federal regulations, requiring two regulations to be eliminated for every new one created.
Jay Clayton, the Wall Street lawyer picked by Trump to be the next chairman of the SEC, has also suggested he wants to ease regulation.
But analysts cautioned that while approval was more likely given the anti-regulatory bent of the new administration, the bitcoin issue remained very much up in the air.
“Trump will ease the way, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a sure thing,” said Phil Bak, the former head of ETF listings at the New York Stock Exchange. Bak noted that the cryptocurrency remained a volatile and complex technology, and that there was currently no easy way to short bitcoin—that is, to bet on a decline in prices.
“Market makers need to hedge, and the fact that you can’t short bitcoin means there could be liquidity issues that make it trade off its fair value, which is a problem from the SEC’s perspective. Plus, bitcoin is new and different, and there’s no incentive for regulators to be innovative.”
Bak, who is currently the chief executive officer of ACSI Funds, which runs the customer satisfaction ETF
said bitcoin’s liquidity issues would be eased with the trading efficiencies that come with an exchange listing. Analysts have estimated that $300 million could enter the bitcoin ecosystem in the first week after a fund is approved. Bak said he would support the fund’s approval.
“The SEC has to be extra prudent before approving something that’s untested, but I believe the government has no right to tell people what they can and can’t invest in; it’s up to me to do the research before I buy something.”
What is the future of bitcoin?
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss run a bitcoin exchange on which investors trade on average $1 million in bitcoin per day. But is this cryptocurrency safe or a fad?
The SEC has designated March 11 as the date by which it would either approve or disapprove the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust ETF, which was the first such ETF filed, back in 2013. Two other firms have also filed for Bitcoin ETFs, including SolidX, which filed in July, and Grayscale Investments, which filed last week. Grayscale operates the bitcoin investment trust
The SEC declined to comment. A spokeswoman at Winklevoss Capital could not be reached for comment.
Read: Here’s one easy way to get exposure to bitcoin ahead of the Winklevoss ETF
Despite the possibilities under Trump’s watch, other analysts have downplayed the odds of bitcoin ETF approval.
David Brill, the former general counsel for Gemini, recently said that passage was “unlikely.” Gemini is a bitcoin custodian and exchange run by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who also operate Winklevoss Capital.
Earlier this month, Spencer Bogart, a bitcoin analyst at boutique investment bank Needham Co., said that the probability of the ETF’s approval was “very low.” He added that “we don’t see any specific reason to disapprove the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF but, instead, think that the confluence of fear, uncertainty and doubt coupled with basic incentives at the SEC will make it very difficult.”
Bitcoin prices are notorious volatile, which could be a key hurdle from a regulatory standpoint. After spiking to nearly $1,200 earlier this month, prices subsequently plummeted to about $760 in roughly a week. Currently, bitcoin has a market cap of about $14.9 billion, according to the tracking website CoinMarketCap.
“Regulations, especially financial regulations, will undoubtedly be looser under Trump,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, which launched the first gold-tracking ETF
as well as the first ETF in general, the SPDR SP 500 ETF
“Now, you would think that would mean an easier passage for a Bitcoin ETF, and that may be true, but it remains way too early to tell.”
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