The Securities and Exchange Commission has rejected several bitcoin ETF proposals. On August 22, 2018, the SEC issued a statement to deny approval for bitcoin ETF. ProShares, GraniteShares and Direxion saw their bitcoin ETF proposals rejected. On October 04, 2018 the financial regulator extended the deadline for announcing its decision on approval of bitcoin ETF. It will now take a decision on the 9 previously rejected by November 2018. GraniteShares, ProShares and Direxion are those whose digital currency ETF proposals were struck down by the SEC in the past.
SEC Statements on Bitcoin and Crypto ETF
In its statement rejecting the bitcoin ETF the SEC mentioned, “The Commission emphasizes that its disapproval does not rest on an evaluation of whether bitcoin or blockchain technology more generally, has utility or value as an innovation or an investment.” Instead, it stated, “The Exchange has not met its burden under the Exchange Act.” A major reason for disapproving the ETF was, “The requirement that a national securities exchange’s rules be designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices.”
The Commission has reservations that bitcoin price could be subject to manipulation. This is partly due to some wallets owning a majority of the total market supply of the digital currency. One of the major concerns of SEC in approving a bitcoin ETF is lack of investor protection. Digital currency prices have a behaviour of sudden price fluctuations. Digital currencies, unlike equity shares, do not have price limits to prevent volatility.
In a previous statement, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said, “A number of concerns have been raised regarding the cryptocurrency and ICO markets, including that, as they are currently operating, there is substantially less investor protection than in our traditional securities markets, with correspondingly greater opportunities for fraud and manipulation.”
The Winklevoss brothers filed one of the earliest applications for bitcoin ETF with the SEC. The SEC twice rejected their proposal for a bitcoin ETF. In June 2018, the SEC struck down on a similar bitcoin ETF filed by BATS BZX exchange.
Price Manipulation and Wash Trading
One of the major reasons for a bitcoin ETF has been to increase liquidity. The digital currency market is vulnerable to volatile price swings. This is due to a few whale wallets owning notable quantities of digital tokens.
Any buy or sell trade executed by these accounts could substantially manipulate bitcoin prices. Bitcoin prices witnessed sharp decline on September 06, 2018. An analyst pointed out that an anonymous trader had a $74 million short position on the oldest digital currency that morning. Data scientists also picked up several signals one day before the sudden collapse. They attributed this to insider trading by someone had knowledge what Goldman Sachs would announce.
The SEC has been a vocal critic of price manipulation and wash trading in the digital token industry. It believes that the lack of a regulatory framework is also promoting such activities. Wash trading and insider trading are prohibited on Wall Street and the SEC maintains sharp vigil to spot them.
September 05, 2018 was not the only instance when an artificial neural network picked up price manipulation signals. On July 27, 2018 between 1 pm and 3 pm EDT, a cryptocurrency trading SaaS tool called RoninAi observed strange events. The team later studied all the data points collected and concluded that a price manipulation had occurred.
The futures market has also been accused of price manipulation. Bitcoin prices corrected by almost 18 per cent within 10 days of the CBOE future expiry. Analysts were quick to point out that this was not a one-off incident.
They suggested that traders were employing a strategy where they would buy bitcoin from the open market, short sell CBOE futures and sell the futures contracts near expiry. Thus they would stand to make higher gains from the same invested capital.
Argentinian analyst Alex Kruger posted a series of tweets on September 02, 2018 accusing Bithumb of being involved in wash trading. Alex pointed out that $250 million worth crypto was being traded every day at 11 am since August 25, 2018, on the Korean exchange. He stated that the exchange would offer 120 per cent payback of trading fees as airdrop.
The daily limit for maximum airdrop tokens stood at $900,000. To be able to receive the entire amount of $900,000 the trader was making transactions at 11 am worth $250 million. Thus a large volume of transactions on Bithumb could manipulate prices. Retail investors would be the worst hit when the truth would come out.