Bitwise Asset Management is trying again to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission for a cryptocurrency ETF.
It has filed a registration statement for a Bitcoin ETF that it says responds to questions the SEC had raised about previous bitcoin ETF filings from other firms. Bitwise itself had filed in July for an ETF based on an index of multiple cryptocurrencies, not one focusing just on Bitcoin, but hasn’t pursued it further.
Its latest filing addresses some of the concerns that the SEC has spelled out in previous Bitcoin ETF filings, noting that its ETF will rely on regulated third-party custodians to hold its physical Bitcoin and its underlying Bitcoin index would draw prices from a large number of cryptocurrency exchanges, representing the majority of currently verifiable bitcoin trading.
No action is expected while the government shutdown persists since the SEC is among the agencies that are operating with a skeleton staff. To date, the SEC has not approved any cryptocurrency ETF but has rejected filings, often asking for more information.
As recently as November, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton told a cryptocurrency conference the he remains concerned about potential manipulation in the cryptocurrency market. “What investors expect is that trading in a commodity that underlies an ETF [needs to] makes sense and is free from the risk of manipulation.” He said this is “an issue that needs to be addressed” before he would want to see trading in cryptocurrency ETFs.
Over the past year the price of Bitcoin, which is just one of many cryptocurrencies, has dived about 80%, from over $15,000 to slightly over $3,600, suggesting that investors may not be too enthusiastic about a Bitcoin ETF
“Volatility in Bitcoin is notable and likely to receive less investor interest in 2019 than a year ago when prices were skyrocketing higher,” says Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF and mutual fund research at CFRA, an independent research firm. “Whatever is filed has to overcome that high hurdle. There’s nothing else like it.”
The proposed Bitwise Bitcoin ETF would track the Bitwise Bitcoin Total Return Index, seeking to capture the full value of an investment in Bitcoin, including “meaningful hard forks.” (A hard fork occurs when cryptocurrency developers and miners differ about a proposed change to the software and one group of computers connected to the network upgrade to the new software and the other operates under the old rules, creating two separate blockchains and digital currencies.)
The New York Stock Exchange is expected to file its own application with the SEC in the coming days, known as a Rule 19b-4 filing, for approval to list the ETF.
“The SEC has asked thoughtful and relevant questions about the quality of the crypto trading ecosystem, the reliability of crypto pricing, the strength of the arbitrage function in crypto and the robustness of crypto custody,” said Matt Hougan, global head of research, who oversees Bitwise’s indexing efforts, in a statement. “We have spent the past year researching these questions and look forward to discussing those findings with the SEC staff in connection with the filing and listing application.”
Bitwise Investment Advisers LLC, the sponsor of the proposed ETF who will manage the trust’s investments, has managed private funds in the Bitcoin space for over a year. The firm launched its first crypto-asset index fund, the Bitwise 10 Private Index Fund, in 2017, and currently offers five private funds focused on the crypto space to institutions, family offices, financial advisors and high-net-worth individuals in the U.S. and abroad.
John Hyland, global head of exchange-traded funds for Bitwise, said in a statement that he’s he’”is optimistic that 2019 should be the year that a Bitcoin ETF launches,” according to a statement. “We believe the crypto trading ecosystem has evolved in significant ways in the past year. We believe that is now possible with Bitcoin.”
Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar, isn’t so sure. He doesn’t see the need for a Bitcoin ETF and tells ThinkAdvisor that Bitcoin ETFs “are a solution in search of a problem. If people really want to buy Bitcoin, they can buy it outright. Wrapping Bitcoin into an ETF doesn’t make the process of purchasing Bitcoin any easier, the way that gold-backed exchange-traded products made it easier for investors to buy gold.”