SEC's Gensler Bashes Crypto After Approving Bitcoin ETF

Gary Gensler says that bitcoin is a speculative, volatile asset that’s also used for illicit activity. 

sumit
|
Senior ETF Analyst
|
Reviewed by: etf.com Staff
,
Edited by: Ron Day

Despite approving the first spot bitcoin ETFs in the U.S. Wednesday, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler wants you to know that he doesn't endorse bitcoin itself. 

In a statement released simultaneously with the approval orders for 11 spot bitcoin ETFs, Gensler took pains to point out that by allowing these funds to trade in the U.S., he and the SEC are not suggesting anything about the merits of bitcoin as an investment. 

“While we approved the listing and trading of certain spot bitcoin ETP shares today, we did not approve or endorse bitcoin. Investors should remain cautious about the myriad risks associated with bitcoin and products whose value is tied to crypto,” Gensler said. 

But the Chairman went further than that. Not only did Gensler not endorse bitcoin, he went as far as to tacitly disparage the cryptocurrency, which he said is “a speculative, volatile asset that’s also used for illicit activity including ransomware, money laundering, sanction evasion, and terrorist financing.” 
 
In Gensler’s eyes, that makes bitcoin distinct from precious metals like gold, which he says have consumer and industrial uses. 

Spot Bitcoin ETF Concerns

The comments highlight the reluctance with which Gensler’s SEC made the move to approve spot bitcoin ETFs. 

The Chairman’s statement pointed out that the only reason the Commission was approving these ETFs after blocking them for so many years was because it had lost its court case against Grayscale.  

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the Commission failed to adequately explain its reasoning in disapproving the listing and trading of Grayscale’s proposed ETP (the Grayscale Order). Based on these circumstances…I feel the most sustainable path forward is to approve the listing and trading of these spot bitcoin ETP shares,” he remarked. 

But Gensler also made it clear that his fight against the crypto industry was far from over. He noted that the approval of spot ETFs tied to bitcoin—which he called a “non-security commodity”— signaled nothing about the regulatory status of other crypto assets.  

Nor did it signal anything about “the state of non-compliance of certain crypto asset market participants with the federal securities laws,”—which is perhaps a veiled reference to the SEC’s ongoing lawsuit against Coinbase and other crypto trading platforms.  

Gensler Comments Raise Questions

Gensler’s defiant statement probably won’t be received well by many parts of the crypto industry. It also raises questions about what types of crypto ETFs could be approved next. 

Gensler said that the approval of spot bitcoin ETFs is no indication of the “Commission’s willingness to approve listing standards for crypto asset securities,” and he explained that he believes that “the vast majority of crypto assets are investment contracts and thus subject to the federal securities laws.” 
 
That means that if Gensler has his way, we probably won’t see U.S.-listed ETFs tied to most other crypto assets anytime soon, since those assets would be deemed to be securities by Gensler and his agency. 

The one exception could be ether, which has existed in regulatory limbo for much of its existence. The SEC recently approved ether futures ETFs and the cryptocurrency seems to be on a similar path to that of bitcoin.  

If the SEC is willing to allow ether futures ETFs to trade then it might be reasonable to assume that it views ether differently than most other crypto assets, and that a spot ether ETF is a possibility.   

Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for etf.com, where he has worked for 13 years. He creates a variety of content for the platform, including news articles, analysis pieces, videos and podcasts.

Before joining etf.com, Sumit was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. In those roles, he was responsible for most of the operations of HAI, a website dedicated to education about commodities investing.

Though he still closely follows the commodities beat, Sumit covers a much broader assortment of topics for etf.com, with a particular focus on stock and bond exchange-traded funds.

He is the host of etf.com’s Talk ETFs, a popular video series that features weekly interviews with thought leaders in the ETF industry. Sumit is also co-host of Exchange Traded Fridays, etf.com’s weekly podcast series.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing chess and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe.