Bitcoin, Ether and Ripple Up in the Air as SEC Delivers a Sobering Reminder

The U.S Securities and Exchange Commission just delivered a sobering reminder to the crypto community regarding the legal status of Bitcoin and Ethereum. SEC Director of the Division Corporation Finance William Hinman originally told a San Francisco conference in June that:

“…based on my understanding of the present state of Ether, the Ethereum network and its decentralized structure, current offers and sales of Ether are not securities transactions. And, as with Bitcoin, applying the disclosure regime of the federal securities laws to current transactions in Ether would seem to add little value.”

SEC Clarifies Crypto Security Stance

Today the SEC Chairman Jay Clayton released this official statement in which he reminded everyone that media statements made by SEC personnel should not be taken as legal pronouncements. Clayton stated:

“The Commission’s longstanding position is that all staff statements are nonbinding and create no enforceable legal rights or obligations of the Commission or other parties.”

In a particular sentence that may have been included specifically to cool the enthusiasm generated from his colleague Hinman’s original statement, Clayton states:

“…our divisions and offices, including but not limited to the Division of Corporation Finance, the Division of Investment Management and the Division of Trading and Markets, have been and will continue to review whether prior staff statements and staff documents should be modified, rescinded or supplemented in light of market or other developments.”

The last part about ‘modifying, rescinding or supplementing’ future documents suggests that the SEC are starting to worry about the effects their own words have on the very market they’re attempting to regulate.

When the original statement by Hinman hit the headlines in June, Bitcoin immediately surged by around 6%. Ethereum benefitted even more from the news and spiked 10% within the space of an hour.

Consequences for Bitcoin, Ether and Alts

The reminder from the SEC is unlikely to affect the average bag-holder, who in all likelihood disregards much of what comes out of such traditional institutions as the SEC. The news is more likely to strike hesitation into the minds of large-scale, corporate investors who thought all of this uncertainty was already behind them.

It could also spell either good or bad news for Ripple, which is currently fighting five lawsuits – including two federal lawsuits – against claims that its token sale represents a security issuance.

Director Hinman’s original statement back in June suggested that decentralization was key to avoiding being classed as a security. He suggested that coins and tokens from centralized blockchains would have a harder time with the SEC:

“Over time, there may be other sufficiently decentralized networks and systems where regulating the tokens or coins that function on them as securities may not be required. And of course there will continue to be systems that rely on central actors whose efforts are a key to the success of the enterprise. In those cases, application of the securities laws protects the investors who purchase the tokens or coins.”

With XRP being the third largest capped coin in existence, its prominence has made it a prime target for those suspicious of the currency’s relationship to the Ripple company. As the lawsuits began to pile up, many began to question what Hinman’s words would mean for XRP.

Today’s clarification by Chairman Clayton could be seen as a reprieve for XRP, as it essentially shelves the decentralization issue for the time being. On the other hand, it could mean that even if XRP is proved to be wholly decentralized, it may have even larger requirements to fill before gaining a positive classification – as could the rest of the entire crypto market.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Greg Thomson is a freelance writer who contributes to leading cryptocurrency and blockchain publications like CCN, Hacked, and others.