ETFs: What Is The SEC  Really Thinking?

As a veteran Wall Street type, I was not surprised at Thursday’s SEC announcement on the VanEck-SolidX Bitcoin ETF.  Once again they gave a “no decision”. This pushes the deadline back to December 29, 2018. Don’t be surprised if New Year’s Eve comes and goes and nothing happens before the SEC is forced into a action by the end of February.

Back in August, when the first delay was announced, crypto investors’ reaction was swift and painful.  On Thursday, after a temporary hiccup, prices took a surprisingly positive turn. If we are to believe for just a moment that crypto prices act rationally (or just occasionally) then comes two obvious questions, are crypto ETFs good or bad? Secondly why can’t the SEC come up with an answer?

Never Say Yes

Let’s start with the easy question first: what’s up with the SEC?  Having dealt with this teflon organization for over 30 years, their actions with regard to VanEck-SolidX are the same pattern they have followed forever.  Practically never do they approve anything. Instead they provide two choices: reject or delay. By delaying the VanEck-SolidX application they are accepting the ETF concept in principle but laying out objections that must be corrected.

The result of this regulatory song and dance, don’t expect a decision until the last minute. The reason is that the main issues are not likely to be resolved in time. In fact, I doubt that the ETF proposal gets approval for perhaps as much as another year.  Here is why.

SEC Speak: Obfuscation

According to Jake Chervinsky, attorney for VanEck, the SEC asks “18 multiple part questions covering seven pages.” He adds: “It’s not encouraging to see the SEC ask if the bitcoin futures markets are “of significant size” despite having already concluded last month that they’re not.”

This is a tactic in obfuscation that the SEC loves when an applicant has not provided an adequate response.  In this case there is no objective answer to how liquid a market must be to meet the measure of significance.  Moreover, there is little or nothing that can be done in the short run to create greater liquidity.

The SEC is a political body as much as any agency of the Federal Government.  In raising the issue of liquidity, they can stand behind their role of protecting the public without at the same time hindering public access to a class of assets, even at current depressed levels, is worth $200 billion, more or less.

The SEC Is Right With Their Delays

Does the crypto world really benefit, as this stage of its evolution, by fostering a group of ETFs?  The argument in favor says that this is the way to simply and safely offer the individual investor a way to participate in a diversified portfolio of crypto.  That sounds noble – or is it just something that makes lots of money for those who create them?

But so far, at least from the viewpoint of the SEC, ETF applicants have not created a more secure domain.  More importantly, even if this were not the case, what does the investor gain from investing in a diversified list of crypto when Bitcoin overshadows about every other altcoin?

With nothing against those that believe in the benefits of ETFs, the benefits in current terms is far better for the ETF sponsor that it is for the investor.

Looking just at the math, an individual investor could be just as well off buying Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ripple, Ethereum and EOS. Admittedly, it is somewhat more complicated finding a place to buy and store Ripple, but with this small portfolio, you cover 75% of the entire crypto asset class. If security is an issue simply go to and select from a list of hardware wallets.

So whether the SEC gives their approval of VanEck-SolidX in December or February might make a difference if this were 2020 or sometime thereafter.  As for now, it really isn’t critical to the mass acceptance of crypto.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

James Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.