After a seemingly successful experiment with bitcoin futures, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (Cboe) has filed an application with the SEC to list six bitcoin-related exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The ETFs would require the SEC to change its current rules to include cryptocurrency-tied investments, something the regulatory agency has been reluctant to consider since the first bitcoin ETF was applied for in 2013. Given the overwhelming recent interest in bitcoin-related investments — blockchain startups, ICOs, and cryptocurrency futures in particular — there is some reason to think that the SEC might be on the verge of reconsidering its stance, making the Cboe ETFs less of a long shot for approval than they would have been this time last year.
Speaking with CNBC about the SEC filing, a Cboe spokesperson said: “Given the success of the launch of our Bitcoin futures, several partners are very interested in moving forward with the development of an exchange traded product.”
If approved, the Cboe ETFs would essentially allow investors to make bets on the performance bitcoin futures market, rather than on the price of bitcoin itself. The six funds are actually three pairs of related ETFs — one long, one short — presented by firms REX, GraniteShares, and First Trust. The First Trust filing also leaves open the potential for the fund to invest in “other Listed Bitcoin Derivatives, OTC Bitcoin Derivatives, U.S. exchange-listed ETPs, and Non-U.S. Component Stocks,” while the other two are currently focused on bitcoin futures contracts. All three firms have long track records with successfully managed ETFs, which may play into the SEC’s decision-making process.
Given the SEC’s history of skepticism towards bitcoin ETFs, however, the more likely outcome is that all six ETF proposals will be denied. Earlier this year, the SEC denied an ETF application by the Winklevoss brothers, noting a lack of transparency in the bitcoin marketplace, as well as an overall lack of regulation for cryptocurrencies. While that decision is now being reviewed, the Winklevoss ETF is no closer to approval than it was in April. Even with the backing of Cboe, the SEC may be reluctant to move forward with any ETF until the legal and regulatory status of cryptocurrencies has been settled at the federal level.
Given the long, slow, and expensive process of SEC approval for new types of ETFs, it may be years before a decision on these applications is announced.