With bitcoin ETF decision imminent, industry watchers debate if SEC will delay  

Those closely following the spot bitcoin ETF saga probably already know Bloomberg Intelligence analysts put the chances of approval in the coming week at 90%.

But not all see it that way. 

Markus Thielen, head of research for crypto platform Matrixport, said Tuesday he believes all such applications “fall short of a critical requirement” — adding that US Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler “still sees this industry in need of more stringent compliance.”

Read more: SEC delaying spot bitcoin ETFs ‘not impossible,’ but unlikely: Balchunas

As the SEC’s Jan. 10 deadline to rule on a proposal by Ark Invest and 21Shares approaches, other industry watchers continue to debate these funds’ fate. 

Stefan Rust, CEO data provider Truflation, said he agrees Gensler has not given any indication he is ready to give a bitcoin ETF the green light. 

“Governments and regulators haven’t yet identified how they can exert control over cryptocurrencies,” Rust argued in a statement. “No doubt they are looking for more time and choke points to inhibit access to cryptocurrencies from a decentralized system.”

Chase White and Joe Flynn, analysts at Compass Point Research & Trading, said in a Dec. 15 note that recent meetings between fund issuers and the SEC support the firm’s base case of January spot bitcoin ETF approval. The regulator could hold off though, they added.

“We think there’s a chance the SEC isn’t quite ready to approve ETFs in early [January] and will ask Ark Invest [and] 21Shares…to refile the application to give the SEC more time, rather than reject it outright,” White and Flynn wrote.

But Scott Johnsson, general partner at Van Buren Capital, said in a series of X posts Wednesday he is confident approval will come between Jan. 8 and Jan. 10. 

Read more: Industry watchers pin down possible bitcoin ETF approval dates

He added: “There’s no more bullets in the SEC’s gun.”

The SEC’s August court loss to Grayscale Investments put more pressure on the regulator to approve spot bitcoin ETFs, industry watchers and executives have argued. Judges in the case said the regulator’s decision to deny the conversion of the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) to an ETF — but approve bitcoin futures ETFs — was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

Adam Thorn, head of research at Galaxy Digital, called several arguments in the Matrixport report “nonsensical” in an X post, citing Grayscale’s court win. 

Matrixport co-founder Jihan Wu defended Thielen’s report, saying he believes spot bitcoin ETF approval at some point is “inevitable.” Thielen did not return a request for comment. 

Lucas Kiely, chief investment officer of digital wealth platform Yield App, called bitcoin’s Wednesday price dip “a buying opportunity.”

Should the SEC once again reject bitcoin ETFs, it would this time be blocking attempts from not just crypto-focused firms, but from fund giants such as BlackRock, Fidelity, Invesco and Franklin Templeton.

BlackRock, which manages roughly $9 trillion in assets, has only ever had one ETF proposal rejected by the SEC — a so-called non-transparent fund structure in 2014.

“There is too much pressure and expectation from the world’s biggest asset managers for Gary Gensler and the rest of the approval committee to keep kicking the can down the road,” Kiely said.

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