Among the big drivers behind the recent move higher in the price of bitcoin - in addition to the traditional "capital outflow" demand out of China - has been widespread hope that the SEC will approve the first bitcoin ETF. And contrary to our report from January that such a decision, and ETF, will be delayed substantially, today Coindesk writes that according to its sources, the ETF decision is expected, either affirming or denying, by Friday.
The SEC has a March 11th internal deadline, Coindesk reported, to decide on the proposed rule change that would clear the way for the ETF, which would be the first of its kind. However, as the 11th falls on a Saturday, that decision will come before that date, "potentially before Friday", the source said. The decision would cap a more than three-year period since investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss first filed with the SEC in mid-2013.
In case of a favorable outcome, some analysts and traders have speculated that bitcoin markets could rise as a result, although considering the recent ramp in BTC's price in recent weeks, the news may have been priced in and holders may instead sell the news. Bitcoin's price has approached $1,300 in recent sessions, rising above $1,290 on March 3rd. However, the price has kept sliding, eventually experiencing a sharp drop on Tuesday as reported earlier on fresh concerns about China, when BTC briefly traded back under the price of one ounce of gold.
On the other hand, analysts have argued that, should the SEC reject the rule change that would allow the Bats Global Exchange to list the ETF, bitcoin's price could be negatively affected. Phil Bak, who was previously a New York Stock Exchange managing director and currently serves as CEO for ETF issuer ACSI Funds, told CoinDesk that, generally, the SEC seeks to avoid the appearance of "publicly rejecting an ETF." He went on to argue that, if the agency didn't plan on approving one of these funds, it would likely ask for the filing to be pulled ahead of any final decision. Yet according to Bak, the lack of such a pullback so close to the deadline could be driven by other factors specific to the bitcoin ETF.
"In this case, the government agency may want to show the world it is unsure about bitcoin. Alternatively, it could also be that the advocates want to support it to the end and let this proposed fund get its day in court, rejection or not" Bak explained.
Others believe the odds of either outcome are about even: Arthur Hayes, co-founder and CEO of exchange platform BitMEX, said "I have heard good arguments for and against the ETF being approved. At this point it is a coin toss." Hayes' exchange is home to an ETF-tied prediction market, where traders can essentially bet on the outcome of the decision, and that has seen significant fluctuations over the past month. At times, traders have given the fund estimated chances of between 2% and 70%, depending on the day. At press time, the prediction market shows a roughly 50% estimated chance of approval.
Charles Hayter, co-founder and CEO of CryptoCompare, offered similar sentiment, stating that the fund's odds of receiving approval are "more than likely plucked out of the air on this one".
Those close to the industry aren't the only ones comparing the SEC decision to a coin flip. Bloomberg's Eric Balchunas has similarly argued that the ETF has about a 50-50 chance of receiving approval.
While there is much money to be made (or lost) depending which way the SEC rules, the waiting is almost over.... or perhaps not.
Even if the Coinbase source is accurate, and the SEC has an approaching deadling, one analyst has warned that those hoping for a conclusion to the years-long process might not get an answer until after that date. Jeff Bishop, co-founder of investor message board platform RagingBull.com and ETF expert, speculated that the SEC could punt its decision further past the 11th, particularly in light of recent price gains.
"I have the feeling they will find a way to delay this even more though. With bitcoin at all-time highs and the SEC having a terrible record for allowing new ETFs to come to market at absolute tops, they will likely push back on this until things cool a bit," he said.
For his part, Bishop believes the ETF should be approved. "It should be up to investors to decide the true price of bitcoin. The more liquidity and options [there are] to trade it, the more transparent and accurate the pricing will be."