A recent bipartisan letter from Members of Congress seeks clarification from SEC Chairman Jay Clayton as to the status of digital tokens and cryptocurrencies under the federal securities laws. The signatories expressed their view that not all digital tokens should be deemed securities, and voiced their concern that the SEC should not use its enforcement mechanism alone to craft policy on this issue. Instead, the Members advocated in favor of formal SEC guidance to clear up “uncertainties which are causing the environment for the development of innovative technologies in the United States to be unnecessarily fraught.” Continue Reading Members of Congress Request SEC Guidance on Crypto Assets
On September 27, 2018, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) charged an international securities dealer with illegally offering and selling to U.S. investors security-based swaps funded with bitcoins and related violations of the Commodities Exchange Act. The broker, 1pool Ltd., a.k.a. 1Broker, and its CEO, Patrick Brunner, were both named in the complaint filed by the SEC with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Continue Reading SEC and CFTC Charge a Bitcoin-Funded International Securities Dealer
Interest in the crypto economy continues to grow in Congress. On September 25, 2018, Representative Warren Davidson (R-OH) hosted a roundtable, “Legislating Certainty for Cryptocurrencies,” with more than 50 financial institutions and crypto start-ups invited to attend. Additionally, the House Financial Services Committee has scheduled a hearing on financial innovation on September 28, 2018, entitled Examining Opportunities for Financial Markets in the Digital Era. Continue Reading Recent Congressional Action Involving Digital Assets and Blockchain Technology
A new report from the New York Attorney General (“NYAG”) summarizes the findings of its recent Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative (the “Initiative”). The NYAG concluded that crypto trading platforms vary significantly in their risk management strategies and in the ways they fulfill customer responsibilities. The NYAG also identified three broad areas of concern: (1) potential conflicts of interest, (2) lack of serious efforts to impede abusive trading activity, and (3) limited protections for customer funds. Continue Reading New York Attorney General Reports on Crypto Exchanges
On September 10, 2018, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) authorized Gemini Trust Company and Paxos Trust Company to each offer a price-stable cryptocurrency, also known as a stablecoin, pegged to the U.S. dollar. Both Gemini and Paxos hold limited purpose trust company charters under the New York Banking Law and are authorized to offer services for buying, selling, sending, receiving and storing virtual currency. Gemini is controlled by the Winklevoss brothers, whose application for a Bitcoin ETF was recently denied by the SEC. Continue Reading New York DFS Authorizes Two Stablecoins
On September 11, 2018, capital markets regulators announced a series of cases that are the first of their kind in the digital assets space.
The SEC announced its first case charging unregistered broker-dealers for selling digital tokens. According to the SEC’s order, the defendants operated a self-described “ICO Superstore” that solicited investors, took thousands of customer orders for digital tokens, processed investor funds, and handled more than 200 different digital tokens in connection with both ICOs and the defendants’ own secondary market activities. The defendants also promoted the sale of approximately 40 digital tokens in exchange for marketing fees paid by digital token issuers. Because the digital tokens issued in the ICOs and traded by defendants included securities under the SEC’s DAO Report, the SEC concluded that the defendants’ market activities required broker-dealer registration with the SEC. Continue Reading A Day of Firsts
On September 9, 2018, the SEC announced the temporary trading suspension of two securities known as Bitcoin Tracker One (“CXBTF”) and Ether Tracker One (“CETHF”). According to the SEC’s order, the broker-dealer application materials submitted to enable the offer and sale of these products in the United States, as well as certain trading websites, characterize them as “Exchange Traded Funds.” According to the SEC, other public sources characterize the instruments as “Exchange Traded Notes.” By contrast, the SEC observed that the issuer of these securities characterizes them in its offering materials as “non-equity linked certificates.” CXBTF and CETHF are listed and traded on the NASDAQ/OMX in Stockholm and have recently been quoted on OTC Link (formerly known as the “pink sheets”) in the U.S. The SEC temporarily suspended trading in these securities in light of apparent confusion among market participants regarding the characteristics of these instruments. Continue Reading SEC Acts Over Weekend to Suspend Trading in Certain Crypto Stocks
As we previously reported, in May 2018, more than 40 state and provincial securities regulators in the United States and Canada launched a coordinated enforcement sweep of the ICO market dubbed “Operation Cryptosweep.” On August 28, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) published a press release with an update on the progress of this initiative. According to NASAA, more than 200 active investigations of ICOs and cryptocurrency-related investment products are currently underway, and blue sky regulators have brought 46 enforcement actions to date. Continue Reading NASAA Updates Status of “Operation Cryptosweep”
This post has been updated.
On August 22, 2018, following its recent decision denying the application of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, the SEC denied applications for nine more Bitcoin ETFs. The orders involving applications by Cboe BZX and NYSE Arca (here and here) are similar to each other and cite many of the same reasons for denial. As with the Winklevoss application, the SEC went out of its way to emphasize that “its disapproval does not rest on an evaluation of whether bitcoin, or blockchain technology more generally, has utility or value as an innovation or an investment.” Instead, the SEC reasoned that the exchanges failed to meet their burdens under SEC regulations to demonstrate their ability to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices in respect of the planned ETFs. Notably, the exchanges did not demonstrate that bitcoin futures markets are “markets of significant size.” These orders are not surprising in light of the recent position the SEC took with the Winklevoss application, and they continue to show that the SEC remains skeptical of the burgeoning digital asset economy.
Update: Since this blog post went to press, the SEC announced that the commissioners would review the earlier orders, and the denial of the nine ETFs has, as of August 24, been stayed.
A recent settled SEC enforcement action against an ICO issuer (the “Company”) and its promoter calls into question the viability of the “airdrop” model of distributing digital tokens to investors. In the ICO context, an “airdrop” generally refers to the widespread distribution of digital tokens to community members either for free or in exchange for performing menial tasks. Whether such a distribution model runs afoul of the federal securities laws has been the subject of much debate in recent months, and the SEC’s case provides additional insight into their analysis of the issue. While a narrow path for airdrops may remain, the case will significantly curtail their current use. Continue Reading SEC Brings Enforcement Case Involving “Airdrop” of Securities