Timeline to US Spot Bitcoin ETF Approval

The journey to the approval of a spot Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) in the United States has been fraught with regulatory scrutiny, market anticipation, and a series of critical applications and decisions. This article offers a comprehensive look at the significant events that have led to the gradual evolution of the landscape around spot Bitcoin ETFs in the US.

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The tale begins in 2013 when the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, known for their involvement in the early development of Facebook, filed the first-ever Bitcoin ETF proposal with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The proposed Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust aimed to make investing in Bitcoin accessible to mainstream investors by listing shares on the NASDAQ.

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Despite the buzz generated by the prospect of a Bitcoin ETF, the SEC took a cautious stance. The regulatory body expressed concerns regarding the lack of regulation and potential for market manipulation within the cryptocurrency markets. This set the tone for an ongoing saga, as the SEC would continue to scrutinize Bitcoin ETF proposals over the coming years.

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Several rejections followed, with the SEC thwarting attempts in 2014 and 2015 from various parties to introduce a Bitcoin ETF. The primary reasons for these rejections revolved around security worries, market volatility, and questions surrounding the valuation of the underlying Bitcoin assets.

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March 2017 marked a pivotal moment when the SEC officially rejected the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust ETF proposal after a long period of review. The SEC cited the lack of surveillance agreements with significant markets for trading the underlying digital asset as one of the main reasons for the denial, signaling the need for a more regulated market framework.

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In the subsequent years, numerous financial institutions and investment firms submitted their Bitcoin ETF proposals, hoping to address the SEC’s concerns. Firms like VanEck and SolidX collaborated to file for a physically-backed Bitcoin ETF in 2018, yet they too met with delays and requests for further information.

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The SEC’s hesitation to approve a spot Bitcoin ETF continued despite growing interest from institutional investors and the launch of Bitcoin futures markets. Cboe Global Markets and CME Group both began offering Bitcoin futures contracts by the end of 2017, signifying a step towards greater financial market integration.

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Through 2019-2020, the number of high-profile Bitcoin ETF applications increased. Yet, rejection remained a common theme. The SEC repeatedly emphasized the need for more robust market surveillance and greater assurances against fraudulent and manipulative practices before granting approval.

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In late 2020, the Bitcoin market saw a surge in both adoption and price, with Bitcoin reaching then all-time highs. The shift in market sentiment and the increased involvement of institutional participants renewed the push for a spot Bitcoin ETF.

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A significant turning point came in 2021 when Canada approved several Bitcoin ETFs, which was a bold move that heightened the discussion around the United States’ approach to cryptocurrency-based securities. The success of Canadian Bitcoin ETFs added pressure on the US regulatory body to reconsider its stance.

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Later in 2021, the SEC approved the first Bitcoin futures ETFs for trading in the US, which allowed investors to gain exposure to Bitcoin without directly owning the cryptocurrency. While this development was celebrated, advocates for spot Bitcoin ETFs argued that futures-based ETFs might involve higher fees and tracking inefficiencies.

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As we stepped into 2022, the cryptocurrency industry matured, with Bitcoin firmly establishing itself as an investable asset class among traditional investors. Advocacy groups, industry players, and lawmakers continued to push for regulatory clarity and the approval of a spot-based product.

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Throughout 2022, several spot Bitcoin ETF proposals from well-known financial institutions such as Fidelity and SkyBridge were filed and subsequently delayed or denied by the SEC. Despite the advances in market infrastructure and oversight, the SEC maintained that concerns over investor protection and market manipulation had not been fully assuaged.

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In a historical decision met with industry applause, the SEC finally approved the first spot Bitcoin ETF in early 2023. The breakthrough came after a comprehensive period of industry collaboration, significant improvements in market surveillance, and the establishment of pricing benchmarks that addressed the regulator’s longstanding issues.

The path to the approval of a spot Bitcoin ETF in the United States has been a long and complex journey characterized by regulatory caution and industry perseverance. The eventual approval marks a milestone for the cryptocurrency market and opens the door for a new era of digital asset investment vehicles, potentially altering the investment landscape and further legitimizing cryptocurrencies as a mainstream asset class.

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