While earnings, tax reform and a looming potential government shutdown held the front page of the financial news this past week, the alt-currency market had a newsworthy week itself. The Chinese exchanges announced that it would charge a 0.2% fee on bitcoin transactions. Japan said it would recognize bitcoin as legal tender. But the biggest news may be that the previously-rejected Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF (COIN) might be back on the table again. The SEC has agreed to review its decision to reject what would be the first bitcoin ETF in the marketplace. While it’s not a done deal that it’ll be approved, it now seems more likely than not we’ll have a bitcoin ETF sooner rather than later. The price of bitcoin shot up in response hitting a new all-time high of just north of $1340. Bitcoin was just over $1000 at the beginning of April.
Another alt-currency also hit an all-time high this past week. Ethereum’s ether token topped $65. What is Ethereum you may ask? Ethereum, like bitcoin, is a blockchain network. It’s an open software platform that allows developers to build and run the programming code for applications. Ether is used to pay for services and fees on the Ethereum network but, like bitcoin, can be used as a tradeable currency.
While the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF may be getting most of the cryptocurrency headlines, the SEC announced at nearly the same time that it has begun considering approval of an Ethereum ETF. The backers of the EtherIndex Ether Trust, which would issue the fund’s shares, believe they have enough in place to get it approved. And it may actually end up hitting the market first.
So how would an Ethereum ETF differ from a bitcoin ETF?
- Potential uses - While ether can be traded in the same way as bitcoin, the SEC notes in a statement that ether, unlike bitcoin, was not designed to be a pure store of value. It’s designed as a means of payment for activities on the Ethereum network.
- Regulation - Part of the reason that the Winklevoss ETF was originally rejected was its lack of regulatory oversight. Ether is regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services. This type of regulation may give the SEC a degree of comfort that it may not have had with the bitcoin ETF.
- Corporate backing - At the end of February, a group of roughly 30 companies announced the formation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance whose goal is to create and develop the standards that will enable businesses to more easily use Ethereum as a means of tracking data and financial contracts. Some of the biggest names in the alliance include Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, Intel, Accenture, UBS and Thomson Reuters.
At this point, the Ethereum network looks like it’s better built for a number of wide ranging long-term applications. That’s good for the outlook for ether but bitcoin is further down the road as a cryptocurrency. The Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF also looks like it’s further along in the SEC approval process but don’t be surprised if it’s the Ethereum ETF that gets the nod first.
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