Even as bitcoin’s utility in mainstream society flummoxes analysts and investors, CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo seems to have solved the conundrum.
According to him, bitcoin has elements of all asset classes. This means that it is a currency and can be used for payment transactions. It is also a store of value and can be held for long periods of time like gold. Finally, it can also be bought and sold like a security.
“Bitcoin and a lot of its other virtual currency counterparts really have elements of the different asset classes, whether they’re meeting payment, whether it’s a long-term asset,” Giancarlo told CNBC. “We see elements of commodity in it that are subject to our regulations, but depending on which regulatory regime you’re looking at, it has different aspects of all of that.” Within the context of CFTC’s regulatory regime, he provided the example of bitcoin futures contracts at CME and Cboe. “Those contracts are working quite well,” he said, adding that his agency had applied statute-based principles that are already in existence to regulate the contracts.
But those regulations can only go so far.
The cryptocurrency ecosystem is littered with hacks and scandals that, at first read, signal an untrustworthy ecosystem. CFTC’s hesitation regarding bitcoin futures is evident in their requirements for high margins and settlement in cash (as opposed to a delivery). With their forks, miners, and issuance schedules, bitcoin and its ilk are significantly different from other existing asset classes. As such, they need a new set of regulations to monitor their status.
In his conversation with CNBC, Chairman Giancarlo alluded to the possibility of a novel set of regulations for cryptocurrencies. “There’s a growing appetite among several Congress men and Senators that I have spoken to..to approach this with new eyes and some new thinking,” he said.
At first glance, Chairman Giancarlo’s statement may sound inconclusive. But his statement regarding the status of cryptocurrencies as security and commodity adds onto that of his predecessor Gary Gensler, who said that there was a particularly strong case for ethereum and ripple to considered as securities. Designation as security will bring cryptocurrencies into the phalanx of regulations and require additional disclosure and accountability from their promoters and cryptocurrency exchanges listing them. The process has already been kickstarted at Coinbase, North America’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, which has reportedly considering registering with the SEC as a brokerage firm. Regulation could also mean the entry of institutional money into crypto markets and less daily volatility in their prices.