After a few years of relative dormancy, the SEC is once again targeting the flourishing cryptocurrency market. On August 3, 2021, SEC Chair Gary Gensler gave a speech to the Aspen Security Forum in which he referred to the cryptocurrency marketplace as the Wild West. Days later, the SEC filed its first case involving securities using DeFi technology and then a few days after that, reached a $10 million settlement with Poloniex for operating an unregistered digital asset exchange. Shortly after that, the SEC took aim at Coinbase’s planned crypto lending program causing the crypto giant to shelf the business model for the time being. SEC Commissioners are joining in, giving speeches in various forums focused on crypto and the regulatory environment.
In July 2017, the world of digital assets and cryptocurrency literally became an overnight business sector for corporate and securities lawyers, shifting from the pure technology sector, when the SEC issued its Section 21(a) Report on
On September 14, 2021, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler gave testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs highlighting the priorities of the SEC under his rule. After giving the obligatory opening statements on the size and impact of the U.S. capital markets, Gensler broke down the SEC agenda into four topics including market structure, predictive data analytics, issuers and issuer disclosure and funds and investment management.
Chair Gensler began his speech market structure by talking about the U.S. Treasury Market, which I found interesting mainly because I do not recall any speech or testimony by recent SEC chairpersons that focused on the topic (albeit I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read a lot!). During Covid, the Treasury Market suffered from liquidity issues prompting the SEC to consider rule and process changes, including those related to clearing, that could make the Treasury Markets more resilient and competitive. The SEC is also considering Treasury trading
Small public companies are in trouble and they need help now! Once in a while there is a perfect storm forming that can only result in widespread damage and that time is now for small public companies, especially those that trade on the OTC Markets. The trains on track to collide include a combination of (i) the impending amended Rule 15c2-11 compliance deadline (which alone would be and is a clear positive); (ii) the proposed Rule 144 rule changes to eliminate tacking upon the conversion of market adjustable securities; (iii) the SEC onslaught of litigation against micro-cap convertible note investors claiming unlicensed dealer activity; (iv) the OTC Markets new across the board unwillingness to allow companies to move from the Pink to the QB if they have outstanding convertible debt; and (v) the SEC’s unwillingness to recognize the OTC Pink as a trading market and its implications on re-sale registration statements.
Any one of these factors alone would not
In February, the Office of Management and Budget released the proposed fiscal 2021 United States government budget. The beginning of the Budget contains a message from President Trump delineating a list of key priorities of the administration including better trade deals, preserving peace through strength, overcoming the opioid crisis, regulation relief and American energy independence. The budget has some notable aspects that directly relate to the capital markets and its participants.
As the federal government has been doing for all agencies, the 2021 Budget seeks to eliminate agency reserve funds. Specifically regarding the SEC, the Budget cuts the SEC reserve by $50 million. The reduction in reserve fund is thought to increase overall accountability as the SEC would need to go to Congress to ask for additional funds if needed, with an explanation, instead of just accessing a reserve account. Reserve fund cuts are sent to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.
However, the Budget also increases the
In December 2019 the OTC Markets updated its Pink Disclosure Guidelines and Attorney Letter Agreement and Guidelines. The Pink disclosure guidelines and attorney letter apply to companies that elect to report directly to OTC Markets pursuant to its Alternative Reporting Standard. Furthermore, in January 2020 OTC Markets amended the OTCQB standards related to the disclosure of convertible debt and notification procedures for companies undergoing a change in control. The OTCQB also updated its criteria for determining independence of directors, and added additional transfer agent requirements for Canadian Companies.
The OTC Markets divide issuers into three (3) levels of quotation marketplaces: OTCQX, OTCQB and OTC Pink Open Market. The OTC Pink Open Market, which involves the highest-risk, highly speculative securities, is further divided into three tiers: Current Information, Limited Information and No Information. Companies trading on the OTCQX, OTCQB and OTC Pink Current Information tiers of OTC Markets have the option of reporting directly to OTC Markets under its Alternative
On October 11, 2019 the SEC, FinCEN and CFTC issued a joint statement on activities involving digital assets. Various agencies have been consistently working together, with overlapping jurisdiction, on matters involving digital assets and distributed ledger technology. Earlier, in August, the SEC and FINRA issued a joint statement on the custody of digital assets, including as it relates to broker-dealers and investment advisors (see HERE).
The purpose of the joint statement is to remind persons engaged in activities involving digital assets of their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). AML/CFT obligations apply to entities that the BSA defines as “financial institutions,” such as futures commission merchants and introducing brokers obligated to register with the CFTC, money services businesses (MSBs) as defined by FinCEN (for more information on MSBs see HERE), and broker-dealers and mutual funds obligated to register
In the continuing dilemma over determining just what kind of asset a cryptocurrency is, multiple regulators have expressed opinions and differing views on regulations. Likewise, multiple regulators have conducted investigations and initiated enforcement proceedings against those in the cybersecurity space. The SEC has asserted the opinion that most, if not all, cryptocurrencies are securities; the CFTC has found them to be commodities; the IRS’s official definition is the same as the CFTC, and in particular a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value, and now the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has asserted that issuers of cryptocurrencies are money transmitters.
In particular, in a letter written to the US Senate Committee on Finance on February 13, 2018, FinCEN indicates that it expects issuers of initial coin offerings (ICOs) to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), including its anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC)
On February 6, 2018, the United States Senate Committee on Banking Housing and Urban Affairs (“Banking Committee”) held a hearing on “Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.” Both SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo testified and provided written testimony. The marketplace as a whole had a positive reaction to the testimony, with Bitcoin prices immediately jumping up by over $1600. This blog reviews the testimony and provides my usual commentary.
The SEC and CFTC Share Joint Regulatory Oversight
The Banking Committee hearing follows SEC and CFTC joint statements on January 19, 2018 and a joint op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal published on January 25, 2018 (see HERE). As with other areas in capital markets, such as swaps, the SEC and CFTC have joint regulatory oversight over cryptocurrencies. Where the SEC regulates securities and securities markets, the CFTC
The SEC and U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been actively policing the crypto or virtual currency space. Both regulators have filed multiple enforcement actions against companies and individuals for improper activities including fraud. On January 25, 2018, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo published a joint op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on the topic.
Backing up a little, on October 17, 2017, the LabCFTC office of the CFTC published “A CFTC Primer on Virtual Currencies” in which it defines virtual currencies and outlines the uses and risks of virtual currencies and the role of the CFTC. The CFTC first found that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are properly defined as commodities in 2015. Accordingly, the CFTC has regulatory oversight over futures, options, and derivatives contracts on virtual currencies and has oversight to pursue claims of fraud or manipulation involving a virtual currency traded in interstate commerce. Beyond instances of fraud
On January 19, 2018 and again on January 25, 2018, the SEC and CFTC divisions of enforcement issued joint statements regarding cryptocurrencies. The January 19 statement was short and to the point, reading in total:
“When market participants engage in fraud under the guise of offering digital instruments – whether characterized as virtual currencies, coins, tokens, or the like – the SEC and the CFTC will look beyond form, examine the substance of the activity and prosecute violations of the federal securities and commodities laws. The Divisions of Enforcement for the SEC and CFTC will continue to address violations and bring actions to stop and prevent fraud in the offer and sale of digital instruments.”
The January 25, 2018 statement was issued by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo and was published as an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. In summarizing the statements, I add my usual commentary and facts and information