The Impact of Cryptocurrency Regulation on Trading Markets

Kevin Werbach and Brian Feinstein, Legal Studies & Business Ethics, The Wharton School

Journal of Financial Regulation, forthcoming

Abstract: The meteoric growth of global cryptocurrency markets presents novel challenges to regulators. Some policymakers and scholars warn that regulation will cause trading activity to cross borders into less-regulated jurisdictions—or even smother a promising new financial asset class. Others believe regulatory actions will stimulate activity by providing clarity to market participants. Standing behind this disagreement is a debate about the desirability of either outcome. Some believe that governments should promote development of the cryptocurrency sector within their countries, while others view cryptocurrencies as conduits of illegality and fraud that should be restricted through strict regulation or even outright bans. Yet these debates have, to date, been conducted almost entirely without data concerning the effects of regulation on market activity. As a corrective, we assemble original data on cryptocurrency regulations worldwide and use them to empirically examine movement in trading activity at a number of exchanges following key regulatory announcements.

Our findings are surprising. A wide variety of models yields almost entirely null results. From the creation of bespoke licensing regimes to targeted anti-money-laundering and anti-fraud enforcement actions, as well as many other categories of government activities, we find no systemic evidence that regulatory measures cause traders to flee, or enter into, the affected jurisdictions. These findings at last provide an empirical basis for regulatory decisions concerning cryptocurrency trading. Among other things, they call into question that capital flight or chilling effects should be a first-order concern.

Download the paper here.