WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order on government oversight of cryptocurrency that urges the Federal Reserve to explore whether the central bank should jump in and create its own digital currency.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the effort would “promote a fairer, more inclusive, and more efficient financial system” while countering illicit finance and preventing risks to financial stability and national security.
The Biden administration views the explosive popularity of cryptocurrency as an opportunity to examine the risks and benefits of digital assets, said a senior administration official who previewed the order Tuesday on the condition of anonymity, terms set by the White House.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency related stocks got a boost Wednesday following Biden’s executive order.
The price of Bitcoin was up 9.8% at $42,211, according to Coindesk. Shares in cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Global surged 9.3% in midday trading, while online brokerage Robinhood Markets rose 4.5%.
Riot Blockchain, which focuses on cryptocurrency mining, jumped 11.5%. Digital payments platforms also rose. PayPal added 4.9% and Block climbed 10.55%.
Under the executive order, Biden also directed the Treasury Department and other federal agencies to study the impact of cryptocurrency on financial stability and national security.
Brian Deese and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s top economic and national security advisers, respectively, said the order establishes the first comprehensive federal digital assets strategy for the United States.
“That will help position the U.S. to keep playing a leading role in the innovation and governance of the digital assets ecosystem at home and abroad, in a way that protects consumers, is consistent with our democratic values and advances U.S. global competitiveness,” Deese and Sullivan said Wednesday in a joint statement.
The action comes as lawmakers and administration officials are increasingly voicing concern that Russia may be using cryptocurrency to avoid the impact of sanctions imposed on its banks, oligarchs and oil industry due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Mark Warner, and Jack Reed asked the Treasury Department to provide information on how it intends to inhibit cryptocurrency use for sanctions evasion.
The Biden administration has argued that Russia won’t be able to make up for the loss of U.S. and European business by turning to cryptocurrency. Officials said the president’s order had been in the works for months.
The executive order had been widely anticipated by the finance industry, crypto traders, speculators and lawmakers who have compared the cryptocurrency market to the Wild West.
Despite the risks, the government said, surveys show that roughly 16% of adult Americans — or 40 million people — have invested in cryptocurrencies. And 43% of men age 18-29 have put their money into cryptocurrency.
Coinbase Global Inc., the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, said the company had not seen a recent surge in sanctions evasion activity.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last week that “many participants in the cryptocurrency networks are subjected to anti-money laundering sanctions” and that the industry is not “completely one where things can be evaded.”
Katherine Dowling, general counsel for Bitwise Asset Management, a cryptocurrency asset management firm, said an executive order that provides more legal clarity on government oversight would be “a long term positive for crypto.”
But Hilary Allen, a financial regulation professor at American University, cautioned against moving too fast to embrace cryptocurrencies.
“I think crypto is a place where we should be putting the brakes on this innovation until it’s better understood,” she said. “As crypto becomes more integrated into our financial system it creates vulnerabilities not just to those who are investing in crypto but for everybody who participates in our economy.”
Information for this article was compiled by Thalia Beaty, Christopher Rugaber and Alex Veiga of The Associated Press.