Invest in Bitcoin companies
During the gold rush, it's a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.-Mark Twain
Cryptocurrencies, and in particular the leading Bitcoin, are a hot area of investment. Make sure to read my articles titled 5 Reasons To Buy Bitcoin and 6 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Invest In Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies represent a convenient way to store purchasing power without having it exposed to the vagaries of central bank policy. However, that's not all there is to the cryptocurrencies. The technology that powers them called blockchain is very interesting as well. It allows users to develop decentralized systems to govern pretty much anything.
I actually do believe Bitcoin, Ethereum and other altcoins are interesting assets to diversify into, but there is also something to the Mark Twain quote at the top of this article. If the crypto revolution is the new gold rush, who is selling the picks and shovels?
Among the rare publicly-traded companies, there is the pure-play BTCS (OTCQB:BTCS), formerly Bitcoin Shop, but I don't like it very much for reasons described in the article linked to. Unfortunately, most other bitcoin-related companies, developing exchanges, wallets and increasingly interesting technologies are private.
However, there are two public companies (that I know) with small but interesting exposure to blockchain technology.
Overstock (NASDAQ:OSTK) is a small e-tailer, which has its profitability obscured, because under the leadership of its weird but passionate owner/CEO Patrick Byrne, it is spending heavily to develop several blockchain technology initiatives. Its cryptocurrency segment is called Medici, and it is sort of a crypto incubator. Byrne guided to a historic crypto-related product launch in less than a month from now on the latest earnings call:
We are just reaching the finish line with some products. We have intense global interest from large financial players. We are just reaching the point where we can start introducing some products, I think you will see an announcement this quarter on that, on something that will be historic but our goal at this point - don't really ask me about the revenue and such of these - they're tiny companies in the grand scheme of things.
Medici currently consists of a blockchain-based exchange called t0, Bitt and PeerNova. Overstock also acquired SpeedRoute, which routes 3% of equity trades in the U.S., probably with the intent to tie this up with t0. Overstock participated in the round A of Bitt acquiring ~32% of the company at a $50 million valuation. The Barbados Central Bank Governor is the first to have gotten permission to put the fiat currency on the blockchain.
So far, Medici is just costing Overstock a lot of money. However, following the near-term product launch, it becomes much more realistic Byrne will start looking to segregate the Bitcoin exploits from the e-tailer. A sale or spin-off could potentially boost the valuation of both segments and is one of the reasons I own Overstock stock. Overstock also holds a little bit of bitcoin in reserve. If you believe in the concepts behind t0, Bitt or PeerNova, the good news is they can really have an impact on the company's valuation. As Overstock has an enterprise value of only $300 million, if any of these just get to unicorn status, it is a real windfall.
FRMO Corp. (OTCPK:FRMO) is led by Murray Stahl and Steven Bregman. I regard them as incredibly smart and talented investors and consider them a major influence on my own work. They are very interested in optionality and the optionality embedded in exchanges and similar businesses. The company holds investments in various traditional exchanges like the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. However, they also recognize the optionality embedded in digital currencies. They acted on their conviction by making an investment in Digital Currency Group, Inc. The unfortunate news is that the investment is only $76, 000 total in size. That means, at this point, it is only a very small part of the FRMO market cap, which is like $200 million. DCG owns stakes in Genesis, Grayscale and Coinbase. Genesis is a crypto-focused trading firm, Grayscale is the sponsor of the Bitcoin Investment Trust (OTCQX:GBTC) and Coinbase is a popular and very user-friendly crypto wallet that I use to hold my Bitcoin. Stahl on the Q3 earnings call:
We would have bought more Digital Currency Group, but that was all that was available. We also bought a modest amount for ourselves. We would have made a bigger investment for FRMO, but we chose not to because it's a brand new asset class. Before we make it a bigger stake, we want to learn more about it and get more comfortable.
A $76K investment isn't very impressive, but let me put that in the context of how Stahl and Bregman are thinking about this (emphasis mine):
I don't say this, but there are some who do-"What if Bitcoin becomes the new gold?" Let's say that were to happen. Again, some people say it; I do not. But, if that were to happen, there's about $7 trillion of gold, and there's about $6.6 billion worth of Bitcoin in the world. Let's round it up to $7 billion. If Bitcoin were worth the value of all the gold-I don't even include silver, jewelry, art, or other hard assets, which would make a much greater market-in theory, Bitcoin would appreciate a thousand-fold.