Coinbase’s Shiba Gamble, NFT Plan Fuel Wall Street Optimism

(Bloomberg) —

To chart Coinbase Global Inc.’s momentum this year, just look at its main retail mobile app. On Oct. 29, it became No. 1 in the Google Play store for the first time.

Coinbase, the largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange and a lightening rod for regulators and critics alike, was more popular, in other words, than Instagram, PayPal or Snapchat. As one of the earliest on the scene, it is now benefiting as crypto gains more adherents, and its reach into new markets and willingness to take risks is seen by many on Wall Street as setting the stage for further growth.  

Take Shiba Inu. The meme token featuring a dog’s face catapulted into the public consciousness and entered the top tier of cryptocurrencies by market value within months. Its provenance as a meme leaves Shiba without much of a fundamental reason to thrive, but investors like it — and Coinbase listed the token in September, even as rivals like Kraken have avoided doing so despite intense lobbying by day traders. It’s one indication that Coinbase, which has sought to project a public image as the crypto world’s version of a mainstream exchange, has been taking more risks — and they are mostly paying off.

“They are in a good spot,” said Chris Brendler, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co. “They are the brand name in crypto.” While Coinbase’s shares slumped after its April debut as a public company, they hit a closing high last week and are up almost 40% since they started trading.

Coinbase is expected to report on Tuesday that third-quarter revenue was five times higher than a year ago. The company should post $1.57 billion in revenue and $1.68 in earnings per share, per analysts polled by Bloomberg, whose estimates have inched up over the last month, partly as they watched Google Play numbers. The current, fourth quarter, should be even stronger, as retail and institutional investors alike are flocking into crypto, as the bull market pushes token prices to record highs.

Since the company went public, “if there is any change, I would say we are incrementally positive on the adoption, and this adoption could come faster than many people think,” said Owen Lau, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. 

What may be just as important are the company’s efforts to diversify. On Oct. 12, Coinbase said it will launch a marketplace for creating and trading non-fungible tokens. Nearly 2.5 million emails have already been added to a waiting list, though some of them may be bots. The business could prove highly lucrative: Rival OpenSea booked $236.5 million in transaction volume in August, per Dune Analytics. It takes a 2.5% cut of each sale. And Coinbase, which is an investor in OpenSea, can make NFT transactions easier to execute, appealing to less tech-savvy users, said John Todaro, an analyst at Needham & Co.

“Coinbase’s platform would allow for custody on the platform and the ability to make purchases” in dollars, he said.

In September, Coinbase filed an application to trade crypto derivatives — a huge market that eclipses spot. In November, Coinbase said it’s piloting subscriptions that would do away with per-trade fees — something that could make its sales more predictable. Currently, the company doesn’t provide forward guidance, because its revenue is highly impacted by token price swings. 

“Investors have come to see crypto as going more mainstream, so the next phase for the stock may be to de-couple from Bitcoin as revenues from institutions, other crypto trading and non-trading service fees start to grow,” said Julie Chariell, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

That said, competition is mounting. Among free apps on Google Play, has grabbed the No. 1 spot, though Coinbase is not far behind. Robinhood Market Inc. is making inroads. Perhaps that’s partly why Coinbase listed Shiba, said Mark Palmer, an analyst at BTIG LLC.

“The extent to which it offers alt coins like Shib means it’s going to be able to pick up those incremental volumes rather than seeing them on alternative platforms,” Palmer said.

Not all of Coinbase’s recent bets have paid off. In September, the company shelved its plans for Lend, which was supposed to let users earn interest on coin holdings, due to pressure from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Regulatory uncertainty continues to hang over crypto businesses.

The market also remains unpredictable — and, if Shiba Inu is an indication — could be in a bubble, Brendler said. Coinbase has warned that a drop in crypto prices could negatively impact revenue. In September, it raised $2 billion via senior notes for product development and potential acquisitions. For now, though, the good times roll.

“People are trying to get rich, and a lot of people have successfully been able to ride this wave,” Brendler said. 


(Updates the total return in the fourth paragraph.)

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