Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase files for IPO as Bitcoin soars past US$23,000

Bitcoin hit an all-time high on Thursday of more than US$23,000, and has more than doubled this year. PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG) - Coinbase Global, the biggest US cryptocurrency exchange, said it has filed confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public in what's anticipated to be a breakthrough moment for the industry.

The San Francisco-based company said in a statement that it expects its draft registration filing to become effective after the SEC completes its review process. The company didn't provide further details of its listing plans and a representative declined to comment beyond the announcement.

Coinbase was valued at more than US$8 billion (S$10.6 billion) in 2018 after a US$300 million funding round led by Tiger Global Management.

The company, started in 2012, has raised more than US$500 million from backers that also include Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator and Greylock Partners, according to its website.

Coinbase said it has has more than 35 million verified users in more than 100 countries and more than US$25 billion in assets on its platform.

Kyle Samani, co-founder of MultiCoin Capital, said he expects Coinbase going public to be a "huge event" for the industry.

"It is a watershed moment for the asset class, both as a form of legitimisation, and by providing a way for investors to bet on the crypto industry without betting on a specific asset," said Mr Samani, who is an investor in Coinbase.

Bitcoin hit an all-time high on Thursday of more than US$23,000, and has more than doubled this year.

PayPal Holdings has begun letting consumers use the cryptocurrency in transactions, and companies including Square Inc. and MicroStrategy Inc. have made Bitcoin investments, prompting speculations that more institutional investors will jump into cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin Bet

One River Asset Management, a hedge fund specialising in volatility bets, has quietly bought US$600 million worth of the digital currency, Bloomberg reported.

As cryptocurrency prices have risen, Coinbase has experienced performance issues this week, including connectivity problems and delays.

A Coinbase listing would be "a major exit for many early employees," said Nic Carter, co-founder of crypto researcher Coin Metrics. Those employees would have liquidity for angel investments and the means to start their own startups, Mr Carter said.

Several cryptocurrency-related companies, particularly exchanges, are already earning hundreds of millions or even billions in annual revenue, and more crypto startups are expected to go public or be acquired in the coming months.

Coinbase's announcement comes at the end of the biggest year ever for initial public offerings on US exchanges.

Newly public companies have raised more than US$175 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. IPOs reached an all-time high this month for December, with 63 companies raising more than US$23 billion in new listings, the data show.

Roblox, Instacart

The IPO line-up for 2021 already includes high-profile companies such as online video-game company Roblox Corp, online dating service Bumble, grocery delivery platform Instacart Inc. and online mortgage lender, Bloomberg has reported.

Software maker UiPath Inc. said Thursday that it had filed confidentially for an IPO. Online used clothing marketplace Poshmark Inc. also filed Thursday for an IPO.

If Coinbase moves ahead with its plans, it will have to disclose details of its operations and finances in public SEC filings.

The company lost about 60 staffers this year after chief executive officer Brian Armstrong banned political activism at work. Mr Armstrong told staffers in September that he would offer a generous severance package to those who didn't want to comply.

Mr Armstrong was a software engineer at Airbnb before co-founding Coinbase with Fred Ehrsam.

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