5 questions about Coinbase’s rumored IPO

A news report last week claimed that Coinbase, the country’s most prominent cryptocurrency company, is exploring an initial public offering. The report said the company is talking to bankers and lawyers and could go public late this year or sometime in 2021.

This is not exactly a bombshell. Every prominent Silicon Valley startup, including names like Robinhood and Stripe, have plans for an IPO at some point. In the case of Coinbase, though, any eventual IPO will be more intriguing than most, given how it has become the effective standard-bearer for Bitcoin and the still-emerging cryptocurrency industry.

Regardless of when Coinbase formally announces its IPO, here are are five questions potential investors and the finance industry should be asking.

Will Coinbase’s IPO involve a blockchain?

Blockchain, which creates a tamperproof ledger across multiple computers, is one of the most important new technologies of this century. It is what makes Bitcoin such a disruptive currency, and it underpins every other major cryptocurrency project.

Blockchain can also track and record ownership by means of digital tokens—the perfect tool, in other words, for issuing shares in a new company.

Coinbase cofounder Fred Ehrsam recently said the company is “spiritually” built to go public via some sort of token offering, and many of its employees would doubtless be dismayed if it pursues a garden variety Wall Street IPO. But any blockchain offering (even a hybrid one) would depend on the blessing of the SEC. That could be a tall order given the agency’s long-standing skepticism toward cryptocurrency.

Will Coinbase do a direct listing?

Alex Wilhelm, a longtime Silicon Valley watcher at TechCrunch, described Coinbase as “archetypal” for a direct listing. This process involves existing shareholders of a startup selling their shares to the public, as opposed to the company working with Wall Street underwriters to issue new blocks of shares.

Wilhelm points out that, like other recent firms to pursue a direct listing (notably Slack and Spotify), Coinbase has a similar profile in that it has a high valuation and ample cash reserves. A direct listing would also be more palatable to cryptocurrency fans, many of whom abhor Wall Street and the traditional IPO process in which the well-connected get first bite at a company’s stock.

What will Coinbase’s ticker symbol be?

The obvious choice would be COIN, which would invoke the startup’s name while also nodding at Bitcoin. A more cryptic choice could allude to blockchain tech or Bitcoin’s pseudonymous founder, Satoshi Nakamoto.

Will an IPO produce the ‘Coinbase effect’ for the broader crypto markets?

The term “Coinbase effect” describes the price boost many cryptocurrencies have enjoyed as a result of being listed on Coinbase. The effect likely occurs because Coinbase is the primary gateway to crypto for many buyers.

Given Coinbase’s status as the de facto leader of the crypto industry, a successful IPO could create a coattail effect that boosts the price of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrency. Conversely, if Coinbase flubs its IPO, crypto prices could tank.

Will Coinbase try to time the crypto market?

As veteran crypto journalist Laura Shin recently noted, Coinbase may take into account the state of the broader cryptocurrency market in deciding when to go public.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile and, despite a formidable rally in the late spring, prices and trading activities have been in a slump. An ongoing bear market in crypto prices could prove a drag on Coinbase’s initial stock price, and lead the company to put off an IPO till more favorable conditions arise.

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