Editorial 30 January 2019Dan Taylor
An exclusive look inside BitPay
The hype around the once-imminent Bitmain IPO has died down to a wash of awkward whispers as Hong Kong financial regulators have proven reluctant to move forward. The world’s biggest supplier of mining hardware is now contemplating its next steps. But what about the world’s largest blockchain payment provider? BitPay hasn’t publicly discussed any kind of IPO but according to documents exclusively obtained by CoinGeek, it is suffering from some of the same problems as Bitmain.
One problem is determining valuation. Due to the structure of BitPay’s balance sheet and other problems inherent in the volatility of BTC and BCHABC, the two coins the processor works with exclusively, assigning a value to BitPay is next to impossible. Don’t take our word for it though. This assessment comes from a document dated April 2018 recently leaked to CoinGeek in the form of a fair market value assessment for BitPay compiled by Adams Capital Valuation Services.
Adams Capital does succeed in pinning a value for BitPay, but doesn’t seem too sure about it. Before we get to the number though, it seems that the main reason Bitmain wanted to do an IPO was that it needed capital to expand, but its balance sheet was clogged with BTC and not enough fiat currency. If it had wanted to raise capital, it would have to sell BTC in large amounts and that would work against its own balance sheet by pushing the price down. So it needed to raise money another way. An IPO would be a good way of accomplishing that.
Now, it appears BitPay is suffering from a similar problem, though not as acute. On BitPay’s balance sheet, we know the following. The original BTC spike to $1,150 at the end of 2013 was followed by a fall to around $300 by the end of 2014, a collapse of about 75%. That initial collapse brought down BitPay’s annual revenue from $6.23M in 2013 to a revenue loss of $35,000 in 2014. Bet you didn’t think a company could actually make negative revenues, but if you’ve got accounting issues it’s possible. Again in the words of Adams Capital, “BitPay’s revenue dropped from $6,229,163 to $-35,677 between 2013 and 2014. However, the majority of the revenue in 2013 was related to a realized gain on bitcoin market value.”
All isn’t lost though because according to BitPay’s projections for 2018 revenue, they’re looking at $6.75M, which takes into account a projected loss on BTC operations trading of $1.87M, and somehow, a gain of about $328,000 on BCHABC operations trading. Yet, these projections were issued by BitPay back in June, when BTC was trading at about twice its current USD value. BCHABC has been doing much worse, trading at only 15% of its value since those projections were issued back in June. Likely then, these projections significantly overestimate revenues and underestimate trading losses.
With BitPay’s revenues highly dependent on BTC and BCHABC trading operations, and the price of BTC and BCHABC both extremely volatile, it was a herculean task to pin a stable value on the company. Here’s how Adams Capital put it:
[T]he Company’s net realized gain on bitcoin [BTC] market prices included in revenue was $16,226,402, meaning that EBITDA from operations remained negative. The lack of meaningful earnings parameters from operations makes comparing the Company to other market companies or transactions difficult.
The outlook for bitcoin [BTC], and consequently BitPay, is highly unknown as the price of bitcoin [BTC] is highly volatile. Moreover, regulatory risk remains as some countries such as China have implemented measures to restrict bitcoin [BTC] usage. This uncertainty is a significant risk factor for the Company. Furthermore…the rise of other cryptocurrencies poses a threat to BitPay’s growth. Consequently, the outlook for the Company remains uncertain.
In the end the firm does try to pin a value on BitPay of $274,750,000, or $2.64 a share, but with all the equivocation this hardly seems a firm number.
There are other red flags, particularly from recent interviews conducted by its Chief Commercial Officer Sonny Singh, who last November on Bloomberg pinned the survival of the entire cryptocurrency industry on the survival of BTC. “None of them are going to survive unless BTC survives first.” Further, he made several implicit contradictions in the interview. First, he emphasized the importance of mass adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrencies as a form of payment in order to stabilize the industry, and that relying on speculation to fuel the advance was unsustainable.
That certainly makes a bit of sense. However, later in that same interview, he emphasized repeatedly that the main catalyst for what would cause BTC to increase in value in 2019 would be the securitization of BTC in the form of ETFs, mutual funds, or other trading vehicles. These, obviously, are not used as payment, but for the purposes of speculation. So on the one hand he’s saying that relying on speculation is unhealthy for the industry, and on the other hand he’s relying on an increase in speculation to push BTC higher, indeed to $15,000 – $20,000 if financial institutions were to launch BTC-backed securities.
CEO Steven Pair was a little more level-headed in his own interviews, to his credit. In speaking with CNBC, he said that his working theory is that most digital assets will be issued on a blockchain. That may be true, eventually. But which blockchain, is the question? Obviously they are banking on the BTC or BCHABC blockchains, but if they’re wrong, they lose out.
In the meantime, BTC has fallen below the cost of mining it, according to Bloomberg research. This is a serious problem for the BTC blockchain because as mining difficulty increases, so does the cost of mining, potentially pushing mining profitability further down in a positive feedback loop that could hurt the price even further, with effects compounded on BitPay itself in the future.
Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (SegWit) chain are referenced as BTC coins; tokens on the Bitcoin Cash ABC chain are referenced as BCH, BCH-ABC or BAB coins.
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