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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Coinbase’s upcoming public listing will be a watershed moment for a cryptocurrency industry longing for legitimacy.

Why it matters: As the first major crypto exchange to go public — and one of the industry's few blue chip companies — industry insiders believe the float will double as validation for a technology that's still seen by many as lawless and experimental.

The big picture: “This is basically the ‘Netscape moment’ of crypto,” argues Electric Capital's Avichal Garg, harkening back to the Internet browsing company whose success and 1995 IPO ushered in the modern web. (Coincidentally, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen is on Coinbase’s board.)

  • For crypto, this would mean getting more of Wall Street to invest, including in innovative tokens beyond Bitcoin and Ether.
  • It's also the first major opportunity for retail investors to get company-level exposure to crypto, as so far they've been limited to more index-like products. Or, as Slow Ventures' Jill Carlson tells me: “What I’m expecting is a demonstration of pent-up demand for crypto."

Tailwinds: Coinbase's listing also is expected to create a public valuation comp not just for rival exchanges, but also for other crypto businesses like infrastructure and custody.

  • There also will be voracious reading of Coinbase's financial disclosures, given that Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong revealed in late 2019 that the company had been profitable for the last three years and had generated $2 billion in transaction fee revenue since inception.

Yes, but: Despite the recent Bitcoin boom, there's no guarantee Coinbase will be a hit with public investors.

  • “I suspect it will be schizophrenic,” says an industry source, comparing it to how Tesla polarizes investors.
  • And since its revenue is so heavily dictated by the cryptocurrency markets, it'll have to make investors comfortable with potential swings in its own financials.

Coda: Bloomberg reports that crypto exchange Bakkt, which is majority-owned by the New York Stock Exchange’s parent company and used to employ Kelly Loeffler as CEO, is nearing a deal to go public via a SPAC at a $2 billion valuation.

  • Bakkt, however, is much newer and smaller than Coinbase, mainly offering Bitcoin futures trading and some other financial services.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jan 28, 2021 - Economy & Business

Value of holding bitcoin surpassing trading value

Now more than ever, bitcoin as "digital gold" is the prevailing narrative fueling big-name adoption, writes Coindesk. Bitcoin is something to be bought and stored, not something to be spent or used. 

Why it matters: Bitcoin as a store of value is trouncing bitcoin as a medium of exchange. While the price of bitcoin is near its all-time highs, usage of bitcoin for anything other than investing has slowed.

Updated 40 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.