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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 5 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

"Horrified": AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza

A ball of fire erupts from the Jalaa Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday condemned the Israeli airstrike that destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza that housed their and other media offices.

What they're saying: The White House, meanwhile, said it had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," according to press secretary Jen Psaki.