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Newsletter
Tom Rodgers
Tom Rodgers Head of Research
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ETC Group Crypto Minutes Week #28

100 million people already use Bitcoin. But parts of the ecosystem remain too challenging for beginners to use. So as Visa (NYSE:V) reports over $1bn of crypto card payments so far this year, and touts cross-border stablecoins key to its development, Square (NYSE:SQ) announces plans for a hardware wallet to accelerate adoption and get cryptocurrency into the hands of the next 100 million people much faster.

Jack Dorsey is building a mainstream Bitcoin wallet

Not your keys, not your crypto. That’s the mantra of the cryptoasset fanatic. But for too long, it’s felt too sketchy to be a Bitcoin fan. For too long, it was something that money managers only mentioned in hushed tones and private conversations. Taking Bitcoin truly mainstream means making it easy to use and available everywhere.

That’s why there’s so much excitement about a well-known and highly-regarded public company like Square (NYSE:SQ) — co-founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — building a hardware cryptocurrency wallet.

While mainstream hardware wallets like the Paris-based Ledger and Czech firm Trezor have built up decent reputations in the last few years, neither are household names outside the crypto bubble. And both have been hurt by cybersecurity issues. First, Kraken researchers showed up a vulnerability in the Trezor’s wallet that could leak users’ private keys and personal details in under 15 minutes. Then, in July 2020 Ledger admitted it was hacked, with an extensive trove of customer data from email addresses to phone numbers posted online.

We’re reminded of a phrase by one legendary equities investor.

Investors should always keep in mind that the most important metric is not the returns achieved by the returns weighed against the risks incurred. Ultimately, nothing should be more important to investors than the ability to sleep soundly at night. Seth Klarman, founder, Baupost Group

Sleeping soundly at night while also taking on the massive liability of being one’s own bank? Not so simple. These are the risks incurred for too many people investing in cryptoassets today.

And not everyone wants to take on the responsibility of securing their own sources of wealth. For the same reason: easy access, regulated and centrally-custodied products like ETFs and ETPs have exploded in value in recent years.

Scams, email phishing and cyberattacks dupe millions each year into giving away their personal information, payment, or credit card details. And yet some in the crypto realm still insist these people must manage the intricacies and the insanely steep learning curve of private key cryptography. That kind of exclusionary high-mindedness will be a thing of the past, Dorsey’s move proves.

The man leading the task is Square’s hardware development chief and former engineering director at Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Jesse Dorugusker. His mission is to reach beyond the hardcore of crypto users who don’t mind jumping through complex hoops to secure and access their assets.

Visa reports $1bn+ of crypto card payments in H1 2021

Visa (NYSE:V), famously, became the first global payments network to settle payments using USDC stablecoins on the Ethereum blockchain. And so it is with some interest that it reports its crypto-enabled cards processed more than $1bn in spending across the first six months of 2021.

In a full-throated update, the $523bn conglomerate said it would continue to support the development and adoption of the cryptocurrency industry as a key part of its business.

With more than $1bn spent on crypto-linked Visa cards, in the first half of 2021, it’s clear that the crypto community sees value in linking digital currencies to Visa’s global network. It’s the magic of tap and go without the complexity...of cryptographic keys.
Today the value of cryptoassets held in regulated digital wallets is in the hundreds of billions. For the tens of millions using those platforms, one of the simplest ways to spend crypto is through a Visa card. We’re partnering with 50 of the leading crypto platforms on card programs that make it easy to convert and spend digital currency at 70 million merchants worldwide.

Note the language. “Make it easy”. “Simple”. “Don’t require”. “Without the complexity”. This is exactly why Square are investing in a hardware wallet and why there remains a huge untapped market for crypto adoption.

Stablecoins are another key element of Visa’s crypto growth, it said in the update, announcing the FTX cryptoexchange as the newest member of its Fintech Fast Track programme. Under the deal, the fintech would use Visa’s USDC cross-border settlements to pay 50% of their remote employees.

Stablecoins are on track to become an important part of the broader digital transformation of financial services. With more than $100 billion of stablecoins in circulation and hundreds of billions exchanged each more on public blockchains stablecoins are starting to live up to the promise of digital fiat.

Removing the need for merchants to accept cryptocurrencies directly, and instead providing easy on-off ramps between crypto and fiat is one of the key measures that will expedite adoption.

$13.5bn megadeals: SPACs take Circle and Bullish public

We noted in last week’s Crypto Minutes that, despite flat spot markets, private equity and venture capital are devoting increasingly larger sums to crypto infrastructure.

Boston-based Circle, the creator of USDC, launched its first products in 2013. In the intervening years, it pulled in over $130 million in VC funding, including a $50 million round led by Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS).

Now those angel investors will see a potentially massive ROI, as Circle has announced plans to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, in a $4.5bn SPAC eal with Concord Acquisition Corp (NYSE:CDN), led by former Barclays (LSE:BARC) boss Bob Diamond.

Another huge SPAC deal is Bullish Global. On 9 July the Peter Thiel-backed exchange announced plans to merge with Far Peak Acquisition Corp (NYSE:FPAC), run by former NYSE president Tom Farley. The merger implies a pro forma equity value of $9bn, according to the company.

It means Bullish will become the latest cryptoasset exchange to go public, joining Coinbase (NASDAQ:COIN) and Bakkt — which is itself expected to merge with VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings by the end of Q2 2021.

SPACs, special purpose acquisition companies were first created in 1993 but have become one the most popular ways to take a company public in recent years.

It’s a similar process to the so-called ‘reverse merger’ common among on the UK’s junior AIM stock market. Investors pool their capital in a listed cash shell that has no assets of its own, in advance of knowing which company will reverse into the already-public SPAC. Once the merger is completed, shares in the new vehicle can then begin trading on a public exchange without the need for a massive capital-raising IPO.

Found raised in US IPOs

In 2020 these blank check (or blank cheque) vehicles raised a record $82.1 billion, 6 times higher than the previous year’s all-time high.

As of mid-June 2021s, SPAC had already eclipsed that annual total, raising over $105 billion.

Markets

BTC/USD

There was little volatility to speak of in Bitcoin markets this week, with the world’s largest cryptoasset remaining largely range bound. BTC held above support at around $32,000 but failed to capitalise further, hitting rejection just above $35,000. In total the BTC price moved down just $600 across the seven days, for a weekly loss of 1.8%.

BTC/USD graph
Data as of 13 July 2021 | Source: TradingView

ETH/USD

Ether markets climbed 9.8% this week to a high of $2,410.09 before losing that momentum and sliding as low as $1,976.83. Traders found some encouragement in the fact that ETH bounced strongly off support at this sub-$2,000 level, but the familiar recent pattern of short-term weakness in the price against the US dollar continues unabated. Volatility has decreased, however, with peaks and troughs remaining far more moderate than we have seen so far in 2021.

ETH/USD graph
Data as of 13 July 2021 | Source: TradingView

LTC/USD

Litecoin fared much the same as its cryptoasset rivals this week, with intraday volume soft and everything rather muted on the price side. LTC climbed 3.5% to an early-week peak of $142.63, then returned from a Friday 9 July low at $125.86 to finish proceedings 5% higher at $132.15.

LTC/USD graph
Data as of 13 July 2021 | Source: TradingView

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