JPMorgan Analyst Criticizes Coinbase's Lack of Insights Into Its ETF Business

Coinbase reported strong fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday, partly driven by the launch of the ten spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

AccessTimeIconFeb 16, 2024 at 8:11 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 9:42 p.m. UTC

Even though the launch of the ten spot bitcoin (BTC) exchange-traded funds (ETFs) contributed to Coinbase’s better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, analyst at J.P. Morgan is skeptical if the benefits are as strong as the exchange makes them seem.

“Management touted its involvement in the U.S. spot Bitcoin ETF as a net positive, but we’re still uncertain of its true earning impact as we see both positives and negatives,” J.P. Morgan analyst Kenneth Worthington wrote in a note on Friday.

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  • He specifically criticized the company’s lack of clarity around the business, which consists of providing custodial services for eight of the ten bitcoin ETFs.

    “Given the media attention and market anticipation for spot Bitcoin ETFs especially considering Coinbase’s direct participation and monetization efforts, we were hoping management would have provided more robust insight into the economics of the arrangements with issuers,” the note said.

    “Given this lack of detail, we remain skeptical as to the true monetization impact of these ETFs and its ability to outweigh the potential loss of volumes in the spot markets, which we still see as possible,” Worthington added.

    The criticism comes even as the crypto exchange crushed Wall Street's fourth-quarter estimates on Thursday, sending the shares soaring on Friday and turning many analysts more positive. Some analysts, including Wedbush and JMP Securities raised their price target on the stock, while KBW upgraded the rating to market perform from a sell-equivalent underperform rating.

    Analysts had warned before the approval of the ETFs that their low trading fees could pull investors away from exchanges like Coinbase and into these newly approved funds as the ETFs would be easier to put money into through brokers.

    However, Worthington noted that Coinbase doesn't seem to think ETFs are driving investors away. “Similar to comments we heard from Robinhood’s management earlier in the week, Coinbase alleged that the spot Bitcoin ETF drove no shift in client behavior, and all trading seemed additive to existent spot trading,” he wrote.

    Worthington, who went bearish on the Coinbase stock on Jan. 23, citing a disappointing ETF catalyst, upgraded the stock right before the fourth-quarter earnings, citing higher digital asset prices. His 12-month price target for the stock is $95, one of the lowest among Wall Street analysts and he is sticking with his neutral rating.

    Edited by Aoyon Ashraf.

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    Helene Braun

    Helene is a New York-based reporter covering Wall Street, the rise of the spot bitcoin ETFs and crypto exchanges. She is also the co-host of CoinDesk's Markets Daily show. Helene is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program and has appeared on CBS News, YahooFinance and Nasdaq TradeTalks. She holds BTC and ETH.