Coinbase Brokered MicroStrategy's $425M Bitcoin Purchase, Exchange Says

The revelation is a notable public relations win for Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong.

AccessTimeIconDec 1, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:36 a.m. UTC
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U.S. cryptocurrency platform Coinbase facilitated MicroStrategy's $425 million bitcoin buy earlier this year, the exchange said.

In an announcement Tuesday, Coinbase revealed MicroStrategy's initial $250 million investment, which occurred over a five-day period in August, came via Coinbase Prime, the exchange's crypto brokerage arm formed following the acquisition of Tagomi in May.

That was followed up in September by a further $175 million investment from the Virginia-based business intelligence firm, bringing MicroStrategy's total investment to $425 million in bitcoin. MicroStrategy became the first publicly traded company to acquire a large chunk of bitcoin to hold on its balance sheet as a primary treasury reserve asset.

Reserve of Bitcoin Held in Coinbase Pro Wallets vs. Bitcoin Price
Reserve of Bitcoin Held in Coinbase Pro Wallets vs. Bitcoin Price

In retrospect, on-chain data suggests Coinbase was transacting with a large customer in the months leading up to MicroStrategy's August announcement. A series of large quantities of bitcoin – nearly 80,000 in total – began moving out of Coinbase Pro's reserve starting in the middle of the year and ending in the autumn. "Those outflows went to Coinbase Custody wallets (interoperated with over-the-counter wallets), not exchange wallets," explained Ki Young Ju, CEO of analytics firm CryptoQuant, adding that Coinbase usually uses 8,000 BTC to make an initial custody wallet and requiring a minimum custody deposit of $10 million.

Michael Saylor, MicroStrategy's CEO, did not respond to CoinDesk's request for comment by press time. Coinbase's announcement quoted him from an earlier MicroStrategy press release as saying that investing in bitcoin is part of the firm's "new allocation strategy." The strategy aims to maximize long-term value for shareholders while reflecting the cryptocurrency's use as a store of value with greater "appreciation potential than holding cash."

In Tuesday's announcement, Coinbase outlined three reasons why MicroStrategy chose the San Francisco-based exchange: the firm's smart order routing, trading algorithms and white-glove service. Coinbase also said it had been involved in several pre-trade calls with the firm during the onboarding process and was asked to conduct a small "test trade."

The test trade assessed data gathered from Coinbase and was analyzed by the exchange's OTC and Coverage teams. When an optimal pace to minimize market impact was decided upon and successfully executed, Coinbase received a green light from MicroStrategy to proceed with the "larger investment."

Following the test, Coinbase executed real-time trades using the time-weighted average price algorithm – a strategy that takes into account the average price of an asset over a specified time to minimize market impact.

"Our system takes a single large order and breaks it into many small pieces that are executed across multiple trading venues," Coinbase said via email. "The trading team achieved an average execution price that was less than the price at which buying started."

The revelation is a notable public relations win for Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong following a weekend New York Times article alleging mistreatment of Black employees and several service outages during volatile market periods.

Armstrong's exchange can now claim bragging rights in the market as the one that helped a publicly listed company take a nine-figure leap of faith on bitcoin as a reserve asset.

UPDATE (Dec. 1, 13:30 UTC): Modified the headline and fourth paragraph to clarify that the quote from Michael Saylor included in Coinbase's announcement was sourced from an old MicroStrategy press release.

UPDATE (Dec. 1, 14:17 UTC): Added chart and comments from CryptoQuant CEO Ki Young Ju.


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