The first-ever day of stock trading on a blockchain-based, shared ledger has come to a close.
After six-and-a-half hours of being open for business, Overstock.com's tØ blockchain platform has very little to show in terms of trade activity. In fact, there was almost no activity at all.
But that's not the point, according to Patrick Byrne, Overstock's founder and CEO, who has been waging a personal fight against some of Wall Street's more opaque business practices. In conversation with CoinDesk, Byrne likened the day of trading to test pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound-barrier for the first time — but for only a few seconds.
While activity on the tØ blockchain explorer was confined to the verification of two blockchain addresses, the fact that there's a public record at all is what Byrne says is the most important detail.
In the market ecosystem Byrne imagines, it is exactly this record that will prevent a wide range of profit generation employed by the middlemen responsible for connecting buyers and sellers and helping them settle their transactions.
"There's a new age coming to humanity riding the blockchain. Over the next decade, what the Internet did to communications, blockchain is going to do to about 150 industries, and capital markets is just one of them."
The reason for the slow start might not be because of lack of interest.
Yesterday, Overstock announced it had raised $10.9m in an unusual offering comprised of $1.9m worth of stock traded via digital assets on the tØ platform. Fifty-five people purchased a total of 126,565 shares for $15.68.
And it's not just investors who stand to benefit from increased transparency.
Byrne cites the recent "IPO drought" as evidence that entrepreneurs are increasingly reluctant to list their shares on public stock exchanges from fear the value might be unfairly driven down by price manipulation.
"It's like being dropped in a shark tank," said Byrne. "The people who've been up to mischief have the most to lose because they can't do it with a blockchain-based capital market."
While multiple parties have posted sell offers, the difficulty that inhibits new people from creating and capitalizing accounts has prevented purchases from being made, according to Byrne.
Overstock's broker-dealer Keystone Capital yesterday released instructions to investors looking to participate in the offering, including details on how to create an account and add funds.
While Byrne said he would have preferred to let investors know sooner, Keystone Capital CEO Steven Capozza described the onboarding process as "extremely smooth and orderly."
"We continue to open new accounts and there appears to be a good amount of interest," Capozza told CoinDesk. "The shares from the rights offering have been credited to the accounts and new accounts are being opened and funded for secondary trading."
Byrne expects that as these accounts are activated, the trading session set to begin at 9:30am ET on Monday will be more active than today.
A bold proposal
Johnathan Johnson, the president of Overstock subsidiary Medici (which developed the tØ platform) told CoinDesk he expects additional firms to list over time.
The result, he said, would be a small but growing ecosystem of stocks that are easy for regulators to audit.
Yet as far as introducing radical transparency to the stock trading ecosystem is concerned, Byrne has another strategy up his sleeve.
Last month, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates post-trade in the US, approved a plan to create a "consolidated audit trail", a plan the regulator estimates will cost $3.4bn to implement and an additional $1.7bn per year to run.
As the federal regulatory body is taking these steps to force shady trades into the light, Byrne told CoinDesk that he'll build them a blockchain-based audit trail at no cost instead.
"The SEC has half a billion dollars to create a consolidated audit train and it falls out of our office for free. We'll give it to them for free if they use our system."
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