Goldman Sachs Takes On Bitcoin

The eye of big finance is finally turning towards cryptocurrency. Responding to requests from clients, Goldman Sachs has put out an early assessment of Bitcoin that says little about the bank’s official position on BTC investment.

So far, the financial services firm is neutral regarding the currency and is not actively recommending it to clients in its broad assessment of the currency and its impact for merchants and consumers. The bank’s take on Bitcoin attempts to tamp down on some of the hype around the currency.

The document, which we acquired through a source close to the bank, states: “2013 was the year when Bitcoin became a mainstay in mass media, to the extent that it has become hard to separate the effect of hype surrounding the currency from its fundamentals.”

Goldman also found that “there is no liquid derivative market for Bitcoin; nor a large market of B2B suppliers which companies can use for spending Bitcoin” and reiterates that Amazon has no current plants to accept Bitcoin. Both of these facts point to little traction in the BTC markets for big banks. Without the imprimatur of a big name, Goldman warns, the currency is a bit dangerous to offer to the serious investor.

Longtime followers of BTC will find nothing surprising in the document, but the fact that it exists at all – even in the guise of a discussion document – is an important step in mass acceptance.

Their investor recommendations are particularly interesting:

For investors, there are a number of ways to gain exposure to value creation in the Bitcoin ecosystem

— Speculation: Holding Bitcoin with the view that the currency will appreciate over time

— Mining: Purchase computers capable of mining Bitcon, and earn newly minted Bitcoins

— Enterprise: Provide value-add services to participants in the Bitcoin ecosystem, for a fee

Their analysis also splashes cold water on its rate of adoption, noting that “despite media coverage and current trading levels, bitcoin remains orders of magnitude away from widespread adoption.

“As a full suite of financial services build up around Bitcoin, there will be numerous (mostly commission- based) revenue opportunities investors can focus on, including providing exchanges, wallets, payment processing, lending, derivatives and other services,” the document notes.

Final analysis: The jury’s still out.

Underlying Value: While difficult to value the underlying currency, value of Bitcoin comes in its use as a payment method that removes credit card processing costs for merchants (especially important in micropayments) and adds anonymity, security and a natively digital experience to online transactions for consumers

* Merchant Use: For businesses today it is not yet feasible to hold Bitcoin given its volatility, and so merchants must convert into fiat currencies immediately (and incur commission charge)

— In the future when both hedging Bitcoin positions and committing to expenditure in Bitcoin is viable for merchants, this will help Bitcoin’s use as a store of value for merchants

Consumer Behavior: Currently there are more speculators in Bitcoin versus participants in commerce. As the currency begins to gain mainstream relevance as a payment method, this balance should shift. are joining Zynga and others who already take Bitcoin as a means of payment

Opportunity: We are currently in the first innings of a shift to natively digital transactions

— Bitcoin may emerge as the reigning standard, or others may compete for the crown

— Positioning investments in the companies striving to provide value-add services around cryptocurrencies will be key to participating in this cycle of value creation

It’s not much, but to BTC fans, it’s definitely a start.

Illustration by Bryce Durbin