Cryptocurrency prices are soaring after Tesla said that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin with company funds. The electric carmaker wasn’t the first company to shift corporate cash into cryptocurrencies, but it was one of the biggest. It could make finance chiefs elsewhere consider whether they should follow suit, the DealBook newsletter reports.
Tesla’s move is an “exclamation point” for institutional acceptance of Bitcoin, said Matthew Graham, the chief executive of the Beijing-based blockchain investment firm Sino Global Capital. “It’s clear that Bitcoin is ready for Main Street.”
Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, is known for bucking convention, so his company’s purchase is not as surprising as it would be at, say, Ford or General Motors.
Tesla had more than $19 billion in cash at the end of 2020, a big enough cushion to make the Bitcoin purchase a relatively small share of its resources. But much of that cash was raised in recent stock sales, and the company only recently reported its second year of positive free cash flow. Because of Bitcoin’s unique characteristics, Tesla will have to record declines in the value of its Bitcoin against its earnings, but cannot book gains.
The software company MicroStrategy now holds Bitcoin worth about a third of its market capitalization, according to a site that tracks corporate holdings. MicroStrategy’s chief, Michael Saylor, held a conference last week that promoted Bitcoin for corporations.
Naresh Aggarwal of the Association of Corporate Treasurers in London is skeptical that many companies will follow Tesla and MicroStrategy and buy Bitcoin at scale. “Gold is probably a more traditional form of alternative investment,” he said, yet few firms outside the financial sector hold it. “If they’re not tempted by gold, then I can’t see them being tempted by Bitcoin,” he added, likening it to “putting money on a horse race.”
Keeping money in liquid, safe investments is particularly important during the pandemic, and many corporate finance chiefs remember being burned in 2008 by higher-yielding alternatives.