My Analysis of the Bitfinex Pitch

Full disclosure: I created the BFX Trust to help larger Bitfinex creditors convert to equity as I believe that adversity & misfortune often present golden investment opportunities. I do not work for, nor am I paid by Bitfinex. My actions are independent and based on my own judgement and desire to see the whole Bitcoin industry thrive.

Disclaimer: What follows are my opinions only and should not be taken as investment advice! DYOR! Taking equity holdings in private businesses is very high risk and not suitable for all investor profiles.  As they say on UK crowdfunding sites:  CAPITAL AT RISK!

Valuation

Bitfinex are valuing themselves at $120million ‘pre-money’ despite currently having a net of ~$60million in liabilities they cannot pay immediately … so in reality it is a $180million valuation assuming balance sheet = 0. They want to raise a total of up to $80million in debt conversions and new capital in return for 40% of the company.  Pre-hack Bitfinex was a cash-cow, generating $6million of net profits in the first seven months of 2016 … so an annualised run-rate of about $10.2million.  Their figures also imply a growth rate of nearly 100% vs 2015 had the hack not occurred.

Naturally, many will argue that Bitfinex is worth little/nothing while in debt and there is a risk of insolvency.  However, so far, it seems the creditors are willing to be patient … so we must also consider the possibility that the market leader in BTC/USD (and it is still the market leader post-hack) may successfully convert/raise sufficient funds to make it back to a sustainable footing. In that scenario, what could Bitfinex be worth?

If Bitfinex manage to hit their forecasts of $20million net profit in 2017, that would make a valuation of somewhere between $180-200million quite reasonable, especially given the rate of growth and future potential.

To put the valuation in perspective, Coinbase was said to be valued at $400million in January 2015 and we can be fairly sure they are loss-making given they recently hiked their pricing!

My opinion is that a $180million debt-free valuation of Bitfinex is thankfully the right side of $200million but presumes there is very rapid progress in converting a significant percentage of BFX Tokens to equity (e.g. 30-50%).  However, as we are currently able to buy BFX tokens at a discount (today trading at $0.52 or 52% of face value) … this significantly reduces the effective valuation for anyone buying BFX today.  If you were serious about converting, you should average down if you can … for example, you might buy the amount of BFX you wish to convert at sub-$1 and keep the rest.  If you buy @ $0.52 per BFX token, convert to equity and if Bitfinex do indeed achieve $20million of net profits in 2017, you will have grabbed yourself a bargain!  Lots of IF’s, so lets dig deeper …

How Bitfinex Looks Today

Margin lending

Margin lending is key to Bitfinex’s business. Not only does it permit traders to leverage their positions, it also earns the exchange 15% of all interest charged on the loans.

USD lending is somewhere between one third and one quarter of where it typically was pre-hack.  Currently ~$10.5million is lent to Bitfinex traders.  It has been steadily growing since the website came back online with no sign of peaking so far.

BTC lending is doing better, around 40-50% of the highs seen pre-hack and actually higher than the lowest level set in June this year.  Currently more than 8000 BTC is borrowed.

Visible BTC reserves

Immediately post-hack, Bitfinex had 125,424 BTC in its cold storage wallet.  More than half was quickly withdrawn when the website came back online, hitting a low of ~39,700 BTC at the end of August.  Since then, there has been a net inflow of Bitcoin into their cold storage … please see the chart below:

Bitfinex Cold Storage - 20/9/2016

The balance stands at just under 60,000 BTC and currently slowly climbing.

Trading volumes

It is hard to get a realistic measure of how Bitfinex’s volumes have been affected since the hack and flight of some customers.  We are in a low-volatility period which doesn’t allow Bitfinex’s competitive advantage of margin trading to show itself.  Since the hack, Bitstamp’s 24hr volumes have typically ranged from 2000 to 4000 BTC.  In the same period, Bitfinex has achieved 3000-9500 per day.  Bitfinex’s range is far broader given volatility = more margin trades.  Leverage allows traders to profit from smaller moves in the price, so trade more often during volatile times.

If we look at mid-March to mid-April (another quiet period of trading), Bitstamp was ranging from 2000 to 5000 BTC per day.  Bitfinex’s trading volume range was approximately 3000-23,000 BTC.

It would therefore appear that while Bitfinex’s baseline volume appears roughly consistent vs pre-hack, its peak days may currently be ~50-60% lower given there is less leverage used on the exchange.  I feel reasonably confident that we can estimate Bitfinex’s future volumes by watching the amount of leverage used.  The current trends are positive with little sign of a ‘peak’ in USD lending being reached for the moment (the red line in the chart below).

Bitfinex - Total USD loans

You can see Bitfinex’s margin lending data here and here.

It is important to mention that Bitfinex has recently added ETH and ETC trading to its exchange, no doubt fueling some of its pre-hack growth.  Bitfinex is therefore less reliant on BTCUSD volume than it used to be.  Even the BFX token markets are helping!

 

Future Potential

It is easy to get caught up in the negativity of the moment.  Some of my best investments have been done when literally everyone was saying a company was doomed or I was the only person saving a business.  If we believe that Bitfinex is supported by the majority of its creditors – because they naturally want full recovery – then that may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If Bitfinex succeed in repaying all creditors who have not already sold their BFX tokens, it is not inconceivable that they emerge far stronger than before … a company and management who have gone through a trial by fire.  It will also be partially owned by some of its biggest customers – unique in the marketplace.

Let’s run through some of Bitfinex’s future opportunities:

Derivatives

This is an obvious one, allowing traders to trade/hedge with a known cost (i.e. no variable interest rate on USD/BTC/other).  OKCoin leads the market currently but they are a very opaque organisation.  If Bitfinex are serious about being more transparent & less mysterious they could capture a significant amount of cryptocurrency derivative trading … especially if they made contracts deliverable and not cash settled.

New Currency Pairs

Hopefully Bitfinex will continue to add major new currency/asset pairs to its exchange (for example, Zcash is coming soon).  Moving more quickly than the competition and having better liquidity in emerging markets will make Bitfinex the go-to exchange.

Similarly, allowing other fiat currencies into the mix may capture more market share.

OTC Trading

An obvious one to serve funds, family offices and similar. Or perhaps a ‘dark pool’ such as Kraken. Or both!

Merchant Processing / Remittance

Bolt on services that may add more consistent volume and play to one of Bitfinex’s strengths – their orderbook depth.

Innovation

Sidechains between exchanges, creating a decentralised marketplace for non-fiat markets, more development of peer-to-peer lending  … I think everyone familiar with Bitcoin realises that we are at the very beginning and growth potential is enormous!  Bitfinex can leverage their customer base and trading volume to give new innovations immediate critical mass.

Recovery Rights

This new token should appeal to the gamblers!  The Bitcoin stolen from Bitfinex has not moved since it happened and there is an active criminal investigation ongoing.  Should creditors convert quickly (i.e. before the end of September), they will gain so-called ‘Recovery Right Token’s representing the same face value amount as the BFX tokens they are converting to equity.  Should the Bitcoin be recovered (e.g. the hacker gets caught), once all BFX tokens are redeemed then these Recovery Right Tokens will also be redeemed … essentially meaning you could get a free investment in Bitfinex if the hacker is caught and compliant.

The chance of full or partial recovery is not zero, so this is an interesting sweetener to encourage conversion.  It will be fascinating to see how the market prices the RRT’s!

Some even think the RRT may give the hacker/s a way to profit from the stolen Bitcoin by giving it back!

Less Technical / Business-orientated Thoughts

For various reasons, Bitfinex gets a lot of hate online.  They’ve had several incidents, including prior hacks and technical issues (unexpected downtime, lag, etc.) which sends all the “armchair experts” into an explosion of typing fury.  However, it would appear that the people posting all the negativity mean relatively little in terms of actual trading volume.  The expression ‘its not the critic that counts’ appears to hold true.  People with deep pockets are still trading on Bitfinex.

I believe it isn’t until facing hard times that you can judge someone’s caliber.  Lesser men and women would have simply crawled into a cave and called in a liquidator if faced with the same situation as the Bitfinex management recently experienced.  The BFX token may be a grey area according to some who believe themselves to be legal experts, but it immediately gave all customers a way to achieve a better outcome than a liquidation.  For every seller, there is a buyer, which means there are plenty of people out there who think Bitfinex has a future.  30million BFX per month being traded says it all (total BFX issued = ~71million).

Getting back online, allowing everyone who wanted to withdraw everything, the BFX token and now the conversion … it is hard to argue Bitfinex management are doing a poor job.  I believe they deserve a lot of respect for what they’ve already achieved and what they continue to try to do for creditors.

If you like my analysis, please tip my son’s Bitcoin piggy bank he will get when he’s 18!

1AzmnauEdrTZbhrE7z3o4JPe2bTJKMXLyv

 

EDIT:  In the two days it took to write this blog piece, USD lending has increased ~$1.5 million to just under $12mil.  BTC deposits now exceed 61,000.

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