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Coinbase must do these 2 things to impress investors in its first earnings report

May 13, 2021, 7:09 PM UTC

Wall Street is crypto crazy. But will investors be impressed by newly public Coinbase’s earnings?

The massive cryptocurrency exchange, which went public via a direct listing on April 14, is reporting its first earnings as a public company Thursday evening. Some of the mystery over those numbers, however, had already been lifted when the company released preliminary first-quarter numbers ahead of its listing. (Those results, as it happens, were very strong, with up to an estimated $800 million in profits.)

Says Mark Palmer, an analyst at investment firm BTIG who has a hefty $500 price target for Coinbase (versus the current $260): “I think the only question here is, to what extent will the company be able to sustain the strength that it demonstrated in the first quarter?” Another thing to watch out for, he adds: confirmation of strong trading volumes in April.

But since the exchange’s hotly anticipated public debut in April, the stock’s performance has been lackluster at best. Shares are down roughly 20% from its first close price through early afternoon trading on Thursday. Bitcoin has been tumbling since the ever-influential Elon Musk announced Wednesday that Tesla, an institutional holder of Bitcoin, will stop letting customers pay for cars with Bitcoin over concerns about Bitcoin’s large carbon footprint.

Coinbase’s stock movements are largely tied to the volatility of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, a dynamic that’s likely to be a characteristic of the stock, experts say.

But analysts are expecting to see healthy numbers out of Coinbase’s first-quarter report after the closing bell, with the Street estimating $1.8 billion in revenues and $3.28 in net profit per share, according to S&P Global.

Hot topics: Fees and prime brokerage

To help assuage those nerves about Coinbase stock (and give the Street a better picture of what the firm expects moving forward more broadly), Palmer believes Coinbase must address two big topics during its earnings call: the growth trajectory of its burgeoning institutional business, which provides brokerage services to institutional clients, and concerns over a future reduction in the transaction fees it charges.

He believes Wall Street is unduly anxious about the possibility of transaction fees, the lion’s share of Coinbase revenues, being lowered amid competition—at least anytime soon. He argues instead that while “there’s going to be some [fee compression] eventually over time…the impact of that could be dwarfed by the growth the company could see on its institutional platform, which has been given short shrift by many analysts.” That institutional business, available to firms like hedge funds and asset managers, could make up a growing portion of Coinbase’s revenues in the longer term, Palmer notes.

“If they address those two things, and are able to give a better understanding of what is driving both of them and how they are likely to play out, it’s our view that the stock should perform well in the aftermath of the call,” Palmer speculates.

But others aren’t as optimistic. “No earnings report, in our opinion, will be strong enough to convince investors the company will exceed the extraordinary expectations for profits already baked into the current price,” David Trainer, CEO of New Constructs, an investment research firm, wrote in a Tuesday note. Indeed, there’s already been ample concern about the company’s valuation, and worries fester on the Street (and for Trainer) over how a decline in demand for stalwart coins like Bitcoin could impact the business.

What’s more, Trainer suggests even if Coinbase is able to blow analysts out of the water with its report, “the stronger Coinbase’s earnings are now, the more attractive this fast-growing market looks to larger competitors with greater resources.” He’s estimating Coinbase could even drop to $100 per share.

Yet bulls like BTIG’s Palmer won’t be deterred: “Just by shedding light on the institutional platform and the nascent prime brokerage business,” he argues, “Coinbase can change the narrative very quickly.”

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