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This stock is reaping the benefits of the new ‘green’ cryptocurrency chia

May 20, 2021, 9:35 PM UTC

It’s not only crypto enthusiasts that are taking note of the new “eco-friendly” cryptocurrency chia.

Hard-disk drive makers like Western Digital have seen growing demand for their hard drives and disks ever since chia—which uses spare storage space on hard drives to verify blockchain transactions instead of using the energy-intensive “proof of work” model employed by the likes of Bitcoin—launched in the crypto world. The coin, which started trading in early May, was created in 2017 by BitTorrent founder Bram Cohen on the Chia Network, and claims to be a ‘green’ alternative to Bitcoin.

Even before the coin began trading, there were reports of hard drive shortages in areas like Southeast Asia as miners prepared for chia’s launch.

“In recent weeks the demand and pricing for high capacity [hard disk drives, or HDDs] has seen a material step higher … and enterprise [solid state drive, or SSD] prices have also moved higher,” analysts at Bank of America wrote in a Thursday report. The “primary upside driver” for that rising demand, according to BofA: chia.

These forces have all boosted the stock of Western Digital, a dominant seller of HDDs, as shares are up over 8% over the past couple weeks after seeing a big rally earlier this week. Wedbush analyst Matthew Bryson tells Fortune, “I certainly think that chia is a primary contributor to what’s going on with …Western Digital, particularly in the sense that the incremental demand on the hard drive side has created a shortfall in availability of high capacity drives.”

Indeed, the Chia Network is using up more and more storage in recent weeks—presently, over 8 exabytes, an over 2,000% increase from April (see BofA’s chart below). Analysts like Bryson are going to be watching “what happens with exabyte growth, which kind of tells you what demand has looked like. Right now it’s been constantly increasing,” he notes. Prices for some of Western Digital’s products, meanwhile, have also been rising at a rapid clip within the past month, per BofA.

The firm’s analysts note that “the rise in popularity of Chia would increase the price of both HDD and SSD, since HDD is primarily used to store the plots, while SSD is used for plotting due to higher capacity and performance to handle large amount of data,” they wrote. The plots and plotting refer to chia’s “proof of space and time” model, which involves “farmers” (instead of “miners”) seeding and plotting hard drives as part of its process of unlocking coins.

The big question, of course, is how long the chia tailwind might last. The BofA analysts note that the “sustainability of this trajectory of Chia’s popularity remains unclear” for the long term, but argue “we see [Western Digital] benefiting from the increased demand.” That’s why the bank is upping its price target for the stock from $80 per share to $90 per share (some 26% upside from its Wednesday close price).

Others like Wedbush’s Bryson view the company’s NAND business (think flash memory) as what “really drives their model”; Bryson doesn’t think that chia will be “transformational” for the space long term. But he believes “from a near term perspective, because you have these constraints around production, that chia, plus strong demand in other areas, … [is] enough to keep a tight supply chain over the next couple quarters,” he says.

Still, some critics are already fretting that the growing amount of hardware used to farm more chia could eventually erode how “green” it actually is, as more equipment would mean more energy consumption. “I do worry that when they do grow, this proof of space and time has kind of the same methodology [as] proof of work, like Bitcoin, and their model is: you ultimately have to buy more equipment to get paid,” John Wu, president of Ava Labs, which has its own blockchain platform, recently told Fortune.

But for now, the rising demand and prices for such equipment should likely be a boon for the likes of Western Digital.

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