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Published: Apr 14, 2021 5 min read

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Coinbase logo is seen displayed on a smartphone and a laptop in the background
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Investors just got a new way to get exposure to Bitcoin without actually buying any digital coins. Coinbase, the largest platform to buy and sell cryptocurrency in the U.S., is set to make its public debut through a direct listing on Wednesday.

The company's reference price, which it must get before trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange, was set at $250 per share on Tuesday evening. That gives it a value of over $65 billion.

As Bitcoin and the meme-turned-cryptocurrency Dogecoin hit record highs, retailers like Whole Foods and Shopify accept Bitcoin as payment and with NFTs suddenly all the rage, it's understandable to want to benefit from the crypto frenzy. But here's what to consider first.

Coinbase is a direct listing. Here's what that means

Coinbase didn't take the traditional route to go public. While many companies that debut on a stock exchange like the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange undergo an initial public offering (IPO), Coinbase choose to instead do a direct listing. With an IPO, a company hires an investment bank to help price and sell shares to the public, but with a direct listing, employees and shareholders sell existing stock without the help of an intermediary.

While high-profile companies tend to choose IPOs — which allow for the company to raise money from both new and existing stock — over direct listings, Slack and Spotify both debuted publicly with direct listings in recent years.

A direct listing has its risks. Companies that go the IPO route have the support of the underwriter (the investment bank) in growing interest around the stock, determining the right price and buying the stock from the company to sell to the public. With a direct listing, not only does the company not have support of the underwriter, but there are also fewer shares traded on the exchange, which could mean high volatility as prices fluctuate.

Coinbase relies on cryptocurrency performance

The price of Bitcoin once again hit a record high of more than $64,000 on Wednesday. Coinbase has certainly benefited from the boom, amassing 56 million registered users and $1.8 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year. But the company's outlook relies on continued good performance from the major cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, and experts worry it might be a bubble that will eventually burst.

The cryptocurrency has already proved it is volatile. In December of 2017, for example, the price hit a record high before it plunged 50% the first month of 2018.

Bitcoin is also not regulated and the biggest risk to owning Bitcoin is its possibility of being banned, Nick Maggiulli, Chief Operating Officer at Ritholtz Wealth Management previously told Money. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said earlier this year that the government may need to "curtail" the use of Bitcoin, adding that it's mainly used for "illicit financing."

More regulation could impact Coinbase's profit.

The benefits of investing in Coinbase

While there are risks, Coinbase's public debut could give investors a way to benefit from cryptocurrency's performance without the downsides of buying the unregulated digital coins directly.

When a company is listed on the Nasdaq, it's regulated in a way that Bitcoin isn't.

If you're wary of buying Coinbase stock, another way to invest in Bitcoin without all the associated risk is to invest in funds or companies that are focused on blockchain, the technology underneath the cryptocurrency, or are exposed to Bitcoin in some other way. For example, Intel offers blockchain services, while Paypal will now allow users to convert Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies Ethereum and Litecoin to U.S. dollars, as well as buy and sell cryptocurrency.

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