Jack Dorsey’s payments company Block had a rip-roaring fourth quarter, thanks in large part to its growing bitcoin base.
Bitcoin revenue generated by its mobile payments service Cash App accounted for nearly half of the total $4.08 billion in revenue reported in the fourth quarter, and over the course of the year, it earned $218 million from the purchase and sale of the only cryptocurrency it supports. Bitcoin revenue was up 12% year over year in Q4, the company added.
PayPal, another payments app with a bitcoin business — it also supports ether, bitcoin cash and litecoin — did not have quite as good results when it announced its Q4 and 2021 results on Feb. 2, with revenue up 13%, slower than Q4 2020’s 25% rise, an earnings missing analysts’ expectations by a hair.
But, one interesting fact stood out: The mobile wallet it rolled out in September is showing strong signs of adoption by new crypto buyers, with 40% using it to make their first crypto purchase on PayPal.
Then, there’s public cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which beat analysts’ earnings expectation by more than 25% while doubling their profit expectations — notably while growing monthly transacting users (MTUs) from 2.8 million in Q4 2020 to 11.4 million at the end of 2021.
What all this shows is that there has been a growing interest in crypto as both an investment and a payments method by the general public throughout 2021.
Back in May, PYMNTS’ Cryptocurrency Payments Report found that 16% of U.S. consumers owned or had owned crypto — largely bitcoin — and a number expected to grow to nearly one-third by the middle of this year.
“I think in 2022, you’ll see many more people — that next wave of people — getting interested in crypto both from an investment perspective and a ‘let’s try it for a payment’ [perspective],” Stephen Pair, CEO of crypto payments processor BitPay, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster in January.
“There’s going to be many more places with that service — that you’ll be able to spend crypto and do it in an in-person setting, which may make people more comfortable trying it out than perhaps if it’s on a website where they’re not sure if they’re doing it right or wrong.”
What Grew and What Declined
All of which raises one important question: Why did Coinbase’s stock drop 9% after smashing analysts’ predictions?
Well, the company did not paint quite so bright a picture of this quarter, with current trading volume at $200 billion — meaning it will likely end up far below Q4’s $547 billion. It also predicted that its actual revenue from those MTUs is going to fall.
That’s part of a bigger trend of crypto trading volumes declining across exchanges, Bloomberg reported on Feb. 3.
“It’s just an exceptionally quiet, fearsome and uncertain time in crypto,” Tyr Capital’s chief investment officer and co-founder Ed Hindi said. “Smart money, as they say, doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t take holidays. But [institutional] retail traders in crypto, they do take a break, especially when they get hurt.”
Which is really the point. Taking a pause is not the same thing as quitting. And historically, bitcoin buying slumps when markets are tanking — which they have been since November.
The same thing happened in Coinbase’s Q3 numbers, which pulled back substantially with the fist crypto slump of 2021, when bitcoin dropped from more than $63,000 to below $30,000 — and Coinbase trading volume dropped 30%. When the market improved, the exchange’s volume jumped 67% — and hit new trading volume highs.
So, what you see in crypto is that with each bull market, the crypto trading grows far more than it retracts with every bear market. Just as the number of people using bitcoin on payments apps like Cash App and PayPal are growing, even though they pull back spending when bitcoin’s price drops. Just as every consumer tends to do whenever the economy goes south or there is economic uncertainty — say in times of high inflation or political unrest.