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By 2040, Will Coinbase Be Worth a Trillion Dollars? | The Motley Fool


Coinbase (COIN 7.66%), one of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, reached a peak valuation of nearly $77 billion on Nov. 9, 2021. But today, it's only worth about $11 billion. It lost 85% of its value as rising interest rates, regulatory threats, and the failures of several high-profile tokens and exchanges crushed the cryptocurrency market. Bitcoin (BTC 2.24%) and Ether (ETH 1.02%), the world's two largest cryptocurrencies, have both lost nearly 70% of their value after reaching their own all-time highs at roughly the same time as Coinbase's stock.

Last June, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong bluntly admitted that a new "crypto winter" had started and began to rein in the company's spending.

A person holds a virtual Bitcoin icon while standing in front of a chart with a rising line.

Image source: Getty Images.

Coinbase ended the third quarter of 2022 with only 8.5 million monthly transacting users (MTUs), down from a peak of 11.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2021. Over that period, the total assets on its platform shrank from $278 billion to $101 billion.

As a result, revenue fell 52% year over year in the first nine months of 2022, and analysts anticipate a 60% drop to $3.15 billion for the full year. Coinbase expects to post an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) loss of about $500 million for the year, compared to a positive adjusted EBITDA of $4.1 billion in 2021.

Those dismal numbers drove many investors away from Coinbase, but could it recover and become a trillion-dollar company (increasing its market cap by 90x) by 2040? Let's review the bull and bear cases.

The bull case for the crypto market

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Cathie Wood's Ark Invest, which holds Coinbase in several of its growth-oriented exchange-traded funds (ETFs), believes the price of Bitcoin (which trades at around $21,000 now) could reach $1 million by 2030 once some of the smaller tokens are flushed out of the market and more institutional investors accumulate the top cryptocurrency. A loss of faith in fiat currencies amid rampant inflation could accelerate that transition.

Wood's forecast is extremely bullish, but other forecasts also call for steep Bitcoin gains within the next two decades. For example, analysts at Telegaon believe Bitcoin's price could reach nearly $420,000 by 2040. The analytics firm also expects the price of Ether (trading in the neighborhood of $1,550 now) to reach roughly $24,000 by 2040.

Telegaon's projections would require a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20% for Bitcoin between 2022 and 2040, while its forecast for Ether's price would require a CAGR of 18%. If the value of Coinbase kept pace with an 18-year CAGR of 18%, its annual revenue would soar from $3.15 billion in 2022 to approximately $60 billion in 2040.

If that scenario comes true and, 18 years from now, Coinbase still trades at 4 times sales, it would be worth $240 billion, which would represent a 22-bagger gain. If investors turn more bullish and value the company at 10 times those speculative sales, it could be worth $600 billion -- but it would still fall short of joining the 12-zero club.

The bear case for the crypto market

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Coinbase might flourish again if the crypto market recovers, but it could also go bust if the crypto winter becomes an ice age. Tighter regulations regarding cross-border transfers, new taxes, and environmental restrictions on the energy sources that crypto mining operations can use could all prevent the cryptocurrency market from recovering. Cryptocurrencies could also never become widely accepted or used for mainstream payments if their prices remain volatile and they continue to be used primarily for speculation. 

The bull case for Ether, which is based on the expected wider use of the Ethereum network for the creation of decentralized apps and services, could also collapse if people simply stick with centralized platforms like Apple's App Store and Alphabet's Google Play. Ethereum-based creations like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) could also completely or largely disappear.

That's why many respected investors, among them Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, adamantly believe that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will go to zero. If that happens, Coinbase won't even make it to 2040 before its liabilities outweigh its assets. 

Where will Coinbase be in 2040?

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I expect Bitcoin and Ether to survive the crypto winter even as some of the smaller cryptocurrencies and more troubled exchanges die out. That said, I believe the crypto winter could also drag on for years as economic malaise and higher interest rates cause investors to stay away from the crypto market. Coinbase's survival will hinge entirely on the length of that downturn, which is impossible to accurately predict.

If Coinbase survives this brutal winter -- which it's desperately trying to do by laying off staff and streamlining its operations -- its stock could rise much higher over the next two decades. In a best-case scenario, its stock might deliver a 20- to 40-bagger gain from its current prices -- but still fall short of the 90-bagger gain it would require to hit the $1 trillion mark. In a worst-case scenario, it could go to zero -- which makes it a high-risk, high-reward play on the broader crypto market.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Leo Sun has positions in Alphabet and Apple. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Alphabet, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Bitcoin, Coinbase Global, and Ethereum. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway, long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway, short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway, and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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