Coindesk, citing three people familiar with the matter, reported this week the move will enable PayPal and Venmo customers to buy and sell bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies directly from the app. Square’s Cash app, which competes against PayPal, already offers that feature. One source said PayPal could roll it out in the next three months.
If PayPal were to move forward with the ability to buy and sell cryptocurrencies it would mark a reversal for the payments giant. It was only last October PayPal backed out of the Libra Foundation, the group overseeing Facebook’s digital token Libra.
That’s not to say PayPal has abandoned crypto altogether. In November PayPal Ventures invested in TRM Labs, a cryptocurrency risk management platform. But offering the ability to buy and sell Bitcoin and other digital assets would be a big development. It’s something that didn’t seem likely, but then COVID-19 pandemic happened and Bitcoin saw renewed interest.
Since mid-March Bitcoin has been surging, with the price up about 80%. BRD, the cryptocurrencies digital wallet company, has been setting records for the number of downloads in recent weeks. Since March, BRD has added 678,000 users in the U.S. alone. It’s on track to hit 5 million users on a global basis by the end of August. BRD had previously eyed the end of the year for reaching that milestone.
Square, which has offered bitcoin trading through its Cash App has also seen record downloads during the pandemic. To make it easier for its users, in May Square announced customers can set automatic recurring purchases of bitcoin.
Then there is Robinhood, which has been offering the ability to buy cryptocurrencies since the winter of 2018. Mobile trading usage is also skyrocketing during the pandemic. The startup was even able to raise $280 million in funding in May, giving it a valuation of more than $8 billion. That’s with several outages at key moments in trading during the pandemic.
The recent surge in demand for bitcoin is due in part to a desire among investors for alternatives to stocks and bonds. Sure, stocks have been gaining even with the economy still in tatters, but it’s marked by a lot of volatility that has caused some to seek investments elsewhere. Then there’s the need to send cross border payments when traditional means are shut down.
For PayPal, entering the bitcoin market in a bigger way will be more of a boon for the industry than the payment giant. Sure it adds another feature to its payment apps and it gives bitcoin more legitimacy, but its not expected to drive PayPal shares like the pandemic has. With the stock up more than 90% since March, its a big reason Mark Palmer, a BTIG analyst just downgraded PayPal to neutral from buy. He said in a research report PayPal will have to provide a timeline as to when Venmo will be profitable as well as prove its in-store platform has benefited from the roll out of QR codes to drive more growth. As for PayPal’s ample cash, Palmer said he wants the payments company to use it to make buys of bill payment companies not cryptocurrency assets.
“While we believe PayPal is a clear beneficiary of the changes in consumer behavior arising from the stay-at-home orders in response to the pandemic, we also think that with the company’s shares trading at 35x the consensus FY22E adjusted earnings per share, the boost provided by the crisis has been largely reflected in its valuation,” wrote Palmer.