Goldman Is Preparing To Launch A Cryptocurrency Trading Desk

In light of the recent "blockchain" naming craze, this morning we said that the inevitable next round of corporate name changes would involve "JP Blockchain" and "Blockchain Sachs".

While this was supposed to be a joke, as so often happens, it ended up predicting the shape of things to come because as Bloomberg reports, Goldman Sachs - using its pre-blockchain name for the time being - is in the process of setting up a trading desk to make markets in digital currencies such as bitcoin. The bank aims to get the business running by the end of June, if not earlier, two sources said. A third said Goldman is still trying to work out security issues as well as how it would hold, or custody, the assets.

Why the rush to have the world's first dedicated institutional desk?

For the same reason that while Jamie Dimon was mocking bitcoin, Lloyd Blankfein saw an opportunity: unlike equities which retail investors have largely given up on realizing that equity capital markets are rigged and manipulated by central banks, retail investors are ever more fascinated with crypto - the price trends don't hurt - so much so that Coinbase now has more users than Charles Schwab. To Lloyd and Goldman this spells one thing: opportunity.

As Bloomberg notes, the move positions Goldman Sachs to become the first large Wall Street firm to make markets in cryptocurrencies, "whose wild price swings and surging values have captured the public’s imagination but given pause to established institutions."

Already, the bank is among just a few mainstream firms clearing a new breed of bitcoin futures offered by Cboe Global Markets Inc. and CME Group Inc. Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., for example, have been taking a wait-and-see approach.

Which brings us to the next evolutionary step for cryptos: direct prop and flow trading by the world's most important bank.

Goldman Sachs is now assembling a team in New York, one of the people said. While the bank hasn’t made a decision where to house the desk, one possibility is that it will operate within the fixed-income, currencies and commodities unit’s systematic trading function, which conducts transactions electronically, two people said. Darren Cohen, in the firm’s principal strategic investments group, is also looking at opportunities, another person said.

 

In response to client interest in digital currencies, we are exploring how best to serve them,” Michael DuVally, a spokesman, said in a statement.

And since Goldman will be seeking to hook investors in during the inaugural period, guess which way the price of cryptos will move at least in the near future. (hint: not down).

Ironically, in public CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been circumspect. After tweeting two months ago that Goldman was looking at how to deal with bitcoin, in a Bloomberg Television interview just a few weeks ago, he said his bank didn’t need a bitcoin strategy yet because the digital currency is still just developing and volatile.

Surprisingly, it turns out Lloyd was lying.