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Goldman Sachs exploring bitcoin trading operation

  • Goldman Sachs is looking into a new operation for trading bitcoin and other digital currencies.
  • "In response to client interest in digital currencies, we are exploring how best to serve them in this space," a Goldman spokeswoman said.
  • Unlike JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who called bitcoin a "fraud," Goldman's technical strategist has published analyses on bitcoin's price.

Goldman Sachs is considering the launch of a new trading operation focused on bitcoin and other digital currencies, a company official said.

The investment bank's exploration of a digital currency trading business is still in early stages and may not amount to anything substantial.

"In response to client interest in digital currencies, we are exploring how best to serve them in this space," a Goldman spokeswoman said in a statement.

Goldman Sachs has taken a more serious look at bitcoin than its peers on Wall Street.

Sheba Jafari, vice president on the bank's FICC Market Strats team, was the only representative from a major Wall Street firm to issue reports on bitcoin's price as the digital currency soared earlier this year.

Reports from Morgan Stanley and a few other major banks have tended to focus more on the potential applications of blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin that eliminates the need for third-party intermediaries to transact money. Goldman also has a lavish web page explaining blockchain.

Top names on Wall Street are divided on whether bitcoin's development is a good thing.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon directly spoke out against bitcoin last month and called the digital currency a "fraud" that "won't end well." Other well-respected investors such as Howard Marks have compared bitcoin to a pyramid scheme.

On the other hand, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said last week that digital currencies like bitcoin are "more than just a fad."

Bitcoin briefly multiplied five times in price this year from below $1,000 to above $5,000. Although the digital currency plunged by about $2,000 after a Chinese crackdown in September, bitcoin recovered to its highest in nearly a month Monday at around $4,410, according to CoinDesk.

Much of the gains come as institutional investors increase their bets on the digital currency. New "crypto-funds" are also launching. The latest tally from financial research firm Autonomous Next last week estimates about 75 such funds now exist.

In the meantime, Goldman Sachs could benefit from a new trading operation in a highly volatile asset like digital currencies. The bank reported a 40 percent drop in bond trading in the second quarter.

"The smartest Wall Street firms have an opportunity to lead the market in offering financial services to the burgeoning cryptocurrency industry," Matthew Goetz, managing partner and CEO at cryptocurrency investment firm BlockTower Capital and a former vice president at Goldman Sachs.

"I think it behooves the smart and more forward-thinking firms to be involved in cryptocurrency," he said, "given the number of new services and business lines that will stem from it as this important new industry continues to build and institutionalize."