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Digital currency company Circle to go public via SPAC at $4.5 billion valuation

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Key Points
  • Circle plans to go public by the end of the year through a SPAC with Concord Acquisition Corp.
  • The announcement comes as regulators seek more clarity around the trading and issuers of stablecoins — digital currency that's designed to be less volatile than other crypto — with one proposal suggesting they obtain bank charters.
Jeremy Allaire, Co-Founder and CEO, Circle 
David A. Grogan | CNBC

Payments and digital currency firm Circle plans to go public later this year through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Concord Acquisition Corp.

The deal, which Circle announced on Thursday, is expected to close in the fourth quarter and would value the company at $4.5 billion.

"We just see an incredible opportunity to grow rapidly and grow around the world, and we think that this set of transactions and becoming a public company really sets us up to be a trusted platform in this in this digital currency industry," Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Thursday morning.

The eight-year-old startup is best known for co-creating the U.S. dollar-backed stablecoin USD Coin, or USDC.

Stablecoins are digital currencies designed to be less volatile than cryptocurrencies by pegging their market value to an outside asset like the U.S. dollar. Tether is one of the best known and most controversial ones, along with USDC and the initially Facebook-led Diem (formerly known as Libra). There are currently $26 billion of USDC in circulation, Allaire told "Squawk Box."

Regulatory focus on stablecoins

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Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire on stablecoins, bitcoin's outlook and more

The announcement of Circle's deal comes amid growing concern by regulators that there should be more transparency in the trading of stablecoins, the reserves backing them and the overreliance on them to enable trading in decentralized finance or DeFi. 

In December, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., along with Reps. Jesus Garcia, D-Ill., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced Stablecoin Tethering and Bank Licensing Enforcement Act, or the STABLE Act.

The legislation would require issuers to obtain bank charters and keep reserve funds equal in amount to the number of stablecoins they issue, with the Federal Reserve.

"We've seen growing adoption and usage of the USDC across an ever-widening range of use cases," Jeremy Fox-Geen, Circle's chief financial officer, according to a transcript of an investor conference call filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

"While we believe that the use case for USDC is the same as the use case for a dollar, for many of those use cases, USDC is the better product," Fox-Geen said, because it can move and settle faster and more cheaply.

Payment systems adoption

"We operate this market infrastructure of USDC which doesn't have a clear comparable," Allaire said on "Squawk Box." "It's a fundamental innovation in payment systems, so you might think about large payment technology companies," like Visa or Mastercard.

Earlier this year, Visa settled a USDC transaction on its payment network. The move lays the groundwork to potentially support a digital dollar and other central bank digital currencies worldwide. 

"On the other hand, we're building this suite of what we call transaction and treasury services – those look more similar to at-scale, financial services platforms. It's a diversified set of businesses," Allaire added.

Circle also provides other commerce and financial applications for businesses. Allaire said on the same investor conference call that customers are "highly global," with more than 50% outside the U.S., and that the company is investing aggressively to expand its international digital currency payments and treasury services operations.

Allaire, who is also the company's co-founder, will remain CEO of the company. Bob Diamond, chairman of Concord Acquisition Corp. and CEO of Atlas Merchant Capital, will join the board.