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Square's bitcoin bet is paying off

Daniel Roberts
·Editor-at-Large
·3 min read

Square (SQ) shares surged 12% on Friday after the company blew away analyst expectations with its Q3 earnings report on Thursday. Square reported earnings of 34 cents per share (more than double the expected 16 cents per share) on revenue of $3.03 billion (vs. expectations of $2.05 billion).

The performance of its peer-to-peer Cash App was a huge highlight: Cash App revenue rose 174% from Q3 2019, and profit rose 212%.

And then there was bitcoin.

Square’s bitcoin revenue from Cash App trading was $1.63 billion in Q3, up 21% from $875 million in Q2 2020, up 618% from Q3 2019, and its first quarter with more than $1 billion in bitcoin revenue. Square’s bitcoin profit was $32 million, nearly double the $17 million from Q2 2020 and up 1,500% from Q3 2019.

$32 million is a small slice of the company’s $749 million in gross profit in the quarter. But consider that just one year ago, Square’s quarterly bitcoin profit was $2 million. (Square added a bitcoin-buying feature to Cash App in 2018.)

Of course, Square’s heightened bitcoin profit is thanks to bitcoin’s price surge: the largest cryptocurrency by market cap is up 115% in 2020, and this week, amid the uncertainty of the U.S. presidential election, it broke through $15,000, its highest level since January 2018.

But Square also says it saw big growth in Q3 in “bitcoin actives and volume per customer.” In other words, more Cash App users are buying bitcoin, and they’re buying more of it.

In the third quarter, Square also went further in its bitcoin embrace by outright purchasing $50 million worth of bitcoin (4,709 BTC) as an asset on its balance sheet, separate from its bitcoin trading feature in Cash App.

In a bitcoin investment white paper, Square explained the purchase: “Given the rapid evolution of cryptocurrency and unprecedented uncertainty from a macroeconomic and currency regime perspective, we believe now is the right time for us to expand our largely USD-denominated balance sheet and make a meaningful investment in bitcoin.”

At the time of purchase on Oct. 7, bitcoin was trading near $11,000—now it’s trading near $16,000. One year ago, some analysts still saw CEO Jack Dorsey’s bitcoin obsession as a potential problem for the company; right now, his bitcoin bets look pretty smart.

Guggenheim analyst Jeff Cantwell, in a note on Friday, called it a “dream quarter” for Square and wrote that “CEO Jack Dorsey's forays into bitcoin and equity investing via Cash App are proving to be masterstrokes for the company.”

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey appears on a monitor as he testifies remotely during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing 'Does Section 230's Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?', on Capitol Hill, October 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey; CEO of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google LLC, Sundar Pichai; and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg all testified virtually at the hearing. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act guarantees that tech companies can not be sued for content on their platforms, but the Justice Department has suggested limiting this legislation. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey appears on a monitor as he testifies remotely during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing 'Does Section 230's Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?', on Capitol Hill, October 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Square’s big Q3 earnings report came one week after Twitter, Jack Dorsey’s other company, delivered a very different Q3 earnings report.

Twitter (TWTR) beat expectations on revenue and earnings per share, but added merely 1 million new daily active users in Q3 from the quarter before, sending its shares tumbling. That paltry user growth also renewed scrutiny of Dorsey’s future as CEO. Twitter then announced that an “independent panel,” including Jesse Cohn of activist hedge fund Elliott Management, has expressed its confidence in Dorsey’s leadership, suggesting he will remain CEO—for now. Twitter shares are up 34% in 2020.

While Dorsey’s future at the helm of Twitter is uncertain, his stewardship of Square has, by contrast, been extremely successful over the past few years. (Square was Yahoo Finance’s Company of the Year in 2018.) Square shares are up 220% in 2020.

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers fintech and bitcoin. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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