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Cryptocurrencies

Crypto exchange sale stalls amid Bitcoin boom

Mar 03, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Crypto exchange sale stalls amid Bitcoin boom

The sale process of Bithumb, South Korea's largest cryptocurrency exchange, is taking longer than expected due to a spike in its price tag as investors flock to the exchange, lifting bitcoin and other cryptos to all-time highs, according to the investment banking industry on Mar. 3.

Until the end of last year, industry watchers expected NXC Corp., the holding company of Korean online gaming giant Nexon Co., to acquire a 65.7% stake held by Bithumb Chairman Lee Jung-hoon. It is understood that NXC offered around 500 billion won for Bithumb's management rights. NXC previously acquired the country's first crypto exchange Korbit in 2017 for 91.3 billion won.

But the sale process appears to be on hiatus due to Bithumb's sharply improved performance.

The leading local crypto exchange has come a long way. It logged an operating profit of near 20 billion won in January alone this year, compared to posting around 48.1 billion won ($42.9 million) for the entire year of 2019.

Bithumb's gains have swelled as the price of bitcoin, called digital gold by many investors, surged by almost 76% already this year. 

“There is increasing sentiment that even 500 billion won may be a modest amount considering the value of Bithumb's crypto holdings in addition to the money it's making," said an investment banking industry official. “If this boom continues, then Bithumb may aim to fetch up to 1 trillion won,” the official said.

Industry sources say that the sale process, initially expected to wrap up by February, will be futher prolonged.

Other investment banking industry officials said that Bithumb may consider reviewing proposals from other bidders as it has no reason to rush the deal. It is understood that some overseas investors have expressed the intent to invest.

Currently, Vident is the largest shareholder of Bithumb Holdings Co., the operator of Bithumb, with a 34.24% stake. Samjong KPMG is the sale manager.

Bithumb holds a dominant lead over other domestic crypto exchanges in terms of users and exchange volume.

Write to Sang-eun Lucia Lee and Jun-ho Cha at selee@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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