The digital currency bitcoin has been one of the hottest topics on both Wall Street and Main Street over the past year, and it’s even been getting discussed by companies you might not expect.
According to an analysis of FactSet data covering the past month, 24 companies have referenced the cryptocurrency in their analyst day conference calls. For the most part, that list is dominated by financial companies — including Cboe Global Markets, which launched bitcoin futures in December — and semiconductor companies, whose products are used in the mining of bitcoin and its rivals.
However, also on the list are two consumer stocks that happen to be big rivals in giving people their daily boost of caffeine: Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc.
and Starbucks Corp.
Bitcoin was hardly the focus of either company’s commentary, but the fact that it was discussed at all highlights the degree to which the cryptocurrency — which started 2017 below $1,000 and subsequently soared near $20,000 before sharply pulling back — has become a major point of interest across the economy. While some executives and high-profile investors have dismissed it as a fraud or bubble, others have announced initiatives into blockchain, the decentralized ledger technology that is the basis for bitcoin and other cryptos.
Kate Jaspon, Dunkin’s chief financial officer, referenced bitcoin as part of a broader rumination on uncertainty and the difficulty of predicting future events. She cited the digital currency alongside Brexit — the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union — and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Whether you support him or not, I don’t think anyone in this room would have guessed that Donald Trump would have been the 45th President of the United States,” she said, according to the transcript. “I know I [didn’t]. And then from a digital currency perspective, I mean, bitcoin, years ago we had conversations about whether bitcoin would be a real thing and here it is trading at all-time highs.”
The call occurred on Feb. 8. While bitcoin prices
hit a record above $19,000 in late January, they subsequently tumbled more than 50%, at one point dropping below $7,000. Currently, it is trading around $8,500.
Read: Bitcoin may not be done collapsing, but it has bounced back from worse
Jaspon added, “So, with all this change, we need to change, too.” She said the company was redefining its long-term view as having a three-year outlook, as opposed to five years previous. “We’re not going to guide five years anymore because it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Howard Schultz, the executive chairman of Starbucks, discussed bitcoin and blockchain in greater detail. In the Jan. 25 call, he said that “I don’t believe that bitcoin is going to be a currency today or in the future,” but stressed that blockchain technology could become a central technology to businesses over a 20-year time horizon.
“I’m not bringing this up because Starbucks is announcing that we are forming a digital currency or we’re investing in this,” he said. “I’m bringing this up because as we think about the future of our company and the future of consumer behavior, I personally believe that there is going to be one or a few legitimate, trusted digital currencies off of the blockchain technology.”
Schultz explained that such trust in terms of consumer application will have to be legitimatized by a brand in a brick-and-mortar environment.
One of the touted use cases for bitcoin is that it can be used as a means of exchange similar to credit cards, except without the backing of a centralized authority like a company, government, or central bank. While some retailers do accept bitcoin as a form of payment, Morgan Stanley recently argued that the digital currency was a long way from replacing Visa or MasterCard for this purpose, noting that bitcoin had significantly longer settlement times and higher fees.
However, these issues may be improved over time, which Schultz said was a trend that couldn’t be ignored.
“I believe that we are heading into a new age in which blockchain technology is going to provide a significant level of a digital currency that is going to have a consumer application. And I believe that Starbucks is in a unique position to take advantage of that,” he said, although he added that he didn’t want anyone to “assume that we have this all figured out because we don’t, or that we’re making a significant investment in this because we’re not.”
Rather, he said, exploring new technologies like this reflected what he saw as a necessary initiative to remain competitive.
“We are actively demonstrating the level of entrepreneurial curiosity and DNA of our company to do the things that we’ve done in the past, to ensure the fact that we are at the cutting edge of this technology, of this consumer application,” he said. “And we think we have something to offer the companies that are chasing this, because we are in a position to create the trusted legitimate place in which this could be accepted, and possibly take advantage of the mobile payment digital platform that we have created.”