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Institutional

ICE CEO calls Bakkt a “moonshot bet”

Intercontinental Exchange announced fourth quarter earnings last week, beating analysts' estimates on some fronts including adjusted EPS. During a call with equity analysts, CEO Jeffrey Sprecher outlined the firm's performance in Q4 2018 and shed some light on the progress of its cryptocurrency project Bakkt

"2018 marked our 13th consecutive year of record revenues - a track record directly attributable to customer demand for our risk management solutions and the investments we've made to enhance our technology, expand our content and broaden our distribution," Sprecher said in a press release. Earnings came in at $0.94 per share, two cents higher than Wall Street's expectations.

During the call, ICE CFO Scott Hill said the firm spent more than $1 billion on strategic investments and projects in 2018, which includes its investment in Bakkt. 

Sprecher later noted during the call that ICE is the majority backer behind Bakkt, which earlier this year announced it had raised more than $180 million in a fundraising round, adding the firm could raise more money. Other investors include Fortress Investment Group and Susquehanna International Group.

Bakkt originally was set to offer trading of a new bitcoin futures product, but those plans have been pushed back thanks in part to regulatory hurdles. The firm is also working on a crypto ecosystem that will bring together firms such as Microsoft and Starbucks into the crypto world. It’s unclear when Bakkt will launch. Sprecher described the firm as a “moonshot bet.”

“That infrastructure has attracted a lot of very, very interesting companies that have come — some that have invested in Bakkt, some are just working with Bakkt to try to tap into that infrastructure for some new use cases that will involve blockchain and digital assets and other things that we can provide these people,” Sprecher said. “Obviously, we’ve announced the Starbucks — our work with Starbucks and Microsoft. We have very, very large retail franchises global connectivity to end users that we hope will be brought into that ecosystem and could create a very, very valuable company out of that initiative if our business plan plays out.”

“So we’ll see how it goes,” he added. Bakkt has a separate management team from ICE and works out of different offices, Sprecher said. Bakkt’s chief executive office, Kelly Loeffler, is Sprecher’s spouse. 

“They’re well along in building out an infrastructure that I think you’ll see launch later this year,” he said. “And I’ll let Bakkt talk more about how it wants to go about and what the business and use cases are its revenue model, et cetera, as it unfolds.”