April 6, 2018 / 5:35 AM / 6 months ago

Cryptocurrency miner Canaan eyes IPO; bets on China's push for chip industry

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Canaan Creative, one of the world’s top cryptocurrency mining equipment makers, said it was considering an initial public offering and expected China’s push to promote the domestic chip industry to help drive growth for the company.

Canaan Creative co-chairman Jianping Kong attends an interview in Hong Kong, China April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Hangzhou-based Canaan has seen a surge in demand for its mining machines amid a boom in cryptocurrencies, with bitcoin BTC=BTSP spiking more than 1,300 percent in 2017. The price of the digital currency has, however, halved so far in 2018.

Canaan shrugged off the recent volatility stemming from growing scrutiny of the sector, betting lower prices would bring in more demand. The company says it supplies around a quarter of the global bitcoin blockchain computing power.

Canaan is considering an IPO in Hong Kong or the United States, co-chairman Jianping Kong said in an interview.

“We ... prefer listing outside mainland China as we are in a global business,” Kong said, without giving details on when or how much it expects to raise.

The company had in 2016 tried to list on the mainland through a 3.06 billion yuan ($485 million) back-door listing, but canceled the plan after a regulatory deadlock. It also scrapped another plan to list on the New Third Board in China, Kong confirmed on Friday.

Kong said the decision was not driven by China’s regulatory crackdown on bitcoin, but because listing in the country takes too long, adding Canaan may consider a secondary mainland listing by issuing depository receipts.

“As an integrated circuit company, we are supported by government policies,” he said.

Canaan Creative co-chairman Jianping Kong (L) and co-founder and CEO N.G. Zhang attend an interview in Hong Kong, China April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

CHINA’S SEMICONDUCTOR PUSH

China has introduced tax breaks for chipmakers producing in the country in a bid to cut dependence on foreign manufacturers as trade tensions with the United States soar.

This bodes well for makers of high-end chips used in cryptocurrency mining as China is also home to one of the world’s largest centers for such mining - where people solve complex mathematical puzzles with computers in order to be awarded virtual coins.

While cryptocurrency trading has come under scrutiny in China amid worries of financial risks, an underground ecosystem of peer-to-peer platforms has sprung up to allow bitcoin trading to thrive.

Canaan’s clients include individuals in China and companies outside the country, with many of its machines ending up in electricity-rich areas that have formed large bitcoin mines, such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Yunnan.

N.G. Zhang, the company’s 35-year-old founder and CEO, said Canaan employs around 200 in Beijing and Hangzhou, mostly in chip research and development, and is hiring more.

Canaan, which sells “Avalon” mining machines with customized super-fast ASIC chips, made revenue of more than 1 billion yuan in 2017.

Its main competitors include U.S.-based Bitfury and Beijing-based Bitmain, which makes the “AntMiner”.

Canaan is now looking to add more products to its portfolio, such as home appliances with blockchain computing power and AI functions like “coin-mining TVs” that mine cryptocurrencies “while you sleep”, Kong said.

Canaan is developing its own AI chips and planning to launch equipment to mine other cryptocurrencies such as litecoin.

(The story corrects the sixth paragraph to reflect that China’s New Third Board is not in Shenzhen; corrects in paragraph 13 N.G.Zhang’s role to founder of company, not co-founder.)

Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Himani Sarkar

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