Billionaire’s Bitcoin Dream Shapes His Business Empire in Norway
Bitcoin is building a loyalist following in Norway’s industrial heartland, as one of the country’s richest people embraces the ever-controversial cryptocurrency.
Kjell Inge Rokke, who started out as a fisherman to build a roughly $5 billion fortune in Norway’s offshore industry, has already revealed his belief that Bitcoin will be “on the right side of history.” Now Aker ASA, Rokke’s industrial investment company, says it’s open to the idea of accepting payment in the cryptocurrency.
“We’re curious about this technology,” Oyvind Eriksen, who’s been chief executive of Aker for more than a decade, said in an interview. That includes understanding how Bitcoin, and the blockchain it’s based on, “will change behavior patterns and the markets we are in.”
Eriksen says Aker, which owns oil producer Aker BP and has more recently branched out into green technology and renewable energy, isn’t reconfiguring its payments system just yet, but “things happen very quickly here,” Eriksen said. “I’m no stranger” to the idea of receiving payment in Bitcoin, he said.
The comments represent a small leap of faith in Norway, where the governor of the central bank has lambasted Bitcoin. In an interview earlier this year, Governor Oystein Olsen called it “far too resource-intensive, far too costly and most importantly, it doesn’t preserve stability.” Concerns over the carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining this week prompted Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk -- a former fan of the cryptocurrency -- to turn his back on it.
But Aker says Musk’s latest comments “haven’t changed anything.”
Not If, When
Rokke, who owns almost 70% of Aker through his holding companies, says Bitcoin’s entry into the mainstream economy is inevitable. “The question is not if, but when,” he said in a letter to shareholders earlier this year. So Aker needs to “keep up with the times,” he said.
Bitcoin has been winning over prominent members of the financial industry since its resurgence last year. Notable investors and proponents include Dan Loeb, CEO of Third Point LLC, and Cathy Wood, CEO and CIO of Ark Investment Management. Wall Street is also becoming more comfortable with Bitcoin, with Morgan Stanley offering its customers a Bitcoin fund that tracks the coin’s performance. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is working on a similar fund for its clients.
Musk had been an outspoken supporter, but now says he’s worried that Bitcoin mining relies too much on coal. Though he underpinned his belief that cryptocurrencies still have a future, Musk’s comments this week triggered a sudden Bitcoin selloff. Over the past year, though, the cryptocurrency is still up more than 400%.
Rokke has already created a Bitcoin investment company, called Seetee AS. The idea is to explore the potential of the cryptocurrency, using an initial capital injection of just 500 million kroner ($60 million). Seetee’s liquid assets will be in Bitcoin, which Rokke says enjoys such a “huge lead” that other cryptocurrencies are unlikely to challenge its dominance.
Despite its lead, Bitcoin continues to be an extremely volatile prospect. Earlier this year, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbably,’ said he was selling his holding of Bitcoin, noting that “a currency is never supposed to be more volatile than what you buy [and] sell with it. You can’t price goods in BTC.”
But in his letter to shareholders, Rokke said, “We have to expect a lot of volatility. But we don’t care, because we believe in the long-term functionality.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.