Hacked Crypto Exchange Earned $490 Million Before Epic Heist

(Bloomberg) -- Running a cryptocurrency exchange can be enormously profitable -- so long as you don’t lose your clients’ assets to hackers.

Japan-based Coincheck Inc., which suffered one of the biggest heists in history, earned 53.2 billion yen ($490 million) from April 2017 through January, when the theft occurred, according to its new owner Monex Group Inc. By comparison, Japan Exchange Group, which owns the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Osaka Exchange, earned 66.1 billion yen for all of 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The figures illustrate how lucrative it’s been to operate a cryptocurrency venue in the past year, a period that saw prices and transaction values soar to all-time highs. Even after the theft, Coincheck made a profit of 500 million yen in February and March.

The good times may already be over, according to Coincheck’s new owner.

“Given that we expect tougher regulatory and internal measures going forward, naturally the profitability will change,” Monex Chief Executive Officer Oki Matsumoto said at a media event on Thursday. “However, as our entire group works toward creating a crypto exchange built on trust, it may be possible to grow our customer base even more, which would drive synergy and boost profitability.”

Japanese retail brokerage Monex bought Coincheck earlier this month, paying 3.6 billion yen for the bourse under an agreement that will see it split profits with the previous shareholders for the next three years. Monex shares jumped by the daily limit of 20 percent after the announcement.

According to Coincheck’s account of the hack, an unidentified thief stole 523 million coins tied to the NEM blockchain project on Jan. 26, which were trading at about 94 U.S. cents at the time. The company said it would reimburse customers who lost money, which led to a writedown of 47.3 billion yen, according to Monex.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.