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In the Crypto Gold Rush, Are There Any Real "Pick and Shovel" Stock Buys?

By Motley Fool Staff - Apr 4, 2018 at 11:14AM

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A podcast listener who doesn't want to put money into specific cryptocurrencies would like to bet on them with some infrastructure plays.

In this segment from the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner sifts through his listeners' questions and comments to pick subjects to dive into for your elucidation and entertainment. He brings back frequent guest Aaron Bush, the Fool's resident expert on the emerging realms of blockchain and cryptocurrency, to discuss indirect ways of investing in the technology. And while there are well over a thousand digital currencies now, and a slew of companies looking for good ways to use blockchain to improve their operations, genuine infrastructure plays in this space are few and far between.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on March 28, 2018.

David Gardner: Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag Item No. 3: And I'm joined by my friend Aaron Bush. Aaron, how are you doing?

Aaron Bush: Doing well! Thanks for having me, David!

Gardner: So, you and I have talked a lot of stocks over the years, but typically when I'm having you back, especially for a mailbag on Rule Breaker Investing, what are we going to talk?

Bush: We have to talk crypto. It's my new typecast.

Gardner: Indeed. In fact, it's your calling and your job, here, at The Motley Fool. You transitioned off our Rule Breakers team in order to help run our Crypto Society service.

Bush: Indeed, and it's been a blast doing that so far.

Gardner: That's awesome. Well, Aaron, I'm glad you're here because I've got this question from Michael, but before I go there, you were just saying something to me before you came on the microphone. What was that?

Bush: A couple of weeks ago I was with a few of my friends -- there are four of us -- and I was like, "Guys, let me show you something really quickly. Rock-paper-scissors, shoot!" The three of them went rock and I knew to go paper. And I won.

Gardner: Boom! I love it. So, it works.

Bush: It works.

Gardner: It sure does. Thank you, Aaron. Well, let's see if this works for you. This one's from Micheal. Micheal writing in on Twitter. Micheal has a remarkable Twitter handle. Micheal with an "eal," and then the numbers go 2, 9, 9, 8, 3, 9, 0, 0. It's almost like that's probably a coded reference of something that I'm just missing. It's not 867-5309, for example. But anyway.

"Hi, David. I've been playing a little catch-up listening to your Dec. 7, 2017, podcast on blockchain." Well, speak of the devil. Here is Aaron Bush mentioning infrastructure plays.

"I wanted to know if there were any specific listed companies that he was looking at. Now, I don't need to tell you, Fools, that there's a lot of hype in this space, so I'm cautiously looking for smarter ways to take advantage of the trend. Thanks, Mike. P.S.: Love all The Motley Fool podcasts and subscriptions. You've made investing entertaining."

Well, we do try to educate, to amuse, and to enrich. How about some educate and some enrich, Aaron Bush?

Bush: I'll try my best. That was a really great question. When I think about infrastructure, I guess just thinking back at pre-crypto infrastructure first, that includes things like servers, routers, operating systems, HTTP, and things like that. Web 3.0 let's view as more crypto-based. Builds on all of that. But it also rebuilds some of it, cutting out middlemen and accruing value to people who own pieces of open protocols like Bitcoin. Like Ethereum. Like most any other crypto asset that's out there.

Key pieces of infrastructure that I think could be rebuilt for the crypto age are things like the domain name system. E-mail. File storage. Browsers, even. But I think it will also touch on some new things, like personal data management, which will be kind of interesting seeing the Facebook news going on. Prediction markets. Money itself, even. All these things, plus more, are built into the fabric of the internet, and all of these are building blocks of infrastructure

When it comes to public companies, which you specifically noted, there actually are very few out there that have anything to do with crypto infrastructure specifically. By definition almost, is open source, native to the internet, and is often token-driven.

I think you could say something like NVIDIA, which makes chips for cryptocurrency miners has a key technical role to play. You can even look at one of the exchanges, like CBOE, as financial infrastructure because they have Bitcoin futures and they'll probably create other futures, things like derivatives, going forward that people can then use and build on top of for their own financial purposes.

Gardner: Of course, I love hearing you mention that stock, Aaron, because that's one of my picks in Motley Fool Stock Advisor.

Bush: There you go.

Gardner: CBOE.

Bush: I think both of those companies are great companies. I think both are great without crypto, but if crypto takes off for them, that might be a nice boost. But I don't know if necessarily both of them pass the snap test when it comes specifically to crypto, which is something I know you are fond of.

Gardner: Yes, this is my test, Aaron, and you're quoting it on this show. Could you please lay it out for any new listener who doesn't know our Rule Breakers snap test?

Bush: So, snap your fingers. The company is gone. Do people really care? So, in using it specifically for crypto, here, snap your fingers. NVIDIA or CBOE is gone. Do people really care?

Gardner: Uh, yeah.

Bush: Maybe a little bit.

Gardner: Oh, just for that. I think of it being the whole company. Like if NVIDIA went or CBOE went...

Bush: Oh, for sure. Those are huge companies in their own massive domains, but just specifically for the crypto, which is a sliver of both of their businesses, I think if you snap your fingers and that part of their business was gone, people could find other chips for cryptocurrency mining.

Gardner: The CFO might not even notice. It might take the auditors to show up, come in, and go, "Hey, what happened to the whole crypto thing?"

Bush: Like other exchanges are working on Bitcoin futures, too, so that might not be a huge deal. That's my general take on crypto infrastructure and the stock market. It doesn't really exist. You could even say crypto stocks is an oxymoron in some ways.

That's my general take on that. That said, I'm more interested in infrastructure that's native to crypto, and I think that's something not to be overlooked, even if you're looking for something potentially more stable and less hyped.

Still good things to keep an eye on. Ethereum, which we've talked about, is definitely the largest example. It's the second-largest crypto asset that's out there. It exists so that many other platforms and applications can build on top of it. It's like a giant supercomputer in some ways that people can tap into. There will be others trying to do similar things. If I may just give one last example that proves the point...

Gardner: Please.

Bush: 0x, ticker ZRX, crypto asset. It's super early stage, but I think it's worth following. It gives good guidelines for what to look for in infrastructures like cryptoplay. They are a protocol for a decentralized exchange in the Ethereum ecosystem. What that means is that instead of trading through a middleman exchange, which is most any other exchange where there's regulatory risk, where there's custody risk where they take your money, instead trading occurs via smart contracts.

And anyone can build a front-end relayer exchange that sits on top of their back-end decentralized exchange technology and people who trade using it must use the 0x token. Essentially, it's the backbone layer that others can build new services and applications on top of with a token that if you're going to use any of those services, you have to use and pay a small fee, and that accrues value to that protocol.

It has a really sharp team who shifts code really quickly. They're thinking, I think smartly, on how things will unfold strategically in building governance. It's not necessarily a recommendation, but I think following them will give you a good place to start when it comes to looking at how infrastructure in the crypto world can exist and do a good job.

Gardner: Awesome. There you go, Michael. That was Crypto Corner with Aaron Bush.

Aaron Bush owns shares of CBOE, FB, and NVDA. David Gardner owns shares of FB. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends FB and NVDA. The Motley Fool recommends CBOE. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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