Norwegian Oil Billionaire puts his faith in Bitcoin

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One of Norway’s richest people has embraced the ever-controversial cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. 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 Rokke’s industrial investment company, Aker ASA, says it’s open to the idea of accepting payment in the world’s largest 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, according to Bloomberg. That includes understanding how Bitcoin, and the blockchain it’s based on, “will change behavior patterns and the markets we are in.”

Aker owns oil producer Aker BP and has more recently branched out into green technology and renewable energy, Eriksen says the company isn’t reconfiguring its payments system just yet, but “things happen very quickly here”. “I’m no stranger” to the idea of receiving payment in Bitcoin, he said.

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The comments represent a small leap of faith in the Nordic country, where the governor of the central bank has harangued 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 environmental issues created by the mining of Bitcoin this week prompted Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer 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, But When

Kjell Inge Rokke
Kjell Inge Rokke
Source: Aker
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Rokke 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.

Since its resurgence last year, Bitcoin has been winning over prominent members of the financial industry. Notable investors and proponents include Cathy Wood, CEO and CIO of Ark Investment Management, and Dan Loeb, CEO of Third Point LLC. According to Bloomberg, “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 comments this week triggered a sudden Bitcoin selloff. He now says that he’s worried that Bitcoin mining relies too much on coal. Though he underpinned his belief that cryptocurrencies still have a future. Over the past year, though, the cryptocurrency is still up more than 400%.

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Rokke, who owns almost 70% of Aker through his holding companies, has already created a Bitcoin investment company, called Seetee AS. The idea, according to the billionaire businessman, 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’s volatility has no stopping. 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.”

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