Facebook is rolling out a new cryptocurrency platform that could provide the embattled social media giant with a new revenue stream of historic proportions as it contends with a possible federal antitrust probe and continued scrutiny over its data privacy practices.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company announced on Tuesday the creation of Calibra, a subsidiary that will oversee Facebook's interests in Libra, including a digital wallet for the new cryptocurrency. Rather than exercise direct control over Libra, Facebook will partner with investors such as Visa, PayPal and Uber as members of the Libra Association, an independent entity that will manage the cryptocurrency.
The digital wallet will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp and as a standalone app. It is expected to launch in 2020, according to a company statement.
Facebook’s cryptocurrency could thrive in emerging markets, providing a more stable alternative for transferring money in areas with volatile currencies and unstable governments, according to RBC Capital Markets.
The firm expects “Libra” to facilitate person-to-person payments, traditional e-commerce and spending on apps or gaming services on Facebook-owned properties.
“We believe this may prove to be one of the most important initiatives in the history of the company to unlock new engagement and revenue streams,” RBC Capital Markets analysts said in a note to investors.
RBC set a price target of $250 for Facebook shares, up from current levels of about $187.
Facebook partnered with more than a dozen companies to form the Libra Association. The cryptocurrency will be tied to several traditional fiat currencies in a bid to protect “Libra” from price volatility that has hurt other leading digital currencies such as bitcoin.
Company executives warned in April that Facebook could face fines of up to a record $5 billion to settle a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into its data privacy practices. Facebook is also among several tech companies, including Google and Amazon, which are expected to face federal scrutiny in the coming months over possible antitrust violations.
With scrutiny of Facebook’s practices at an all-time high, the cryptocurrency could reshape the company’s business. Barclays analyst Ross Sandler predicted in March that the digital currency could produce as much as $19 billion in new revenue by 2021.
“Merely establishing this revenue stream starts to change the story for Facebook shares in our view,” Sandler said.
This story has been updated.