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A U.S. Bitcoin Exchange Will Attempt to Launch as Mt. Gox Crumbles

Barry Silbert and SecondMarket will attempt to launch an exchange this summer.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

SecondMarket, a company that makes it easier to buy and sell shares of privately owned companies, is in the process of creating a New York-based bitcoin exchange even as Mt. Gox, the one-time giant bitcoin exchange, teeters on the brink of shutdown.

Barry Silbert, the CEO of SecondMarket and an investor in more than a dozen bitcoin startups, told Re/code that plans are under way to spin off some of his company’s current operations into a separate bitcoin-focused company.

One of the entities within that company will be an exchange, Silbert said, built on a membership model where a group of regulated entities get seats and act as brokers for consumers and non-member institutions that want to buy and sell bitcoin in U.S. dollars. Silbert said he hopes to be able to announce the member firms, which will include global banks and other bitcoin companies, next month. Until then, the exchange’s prospects will likely be viewed with a heavy dose of skepticism after the stumbles of the Japan-based Mt. Gox.

SecondMarket began testing a less automated bitcoin market earlier this month.

The company will contribute more than $20 million in cash and bitcoin to launch the new bitcoin company, whose name is yet to be determined, Silbert said. Silbert will be CEO of both companies.

Some details of the plans were previously reported by the New York Times and Fortune.

Silbert’s plans follow news of Mt. Gox going offline on Monday night, and claims by a group of bitcoin companies that the exchange is bankrupt. Sometime on Tuesday, Mt. Gox added a short message to what had been for hours a blank homepage that read, “In light of recent news reports and the potential repercussions on MtGox’s [sic] operations and the market, a decision was taken to close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users. We will be closely monitoring the situation and will react accordingly.”

On Monday night, a document began circulating in bitcoin circles that purported to show that Mt. Gox has lost more than $350 million in bitcoin due to theft. Re/code has not been able to independently verify the claim. The document has been viewed more than 350,000 times on the document hosting service Scribd.

The proposed structure for the new exchange is different from that of Mt. Gox and other current ones, Silbert said. He said he believes the inclusion initially of just a limited number of regulated entities can play a part in building confidence in the exchange. Silbert also said the exchange will institute measures aimed at reducing price volatility and has been in discussions with appropriate regulators, though he declined to name them.

“This exchange will launch as a regulated entity,” he said, adding that he has been in contact with undisclosed regulatory agencies over his plans.

One of those regulators would likely be the New York State Department of Financial Services. Silbert spoke at a two-day hearing held by the group.

“While all the facts surrounding the situation at Mt. Gox in Japan are not yet clear, these developments underscore that smart, tailored regulation could play an important role in protecting consumers and the security of the money that they entrust to virtual currency firms,” Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.

The department was not immediately reachable for further comment.

The price of bitcoin had rebounded slightly on Tuesday to $517 at the time of writing, according to the Bitcoin Price Index. In December, bitcoin traded at a high of more than $1100.

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