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Meet the $4.25 billion asset manager that took a bath on bitcoin

Fortress Financial Group, a publicly-traded asset manager with a market value of $4.26 billion, reported its 2013 results yesterday—and its biggest investment loss was bitcoin.

In an SEC filing, the company reported purchasing $20 million worth of bitcoin during the fourth quarter of 2013, making it the first public company to report an investment into the controversial online payment network. But, by the end of the year, the firm reported a $3.7 million unrealized loss on their holdings, as prices had dropped since the purchase. It was the largest investment loss reported on the company’s books during an otherwise successful year.

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is not like its brother.

But that’s likely not the limit of the bitcoin losses. Today, the CEO of the largest bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, verified something we already knew: His company lost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the crypto-currency, probably to hackers, and is going bankrupt. Prices have slumped since the exchange’s failure—on Dec. 31, when Fortress reported these results, bitcoin was trading for around $100 more than it is now.

Price-of-bitcoin-this-year-on-the-Bitstamp-exchange-US-Bitcoin-price-USD_chartbuilder

Still, losses like that are a rounding error for a company with $62 billion in assets under management. Fortress specializes in alternative asset management and has been rumored to be starting a bitcoin fund, so it makes sense that they’d buy up a crypto-currency hoard for that purpose. But as the losses demonstrate, even the most sophisticated investors can have trouble with an untested and volatile asset.

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