Big bitcoin-friendly companies like Microsoft and Expedia hedge their bet

Microsoft is the most prominent company to accept bitcoin. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

Businesses that accept bitcoin have a unique problem: How do they deal with the currency’s wild fluctuations?

This year has marked bitcoin as an investment more than a usable currency, the new disaster hedge alongside gold. With values surging close to $5,000 at its peak thus far — though it’s dipped of late — almost no one wants to buy anything with it, lest it rises further and stabilizes.

Though a precious few may be transacting in bitcoin, many big companies like Overstock, Microsoft, Dish, and Expedia., still offer to accept it.

Overstock’s CEO Patrick Byrne has been a big proponent of the cryptocurrency over the years and ushered in mainstream bitcoin acceptance by bringing it to Overstock’s checkout screen. As a bitcoin bull, Byrne has always kept some bitcoin that came in from sales, he told Yahoo Finance in August, and has increased that percentage to 50% of late.

Overstock’s strategy, however, is unique amongst big companies that accept bitcoin. A spokesperson for Microsoft told Yahoo Finance that the company does not actually take possession of bitcoin directly but instead can use bitcoin via an exchange to add money (in U.S. dollars) to a customer’s Microsoft account. That account then can be used to buy stuff from digital stores. “Any currency fluctuation risks are managed by the exchange,” the company said.

Like Microsoft, Expedia does not actually take ownership of bitcoin but accepts it merely for data-collecting purposes.

“Expedia is always looking ahead to new and emerging technologies and bitcoin is exactly this for us,” a spokesperson told Yahoo Finance. “We see it as a learning opportunity and we continue to use the information we learn about bitcoin transactions to enhance our customer experience.”

The company uses Coinbase’s instant exchange feature to convert all bitcoin transactions into U.S. dollars. Expedia will process returns the same way, though the actual value of a refund will be determined by dollars, not the quantity of bitcoin initially used.

Like Expedia, Dish (DISH) also uses Coinbase’s exchange feature to settle payments made in bitcoin into U.S. dollars for a “low, but steady” group of customers. In terms of an actual figure, Overstock noted that the bitcoin transactions were just a sixth of a percent, so overall numbers for all of these businesses are likely similarly low.

With the exception of Overstock, these companies take a conservative angle with the cryptocurrency, which is unlikely to change unless bitcoin stabilizes and turns into a more usable and predictable currency. But the fact that these companies are able to accept bitcoin without taking on the risk themselves is a triumph for modern financial technology and illustrative of innovative tools to square things that otherwise would be shiny circles.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Got a tip? Send to: emann@oath.com.

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