Crypto collapse: States bust Nexo, Terra’s Do Kwon on the run, Celsius CEO resigns, FTX buying Voyager and eyeing Celsius, ETH miners screwed

David Gerard and I just published our latest news roundup and analysis on the ongoing crypto crash.

In this update, we cover:

  • A slew of state regulators drop the hammer on crypto lender Nexo.
  • Terra-Luna: Where in the world is Do Kwon?
  • After a two-week auction, FTX US emerges as the highest bidder for Voyager Digital’s assets. What is SBF buying other than a giant hole in Voyager’s balance sheet?
  • Under pressure from the UCC, Alex Mashinsky steps aside as CEO of Celsius.
  • The US Trustee appoints an examiner to investigate Celsius.
  • Celsius wants to sell off some stablecoins to fund its operations. Texas agencies object! They want the debtor to hold off until the examiner comes out with her report.
  • Crypto miners are unhappy. Good!

Head over to David’s blog to read the full post! [David Gerard]

Image: GPU crypto miners in Vietnam appear to be jet washing their old mining gear before putting the components up for sale.

Crypto collapse: Celsius, Voyager, SkyBridge — the liabilities are real, the assets are fake

“To the crowd there assembled, I was the realization of their dreams….The ‘wizard’ who could turn a pauper into a millionaire overnight!”

~ Charles Ponzi

Celsius Network

For years, Celsius founder Alex Mashinsky told people banks were the enemy, and Celsius was your friend. Now everyone is wondering where their money went. Here’s our summary of the current situation at Celsius:

  • The money is gone. There’s almost nothing left for creditors.
  • The lawyers are stripping the last shreds of meat off the bones. 
  • Celsius’ ludicrous plan to run a bitcoin mining operation to get out of debt is a way for execs to put off liquidation a bit longer while they fill their pockets. 
  • Insiders will keep paying themselves with the remaining funds for as long as they can get away with it.
  • An examiner report could lead to a liquidation, possibly more. Any party can file a motion to convert to a liquidation “for cause.” The sooner that happens, the better, as far as we’re concerned. It’s time to close the curtains on this clown show.
  • We can hope for criminal charges — but those would require something like solid evidence of a deliberate Ponzi scheme, which could well come from the examiner, once appointed. 
  • Both the Trustee and the judge have the power to refer a case to the Department of Justice. If the examiner finds evidence of federal crimes, the case will have already been made. 

Let’s review the four types of Celsius customers:

  • Earn: Celsius promised up to 18% APY if you gave them your crypto to invest in … secret things. Crypto deposited into Earn accounts became the property of Celsius. The Earn product resembled an unregistered securities offering. When you give someone your money and they do stuff with it to make more money, that’s an investment contract — a security.

    Not registering such an investment contract when offering it to the public is why BlockFi had to fork over $100 million to state regulators and the SEC, and why Coinbase ultimately had to abandon its Coinbase Lend product.
  • Borrow: Celsius let you take out loans against your crypto assets. Borrow customers were usually crypto gamblers borrowing USDC (casino chips) to play the DeFi markets. You paid interest monthly, and then paid the principal in one lump sum at the end. Similar to Earn, the crypto you put up as collateral became Celsius property.
  • Custody: Celsius launched a Custody solution on April 15, 2022 — 89 days before it filed for bankruptcy, making all of those funds subject to a 90-day clawback under the bankruptcy code.

    Custody was a response to state regulators casting an acerbic eye upon Celsius’ Earn product. “New transfers made by non-accredited investors in the United States will be held in their new Custody accounts and will not earn rewards,” Celsius said. [Celsius blog post, archive]

    Custody essentially served as storage wallets. In the bankruptcy proceedings, this has led to ongoing discussion on whether Custody account holders are secured creditors who will get their money back right away … or unsecured creditors, whose funds are now part of the bankruptcy estate. Judge Martin Glenn, who is preceding over the bankruptcy, says he hopes to resolve the matter sooner rather than later.
  • Withhold: If you lived in a US state where Celsius became unable to offer serviceable Custody accounts, you had to move your Earn funds to Withhold accounts, where they remained frozen. The Withhold group accounts for $14.5 million of the $12 billion in digital assets stuck on Celsius when it stopped withdrawals in June.

The big question now in the Celsius bankruptcy is how to classify creditors: who’s first in line to get their money back, and who’s last in line? This is why, in addition to the official Unsecured Creditors’ Committee (UCC), there are currently three ad-hoc groups, all vying to get the judge’s attention. 

Celsius believes that funds held in Earn and Borrow accounts are property of the bankruptcy estate, meaning those customers will have to wait until the lawyers finish to see what’s left. But Celsius wants to return money held in specific Custody and Withhold accounts to customers now. [Motion, PDF]

Celsius argues that $50 million of the $120 million in Custody and Withhold accounts should go back to customers, if they meet one of the following criteria: [Twitter]

  • The accounts are pure Custody or pure Withhold with funds that were transferred from an external wallet — not Earn or Borrow programs.
  • In instances where the Custody and Withhold accounts do contain funds transferred from the Earn or Borrow programs, they want customers to have their money back, if the transfers were less than $7,575, a specific legal threshold under the bankruptcy code clawback provision, 11 U.S. Code § 547(c)(9). This is an adjusted amount. [Twitter; LII; LII]

Much of the discussion at the third bankruptcy hearing on Sept. 1 centered around whether custody holders should be able to get their money back. [Coindesk]

During the hearing Judge Martin Glenn also emphasized: “Nobody is getting their money back if they remain anonymous. Let me make that clear.” [Twitter]

According to new financial docs, Celsius seems to have magically found $70 million “from the repayment of USD denominated loans.” Imagine that! The company originally forecasted it would run out of money by October, but now it has more runway. [Docket #674, PDF; Coindesk]  

Last month, the Trustee called for an independent examiner and filed a motion to show cause. [Motion, PDF] Creditors — the UCC and the ad-hoc groups — are worried that an examiner will drain more of their dwindling pool of funds.

David Adler, a lawyer with the firm McCarter & English, representing four Celsius borrowers, says an examiner will cost too much money. The group thinks the job can be done with a Chapter 11 Trustee. [response, PDF]

The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation says Celsius sure looked like a Ponzi scheme and is urging the court to appoint an examiner. Vermont is concerned about Celsius’ offerings of unregistered securities. “At a minimum, Celsius has been operating its business in violation of state securities laws. That improper practice alone warrants investigation by a neutral party.” Vermont also alleges that without Celsius’s holdings of its own native CEL token, the firm has been insolvent since at least February 2019. [FT; court filing, PDF]

Celsius has agreed to the Trustee hiring an examiner — as long as the examiner does not duplicate work already done by the UCC. Celsius says they’ve reached an agreement with the Trustee on this point. [response, PDF]

The next Celsius bankruptcy hearing is set for Sept. 14. There is also a hearing scheduled for Oct. 6 to discuss the custody account holders.

Meanwhile, Celsius has announced a Celsius-themed Monopoly game! It appears to be an unlicensed knockoff — not officially endorsed by Hasbro. This seems to have been in the works since well before the bankruptcy. [Web 3 Is Going Great]

Alex Mashinsky had a favorite slogan: “Unbank Yourself.” His wife Krissy is now selling a new T-shirt: “Unbankrupt Yourself.” [Twitter]

Daniel Leon, one of the founders of Celsius, says his 32,600 shares of Celsius stock are worthless. It looks like he wants to use them as a tax write-off. [Docket 719, PDF

Voyager Digital

On Aug. 30, the US Trustee held the first 341 creditors’ meeting for Voyager, where the Trustee and the creditors got to ask CEO Steven Ehrlich questions about the bankruptcy — under oath. The Trustee is an agent of the federal government. If you lie to the Trustee, it is like lying to the FBI — a federal crime. 

(We wrote about Celsius’ 341 meeting previously.)

Listening to creditors, it’s clear that they’re upset and confused as to why their crypto, including USDC, has become part of the bankruptcy estate. They thought the money was theirs and they could have it back at any time. It didn’t help that Voyager gave users the false impression that their money was FDIC insured.

Ehrlich kept referring the distraught creditors back to the customer agreement, which many had never read, or never fully understood.

Ehrlich noted during the meeting that Voyager is still staking crypto. He said the firm had filed a motion asking the court if it’s okay to stake even more. The court has allowed Voyager to continue staking pursuant to their ordinary business practices. The UCC oversees their staking. [Docket 247, PDF]

Staking is risky!

Some staking, such as proof-of-stake staking, doesn’t risk losing the coins in that currency. Once Ethereum switches to proof-of-stake and, perhaps several months later provides a way for you to withdraw your stake, there’s little risk when your ETH staking is denominated in ETH.

But most staking activity involves first moving your liquid crypto (such as ETH) into a company’s own crypto (such as CEL or UST), which is basically a self-assembled Ponzi scheme for staking. And a lot of “staking” is just lending to a DeFi structure, which means you’re at risk even when it’s denominated in that staked crypto.

Voyager says it got multiple bids to buy the company. The deadline for bids was Sept. 6 — extended from Aug. 26 — so now it’s headed to auction. The auction will be held on Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. ET in the New York offices of Voyager’s investment bank Moelis & Co. A court hearing to approve the results is scheduled for Sept. 29. [Bloomberg; court filing, PDF]

Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX and Alameda disclosed a joint bid for Voyager in July. Voyager dismissed this as a lowball bid — but we think SBF is the one who is most interested in Voyager. Maybe they’ll up their offer in the auction?

What is there left to buy anyway? That’s what we want to know. Voyager is in much the same position as Celsius — its liabilities are real, but its assets are fake. What does FTX get if it buys Voyager?

The Georgia Department of Banking and Finance has a limited objection to the sale of Voyager. Voyager is a licensed money transmitter in the state of Georgia. If the auction is a success, the department is asking the court to stay the acquisition unless or until the new buyer is also licensed in the state as a money transmitter. We wonder how harshly that will limit the field of buyers. [limited objection, PDF

Bankruptcies are expensive. Quinn Emanuel, special counsel for Voyager, has submitted their first-month fee statement: $244,080. That’s for 196.7 hours of work. The lead lawyer ​​charges $2,130 an hour for his services. Voyager brought Quinn Emanuel on board in July to look into the possibility of insider trading at 3AC. [Doc 358, PDF; Bloomberg Law]

The next Voyager omnibus meeting is on Sept. 13 at 11 ET. The deadline for filing a proof of claims is Oct. 3. 

SkyBridge

FTX is paying an undisclosed sum for a 30% stake in Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge, and SkyBridge will buy $40 million of crypto to hold “long-term.” Scaramucci is not giving up any of his own share of SkyBridge. [Bloomberg; FT]

SkyBridge used to be a general hedge fund then went hard into crypto. “We will remain a diversified asset management firm, while investing heavily in blockchain,” says Scaramucci.

The weird part of this is that SkyBridge is already an investor in FTX and FTX US. We’re reminded of how FTX “bailed out” Voyager, then it turned out that Voyager owed FTX a bundle.

Other stuff

Three Arrows Capital (3AC) withdrew 20,945 staked ether (worth about $33.3 million) from Curve and $12 million in various assets (wrapped ETH, wrapped bitcoin, and USDT) from Convex Finance. Nobody seems to know why they withdrew the funds. [The Block]

The Algorand Foundation has admitted it had $35 million (in USDC) exposure to collapsed crypto lender Hodlnaut. [Algorand blog]

Another class action has been brought against Terraform Labs. This one was brought by Matthew Albright. He is represented by Daniel Berger of Grant & Eisenhofer. The claim alleges Terraform violated the RICO act by artificially inflating the price of their coins and publishing misleading information following UST and luna’s collapses to cover up for an $80 million money laundering scheme. “UST amounted to a Ponzi scheme that was only sustained by the demand for UST created by Anchor’s excessive yields.” The proposed class is all individuals and entities who purchased UST and luna between May 1, 2019, and June 15, 2022. [Complaint, PDF]

From May: Chancers, the Korean crypto streamer who went to Terraform CEO Do Kwon’s house. [BBC

Reggie Fowler, Bitfinex/Tether’s US money man, seeks 6-month sentencing delay

After a series of delays that have plagued his case since he was first indicted in April 2019, Reggie Fowler was supposed to be sentenced on Sept. 13. (His sentencing was originally scheduled for Aug. 30.)

This Tuesday, a Manhattan District Judge was to decide how many years the 63-year-old Fowler, who is charged with bank fraud, money laundering, and running an unlicensed money transmitting business, would spend behind bars. Likely, the rest of his life, given bank fraud alone carries a max imprisonment of 30 years. This would have meant that Fowler was enjoying his last weekend as a free man.

But on a Saturday night — three days before sentencing — Fowler’s lawyer Ed Sapone wrote to Judge Andrew Carter asking for a six-month adjournment. Sapone said that he (not his client) has been ill and still needs time to gather material relevant to the sentencing: [letter]

“I recognize that this is an unusually lengthy adjournment request. I have been suffering with a serious medical condition that is requiring invasive medical treatments. In addition, a significant amount of information and material relevant to an analysis under 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) must be obtained from financial institutions, entities, and individuals located in Europe. The requested adjournment will afford me the opportunity to gather the relevant material and prepare a sentencing submission for the Court’s consideration, while addressing my medical condition.” 

Sapone said that US prosecutors were okay with the request. 

Fowler is the ex-football guy and Arizona businessman tied to hundreds of millions of dollars of missing Tether and Bitfinex money. He is accused of setting up a network of shadow banks so crypto exchanges could skirt the traditional banking system. Fowler told the banks that the accounts were for his real estate business. He is also accused of funding a sports league with money that wasn’t his.

After fudging a plea deal that likely would have meant only spending five years in custody, Fowler was supposed to head to trial in May 2022. But in another surprising last-minute twist, he decided to enter a guilty plea and throw himself at the mercy of the court.  

My only guess as to why he did this is that trials are incredibly expensive and by this time, Fowler was down to one lawyer: Sapone. His previous legal team ditched him in 2021, saying their client owed them $600,000 and had been stringing them along for months with promises of “the check’s in the mail.”

I’ll be curious to hear what Judge Carter says, but given the government has no objection to Sapone’s request for adjournment, I suspect he will say, “sure whatever.” Fowler is currently living in Chandler, Arizona, free on bail

Update: Judge Andrew Carter has approved the motion. Reggie Fowler’s sentencing hearing has been adjourned until March 14, 2023, at 12 p.m. ET. [Order]

Crypto collapse: Celsius sues KeyFi, BlockFi’s FTX deal, Scaramucci’s SkyBridge, Voyager suit, 3AC going to jail?

David Gerard and I posted our latest episode of “Everything is going to hell in a handbasket.” This one is on David’s blog! [David Gerard]

In this update:

  • Celsius strikes back — Mashinsky is countersuing Jason Stone and KeyFi. This is what happens when two crypto firms do business on a handshake. (They don’t need a lawyer until they need lots of lawyers!)
  • How FTX saved BlockFi from being as utterly screwed as everyone else.
  • SkyBridge Capital — you can’t withdraw your money, but that’s okay because Anthony Scaramucci is coming out with a new fund!
  • Voyager pays the boys a little less than planned. Its KERP goes through but with smaller bonuses.
  • 3AC accuses Teneo of misleading the High Court of Singapore as to its corporate structure.
  • A bunch of crypto exchanges are treading water and/or closing their doors.
  • The crypto crash is a slow-motion train wreck. We keep writing about it, but what happens next? 

Crypto collapse: 3AC yacht ‘Much Wow’ back on the market, Celsius maybe-Ponzi, Voyager pays off the boys, Hodlnaut

“Crypto sceptics are a bit like the boy who cried wolf, except a villager gets eaten every damn time and the rest of them are still going ‘why did you cry wolf, FUDster?'”

— GunterWatanabe

Toot toot, I’m a boat

Everyone trusted Zhu Su and Kyle Davies at Three Arrows Capital (3AC). They knew what they were doing, right?

Only now, the pair have disappeared — and their fabulous yacht is back on the market. “The unclaimed yacht looms as a slightly ridiculous avatar of the hubris, greed, and recklessness of the firm’s 35-year-old co-founders.” [Intelligencer

Here’s the 3AC yacht in all its glory: the Much Wow. Yes, Zhu was into Dogecoin too. [Much Wow; Boat International, archive]

3AC talked like competent hedge fund guys — which straight away made them look a zillion times smarter than the rest of the crypto bros. But they weren’t good at this at all. They had no clue on how to hedge their bets. The 2021 crypto bubble saved 3AC’s backside — they could keep looking like geniuses a little longer.

3AC used a “spray and pay” strategy: invest in a whole pile of trashy minor altcoins, and hope for a return.

On May 26, 2022 — by which time 3AC had likely already abandoned their Singapore office and skipped the country — Davies tweeted that “it doesn’t matter specifically what a VC invests in, more fiat in the system is good for the industry.” This is correct, if you view crypto as a single unified scam casino. [Twitter]

Articles about the wider crypto collapse talk about 3AC a lot. This gives the impression that 3AC is fundamentally to blame.

3AC deserves a lot of the blame because they were greedy and stupid. But everyone else was also greedy and stupid. 

Terraform’s Anchor protocol paid 20% interest rates — the highest available. 3AC offered the next-highest interest rates available, by putting the money into UST/luna and skimming some off the top.

So everyone else put their money into Anchor and 3AC. Many of these were feeder funds, who skimmed a bit off the top themselves.

You can picture the crypto investment market as an inverted pyramid, where the point is UST/luna — a Ponzi box full of hot air. 3AC was the box above that. Everyone else is in a funnel down to those two. The bottom two Ponzi boxes collapsed, and the whole inverted pyramid came tumbling down with them.

Terraform was running the load-bearing Ponzi box; we put most of the blame on Do Kwon. But we also blame Terraform’s enablers — the rest of the crypto investment firms.

There’s a lot to blame 3AC for — the way that Zhu and Davies just kept going “this is fine” even as they knew it was going to hell. They were greedy fools.

But anyone who put their money into 3AC was also a greedy fool.

Voyage to the bottom of the sea

Voyager Digital’s official unsecured creditors’ committee (UCC) held a town hall on August 11. The meeting was led by UCC counsel Darren Azman and Chuck Gibbs at McDermott Will & Emery. Amy wrote up some notes. [YouTube; presentation]

Azman says: if you want to buy Voyager, hurry! The deadline to submit bids is August 26. Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX has already submitted a bid. It may have been a low-ball bid, but SBF’s Alameda Research is a borrower from, lender to, and shareholder of Voyager. We expect FTX will want Voyager the most — if anyone really wants it at all. 

Azman and Gibbs say that Voyager is aiming to file a restructuring plan in October — and that creditors might get their money back as soon as November! What money there is, anyway.

This time frame would be welcome, but isn’t plausible — Mt. Gox (2014) and QuadrigaCX (2019) creditors are still waiting for their money years later.

Meanwhile, the boys gotta get paid. Voyager wants $1.9 million to pay bonuses to 38 employees as part of a “Key Employee Retention Plan.” (KERP). In a bankruptcy, KERP is a way to incentivize upper management to keep working throughout the bankruptcy — and not flee the sinking ship.

Voyager is also seeking to file under seal all pertinent information about KERP participants — their names, job titles, supervisors, salary, and proposed bonus. These folks are definitely not insiders, and Voyager can’t give you their names — but trust them.

When your ship is sinking, the last thing you want is people leaving with all your deep, dark secrets. Keep them happy — and quiet. 

The US Trustee objects to the sealing: “The payment of bonuses, let alone bonuses in such a significant sum to such a limited number of individuals under the circumstances that brought Voyager to this Court, should not be countenanced.” 

The UCC also objects — of Voyager’s 350 employees filed, only 12 have resigned so far. Nobody’s leaving. In fact, nobody’s been asked to leave.

Creditors are pissed that Voyager hasn’t bothered to reduce employee headcount at all, given the platform has been frozen since July 1. What are the employees doing, other than collecting paychecks? [motion, PDF; objection, PDF; objection, PDF; Coindesk]

Just days before Bernie Madoff was formally charged by the SEC, he wanted to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in early bonuses to employees. We’re sure he was just being nice to them too. [National Post, 2008]

Celsius: When you’re in a hole, keep mining

Celsius submitted their Budget and Coin Report, reflecting the funds they were holding as of July 29. (They filed for bankruptcy on July 13.) The company plans to file similar reporting on a monthly basis throughout their bankruptcy. [Notice of filing and coin report, PDF

The report shows just how much money Celsius wants to set on fire. Over a three-month period from August through October, Celsius is allocating $14 million to payroll, $57.3 million to mining, and $33 million to restructuring costs. By the end of October, they’ll be operating hugely in the red.

Those negative numbers were the elephant in the room during Celsius’ second-day hearing on August 16. Amy summarized this hearing previously. Here’s the slide deck that Celsius lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis presented. [presentation, PDF]

Celsius has this mad idea that they can crypto-mine their way out of bankruptcy. First, they plowed customers’ money into stunningly risky investments. [Twitter thread] Now they want to feed the remaining customer funds into their money-gobbling bitcoin mining operation.

Celsius sought approval from the court to sell their mined bitcoin — so they could use the proceeds to fund Capex for their Texas mining operation. 

The US Trustee’s attorney, Shara Cornell, objected on the grounds that Celsius wasn’t being transparent about what bitcoin it planned to sell, or how much the mining business was expected to generate.

Despite those objections, Judge Martin Glenn approved the motion — though he had reservations: “At bottom, this is a business judgment decision that may turn out to be very wrong, but we will see.”

We think he should have had stronger reservations. Celsius says its mining will be profitable in January, but the numbers don’t add up. 

Celsius expects to generate 10,118 BTC this year and 15,000 BTC next year. Last year, they only mined 3,114 BTC, according to filings. The company has paid for 120,000 rigs, of which 49,000 are in operation.

Even if Celsius mines and sells 1,000 BTC per month, that’s only $2 million when their hosting costs are $19 million per month, with only half the rigs operational. This business simply isn’t viable. It’s just an attempt by Celsius CEO Alex Mashinsky to postpone his company’s liquidation.

Well, that was a huge arithmetic error. Sorry about that. We blame the intern. (i.e.,ourselves.)

A question of trust

Celsius also wanted to sell some de minimis assets. These turned out to be notes/bonds and equity in other crypto companies — but Celsius hadn’t bothered to mention that bit.

Cornell from the US Trustee said, “The motion makes it sound like the debtor is selling office furniture.” Judge Glenn said he had “no inkling the debtor was proposing to sell millions of dollars of equity or notes/investments in other crypto businesses.” He did not approve the motion.

US Trustee William Harrington has had enough of Mashinsky messing around. Days after the hearing, Harrington filed a motion requesting the court appoint an examiner to investigate what’s really going on inside Celsius and present their findings to the court. [motion, PDF

As grounds for hiring an examiner, the Trustee lists allegations of incompetence or gross mismanagement — including the offering of unregistered securities — significant transparency issues, and widespread mistrust in the debtors. 

Under US bankruptcy laws, an examiner can be appointed in any bankruptcy case if someone requests it and the court finds the company’s debts exceed $5 million. We have no doubt Judge Glenn will approve the request.

The language in the motion suggests that Mashinsky can’t be trusted. (We concur.) Among other things, it points out that Celsius owes $20 million in back taxes. Unpaid taxes are senior debt. The IRS gets first dibs on the remaining assets before the unsecured creditors.

The Celsius UCC is “concerned” about the Trustee hiring an examiner because “It will run up millions in costs.” [Twitter

We know for sure that it’ll be costly — the examiner in Lehman Brothers’ 2008 bankruptcy cost $100 million, up from a projected cost of only $23 million. The examiner for Enron was $90 million. So our guess is the examiner will probably cost creditors $25 million, if not more. 

The seven-member UCC feels it can conduct its own investigation and doesn’t need an examiner. The problem there is that the UCC is selected from a list of the largest Celsius creditors. These people represent companies that have a vested interest in the crypto space succeeding. They are not in any way neutral.

The P-word

A “341 meeting” was held on August 19 — a creditors’ meeting, named after section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code, where the debtor answers questions about their financial status under oath.[LII]

At the 341 meeting, Celsius CFO Chris Ferraro admitted that Celsius was paying old investors rather more money in rewards than they were actually getting in yield.

“In hindsight, we did not generate enough yield to support the return,” says Ferraro. He confirms Celsius was paying “over 100%” at times — 120% to 130% of the actual yield. There’s no transcript, but Kadhim Shubber from the Financial Times and Thomas Braziel from 507 Capital live-tweeted the call. [Twitter; Twitter]

If Celsius was paying this excess yield from incoming investor money … then that’s literally a Ponzi scheme. (A lawsuit filed against Celsius on July 7, also claimed Celsius was operated as a Ponzi.)

Ferraro said, “I don’t think it was that connected” — but he didn’t answer where else the money could have been coming from. It was just “hyper-growth mode,” see. [Twitter; Twitter]

A question of competence

Mashinsky is a good salesman — but he’s not so great at any other part of the job. In January, Mashinsky ordered Celsius’ in-house investment team to sell bitcoin worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A day later, Celsius had to repurchase it all at a loss. “He was ordering the traders to massively trade the book off of bad information,” said one of the traders. “He was slugging around huge chunks of bitcoin.” [FT, archive

Mashinsky is selling his $2.5 million home in Austin, Texas. He bought it only a year ago. [Twitter]

Canadian pension fund CDPQ has written off its CA $200 million investment in Celsius. “We arrived too soon in a sector which was in transition.” Whoever authorized the investment definitely wasn’t a foolish and greedy investor in a bubble, who didn’t look into the already-insolvent company at all. [La Presse, in French]

Elsewhere amongst the wreckage 

Last week, we talked about Coinbase’s horrific $1.2 billion Q2 loss. Frances Coppola took a deeper dive into the company’s 10-Q. She explains why Coinbase’s balance sheet has massively inflated. [Coppola Comment]

Genesis Trading CEO Michael Moro has quit, effective immediately — definitely a thing that happens all the time in healthy companies where things are going well. Moro “will continue to advise the company through the transition.” Genesis is also laying off 20% of its staff. The company had lent $2.36 billion to 3AC, and Genesis’ parent company DCG has made a claim against 3AC for $1.2 billion. [press release; The Block]

BlueBenx, a Brazilian crypto lending platform, has bitten the dust following a $32 million hack — or, its users think, a “hack.” Withdrawals have been halted, and employees have been laid off. [CoinTelegraph]

Hodlnaut has applied for creditor protection in Singapore. This is the equivalent of Chapter 11 in the US. They’re insolvent. [Hodlnaut announcement, archive; CoinDesk

In court filings, Hodlnaut formally admitted that they had lost money in the Terra-Luna crash via their Hong Kong entity. Hodlnaut had previously told customers they had no Anchor exposure. We knew they had, and wrote about it in our previous update. [Twitter; CryptoBriefing]

All deposits are part of the bankruptcy estate. If Hodlnaut is liquidated, even stablecoin depositors will only get a fraction of what they had on account at the company.

Hodlnaut is now facing a probe from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Singapore Police Force — “pending proceedings,” though they didn’t give any other details. About 40 out of the 50 employees the company had have been laid off. [Straits Times

Celsius second bankruptcy hearing — court approves setting more customer funds on fire

On August 14, Celsius filed a Budget and Coin Report, which put into full view the ongoing train wreck. The company is burning through piles of “cash,” while creditors watch in horror as their remaining hopes of recovering lost money go up in smoke before their eyes. [Docket 447

To generate 18% returns on its Earn product, Celsius dived head-first into some stunningly risky “investments” and lost $1.2 billion in customer funds, at least. The company filed for Chapter 11 on July 13. 

Now, Celsius founder Alex Mashinsky wants creditors to put their faith into another reckless gamble. The company is shifting its entire business model from crypto lending to bitcoin mining — with ludicrous plans to mine its way out of bankruptcy. 

Over a three-month period from August through October, Celsius is allocating $14 million to payroll, $57.3 million to mining,* and $33 million to restructuring costs. By the end of October, Celsius will be operating hugely in the red.

Bitcoin mining is a money-losing proposition, as David Gerard and I detailed in an earlier report. Celsius’ mining business, headquartered in Texas, is currently burning through $19 million of customer money per month. In July, they only mined 432 BTC, worth $8.6 million!

Celsius argues this is because its facilities aren’t fully operational yet — but the facilities will be fully operational if the court will allow them to keep throwing more money into the flames.

All Celsius and its lawyers need to do is to convince creditors — and the judge — that the business will be profitable one day in the fabulous future.    

On August 16, two days after filing its budget report, Celsius had its second-day bankruptcy hearing. The judge ultimately signed off on a motion allowing Celsius to sell mined bitcoin to fund its mining operations but withheld approving a motion authorizing the debtor to sell stocks and shares due to Celsius obfuscating what they were really selling. 

What follows are my notes and comments on the hearing. 

Second-Day Hearing

Judge Martin Glenn began the two-hour hearing by noting that the court has received hundreds of letters from Celsius customers. The letters are all being filed in the docket. “Some have raised important issues that will have to be addressed in this case,” he said.

Molly White has been pulling out excerpts of these letters, and they are indeed heart-wrenching. These are real people, some of whom have lost their life savings because they believed the promises of Celsius founder Alex Mashinsky. [Molly White]

Celsius’s lead lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, Josh Sussberg, was the first to present at the hearing. Before delving into a nine-page PowerPoint, he took a moment to rant about the “relentless” and “inaccurate” media coverage surrounding the bankruptcy. Sussberg said he’s told Celsius “to take the repeated punches,” and not respond. [Celsius presentation]

Sussberg has clearly been in close talks with Mashinsky, who has a pattern of deflecting blame. When Celsius initially filed for bankruptcy, Mashinsky pinned his company’s failure on “misinformation” in the media and on social media for encouraging customers to withdraw $1 billion in funds over five days in May. Mashinsky’s new message is that the banks are lying, the media is lying, but you can trust me with your money, even though I just lost it all.  

Sussberg noted the elephant in the room: everyone knows that Celsius will run out of money by the end of October. He said that Celsius is working to expedite a restructuring plan that will lead to the company being liquid.  

Celsius is also trying to sell its business and its digital assets to a third party. “We have multiple offers outstanding with several more coming in,” said Sussberg. 

In addition to the official unsecured creditors’ committee, two ad-hoc creditors’ groups have formed. One is for custodial holders, represented by Togut, Segal & Segal. They have $180 million in claims. The other, represented by Troutman Pepper, is for withhold account holders. These were customers in states where Celsius was not licensed. When they tried to withdraw funds, the money went into holding accounts. They represent $14.5 million in claims. Kirkland has been in talks with both groups, Sussberg said. 

Celsius is not seeking to dollarize claims on the petition date. Instead, it wants to return crypto. In other words, Celsius is counting on the markets to rebound — i.e., bitcoin will moon again and everyone’s problems will be solved.  

Interestingly, the creditors also do not want to dollarize claims. Greg Pesce at White & Case, the lead lawyer for the creditors’ committee, said that they too want an in-kind recovery of coins. 

Pesce said the committee has begun its own investigation into Celsius in the hopes of recovering more money for creditors, as they believe they are the only ones able to fight for the customers’ interests. Their search will take them “across the globe, across the country, and across the blockchain.”  

In addition to the possibility of identifying potential insider trading, Pesce seems to be alluding to the Tether loan. Tether loaned Celsius $840 million in USDT backed by bitcoin, and then sold the bitcoin Celsius loaned as collateral just before Celsius filed for bankruptcy. Any attempts to retrieve that bitcoin will be a sideshow in and of itself.

Judge Glenn notes that Celsius’ Earn product attracted lots of government investigations into whether Celsius was selling unregistered securities. The Securities and Exchange Commission has been looking into Celsius since January. Celsius had already been thrown out of Alabama, New Jersey, Texas, and Kentucky for unregistered offerings of securities.

“Since the debtor business model was so heavily dependent on the so-called Earn accounts, and given the number of securities regulator investigations as to whether the debtors were engaged in the sale of unregistered securities, what is the business model going forward?” 

“That’s the $64,000 question,” Pesce responded.

Celsius had 1.7 million customers at the time it filed its petition. About 58,000 held crypto in Celsius’ custody accounts — they might get their crypto back first depending on whether they are deemed secured or unsecured creditors. 

Judge Glenn wants to resolve the custodial accounts sooner rather than later. But Celsius didn’t set up its custodial business until April 2022, and he wants to make sure custodial accounts weren’t a vehicle for insider trading: 

“I am certainly going to want to know whether there are insiders and employees with custodial accounts and whether any of them were able to transfer crypto assets from other accounts into the custodial accounts — and what did they know at the time they made the transfer? Were they contemplating that the business was trending negative and the best way for them to individually protect the value of their accounts was to try and transfer assets into custodial accounts?”

Judge Glenn previously ordered all versions of Celsius’ terms of service going back to 2018. He wanted to trace through all of the changes made over time to determine what is and what isn’t the property of the bankruptcy estate. “Little did I know there were going to be 1,100 pages of them,” he said.   

Bitcoin sell motion

After the presentations, the hearing moved on to the motions.  

Celsius wants to sell bitcoin generated by its mining business and use the cash to fund its mining operations. “We are still in the capital-intensive part of the business and also, importantly, we don’t have all of the mining rigs,” said Sussberg.  

US Trustee attorney Shara Cornell said the Trustee needs more information to form an opinion on the matter: “As of today, we still do not know what expenses are being paid or what bitcoin is being sold,” she said. “We know what the debtors expect to generate but we have no idea what it is going to cost to generate any of that.” 

Cornell said that the Trustee is considering hiring an examiner to address Celsius’ rampant transparency issues. She noted that Celsius said it planned to file a long-term mining plan. “Maybe what we need to do is put this motion on hold until we have more information.”

(Update: Just after I published this story, the Trustee entered a motion for the appointment of an examiner. This is a big deal!)

Surprisingly, Pesce said the creditors’ committee has not made a decision on the mining. Frankly. I was sort of expecting the creditors to push for a liquidation.  

Not all Celsius customers support the idea. 

If they raised a virtual hand during the Zoom hearing, creditors were allowed to speak. One creditor said: “We didn’t sign up to be part of the mining business. We signed up to be part of an exchange. As a fellow miner, I don’t see it being very profitable in the long run.” 

Judge Glenn approved a motion to allow Celsius to sell bitcoin generated from its mining business, but he clearly had reservations: “At bottom, this is a business judgment decision that may turn out to be very wrong, but we will see.” [Order 187]

Not so ‘de minimis’ after all

Celsius wants to sell assets that they claim are “de minimis” and “non-core” to the business to bring in more cash for operating expenses. It turns out these are notes/bonds and equity in other crypto companies, but Celsius never bothered to tell anyone. 

De minimus means too small to be taken into consideration. Debtors can sell assets free and clear of liens. But sales of bankruptcy estate property must be approved by the bankruptcy court.  

Prior to the hearing, the Trustee had objected to the motion, saying the debtor hadn’t provided enough information for the Trustee to evaluate the motion. [Docket 400]

Trustee attorney Shara Cornell told Judge Glenn: “The motion makes it sound like the debtor is selling office furniture or similar hard-type assets that they no longer need. One of our questions in objection had to do with whether or not that might be mining equipment. But what they are actually looking to sell are equities and stocks. And that, in our opinion, is not a de minimis.” 

Judge: “Did you find out what stock they were talking about?” Cornell: “No.” 

Judge Glenn declined to approve the de minimis sales motion and told Celsius to work it out further with the Trustee. Even he was surprised. 

“Certainly I had no inkling the debtor was proposing to sell millions of dollars of equity or notes/investments in other crypto businesses. Those were not what I would normally consider to be de minimis assets, so I want some better definition.”  

Celsius’ business model going forward is all predicated on number go up and making sure the boys get paid. I’m not sure how long this will drag on before the “restructuring” turns into a liquidation, and Celsius management is booted. Likely not before Celsius burns through the rest of their customers’ funds, pays as many of their friends as possible, and the bankruptcy attorneys make their millions. 

The next Celsius hearing is September 1. 

*Celsius calls running mining rigs “hosting.” 

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Bankrupt Voyager Digital’s search for a buyer — notes from the first committee town hall

If you are interested in Voyager Digital’s Chapter 11 proceedings, the official creditors’ committee town hall held on August 11 is a good one to watch. [YouTube, presentation]

The session was put on by committee lawyers Darren Azman, Chuck Gibbs, and Gregg Steinman; the committee’s financial advisor Michael Cordasco; and Jason Raznick, CEO of trading news site Benzinga, who is the chair of the creditors’ committee. 

Azman and Gibbs, both partners at McDermott Will & Emery, did most of the talking. 

The group outlined the bankruptcy process and offered a (very aggressive, perhaps overly optimistic) timeline for how things could pan out. What follows are a few notes I pulled from the meeting. Read through the entire creditor presentation for more. 

Seeking bids for a buyout

Voyager is soliciting bids from companies to acquire its assets. The creditors’ committee is actively involved in the process. A lot of conversations are happening behind the scenes. Formal bids are due on August 26; an auction will occur on August 29.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX offered a bid earlier, but the creditors’ committee pooh-poohed the bid. 

“I can tell you that FTX is not the only interested party. The company has received several indications of interest,” said Azman. He added that FTX’s offer was the lowest bid.

By the end of August, he said they should have a good idea of who the winning bidder is and the terms of the sale. 

Bankman-Fried’s FTX and Alameda Research have deep ties to Voyager and its bankruptcy wipeout, stretching back to mid-2021. In the Voyager bankruptcy, Alameda is a borrower, a lender, and a shareholder, so I expect FTX is going to have the strongest interest in purchasing Voyager.

A plan of reorganization

The conclusion of Chapter 11 ends with the confirmation of a plan, which could result in a reorganization — or a liquidation. Voyager has 120 days to come up with a plan, and creditors get to vote on whether to accept a plan.   

But before Voyager can put forth a plan for a vote, the company has to file a written disclosure statement, which the court then has to approve.

The disclosure statement is similar to a securities prospectus. It will contain detailed information about the debtor’s financial affairs, how it got into the mess in the first place, a description of its assets, and a description of claims and liabilities and how those claims will be handled. 

The disclosure statement will have a plan of reorganization attached to it, but the two are separate documents.

After Voyager files its disclosure statement, the court will hold a hearing to decide if the statement has adequate information. The plan must be feasible, meaning that after the plan is confirmed, it will not be followed by a plan to liquidate the company under Chapter 7. 

McDermott Will & Emery expect confirmation of a plan by the end of October and distribution of funds sometime in November. 

This is extremely optimistic! Large bankruptcy proceedings generally take years. In the case of QuadrigaCX, which went dark in early 2019, the creditors are still waiting for disbursement as everything is tied up with the Canada Revenue Agency, which insisted on doing its own audit. Similarly, Mt Gox fell apart in early 2014, and its creditors are also still waiting for their money. 

Voyager’s financials 

As of June 30, Voyager has total assets worth USD $1.26 billion:

  • Operating cash: $140 million  
  • Loan portfolio: $470 million 
  • Various crypto holdings: $655 million  

It has total claims so far of $1.8 billion, leaving a hole in its balance sheet of $550 million. 

These numbers do not include the $270 million in cash held in Metropolitan Commercial Bank’s FBO accounts. The numbers also don’t include the $650 million loan to Three Arrows Capital, which 3AC defaulted on. 

Voyager will need to dip into its operating cash to pay its employees and cover benefits and severance pay. Also, bankruptcies are expensive. As David Gerard and I mentioned in a recent crypto crash update, administrative costs could easily end up being $100 million or more. 

(You can read more about Voyager’s mess here.)

A possible interim distribution? 

The creditors’ committee is pursuing an interim distribution. This is rare and unusual, the lawyers explained in the town hall, and only Voyager can put the motion in front of the judge. 

Azman: “We have had productive conversations with Voyager about making an interim distribution and ultimately we are hopeful they will do so.” 

He says there is no guarantee that it will happen or that it will happen any faster than the plan approval.

I seriously doubt that it will happen at all, but we’ll see. 

Insider investigations

Before Voyager filed for bankruptcy, it formed a special committee of certain directors, Azman explained. Part of the special committee’s mandate is to investigate certain actions of insiders (directors and affiliates of Voyager) “with a particular focus on the loan that Voyager made to Three Arrows Capital.”

The special committee retained a separate law firm to handle the investigation. Ultimately, the special committee will produce a report that presents their views on whether insiders are liable for any wrongdoing. 

“It should not surprise any of you to hear that we, the creditors’ committee, believe preliminarily that there are a number of people and companies that may be liable for wrongdoing and should and will be held accountable,” said Azman. “Thus we are conducting our own investigation of insiders and their potential wrongdoing.” 

If the Voyager special committee concludes there are no claims against insiders then Voyager will seek to release those insiders from all liability under their Chapter 11 claim, he warned.

Azman went on to explain that if Voyager succeeds in doing that, the creditors’ committee will not be able to pursue claims that the company has against those insiders. 

“If the creditors’ committee disagrees with the special committee’s conclusions, we will recommend to creditors that they vote to reject any plan that attempts to release insiders so that they do not receive releases. And second, we will reject the confirmation of the plan on the grounds that the releases are improper.” 

Azman and Gibbs say they’ll be putting on more town halls in the near future to keep Voyager creditors updated on the case. 

Claims are due October 3 and McDermott Will & Emery are posting key documents on their website.

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Crypto collapse: Coinbase’s billion-dollar bloodbath, Hodlnaut goes down, Celsius, Voyager, 3AC

It’s time for another episode of “all the money’s gone.” David and I are taking turns posting. This one is on his blog. [David Gerard]

In this episode, we cover:

  • Coinbase’s disastrous Q2 financials.  
  • Hodlnaut’s brave attempt to stay afloat before going under. 
  • More legal wrangling in the Celsius and Voyager bankruptcies.
  • Tether — a secured or unsecured Celsius creditor?
  • Other innocent victims of the CeFi fallout.

If you like our work, please do sign up for our Patreons — here’s Amy’s and here’s David’s.

Bitcoin mining in the crypto crash — the mining companies’ creative accounting

  • By Amy Castor and David Gerard
  • If you like our work, please do sign up for our Patreons — here’s Amy’s, and here’s David’s.

Bitcoin mining is a highly lucrative business as long as the price of bitcoin keeps going up — and as long as investors believe it will keep going up.

When the price crashes — and the price of bitcoin has halved since the start of the year — crypto miners face margin calls, they have to dump their bitcoins, and reality comes knocking.  

In this post, we outline some of the biggest problems facing North American bitcoin miners:

  • Miners are nothing like as profitable as they report to the public stock markets that they are.
  • Miners don’t want to sell their freshly mined bitcoins, as this would risk crashing the price of bitcoin — so instead, they borrow against the bitcoins, and against their rigs, too!  
  • This business model only works if number goes up forever.
  • Number doesn’t go up forever.

During the bitcoin bubble of 2021, miners wanted to lure in naïve investors from the capital markets who thought that crypto mining companies were a great way to get exposure to bitcoin — without the risk of actually touching a bitcoin. The miners would hold their bitcoins, subsidize their business with debt, and you could just buy their stock!

So the bitcoin miners promoted themselves as enthusiastic bitcoin “to the moon” boys — in the hope of luring in other prospective moon boys. Buy now and watch your profits soar! Number can’t go down!

The cunning plan

Bitcoin miners used to be ruthless economic agents, in it for the money. They knew how volatile crypto was, so they sold their coins as soon as they mined them to cover power bills and other business expenses.

As some point, miners’ business model changed from selling bitcoin to holding bitcoin — and borrowing against it.

This model doesn’t make any sense unless you first assume that the number will never go down, and that the bitcoin bubble will never burst — even though bubbles always burst. 

The change started in mid-2021 when bitcoin miners were kicked out of China. Most eventually settled in the US and Canada — because these countries had the world’s next-cheapest reliable electricity. 

The US is now the world’s largest bitcoin mining hub, making up about 37% of the global hash rate. [CBECI]

North American miners filed to become publicly-traded companies. Marathon Digital Holdings (MARA) and Riot Blockchain (RIOT) were the first to be listed on Nasdaq. Other miners soon followed. [Investopedia; Compass Mining]

Going public gave the miners access to the mainstream capital markets, investors, and new lines of credit — way more financial resources than they’d ever had before.

The miners marketed themselves to capital markets as massive bitcoin enthusiasts. Get in, this is the magical future! Here’s Whit Gibbs from Compass Mining in January 2022: [CoinDesk]

“With ample access to funding and investors pouring in money, miners didn’t have to sell their bitcoin to fund operational costs, said Compass Mining’s CEO Whit Gibbs. ‘And since miners are incredibly bullish on bitcoin, this allows them to do what they want to do naturally, which is to speculate on bitcoin’s positive price appreciation,’ he added.”

Miners spent mid-2021 onward racking up debt to finance the construction of facilities, buy mining equipment, and pay their executives enormous salaries.

The companies’ operating expenses were paid for by borrowing against their freshly-mined bitcoins. Some loans even used mining rigs as the collateral.

The miners also did accounting tricks, such as depreciating mining rigs over five years — and not the 15 months they should have — to make the companies look like better investments. Meanwhile, their executives were paid well beyond the carrying capacity of the companies.

In 2021, outgoing Marathon CEO Merrick Okamoto earned a shocking $220 million — although most of that was awarded in stock. Riot Blockchain’s top five execs collectively were paid $90 million the same year with a net loss. [SEC; SEC] ​​

Riot Blockchain failed its say-on-pay shareholder vote on executive compensation for 2021. It’s an advisory vote that the company doesn’t have to act on — but it’s an embarrassing thing to have to admit publicly to failing. Thankfully, coiners have no capacity for embarrassment. [SEC]

Bitcoins sold by publicly traded mining companies, January to May 2022. [graph]

Bitcoin loans

While the price of bitcoin was going up through 2021, mining saw profit margins as high as 90%. Bitcoin hit $64,000 in April 2021 and $69,000 in November 2021. [Bloomberg, archive]

Margins on mining were especially good in 2021 because the supply of state-of-the art mining rigs was constrained due to the worldwide chip shortage. If everyone could get rigs, the margins would go away. 

But by 2022, when bitcoin lost 70% of its price from its November high, it was a different story.

Miners need actual money to pay their operating expenses. Energy can account for as much as 90-95% of a miner’s overheads. Power companies don’t take bitcoins or tethers. But the crypto trading system was running low on naïve retail suckers to supply fresh dollars. [Reuters

So the miners needed to do their part in propping up the price of bitcoin. Their solution was to avoid selling their bitcoins, and instead to hold them and use them as collateral against low-interest loans. 

Marathon had started the fashion of borrowing against mined bitcoins as early as October 2020 — and the other mining companies soon followed the same plan.

Mainstream financial institutions didn’t really get into lending to bitcoin miners. The main lenders to miners were their fellow crypto companies: Galaxy Digital, NYDIG, BlockFi, Foundry Networks, Silvergate Bank [SEC], Celsius Network, and Babel Finance. (Note that Celsius is bankrupt, and Babel has suspended withdrawals.)

In fact, Marathon just entered a new $100 million revolving loan with Silvergate to add to their existing $100 million line of credit from Silvergate. This is while Marathon has thousands of mining rigs lying idle, waiting on a deal for cheap electricity. [SEC; CoinDesk]

Bitcoin miners are also trying to hedge against the downturn by betting against the bitcoin price going back up. Marathon has been selling call options at, say, $50,000. If bitcoin doesn’t hit this price, those options expire worthless. [Bloomberg]

Miners did deals with politicians and the power industry to get cheap electricity in Texas, as low as 2.5c/kWh — the sort of prices that miners were paying in China. [Bloomberg; press release]

But the Texas grid is notoriously unreliable — and can’t fall back on the other two continental US national grids. With 2022’s summer heat, electricity usage went up significantly, and ERCOT has told miners to switch off from time to time. [Bloomberg; Washington Post; The Verge]

Some miners, such as Riot, made money from credits for not using power in this time. [press release]

Margin calls

Borrowed money, one day, needs to be paid back. When the collateral dropped in value, miners’ loans got margin-called. They had to dump some of their vast holdings.

Miners started dumping big time in June 2022, some selling all their mined bitcoins and some of their “stockpile.” Bitfarms dumped 3,000 coins — half its stockpile — in mid-June. A month later, miners collectively sold 14,000 bitcoins, with a face value of roughly $300 million, in a single 24-hour period — when the CeFi crash was in full swing. [Reuters; Bloomberg; Cryptoslate]

Compass Mining — which sells people mining machines that are then hosted in third-party facilities — posted a list of publicly-listed miners in North America who were selling off their stashes. [Compass Mining

Arcane Research’s Jaran Mellerud analyzed the cash flows and balance sheets of public miners. Marathon was the weakest: “Marathon has 6.2 times higher remaining machine payments in 2022 than their accumulated current operating cash flow accumulated out the year. This will drain them of liquidity.” He thinks Marathon will be forced to sell off their bitcoin stockpile as well. [Tweet thread; Arcane report]

Some loans even used mining hardware as collateral. But mining rigs are even worse collateral than bitcoins. The price of mining rigs on the second-hand market is extremely sensitive to the price of bitcoin — and those loans are now undercollateralized.

As of June 2022, almost $4 billion in loans to bitcoin miners are coming under stress, posing a risk to crypto lenders, as many of the rigs posed as collateral have halved in value. [Bloomberg, archive]

Miners still hold huge piles of unsaleable bitcoins. CryptoQuant says that miners’ holdings have been increasing. As of July 2022, miners held 1,856,000 BTC. [CoinTelegraph]

Mining accounting

Bitcoin miners are not as profitable as they’ve been reporting.

Paul Butler points out that bitcoin mining companies are using questionable accounting methods. [blog post]

When you buy capital equipment with a lifetime longer than your financial year, you can allocate the cost of the purchase over its expected useful lifetime, rather than all in one hit. This is called depreciation.

Publicly-traded mining companies typically depreciate their assets over five years — but the equipment is good for about fourteen to fifteen months, and it’s most profitable in its first nine months. Bitcoin miners play on their “success” in the early years to raise capital to buy additional mining rigs.

The excessively long depreciation on mining rigs is a way to hide that the miners’ real costs are much higher than they’re reporting. The miners are not putting away money for future equipment. This is as well as overpaying their executives. 

Cost of mining versus cost of bitcoin [Bloomberg]

Tick … tock. Next block?

In a bubble, you can sell mined bitcoins for far more than the cost of the electricity to play Extreme Bingo trying to guess a winning hash.

You can even run old mining rigs that might otherwise be scrapped. Old rigs might spend $30,000 to mine a bitcoin — but that’s fine if you can then sell that bitcoin for $40,000.

So what happens when the bitcoin price drops too low for mining to be profitable?

We’re seeing this now. Miners are taking inefficient hardware offline, causing visible drops in the hash rate charts since May 2022. In November 2018, the price of bitcoin dropped below $3,800 and a lot of miners threw out all their old equipment. The hash rate dipped noticeably.

The real trouble starts when bitcoin falls below $15,000. (As we write this, bitcoin is around $23,000.) Break-even for the most efficient machines is somewhere between $9,000 and $11,000, based on an electricity cost of 5c/kWh. In June 2022, JPMorgan put the cost of mining at $13,000 per bitcoin. [Bloomberg]

If the price drops too low, will the bitcoin blockchain stop ticking along? Probably not — bitcoin really doesn’t need much mining to keep running.

There was a slowdown on the bitcoin (BTC) blockchain in late 2017, when bitcoin cash (BCH) — a fork of not just the bitcoin software, but also its full transaction history — was trying to compete to become the official version of bitcoin. Large miners such as Bitmain switched a large proportion of their mining pools to the BCH chain.

The BTC chain took an hour between blocks at times in November 2017 — about 15% of the previous hash power.

Hardly anyone noticed — they were too busy having fun on the exchanges, which is where the action was in the 2017 bubble. Nobody really cares about the blockchain itself.

Bitcoin mining is green, actually

LOL, no it isn’t.

Proof-of-work mining has long been cryptocurrency’s biggest public relations battle, especially since Elon Musk — formerly the avatar of energy transition — bought bitcoins for Tesla in February 2021.

The general public thinks of crypto as nerd money for nerds to rip each other off. But when the public hear about proof-of-work crypto mining, and how it consumes an entire country’s worth of electricity, they get angry.

So it’s extremely important for the crypto industry to pretend as hard as possible that bitcoin mining isn’t as stupidly and egregiously wasteful as it obviously is — so that they’re allowed to keep mining at all.

The Bitcoin Mining Council claims that bitcoin uses 0.16% of all the electricity in the world. The BMC also claims that 58.4% of bitcoin mining energy use is from sustainable sources, based on claims by its members. [BMC, PDF]

Neither of these numbers is true — and BMC doesn’t show its working. Sources that do show their working — and don’t have a financial interest in fudging their numbers — put the sustainable energy percentage at 25.1%, and the percentage of the world’s electricity consumption over 0.5%. [Joule, paywalled; Digiconomist]

We’re also boggling that the BMC calls 0.16% of all the electricity in the world “negligible” — for the most inefficient payment network in human history. Even Christmas tree lights are more useful to humanity.

You’d almost think that coiners will say any bizarre and egregious nonsense if only it lets them keep trading their magic beans.

What happens next?

Number goes down, loans get margin-called, and the mining companies go broke because of a market downturn.

We expect the mining companies to blame everyone else they possibly can — the CeFi companies for crashing the market, bitcoin for just refusing to go up forever. They have to, really.

Bitcoin mining stocks are already down — MARA is down 58% year-to-date, RIOT is down 75%, and Core Scientific (CORZ) is down 74% since the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, crypto stock short sellers were up 126% as of June. [Reuters]

This scheme was never a sustainable business model. But none of these guys are long-term planners. So we don’t expect they had a coherent exit plan either.

The crypto companies who lent dollars to the miners should have been sufficiently capable of joined-up thinking to realize this was never a sustainable business model. Somehow, they didn’t. 

But then, for an example of the forward thinking skills of crypto guys, we remind you that Michael Novogratz of Galaxy Digital — one of the big lenders to miners — got a Terra-Luna tattoo in January 2022. [Twitter]

Those loans are never getting paid off. The mining rigs are near-worthless, and the bitcoins held as collateral can’t be dumped without taking the market down even further. The lenders get to take a bath on this one.

The bitcoins will likely be dumped, putting more sell pressure on the price of bitcoin.

Along with the rest of the crypto collapse, this is thankfully isolated within crypto. The only “real” financial institution involved is Silvergate, and they have almost no non-crypto customers these days. Any hit to Silvergate is unlikely to be contagious.

Of course, the investors can always sue the bankrupt corpses of the mining companies.

Crypto collapse: 3AC’s Grayscale two-step — and where in the world are Zhu and Davies?

We’ve just come out with another crypto crash update — this one is on David’s blog, so head on over there and read it!

Before you read, please take a moment to subscribe to our Patreons — mine is here and David’s is here. Your support is important. The news is free, but we depend on donations.

In this latest update, we talk about:

  • How bankruptcy works and how administrative costs suck up hundreds of millions of dollars before creditors see a penny.
  • How the collapse of UST has hit the crypto market worldwide.
  • Legal ramifications for 3AC founders if they don’t play ball.
  • How 3AC benefited from the GBTC arbitrage opportunity — and how Grayscale and Genesis may have helped!
  • Why Tether may be required to return $840 million in assets to Celsius.
  • The FDIC and the Feds cease and desist statement to Voyager.
  • FTX’s partial bailout offer to Voyager.

Crypto collapse: Terra Luna, 3AC’s Singapore liquidation, Celsius, Voyager 

“Lotta stadiums getting renamed in the next few years”

Ben McKenzie
Daniel Shin and Do Kwon while number was going up. Source: Terraform Labs

TerraUSD

Centralized finance (CeFi) is centralized DeFi — investment firms that played the DeFi markets. CeFi was where a lot of the money in DeFi came from.

CeFi looked like an industry of separate institutions — but it turned out to be a few companies all investing in each other. The chart of who invested in who would look like an inverted pyramid resting on a single point — Terraform Labs’ Anchor protocol.

Anchor offered 20% interest rates on holdings of dollar-equivalent stablecoin Terraform USD (UST), the interest being paid in UST. You could get UST by buying Terraform’s luna token from exchanges like Crypto.com or KuCoin. (Crypto.com Arena used to be Staples Center in Los Angeles.)

All the other CeFi firms just put their money into Anchor at 20%, then offered slightly lower interest to their own investors and skimmed the difference. Terraform made its money by dumping luna on these UST buyers.

UST and luna were both tokens that Terraform made up one day — neither had any reason to be worth anything. Everyone in DeFi knew how rickety UST/luna was for months — they just went along with it while it made them money. A truly fiat currency.

The party ended on May 9, when UST and luna imploded, setting off a cascade of insolvencies across cryptoland. We’re still seeing the fallout.

Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital (3AC) went into liquidation as it was heavily invested in UST and luna. Firms that had big loans to 3AC, such as Voyager, Celsius, and BlockFi, had to file bankruptcy or seek bailouts from other crypto firms. Even crypto exchanges had been playing the CeFi markets with customer funds, and many had to close their doors.

Thousands of South Koreans also lost money when UST and luna collapsed. Terraform Labs founders Daniel Shin and Do Kwon are stuck in South Korea for now, while investigators look into the incident.

On Wednesday, July 20, investigators from the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors Office raided seven crypto exchanges, including Upbit, Bithumb, and Coinone. They’re looking for clues as to whether Terraform intentionally caused the collapse. They also raided some exchange executives’ homes and the home of Daniel Shin. [Yonhap News; Donga News, in Korean]

Elsewhere, South Korean prosecutors have discovered a shell company called “Flexi Corporation” that Kwon allegedly used to launder large sums of money out of Terra and into his own private accounts via over-the-counter trades. How can this be? Kwon said he only took a small salary from Terraform. [KBS, in Korean; Twitter

Three Arrows Capital 

UST and luna went under, and pulled crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital down with them.

The Terra collapse completely nuked 3AC. Their exposure was about $600 million. (This is triple what co-founders Su Zhu and Kyle Davies had claimed in mid-June.) [Fortune]

Zhu and Davies are in now hiding. Nobody knows where they are. They told Bloomberg they were headed to Dubai. [Bloomberg, archive]

The pair knew immediately that they were screwed. But on May 11, when investors asked if 3AC had survived the Terra collapse, 3AC told them everything was fine — and kept taking in money! 

3AC had abandoned its Singapore office by late May — they just locked the door and skipped the country — and they finally admitted there were problems only in mid-June.

But Zhu and Davies have been telling the public — especially their creditors — how they lost money too, how they fear for their lives, and how they are so overwhelmed that they can’t turn over banking information just yet, but they’ll get to that soon, for sure.

The two old school buddies say they were shocked by how quickly things unraveled. “What we failed to realize was that luna was capable of falling to effective zero in a matter of days.”

Never mind that the instability of UST/luna was obvious to outside observers, that UST/luna worked exactly the same way as the Titan/Iron pair that collapsed in 2021, and that these guys were supposed to be a crypto hedge fund with alleged competence, and not the drooling crypto degen brainlet rubes they appear to have been trading like.

Zhu and Davies never planned for number go down, and had just been piling leverage on leverage. “We positioned ourselves for a kind of market that didn’t end up happening,” Zhu told Bloomberg. Never mind that a “hedge fund” is named for the act of hedging your speculations, and not just assuming you’re a genius because there’s a bubble going on.

Teneo is the firm handling 3AC’s liquidation, and they are moving quickly. They filed Chapter 15 in the US on July 1. Shortly after, they also filed for recognition of 3AC’s British Virgin Islands liquidation with the Singapore high court. 

Someone leaked Teneo’s 1,157-page Singapore filing earlier this week. The comprehensive document is a gem — it gives us a full update on the bankruptcy proceedings up to July 9. Teneo’s Christopher Farmer and Russell Crumpler left no rock unturned. [Filing, archive]

We recommend reading at least the first 35 pages — it tells the story of Ponzi borrowing, multiple defaults, ghosting creditors and liquidators, and doing deals with some lenders while cutting out others. The rest of the filing is exhibits, other court filings, and affidavits of furious creditors.

3AC’s biggest creditor is Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group, the parent company of Genesis Trading, which had a $2.4 billion partially collateralized loan to 3AC. DCG is now stuck with up to $1.1 billion in losses. [The Block]

Other large creditors include Voyager Digital ($687 million), Blockchain.com ($302.6 million, up from the originally claimed $270 million), and Deribit ($80.6 million).  

Kyle Davies’ wife, Chen Kaili Kelly, filed a claim for $65.7 million, and Zhu Su himself submitted a $5 million claim. We have no idea how 3AC was structured to allow an owner and a cofounder to be a listed creditor in a bankruptcy.

Zhu and Davies reportedly made a $50 million down payment on a yacht — with borrowed money, while they defaulted on their lenders. (We’re definitely feeling the Quadriga vibes with this one.) They wanted it to be bigger than any of the yachts owned by Singapore’s billionaires, and ready for pick-up in Italy. Zhu told Bloomberg that the yacht story was a “smear.”

Tai Ping Shan Capital, an over-the-counter desk in the BVI, claimed it operated independently of 3AC, but it turns out to have tight connections. On June 14, 3AC transferred $30.7 million in USDC and $900,000 in USDT to TPS. It’s unclear where those funds subsequently went. [Coindesk]

Good news! In a supplemental Chapter 15 filing, Teneo says it’s recovered $40 million of assets! The bad news is that this is a drop in the bucket. Creditors have so far submitted $2.8 billion in claims, and there’s plenty more coming. [Court filing]

3AC creditors have picked a creditor committee consisting of the largest creditors: Voyager, DCG, CoinList, Blockchain.com, and Matrixport. The committee will work closely with Teneo to “maximize the value of the assets available for distribution.” [The Block

Blockchain.com is struggling to survive in the aftermath. It just laid off 25 percent of staff. [CNBC

In addition to owning CryptoDickButt #1462, 3AC had also started a $100 million NFT fund with pseudonymous NFT trader Vincent Van Dough. They supplied the funding, while Van Dough curated the art. (We mentioned CryptoDickButt last time, and we’re shocked that some of you thought we were just making that up. You should know by now that crypto is always stupider.)

The fund, called “Starry Night Capital” planned to launch a physical gallery in a “major city” by the end of 2021. [The Block, 2021]

The Defiant noted on June 17 that the Starry Night portfolio had been aggregated into a single Ethereum address, probably controlled by Zhu, Davies, and Van Dough. Teneo has noticed and is concerned. [The Defiant]

Celsius

Celsius promised 18% returns on your crypto. When too many people tried to pull their money out at once, Celsius paused withdrawals on June 21 and filed for bankruptcy on July 13. We covered the bankruptcy filing and CEO Alex Mashinsky’s declaration in our last post. 

Celsius admits to a $1.2 billion hole in its balance sheet. Others think the assets are fake and the liabilities are very real, which would put the hole at $4 billion to $5 billion.

Mashinsky says that Celsius’ losses include $15.8 million from investments in UST and luna, along with $40.6 million in loans to 3AC. He also said that Celsius lost 35,000 ether tokens in 2021 due to an incident involving a staking provider that “misplaced” the keys to its tokens. Oops!

Celsius held its first bankruptcy hearing on July 18. SDNY Judge Martin Glenn is presiding over the case. Kadhim Shubber from the Financial Times live-tweeted the hearing, which took place over Zoom. Here’s a copy of the presentation Celsius gave to the judge on Monday. [Stretto; Twitter thread]

Celsius’ lawyer Patrick Nash told the judge there won’t be a liquidation. Celsius has a recovery plan: to HODL — and mine bitcoins! That’s right, Celsius wants to mine their way out of bankruptcy. Nash says the plan is to mine 10,000 bitcoins in 2022.

How did Celsius end up in bankruptcy? You might think it had something to do with Celsius making horrible investments and losing everyone’s money, but no! As Nash explained, Celsius was driven to insolvency by unfounded Terra/luna fears, worries about Coinbase’s bankruptcy risk factor disclosure in May, and a bank run that knocked over an otherwise well-run business.

Former Celsius employees tell a different story. Celsius compliance and financial crimes director Timothy Cradle spoke of the company’s “sloppiness and mismanagement.” [Coindesk

Cradle also told CNBC that Celsius execs “were absolutely trading the token [CEL] to manipulate the price.” A former HR employee said she was told not to do a background check on Yarom Shelem, the former Celsius CFO who was arrested in Israel for fraud. [CNBC]

Celsius creditors have been filing claims since July 18. [Twitter] The letters make for some disturbing reading. Molly White has been posting excerpts on Twitter. It’s a reminder that Celsius investors were ordinary people lured in by Mashinsky’s false promises. [Twitter thread]

Québec pension fund CDPQ also has some questions to answer. CDPQ invested $150 million in Celsius in October 2021 as part of a $400 million funding round co-led by WestCap Investment Partners LLC. “We understand that our investment in Celsius raises a number of questions.” [Bloomberg

Celsius’ next bankruptcy hearing is August 10.

Voyager

Crypto broker Voyager said its secret sauce was “low-risk investments.” Yet it loaned out three-quarters of its assets under management to 3AC.

In June, the firm signed an agreement with Sam Bankman-Fried’s Alameda Ventures for a revolving line of credit so it could keep the music playing a bit longer. But on July 1, Voyager Digital filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Coffeezilla points out that Voyager is trying to sell people on this “Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorg,” and hides the fact that under bankruptcy law, a company that describes itself as a broker cannot file Chapter 11. They should be required to liquidate under SIPA. (Securities Investor Protection Act) [Youtube; Twitter]

The CEO of of crypto media outlet Benzinga will be on the unsecured creditor committee in the Voyager bankruptcy. Jason Raznick is among the largest unsecured creditors for Voyager. [Inside Bitcoins]

Voyager’s next bankruptcy hearing is on August 4. It has $350 million of customer money in an omnibus account at Metropolitan, and it keeps reassuring everyone that they’ll get their money soon! It just has to work things out with the judge first. [Voyager blog; archive]

In the meantime, Bankman-Fried proposed a partial bailout. Under his proposal, Voyager customers would have the opportunity to open new accounts at FTX with a cash balance funded by their bankruptcy claim. They would be able to withdraw the cash, or use it to purchase crypto on FTX. [FTX press release; FT, archive]

Other CeFi firms that are definitely robust and doing fine 

Vauld is a Singapore-domiciled crypto lender that serves mainly customers in India. It stopped withdrawals on July 4 and owes $402 million in crypto to its customers. 

After suspending withdrawals and laying off 30% of its staff, Vauld filed for protection against creditors in Singapore on July 8. [WSJ]

A Singaporean moratorium order is similar to Chapter 11 in the US. It allows Vauld to avoid a complete cessation of operations and liquidation of assets, while it tries to get its act together. 

Vauld later disclosed they were short $70 million, partly from exposure to UST/luna. Vauld issued a statement on July 11. Vauld and Nexo are still discussing an acquisition of Vauld. [Vauld blog, archive]

BlockFi released its Q2 2022 transparency report. The report showed it had $1.8 billion in open loans from retail and institutional investors by the end of June and $600 million in “net exposure.” [BlockFi blog, archive; Decrypt]

Crypto collapse: Celsius’ real liabilities and fake assets, Voyager still bankrupt, 3AC owns CryptoDickButt #1462

David Gerard and I just posted another update on the crypto crash. This one is on his blog, so head on over there and check it out!

If you like our work, please do sign up for our Patreons — here’s mine, and here’s David’s.

In our latest episode of the CeFi/DeFi apocalypse, Celsius filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the filings presented, the firm has a $1.2 billion hole in its balance sheet. Celsius’ liabilities are real — but its assets are fake. 

Meanwhile, Celsius founders have already made a fortune selling their CEL tokens.

We’re sure it’s all fine though. They probably just need to issue a new token to fix the problem. 

Crypto collapse: 3AC, Voyager, Celsius, and other DeFi casualties

Crypto contagion

The price of Bitcoin has bobbled along above $20,000 since mid-June. There seems to be serious interest in keeping it above that number!

Sam Bankman-Fried has been playing the J. Pierpont Morgan of crypto, rescuing sinking companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in crypto assets. His companies FTX and Alameda have so far bailed out Voyager Digital and BlockFi. He says he’s got a few billion left to keep other crypto companies from slipping into the dark abyss of liquidation. [Financial Post]  

All Bankman-Fried can do is buy time. The entire cryptosystem is imploding. People are finally realizing that most of the money they thought they had in crypto was imaginary. You didn’t lose money in the crash — you lost your money when you bought crypto.  

We’ve been busy keeping up with the fallout, and mining comedy gold. Who thought staying poor would be this much fun? It was nice of the coiners to suggest it.

The liquidation of Three Arrows Capital

Three Arrows Capital (3AC) went into liquidation as of June 27. Two applications were filed in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) where 3AC is incorporated — one by 3AC themselves, and the other, a provisional liquidation, by 3AC creditor Deribit. [LinkedIn]

In a liquidation, a liquidator is appointed to tally up all the assets of a company and distribute them to creditors. It’s the end of the company. Provisional liquidation is not quite the end yet — it’s like bankruptcy protection, even though you know the company is probably insolvent. Wassielawyer has a great thread explaining all this. [Twitter thread]

Why would 3AC petition to liquidate themselves? CEO Zhu Su has shamelessly listed himself as a creditor in the liquidation!

Teneo is the court-appointed liquidator. They’ll be assessing the assets and the claims against the company and its directors. 

The liquidators are able to convert any crypto assets into US dollars. This could mean a few billion dollars worth of bitcoin getting dumped any day now — or maybe not, if 3AC’s own bitcoin wallets turn out to be empty. 

Less than a week later, 3AC filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the US on July 1. 3AC’s assets are (likely) not in BVI, but in the US and Singapore. Chapter 15 allows the BVI court to be recognized in the US — and protects US assets during the liquidation process. [Bloomberg, archive; bankruptcy filing, PDF

According to its bankruptcy filing, 3AC had $3 billion under management in April 2022. Analytics firm Nansen reported the company held $10 billion in assets in March. Money disappears fast in crypto land! [Bloomberg]

Also according to the filing — and we’re sure this is fine! — 3AC’s two founders have gone missing: “Mr. Davies and Mr. Zhu’s current location remains unknown. They are rumored to have left Singapore.” 

The last we heard from Zhu Su on Twitter was a vague tweet on June 14 — “We are in the process of communicating with relevant parties and fully committed to working this out” — a month after the Terra Luna collapse, which set this entire cascade of dominoes falling. [Twitter]

Zhu is currently trying to offload a bungalow in Singapore that he bought in December for SGD$48.8 million (USD$35 million). The house is held in his son’s trust. [Bloomberg]

Fatmanterra (who is pretty on the ball) says he heard Zhu is planning to transfer the funds from the sale of the bungalow to a bank account in Dubai and has no intention of paying creditors with the proceeds. [Twitter]

3AC has other troubles, such as a probe by Singapore’s central bank. The Monetary Authority of Singapore said that 3AC provided them with false information, failed to meet regulatory requirements when moving fund management to the BVI, and ignored limits on assets under management. They weren’t supposed to manage more than SGD$250 million (about $178 million). [MAS press release, PDF; Blockworks]

Oh, look! 3AC’s money has an over-the-counter trading desk: Tai Ping Shan (TPS) Capital. 3AC seems to have a bunch of money sheltered in this entity, and TPS is still trading despite the liquidation order! Sources told Coindesk that TPS was “where the action was” for 3AC,  and where most of 3AC’s treasury is held and traded.

TPS insists it’s completely independent of 3AC, even though Zhu and Davies of 3AC are still part-owners, and the companies have long had multiple links. [CoinDesk; Twitter; CoinDesk]

Peckshield noticed that on 4 July, 3AC transferred $30 million in stablecoins to Kucoin — 10 million USDT and 20 million USDC. This is after the firm was ordered to liquidate. [Twitter]

Rumor has it that 3AC also looked to crypto whales for loans. [Twitter]

3AC also owns a bunch of NFTs — because we all know that NFTs are a great investment and very liquid. [Twitter]

Big plans for Voyager Digital (in bankruptcy)

Less than a week after crypto lender Voyager halted withdrawals, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New York on July 5. [Filing; press release; Ehrlich Twitter thread; FT

Voyager says it has $110 million of cash and “owned crypto assets” on hand, plus $1.3 billion in crypto assets on its platform. It owes nearly $1 million to Google and $75 million to Alameda Research — which recently threw Voyager a lifeline of $485 million. The rest of its large unsecured creditors are customers.

Alameda says it’s “happy to return the Voyager loan and get our collateral back whenever works for Voyage” — we’re not even sure what that means. [Tweet]

Voyager holds $350 million of customer money in an omnibus account at Metropolitan Commercial Bank — just an undifferentiated pile of cash, with only Voyager knowing which customers’ money it is. The judge says “That money belongs to those customers and will go to those customers” — but the company will have to sort through who owns what and conduct a “fraud prevention process” (KYC, we presume) first. [Bloomberg, archive]

Voyager sent its customers an email stressing that it’s not going out of business — it has a plan! [Reddit]

“Under this Plan, which is subject to change given ongoing discussions with other parties, and requires Court approval, customers with crypto in their account(s) will receive in exchange a combination of the crypto in their account(s), proceeds from the 3AC recovery, common shares in the newly reorganized Company, and Voyager tokens. The plan contemplates an opportunity for customers to elect the proportion of common equity and crypto they will receive, subject to certain maximum thresholds.”

Instead of getting your crypto back, you’ll get a corn beef hash of magic beans, and we’ll call that money, okay?

The only issues here are that future Voyager tokens, future proceeds from the 3AC recovery, and future equity in the reorganized company will all be close to worthless.

Putting this nonsense through the bankruptcy court will take months, and Voyager customers get to stand back and watch in horror as the value of their crypto plummets to nothing. Look what’s happened to Mt. Gox customers — they are still waiting.

Jim Chanos weighs in on Voyager’s apparently false claims that its money is FDIC insured: “Making false claims to attract depositors/investors is financial fraud, plain and simple. No regulatory jurisdiction tug-of-war need come into play here, if true.” [Twitter]

The FDIC is also looking into Voyager’s FDIC claims. [WSJ]

Patrick McKenzie writes one of his informative blog posts on money transfer systems, this time explaining what a deposit is — and what a deposit isn’t. Unsurprisingly, he rapidly gets to our friends at Voyager Not-A-Bank. [Kalzumeus]

Voyager is just trying to buy time. But given their apparently false claims of FDIC insurance, the odds they can get a judge to let them avoid liquidation this way are zero.

When the accountants get hold of the books and start going through everything, the real story will be shocking. We saw all this happen with QuadrigaCX.

Voyager stock trading was halted on the Toronto Stock Exchange, after the bankruptcy filing. [Newswire

Cornell Law professor Dan Awry writes: “If you thought securities regulation was a jolt to the crypto community, just wait until they learn about bankruptcy law.” [Twitter]

Here’s a Voyager ad preying on artists. Why be a poor artist when you can get rich for free by handing them your crypto? [YouTube]

And here’s a Twitter thread detailing Voyager’s shenanigans in getting a public listing in the first place. They bought a shell company and did a reverse-merger — and then pumped the stock, only to dump it during crypto’s bull run. [Twitter thread]  

It’s worth a closer look at just how much ickiness from Voyager the Metropolitan Commercial Bank risks getting on itself. Dig page 30 of this March 2022 investor presentation, talking up Metropolitan’s foray into crypto customers. The presentation mentions elsewhere how Metropolitan wants to get into crypto. [Investor presentation

Celsius: ‘Ere, he says he’s not dead!

Celsius Network Ltd. has a new board of directors. They’re all bankruptcy attorneys. [Companies House]

But Celsius is not bankrupt yet! As such! In fact, Celsius is still paying debts! If selectively. Though paying down debts is likely a sign that Celsius is getting its books in order before filing for bankruptcy.

Celsius has repaid $150 million worth of DAI to MakerDAO. Celsius still owes MakerDAO about $82 million in DAI. [FXEmpire]

On July 4, Celsius took out 67,000 ETH ($72 million) from Aave (30,000 ETH) and Compound (37,000 ETH). [Etherscan; Peckshield; Tweet]

Celsius has laid off 150 employees. [Ctech]

Let’s keep in mind that Celsius isn’t just about crypto bros wrecking each other. Celsius investors were lied to and stolen from: “Celsius customers losing hope for locked up crypto.” [WSJ]

Celsius’ CEO has a book on Amazon — you know, in case anyone felt they needed the financial wisdom of Alex Mashinsky in their life. What editor at Wiley thought this was a good decision? “This book belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in financial independence, cryptocurrencies, bitcoin, blockchain, or the battle between decentralization and centralization.” Also, how to take everyone’s money and lose it playing the DeFi markets. [Amazon]

KeyFi sues Celsius: I’m shocked, shocked to find that Ponziing is going on in here!

0x_b1 was a crypto whale, active on Twitter, who traded vast sums of crypto in the DeFi markets. He was the third-largest DeFi user at one point, with only Alameda Research and Justin Sun doing larger volumes. 0x_b1 was highly respected, yet nobody knew who he was or where he got his wealth from — until now.

0x_b1 turns out to be Jason Stone, the CEO of trading firm KeyFi, a.k.a. Battlestar Capital, who says that KeyFi managed Celsius’ DeFi portfolio from 2020 to 2021. The cryptos that 0x_b1 traded were hundreds of millions of dollars (in crypto) of Celsius customer funds.

As Battlestar Capital, Stone first hooked up with Celsius in March 2019. Battlestar said that customers could earn an astonishing “up to 30 percent” annually from staking their cryptos. [CoinDesk, 2019]

Jason Stone and KeyFi are now suing Celsius, saying they never got paid. A case was filed 7 July by Stone’s attorney, Kyle Roche of Roche Freedman. The complaint is incendiary. [complaint, PDF]

Celsius saw DeFi take off in 2020. Celsius figured they could use customer funds to play the markets and make some yield, so they hired KeyFi to trade for them, with a handshake agreement to share the “hundreds of millions of dollars in profits” —  rather than anything so trad-fi as, e.g., a written contract. (They did finally write up contracts after KeyFi had been working for Celsius for six months.)

Celsius invested cryptos, and its liabilities to customers were denominated in cryptos — but Celsius accounted for everything in US dollars. So if an asset appreciated, Celsius and KeyFi might show a dollar profit — but Celsius might not be able to repurchase the ETH or whatever, to return it to the customer who lent it to them, without losing money to do so.

KeyFi says it would have been trivial to hedge against such an event by purchasing call options at the spot price it originally paid. KeyFi says that Celsius didn’t do this — but told KeyFi it had. It’s not clear why KeyFi didn’t just do something similar themselves.

Celsius gave customers a higher yield for accepting payment in their own CEL tokens. The yield was calculated in dollars. Stone alleges that Celsius used customer bitcoins to pump the price of CEL through 2020, meaning they paid out less CEL for a given dollar yield.

Alex Mashinksy also sold $45 million of his personal CEL holding during this time.

“The Celsius Ponzi Scheme” starts on page 23 of the complaint. Celsius had liabilities to customers denominated in ETH — but bitcoin and ether prices started going up dizzyingly in January 2021:

“87. As customers sought to withdraw their ether deposits, Celsius was forced to buy ether in the open market at historically high prices, suffering heavy losses. Faced with a liquidity crisis, Celsius began to offer double-digit interest rates in order to lure new depositors, whose funds were used to repay earlier depositors and creditors. Thus, while Celsius continued to market itself as a transparent and well capitalized business, in reality, it had become a Ponzi scheme.”

Jason Stone and KeyFi quit in March 2021. 

In September 2021, Roche wrote demanding a full accounting from Celsius, and all the money that Celsius hadn’t paid KeyFi. This was the start of the present action, and this is what KeyFi is suing over.

This suit is important because it sets out a clear claim that Celsius operated as a Ponzi scheme. If the courts find that Celsius was in fact a Ponzi, then any money or cryptos that Celsius paid out to customers or some creditors could be clawed back in bankruptcy.

Stone is seeking damages for an amount “to be determined at trial.”

It’s not clear that Stone was as great a trader as he paints himself. A report from Arkham details how Stone racked up $350 million in losses. [Arkham, PDF]

CoinFLEX

We’ve been watching online interviews with Mark Lamb of CoinFLEX, which stopped withdrawals after $47 million of bitcoin cash (BCH) went missing.

Lamb, who appears alone in the interviews, keeps saying “we” and referring to his “team.” His wife is the chief marketing officer of CoinFLEX and Sudhu Arumugam is listed as a cofounder, but where’s the rest of the team?

How Lamb’s business really works: [Twitter]

  1. Create fictitious dollars (FlexUSD).
  2. Lock them up in a lending scheme.
  3. Offer unsustainably high yields to attract retail deposits. 

CoinFLEX had a special deal with CoinFLEX investor Roger Ver, where it would not liquidate Ver’s account in the event of a margin call — a highly risky proposition for Coinflex.

Ver had taken a large long position in BCH, which was losing value. [Twitter] Lamb claims Ver needed to deposit $47 million to meet a margin call.

But it looks like Lamb liquidated Ver’s BCH anyway by selling it on Binance, even though he’s claimed to know nothing of this. CoinFLEX claims that Ver owes them $47 million, while Ver considers that Lamb broke their agreement.

Lamb lent one-third of all CoinFLEX’s customer money to one guy. Now, with the “significant loss in liquidating his significant FLEX coin positions,” the deficit for Ver’s account is $84 million. CoinFLEX says that they’ve brought an arbitration against Ver in Hong Kong. It will take 12 months to get a judgment. [blog post]

Meanwhile, CoinFLEX are … issuing a new coin (rvUSD), out of thin air, to pay back their existing customers.

Lamb explained his incredible plan to rescue CoinFLEX in an interview with Ash Bennington on Real Vision. Lamb refused to reveal how big the hole in his books actually is. “I can’t comment on those specific figures at this time.” [Twitter]

But creditors will be made whole and transparency will come — in the fabulous future, along with an audit! 

Lamb’s plan includes issuing rvUSD, a debt token. You get 20% returns — also to be paid in rvUSD. Lamb says the returns will be funded by Ver paying the money, which Ver still maintains he doesn’t owe.

Lamb has clearly thought all of this through carefully with his “team.” Their hard work is apparent — the rvUSD whitepaper is three pages long. [Whitepaper, PDF]

Who would want to buy rvUSD? Lamb told Bennington he has lots of “big” investors lined up. CoinFLEX says it will resume 10% of withdrawals in a week and everyone will get their money as soon as these big investors come through. 

There are 197 million FlexUSD tokens in the wild, according to Coingecko. Even if Ver owes $47 million, there should still be a difference of $150 million in collateral there — if FlexUSD is indeed fully backed by USDC, as Lamb claims it is. Additionally, CoinFLEX still has $10 million of BCH held for its bridge to its SmartBCH chain. And there are user deposits on the exchange.

So what percentage of assets does CoinFLEX still have? Why won’t they release assets and liabilities?

Other legitimate trading firms that are definitely stable going concerns

BlockFi: BlockFi and FTX reached a deal on 1 July, where FTX will buy BlockFi for a “variable price of up to $240 million based on performance triggers” that will provide Blockfi with a $400 million credit facility.  [BlockFi; Twitter thread]

Babel: Orthogonal Trading issued a default to defunct DeFi lender Babel regarding a $10 million loan. [Twitter]

Genesis: Genesis is one of the largest cryptocurrency brokerages for institutional investors. The company confirmed speculation that it had exposure to 3AC. Genesis is part of Digital Currency Group, who put in some cash to prop them up. [Bloomberg; Twitter]  

Blockchain.com: another crypto exchange that thought playing the DeFi markets with customer funds was a good and cool idea. They lost $270 million in loans to 3AC. They told shareholders: “Three Arrows is rapidly becoming insolvent and the default impact is approximately $270 million worth of cryptocurrency and U.S. dollar loans from Blockchain.com.” [CoinDesk]

Uprise: Korean crypto startup Uprise lost $20 million shorting luna in May. They were right about luna — but their short was wiped out anyway, by a sudden spike in the price. [The Block]

CoinLoan: Crypto lender CoinLoan restricted withdrawal limits on 4 July — from $500,000 per day down to only $5,000 per day. They are calling this a “temporary change” to withdrawal limits. Presumably, it’s “temporary” because it will soon be $0. [Tweet; Bitfinex Tweet

They directly say this is because of “a spike in withdrawals of assets from CoinLoan.” How dare you try to get your funds out! [blog, archive]

Nexo: has signed a term sheet to acquire 100% of defunct Indian crypto exchange Vauld. It’s not clear what’s left in Vauld, or if Nexo thinks they can pillage the corpse but pretend Vauld’s considerable liabilities to customers don’t exist. [Coindesk]

Our friend Michel does the numbers. He estimates $300 million was lost by Vauld in the UST/luna collapse. [Twitter]

Bitcoin Core ETP: this is an exchange-traded product, a bit like a bitcoin ETF, but based in Switzerland. How does the ETP plan to make money? By lending out the bitcoins on the DeFi markets! That will definitely work out fine, probably. [FT, paywalled]

Crypto collapse: Exchange troubles, Binance’s friends with machine guns

David and I just finished an update on crypto exchanges. David posted it on his blog, so go check it out over there.

We’ve both covered QuadrigaCX, the Canadian exchange that collapsed in early 2019, in-depth. Over and over again, reporters asked us: “How could something like Quadriga happen?”

It happened because Quadriga had absolutely no oversight. Regulators barely knew Quadriga existed. Nobody in crypto cared while the charming Gerald Cotten was talking good news for bitcoin.

You should assume that exchanges will act against their customers in absolutely any way they can get away with. This is, after all, the historical behavior of crypto companies of any sort.

Crypto skeptics step up lobbying efforts with their first conference

For years, crypto skeptics have been a few talking heads on Twitter shouting out to the abyss to anyone who would listen. In the last year and a half, we’ve been networking and sharing information. Our voices are getting louder — and policymakers are listening!

Last month, a group of us joined forces to urge US lawmakers to crack down on the crypto industry. Twenty-six computer scientists and academics sent a signed letter to US lawmakers criticizing crypto investments and blockchain technology. The move got wide media coverage

Soon after, David Gerard, author of “Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain” and my co-writer in documenting the current crypto collapse,” journalist Izabella Kaminska, and noted academic John Naughton appeared in front of the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to tell them that blockchain technology is devoid of any meaningful use case.  

Now, for the first time, crypto skeptics will have our own conference: the Crypto Policy Symposium. It’s a way for us to network amongst ourselves, and to connect with lawmakers to make sure they have the information they need to shape future policy. 

Scheduled to take place September 5 to 6 in London and virtually, the event is being organized by Stephen Diehl, a software engineer and co-author of “Popping the Crypto Bubble,” and Martin Walker. A long-term follower of attempts to apply “blockchain” to banking, Walker is a director of the Center for Evidence-Based Management, a leading management think-tank.

The main goal of the symposium, as Diehl explained it to me, is to give policymakers access to the information and material they need to make informed decisions around crypto regulation. 

Right now, politicians are mainly hearing from lobby groups, funded by deep-pocket crypto companies with lots of venture capitalist backing. Diehl hopes the effort will bring together domain experts and policymakers from the European Union, and the US to address public interest problems.

“Europe and the US are the big fronts, and in the US, there is a bill going through and a lot of debate in the executive branch right now,” he said, in reference to recent legislation introduced by pro-bitcoin Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). If passed into law, the bill will create new loopholes for token-based startups to skirt securities laws.

Over a span of two days, symposium attendees will get to watch a dozen panels lasting 45 minutes each. “Ideally, panels will include three to four people — someone from tech, someone from law, and someone from journalism,” Diehl said. “The aim is to offer a balanced perspective.” 

Topics will include bitcoin’s environmental impact, the politics of bitcoin — yes, David Golumbia, author of “The Politics of Bitcoin” will be talking — ICOs, NFTs, Web3, and the current DeFi domino collapse. Diehl and Walker have enlisted three dozen notable crypto skeptic luminaries — including myself and David Gerard! — in journalism, tech, and academia, as panelists at the event. 

Diehl hinted at the possibility of a high-profile keynote but we will have to wait for that to be confirmed to learn more. He and Walker have invited members of regulatory and financial agencies across the US and Europe, including the FCA, ECB, IMF, SEC, Finma, and Bafin.

“White papers are being written across every branch of the US government, from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Treasury Department to the FBI,” Diehl added. “Biden has commissioned all of this work and the bureaucrats are woefully uninformed. This is a problem, and that is why work like this is really important.” 

He and Walker also want the symposium to be a meeting place for crypto skeptics. “I feel like a lot of us are islands. I want everyone to know everyone, make friends, and create a community. That is how things actually get done in advancing this kind of policy work,” he said.

It’s been a lot of work organizing the event, but Diehl is optimistic: “There have been hundreds of other crypto industry conferences but this is the first one where critical voices are welcome to speak freely about these important issues.”

I’m not sure I’ll make it to London, but I’m looking forward to taking part in this event virtually.

Who had Voyager Digital next in the DeFi dead pool?

  • By Amy Castor and David Gerard
  • Become a patron and support our work — Amy’s Patreon is here; David’s is here.

In our last episode, Voyager Digital was looking shaky. Voyager had a massive hole in its balance sheet, courtesy of Three Arrows Capital (3AC), which had imploded. Voyager had maxed out its line of credit from Alameda for the month — it could only withdraw $75 million in credit for each 30-day rolling period. 

On Friday, July 1, Voyager announced it was “temporarily suspending trading, deposits, withdrawals and loyalty rewards.” [Voyager, archive; WSJ]

How screwed is Voyager? Three-quarters of their assets — about $600 to $700 million in BTC and USDC owed by 3AC — are missing. [Press release; Yahoo Finance]

How screwed are Voyager’s customers? “Your debit card will stop working … exploring strategic alternatives,” the crypto broker said. “We are in discussions with various parties regarding additional liquidity and the go-forward strategy for the company.” [Voyager blog, archive]

Whoever had Voyager Digital next in the DeFi dead pool: you may now claim your 100 trillion luna.

Voyager’s business

Voyager is — or was — a crypto investment firm. You deposited dollars or crypto into Voyager, and you earned up to 12% interest on your deposits via their Earn program. The company claimed 3.5 million customers. 

It also had a mobile app that allowed you to trade 100 different cryptocurrencies commission-free. [Voyager, archive]

Voyager was a “CeFi” company, or centralized DeFi — an investment firm that played the DeFi markets.

It also offered a debit card. Customers deposited dollars, which were immediately converted to the USDC stablecoin, which Voyager paid a yield of up to 9% on. “Earn like crypto, spend like cash.” [Voyager, archive]

Voyager very much wanted its customers to treat the company like their bank — and deposit their money. It encouraged customers to directly deposit their paychecks into their Voyager debit card account.

It’s not a bank, though. We’ll see in a moment why that turned out to be important.

The company offered “even greater rewards” if you owned their VGX token! This was aimed squarely at the cryptocurrency audience: “When it comes to your crypto, every satoshi counts.” With VGX you could get up to a 12% yield! [Voyager; archive]

Voyager is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. However, its services were only available to Americans — not Canadians. [Voyager terms of use; archive]

At the end of March 2022, Voyager got cease-and-desist letters and orders to show cause from the states of New Jersey, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Vermont, and Washington — who considered Voyager’s yield platform to be an unregistered offering of securities. [CoinDesk; press release]

Voyager’s liabilities

Here is Voyager’s press release for their Q3 2022 numbers, released on May 16. (Voyager’s financial year is July to June, so January to March is Q3.) The headline announced that revenue was up — $102 million! [Voyager, archive]

But the numbers show that year-over-year losses were also way up — Voyager had operating losses of $43 million. The company was burning money to pump up revenue and user numbers. Voyager promoted both these numbers to investors in June 2022 without mentioning the losses that were getting it there. [Voyager, archive]

The Q3 2022 numbers were announced when UST and luna had gone to zero, and Terraform’s Anchor protocol had collapsed. Voyager CFO Evan Psaropoulos said on the quarter’s earnings call: [Seeking Alpha]

“It is important to note with recent news related to UST and LUNA, that Voyager does not have UST listed on the platform and has not placed any access in any DeFi lending protocols such as the Anchor platform.”

But it turned out that Voyager was heavily exposed to UST, luna, and Anchor — via their largest debtor, Three Arrows Capital. The guys at 3AC knew they were in terminal trouble, but hadn’t told anyone yet — including their creditor, Voyager.

In the Q3 2022 earnings call, voyager CEO Steve Ehrlich said:

“We also spoke to all of our counterparties on lending and verified that there were no issues. In the past, we’ve had questions from investors about one counterparty. And as of today, we have no exposure to that counterparty.

… the people we lend to are some of the biggest names in the industry. As we stated, too, we had conversations and verified there was no contagion with them, had conversations with every single one of them. And since we limit who we lend to, to these parties, we’re really comfortable we did not have to call anything in and we had zero issues with any of our borrowers.”

Which counterparty could that have been?

Voyager released new financials yesterday afternoon, July 1, as part of its announcement that it was suspending withdrawals, detailing the 3AC-shaped hole in their numbers.

Is Voyager FDIC insured? No, but they’d like you to think so

If you had dollars on deposit with Voyager, you should assume they’re gone and not coming back.

Voyager tried very hard to imply in the large print that customer deposits were insured up to $250,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) if something happened to Voyager — and only admitted in the small print that they weren’t. Voyager tweeted on November 12, 2020: [Twitter; archive]

“Have you heard? USD held with Voyager is FDIC insured up to $250K. Our customers’ security is our top priority. Start growing your crypto portfolio today.”

But your dollars had already been converted into USDC. Voyager then used the USDC, a liability to you, as collateral for loans it took out elsewhere. The user agreement explicitly allows this: [Voyager, archive]

“Consent to Rehypothecate. Customer grants Voyager the right, subject to applicable law, without further notice to Customer, to hold Cryptocurrency held in Customer’s Account in Voyager’s name or in another name, and to pledge, repledge, hypothecate, rehypothecate, sell, lend, stake, arrange for staking, or otherwise transfer or use any amount of such Cryptocurrency, separately or together with other property, with all attendant rights of ownership, and for any period of time and without retaining a like amount of Cryptocurrency, and to use or invest such Cryptocurrency at Customer’s sole risk.”

Your dollars were transformed into Voyager’s USDC the moment you deposited.

Voyager has an omnibus account with Metropolitan Commercial Bank, where it deposited its customers’ dollars. An omnibus account is a single holding account for money from multiple investors. Voyager acts as the money manager of the omnibus account — and maintains full control of the money.

Pass-through FDIC insurance, which would cover the customers and not just Voyager, is a bit tricky. You have to meet several requirements. Fundamentally, the funds need to be a liability of the bank, e.g., Metropolitan, not the account holder, e.g., Voyager. [FDIC; Seward & Kissel LL]  

If Metropolitan failed, the FDIC insurance would cover Voyager up to $250,000. But Voyager’s customers were not FDIC insured. And Metropolitan is doing just fine. 

Voyager repeatedly and consistently led customers to believe their US dollar deposits were safe if Voyager failed.

Usually, Voyager just tried to imply that customer deposits were directly FDIC-insured — and then detailed in the fine print how this wasn’t the case. Occasionally, Voyager slipped up and claimed this directly, such as in this blog post of December 18, 2019: [Medium, archive]

“Through our strategic relationships with our banking partners, all customers’ USD held with Voyager is now FDIC insured. That means that in the rare event your USD funds are compromised due to the company or our banking partner’s failure, you are guaranteed a full reimbursement (up to $250,000). We’re excited to offer our customers an extra level of security, so they can feel more comfortable holding their USD with Voyager.” [emphasis ours]

Let’s say that again: “you are guaranteed a full reimbursement”

This claim was simply not true.

Metropolitan Bank has issued a statement on Voyager and FDIC insurance — we expect they’ve been getting a lot of calls from Voyager customers: [Metropolitan, archive]

“FDIC insurance coverage is available only to protect against the failure of Metropolitan Commercial Bank. FDIC insurance does not protect against the failure of Voyager, any act or omission of Voyager or its employees, or the loss in value of cryptocurrency or other assets.”

Several Voyager customers on Reddit were very confused about all of this. Many were trying to figure out how to file an insurance claim to get their cash back. Others were learning for the first time that their dollar deposits were not, in fact, safe. [Reddit; Reddit

Reddit user DannyDaemonic called up the FDIC: [Reddit]

“I called the FDIC earlier and they said Voyager Digital LLC was not a bank and was not FDIC insured. They said for future reference, LLCs cannot be banks, ever. So when you see “LLC,” any claim of FDIC insurance is false. They did confirm that Metropolitan Bank is FDIC Insured but just because Voyager Digital stated “each Customer is a customer of the Bank” doesn’t mean they were funding those accounts. It just means if Metropolitan Bank failed, any holdings Voyager Digital placed under your name there would be safe. But since it’s only Metropolitan Bank that’s FDIC insured, Voyager Digital failing wouldn’t trigger the FDIC insurance.

I imagine Voyager is allowed to withdrawal from those accounts to pay debt or make investments. It’s also possible, if Voyager Digital is insolvent, that they haven’t even been depositing cash into the Metropolitan Bank for quite some time.

It doesn’t look good.”

The precise law that Voyager seems to be playing fast and loose with is 18 USC 709 — “False Advertising or Misuse of Names to Indicate Federal Agency”: [Onecle]

“… or falsely advertises or otherwise represents by any device whatsoever the extent to which or the manner in which the deposit liabilities of an insured bank or banks are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation…”

As of March 31, Voyager claimed to have $175 million in cash. At present, it’s not clear they have any cash. They said they had $355 million in cash “held for customers” as of June 30, per their press release. However, they haven’t spelled out liabilities, including “cash owed to customers.” What really matters to customers is the balance held at Metropolitan, and we don’t know what that is.

At this point, Voyager either needs to get another loan from FTX or declare bankruptcy.

If Voyager does need cash, they’ll have to sell their bitcoins and ether — driving down the prices of those. 

The purpose of CeFi is to mis-sell investments

The CeFi lenders who are collapsing right now, such as Voyager and Celsius, are in the business of packaging up extreme risk as a shiny product — so that they can mis-sell these to the public as retail-suitable investments.

DeFi is a bunch of wires on a lab bench — not a finished product. CeFi puts a shiny box around the breadboarded system held together with clips and lumps of explosive.

The CeFi companies then lie to their customers that the remarkable interest rates on offer can exist without a jaw-dropping amount of hidden risk.

The very stupid and very crypto thing is when their fellow crypto institutions think “this is fine!” and do things like putting all their money into 3AC, which put all its money into Anchor.

It’s supposed to be retail — and not institutional traders — that sees a 5%, 10%, or 20% interest rate and stops thinking of anything but the big number. Perhaps crypto companies need to be legally restricted to retail-friendly investments? Or we could send some of these guys to jail for fraud, that works too.

Crypto collapse latest: the DeFi dead and dying list

David and I just finished an update on the spreading DeFi contagion. David posted it on his blog, so head on over there and read it.

We recap the latest on Three Arrows Capital (3AC), Voyager Digital, Celsius, BlockFi, and more.

In 2012, Trendon Shavers (Pirateat40) ran a Ponzi scheme on the BitcoinTalk boards called Bitcoin Savings and Trust. At one point, BTCST held 7% of all bitcoins.

Pirate’s Ponzi had a pile of pass-through funds — which invested only in BTCST. There were even funds insuring against the collapse of BTCST … who put the insurance premiums into BTCST.

History repeats, but only the stupid stuff. 

Image: Night of the Living Dead, 1968

CoinFLEX gets Roger Verified — the mystery of the missing Bitcoin Cash

David and I just wrote up a story on CoinFlex — a small exchange that we hadn’t heard of until recently. This is a fascinating story, which I am sure will get more interesting. David posted the story on his blog.

CoinFLEX also turns out to run a huge dark-pool crypto derivatives exchange and/or repo market, serving some notable proportion of the wider crypto trading market. 

Mark Lamb, who runs the exchange, has found himself $47 million short. An ultra high net work individual owes CoinFlex money, Lamb says. Apparently, this individual turns out to be Roger Ver.

Lamb has come up with a way to solve the problem, and it all has to do with the magic of tokenization! You’ll want to listen to the entire Bloomberg interview.

CBC Radio interview: Could crypto investments become virtually worthless?

Last week, I spoke with CBC Radio One, a national business radio show in Canada. Paul Haavardsrud interviewed me. The show went live on Sunday. [Cost of Living]

Paul was a great host. He let me do most of the talking! Paul wants to know why crypto is crashing. I tell him it’s because the money is all gone. He asks, “Well, where did it go?” Excellent question!

Naturally, that led me to bring up Tether. I also explained that while bitcoin’s value may never drop completely to zero, it could become a lot more difficult to trade if liquidity dries up.

The show repeats on Tuesday, June 28, at 11:30 a.m. NT in most provinces. 

If you want to learn more about why the crypto bubble is bursting, read “How 2020 set the stage for the 2021 bitcoin bubble,” by myself and David Gerard, along with “The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto Crashing.”

How 2020 set the stage for the 2021 bitcoin bubble

  • By Amy Castor and David Gerard
  • Be sure to subscribe to our Patreon accounts — Amy’s is here; David’s is here.

We often get asked by reporters: “Why are crypto markets crashing?” The short answer is because there’s no money left, and no more coming in. The long answer is more complicated.

Bitcoin peaked at $64,000 in April 2021 and again at $69,000 in November 2021. Many of the network effects that drove the price of bitcoin to those heights were put into place in 2020.

The same network effects are now working in reverse. Markets take the stairway up and the elevator down.

The 2017 bubble was fueled by the ICO boom and actual outside dollars entering the crypto economy. Bitcoin topped out just below $20,000 in December 2017.

The crash that followed over the next 12 months was like air being slowly let out of a balloon — much like the 2014 deflation after Bitcoin’s prior 2013 peak. ICO and enterprise blockchain promoters tried to keep going through 2018 like everything was fine, but the party was clearly over.

In contrast, the 2022 crash is like a wave of explosive dominoes all crashing down in rapid succession. How did we get here?

A long, cold crypto winter

Let’s start in early 2020. It was the crypto winter. Bitcoin’s price had spent two years bobbling up and down from infusions of tethers, and traders on BitMEX rigging the price to burn margin traders. (And, allegedly, BitMEX itself burning its margin traders.) [Medium, 2018]

But the dizzying price rises were peculiarly bloodless. There was little evidence of fresh outside dollars from retail investors — the ordinary people. The press would write how bitcoin had just hit $13,000 — but they’d also call people like us, and we’d tell them about Tether.

Throughout 2019 and into 2020, crypto pumpers were desperately trying scheme after scheme — initial coin offerings, initial exchange offerings, bitcoin futures, selling to pension funds — to lure in precious actual dollars and get the party re-started.

Then Corona-chan knocked on the door.

Act I, Scene I: Pandemic Panic

On March 13, 2020, the US government declared a pandemic emergency. The panic drove down stocks and crypto. Investors sold everything and flew to the safest, hardest form of money they could find: the US dollar! Bitcoin dropped from $7,250 to $3,858 over the course of that day.

It was an edge-of-the-cliff moment for bitcoin. Any further drop could force liquidations and create a ripple effect across dozens more crypto projects. For bitcoin miners, the price of bitcoin was now below the cost of mining.

Worse, only two months away was the bitcoin “halvening” — an every-four-year event when the number of bitcoins granted in each freshly-mined block halves. If bitcoin dropped too low in price, the miners wouldn’t be able to pay their enormous power bills. The crypto industry desperately needed to push bitcoin’s price back before May.

Tether spins up the printing press

Tether, launched in 2014, is an offshore crypto company that issues a dubiously backed stablecoin of the same name. Tether works like an I.O.U. — Tether supposedly takes in dollars and issues a tether for each dollar held in reserve. Since Tether has never had an audit, nobody knows for sure what’s backing tethers. The company has an extensive history of shenanigans — see Amy’s Tether timeline.

The issuance of tethers in March 2020, was 4.3 billion, but that’s when the Tether printer kicked into overdrive — minting tethers at a clip nobody had ever seen before. 

Tether minted 4.4 billion tethers in April 2020 — crypto’s version of an economic stimulus package. By May, Bitcoin reached $10,000, just in time for the halvening.  

Once the price of bitcoin goes up, though, there’s no way to turn off the Tether printing press. It has to keep printing. If the price of bitcoin goes down, people will sell, creating an exodus of real dollars from the system. So Tether kept printing, pushing the price of bitcoin ever skyward. 

In May, June, and July 2020, Tether issued a combined total of 3 billion tethers. In August, when the price of bitcoin reached $12,000, Tether issued another 2.6 billion tethers. In September, when bitcoin slid below $10,000, Tether issued another 2.2 billion tethers. 

By the end of 2020, Tether had reached a market cap of 21 billion. The printer kept going. In 2021, Tether pumped out 60 billion more tethers. By May 2022, Tether’s market cap had reached 83 billion. Bitcoin’s price peaks in April 2021 ($64,000) and November 2021 ($69,000) both coincided with an influx of tethers into the market. 

You can’t just redeem tethers. Only Tether’s big customers — it has about ten of them — can redeem. You can try to sell your tethers on an exchange. But you can’t just go up to Tether to redeem them for dollars. There were no redemptions of tethers, ever, until May and June 2022 — the present crash.

Curiously, Tether’s reserve as declared to New York in April 2019 contained $2.1 billion of actual money — cash and US Treasuries. But Tether’s reserve attestation as of March 31, 2021, still contained just $2.1 billion of cash and treasuries!

This suggests that the rest of the reserve over that time was made up of whatever worthless nonsense Tether could claim was a reserve asset — loans of tethers, cryptocurrencies, and dubious commercial paper credited at face value rather than being marked to market.

Dan Davies, in his essential book Lying for Money, marks this as the key flaw in frauds of all sorts: they have to keep growing so that later fraud will keep covering for earlier fraud. This works until the fraud explodes.

Tether marketcap, CoinGecko

GBTC’s ‘reflexive Ponzi’

Grayscale’s Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) played a huge role in keeping the price of bitcoin above water through 2020. It offered a lucrative arbitrage trade, an exploitable inefficiency in markets, that a lot of big players went all-in on.

GBTC was an attempt to wrap Bitcoin in an institutionally compatible shell. All through 2020 and into 2021, GBTC was trading at a premium to bitcoin on the secondary markets. Accredited investors would acquire GBTC at net asset value — some large proportion being in exchange for direct deposits of bitcoins, not purchases for cash, although all the accounting was stated in dollars. After a six-month lock-up, the accredited investors would sell the shares to the public at a 20 percent premium, sometimes more. Rinse, repeat, and that’s a 40 percent return in a year. 

GBTC functioned like a “reflexive Ponzi.” When Grayscale bought more bitcoin for the trust, that drove up the price of bitcoin, which pushed up the GBTC premium, which resulted in investors wanting more GBTC and Grayscale issuing more shares. 

Grayscale ran a national TV advertising campaign at the time, targeted at ordinary investors. The ads warned that disaster was imminent, inflation would eat your retirement, and bitcoin was better than gold — so you should buy bitcoin. Or, this shiny GBTC, which was implied to be just as good! [YouTube, 2019]

In a bull market, retail investors didn’t mind paying a premium — because the price of bitcoin kept going up. The market treated GBTC as if it was convertible back to bitcoins, even though it absolutely wasn’t. [Adventures in Capitalism]

Grayscale ultimately flooded the market with GBTC. When an actual bitcoin ETF became available in Canada, GBTC’s premium dried up. Since February 2021, GBTC has been trading below the price of bitcoin. As of March 2022, the trust holds 641,637 bitcoins. And they’re staying there indefinitely — leaving GBTC holders locked in on an underwater trade.

The rise of decentralized finance

Decentralized finance, or DeFi, didn’t directly pump the price of bitcoin in 2020. But DeFi was one of the stars of the 2021 bubble itself, and eventually caused the bubble’s disastrous explosion. All of the structures to let that happen were set up through 2020.

DeFi is an attempt to put traditional financial system transactions — loans, deposits, margin trading — on the blockchain. Regulated institutions are replaced with unknown and unregulated intermediaries, and everything is facilitated with smart contracts — small computer programs running on the blockchain — and stablecoins.

All through 2019 and 2020, DeFi was heavily promoted as offering remarkable interest rates. At a time of low inflation, this got coverage in the mainstream financial press. Here’s the diagram the Financial Times ran, depicting DeFi as a laundromat for money: [FT, paywalled, archive

The key to DeFi is decentralized exchanges, where you can trade any crypto asset that can be represented as an ERC-20 token — such as almost any ICO token — with any other ERC-20 token.

DeFi also lets you take illiquid tokens that nobody wants, do a trade, assign them a spurious price tag in dollars, then say they’re “worth” that much. This lets dead altcoins with no prospective buyers claim a price and a market cap, and attract attention they don’t warrant. If you put a dollar sign on things, then people take that price tag seriously — even when they shouldn’t.

You can also create a price for a token that you made up out of thin air yesterday and use DeFi to claim an instant millions-of-dollars market cap for it. 

This was the entire basis for the valuation of Terraform Labs’ UST and luna tokens — and people believed those “$18 billion” in UST were trustworthily backed by anything.

You can also use those tokens you created out of thin air as collateral for loans to acquire yet more assets. An unconstrained supply of financial assets means more opportunities for bubbles to grow, and more illiquid assets that you can dump for liquid assets (BTC, ETH, USDC) when things go wonky.

By September 2020, five hundred new DeFi tokens had been created in the previous month. DeFi hadn’t hit the mainstream yet — but it was already the hottest market in crypto. [Bloomberg]

The problem was that in 2020, to use DeFi you had to know your way around using the actual blockchain. Retail investors, and even most institutional investors, haven’t got the time for that sort of dysfunctional nonsense.

Retail was more attracted to the “CeFi” (centralized DeFi) investment firms, such as Celsius and 3AC, offering impossible interest rates. These existed in 2020 but didn’t gain popularity until the following year when the bubble had started properly.

A new grift: NFTs 

By late 2020, crypto promoters were searching for a new grift to lure in retail money, one that would have broader mainstream appeal. They soon found one. 

NFTs as we know them got started in 2017, with CurioCards, CryptoPunks, and CryptoKitties. NFT marketing had continued through the crypto winter — in the desperate hope that ordinary people might put their dollars into crypto collectibles.

The foundations of the early 2021 burst of art NFTs were laid in late 2020, when Vignesh Sundaresan, a.k.a. Metakovan, first started looking into promoting digital artists, such as Beeple — whose $69 million JPEG made international headlines for NFTs in March 2021, and officially kicked off the NFT boom. 

Late 2020 also saw the launch of NBA Top Shot, the only crypto collectible that ever got any interest from buyers other than crypto speculators. Top Shot traders were disappointed at how incredibly slow Dapper Labs was at letting them withdraw the money they’d made in trading — and became some of the first investors in the Bored Apes.

Coiner CEOs 

By late 2020, several big company CEOs started promoting the concept of bitcoin on the company dime. These included Jack Dorsey at Twitter, Dan Schulman at PayPal, and Michael Saylor at business software company MicroStrategy.

In October 2020, Saylor revealed his company had bought 17,732 bitcoins for an average of $10,000 per coin. Over the next 18 months, Microstrategy would plow through its cash reserves and take on debt to funnel more money into bitcoin, spending $4 billion in the process. Buying MSTR shares become the newest way for retail investors to bet on bitcoin. Saylor also put himself forward as bitcoin’s latest prophet and crazy god.

PayPal set up bitcoin trading in 2020, though only as a walled garden, where you couldn’t move coins in or out. Still, it made gambling on crypto more accessible to retail investors. 

Bitcoin miners start ‘hodling

By late 2020, we suspect there was very little actual cash in crypto. But bitcoin needed to continue its upward ascent. 

The biggest tip-off that the fresh outside dollars had stopped flowing was when bitcoin miners stopped selling their coins. Bitcoin miners mint 900 new bitcoins per day. They typically sell these to pay their energy costs — power companies don’t accept tether — and buy new mining equipment, which becomes obsolete every 18 months. At $20,000 per bitcoin, that would equate to $18 million, in actual dollars, getting pulled out of the bitcoin ecosystem every day.

In October 2020, Marathon Digital (MARA), one of the largest publicly traded miners, stopped selling its bitcoins. They took out loans, which allowed them to buy their equipment and hold their bitcoins. Marathon even bought additional bitcoins!  

Borrowing against mined bitcoins, and not selling them, reduced selling pressure on bitcoin’s price in dollars. US-based miners used this model heavily from July 2021 onward — taking low-interest loans from their crypto buddies, Galaxy Digital, DCG, and Silvergate Bank. Although, in 2022, the loans started running out and they had to start selling bitcoins.

This also set Marathon up for potential implosion when energy prices went up and the price of bitcoin dropped in 2022. Marathon is presently losing $10,000 on every bitcoin they mine. 

Easy money?

2020 was a weird year of market panics, bored day traders, and easy money — for some.

The Federal Reserve dealt with the pandemic panic by showering the markets with stimulus money. At the retail end, $817 billion was distributed in stimulus checks (Economic Impact Payments), $678 billion in extended unemployment, and $1.7 trillion to businesses, mostly as quickly-forgiven loans. [New York Times]

Bored day traders, stuck at home working their email jobs and unable to go out in the evening, got into trading stocks on Robinhood as the hot new mobile phone game. Car rental firm Hertz, a literally bankrupt company, whose stock was notionally worth zero, started going up just because Robinhood users thought it was a good deal. Instead of crypto becoming a more regular investment like stocks, the stonks* had turned into shitcoins.**

What isn’t clear is how much of this money found its way to the crypto market. At least some of it did. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland noted: “a significant increase in Bitcoin buy trades for the modal EIP amount of $1,200.” This increased BTC-USD trade volume by 3.8%! [Cleveland Fed]

But the trades only seemed to raise the price of bitcoin by 0.07%. And the dollars in question were only 0.02% of the money distributed in the EIP program.

* A cheap and nasty equity stock; the term comes from a meme image. [Know Your Meme]
** We are sorry to tell you that this is literally a technical term in crypto trading.

The final push over the line

A lot of channels into crypto were put into place in 2020. But the last step was to pump the price over the previous bubble peak of $20,000.

With that bitcoin number achieved, the press would cover the number going up — because “number go up” is the most interesting possible story in finance. That would lure in the precious retail dollars that hodlers needed to cash out.

The push started in late November, with deployments of tethers to the offshore exchanges. On December 18, 2020 — exactly three years after the previous high — bitcoin went over $20,000 again. And that’s when a year and a half of fun started.

‘10 NFTs That Were Sold at a Substantial Loss,’ and two other stories for Artnet News

I’ve been busy lately writing stories for Artnet News about NFTs and the NFT market. These stories aren’t paywalled, so you can read them: 

Fat Finger’ Errors or Bad Investments? Here Are 10 NFTs That Were Sold at a Substantial Loss as Crypto Markets Have Cooled [Artnet]

I looked at 10 NFTs that sold for a massive loss. Would it surprise you to know that several of them were Bored Apes? Lots of fat finger listings amongst the Apes. 

‘It’s Probably Gonna Be a Huge Cry Fest’: Plunging Crypto Markets Cast a Shadow Over NFT.NYC and Its Jittery True Believers” [Artnet]

This market analysis piece has quotes from NFT archeologist Adam McBride and investor Francis Kim. 

You may remember Kim — the Australian who lost a bunch of money margin trading on Binance and was written up in the Washington Post. Now he’s launching an NFT project while the crypto markets are crashing. He hasn’t made any money yet. 

“I feel like a victim in every story,” he told me.

‘I Am Very Sorry’: Takashi Murakami Apologizes to His Crypto Investors on Twitter as His NFT Prices Nosedive [Artnet]

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami tells his fans that he is so very sorry his flower NFTs aren’t going up in price. He is so sorry, in fact, that he is launching a new NFT collection. Maybe he’ll be double sorry? [Artnet]

Crypto collapse latest: the contagion spreads

David Gerard and I just wrote a newsletter. We had a Zoom call for an hour today, and we’d been collecting notes and trying to decide what to write next. Finally, we just decided to throw a bunch of stuff in a pile and call it a newsletter. You can read it on his blog.

So much is happening so fast that it’s almost difficult to keep up. We have a few ideas for more stories that we’ll be working on next. Stay tuned!

Also, if you are a patron, you qualify for free Bitcoin: It Can’t Be That Stupid stickers, if you ask. Just send me a DM on Patreon!

The tale of a whale who took Solend’s money

DeFi stands for decentralized finance, but don’t let the “decentralized” part fool you. These protocols are almost always controlled by a central party who calls the shots.

When you hand them your money, they can do whatever they want with it, when they want. Offshore crypto exchanges exhibit similar behavior.

On Sunday, Solend, a “decentralized” lending platform on the Solana blockchain, passed a proposal that would give them permission to take over the account of a “whale” — a large holder — who posed a threat to the price of SOL, the native token of Solana. 

The whale had deposited a large amount of SOL into Solend in exchange for a “loan” of USDC and USDT, two popular stablecoins, and then disappeared. Make no mistake: this was an exit, not a loan. The whale essentially sold a huge amount of SOL for a two highly liquid assets — at a substantial discount, granted, but that amount of SOL would have crashed the market otherwise.

The problem was that if the price of SOL dropped below a certain point, the Solend platform would auto-liquidate his funds, selling off a large chunk on a decentralized exchange. This would create cascading liquidations across the books of the decentralized exchanges, potentially driving the price of SOL to zero. 

Solend Labs made a bad loan and overpaid for the SOL. To fix this, they came up with a solution: set up a sham DAO and conduct a sham vote to take over the whale’s account and sell the coins over the counter (OTC) to avoid crashing the market. “Code is law” only applies until the big boys might lose money.

How DeFi works

In October, Solend raised $6.5 million from Coinbase Ventures, Solana Ventures, and Alameda Research, among others. The following month, the firm raised another $26 million worth of USDC in an initial coin offering, selling its SLND token. Investors and insiders got a percentage of SLND. [Crunchbase; SLND distribution]

Solend is one of the largest DeFi lending protocols on Solana. You deposit assets as collateral and take out loans against those assets, generally in the form of stablecoins.  

This isn’t true lending. True lending involves giving money to people who don’t have money in exchange for illiquid collateral, such as a car or a house, or something that is liquid but the lender cannot or does not want to sell, such as controlling shares in a company. In contrast, DeFi lending is giving people money against collateral that is a larger amount of fungible money. Another crucial distinction is that with true lending, you keep possession of the home, car or stock; whereas, in DeFi lending, the lender takes possession of the collateral, which you then cannot use in any way, not even for POS staking.

Traders use DeFi lending platforms to leverage long or short positions. It’s a form of gambling. If your bet goes south, you lose your collateral. Everything in DeFi is done with smart contracts, which are just simple and dumb computer programs, so liquidations are automatic — unless they’re not. 

In the case of Solend, a whale took out a large margin position. They parked 5.7 million SOL (currently worth $170 million) onto the platform to withdraw $108 million in USDC and USDT. The whale then vanished, and would not pay down the loan or respond to tweets from Solend’s pseudonymous founder Rooter. [Tweet]

This is one of the reasons we’ve seen such a proliferation of stablecoins in 2021 — they are used in DeFi lending. Retailers (the public) buy stablecoins and stake them on DeFi platforms hoping to earn higher interest than they can from traditional banks. The market cap of USDC was 4 billion in early 2021. Today, it is 56 billion.

The whale’s position represented 95% of all Solana deposits on Solend and 88% of all USDC the platform had lent out. If Solana dropped to $22.30, the whale risked partial liquidation — about $21 million worth of SOL — even though they didn’t seem to care. And the retail stakers risked losing their USDC. 

SOL is currently trading at $35, according to Coin Gecko. It still has a way to fall, but in the current market, the value of all cryptos only seems to be going down. 

Let’s let the DAO decide

To get itself out of this sticky situation, Solend Labs spun up a decentralized autonomous organization. The purpose of a DAO is to allow the community to vote on proposals. Solend’s governance token is SLND. The more SLND you hold, the larger influence you have on a proposal passing. DAOs typically aren’t created on-demand, but this one was. 

On June 19, Solend put the first proposal to its DAO: “SLND1: Mitigate Risk From Whale.” [Proposal, Solend blog]

“DEX liquidity isn’t deep enough to handle a sale of this size and could cause cascading effects. Additionally, liquidators will be incentivized to spam the network to win very lucrative liquidations. This has been known to cause load issues for Solana in the past which would exacerbate the problems at hand.”

… It’d be difficult for the market to absorb such an impact since liquidators generally market sell on DEXes. In the worst case, Solend could end up with bad debt.”

That last line is misleading. Solend already had bad debt. It was simply trying to fumble its way out of a horrible situation of its own making.  

SLND holders could vote as follows:

Vote Yes: Enact special margin requirements for large whales that represent over 20% of borrows and grant emergency power to Solend Labs to temporarily take over the whale’s account so the liquidation can be executed OTC.

Vote No: Do nothing.”

One yea voter (a SLND whale) provided 1 million votes out of the 1.15 million votes in favor. In fact, they moved a million governance tokens into their account, voted, and moved them back out again — not the greatest example of corporate governance. Users had only six hours to vote, and the voting site was down for three hours during the voting. Solend claims the Solend core team did not vote. Just some random person who borrowed 98 percent voting power. [Twitter; Twitter]

The Solend community was livid and Solend was getting all kinds of bad press over the incident, so Solend submitted a second proposal to invalidate the first and start over: “SLND2: Invalidate SLND1 and Increase Voting Time. [Proposal; Solend blog]

“We propose to: Invalidate the last proposal, Increase governance voting time to 1 day, Work on a new proposal that does not involve emergency powers to take over an account.”

This second proposal was also passed, largely due to the same SLND whale. 

The ‘future of finance’

Solend is currently experiencing a bank run, as lenders rush to get their deposits off the platform. If the money is borrowed, Solend can’t pay it back. The whale has almost completely drained Solend of any actual value and left it filled with assets that cannot be sold. [Tweet; Reddit; Solend dashboard]

The Solend platform did exactly what it was designed to do — lend money. The problem was that Solend massively overpaid for SOL. Put simply: the whale had trouble offloading a huge amount of SOL, so he offloaded it onto Solend, and they, in turn, are struggling to offload the SOL. 

DAOs are corporate governance but with a concussion. Automated voting is a terrible idea. Being able to borrow an overwhelming number of votes just for the vote is extremely dumb. This is exactly what happed to Beanstalk. 

Crypto boosters and VCs, such as Andreessen Horowitz, have been promoting DeFi as “the future of finance” and the foundation of “Web3,” which is nothing more than a way for people to create money out of thin air in the form of tokens, and for investors to cash out by dumping those tokens on the public.

Retailers deposited their stablecoins on Solend in the hope of making high returns. What they got instead was a whale that took off to sea with all of their money.

Updated to include the bit about the bank run.

Additional reporting by David Gerard.

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Bitcoin fell below $20,000 — and why it has further to go

Bitcoin broke below $20,000 last night. I got a message on Signal while I was sleeping. 

On June 18, 2022, at 6:51 UTC, the price of bitcoin fell from $20,377 to $19,245 on Kraken and then slipped to as low as $18,728 before catching its breath. As I write, it is now $19,174.

Ether also broke below $1,000. The buy wall was destroyed in a matter of seconds.

Bitcoin has now fallen below the previous all-time high it set on December 17, 2017 — officially marking the end of the crypto bubble. The party is over.

Two years ago, as bitcoin embarked on its incredible journey to $69,000 — a number it reached on November 9, 2021 — it was $10,000. At the start of 2020, bitcoin was trading even lower, at around $7,000.

Those numbers give you a sense of how much further bitcoin can fall. As dramatic as the run-up was to $69,000 when every bitcoin bro imagined bitcoin would shoot to the moon, the fall can be equally so, and that is what we are seeing now. 

Of course, everyone is asking, why did bitcoin plunge so quickly Saturday night? What pushed it below $20,000 so suddenly? Somebody is selling. Who needs to sell? 

Miners have to sell to pay their power bills. They mine 900 newly minted bitcoin per day. The bitcoin network consumes a country’s worth of energy. 

The miners have been borrowing money from their buddies, DCG and Galaxy, to cover business costs rather than selling since July 2021. But they can’t borrow any more dollars, so they’re dumping their coins. They also have to pay their credit bills when those loans come due. 

Who else is selling? Any number of crypto lenders, yield farms, and other decentralized finance firms that are running desperately low on liquidity — and there are many of them. 

Last month, Terra/Luna toppled over. This was DeFi’s Bear Stearns moment. Things seemed to settle down for a moment, but behind the scenes, a titanic shift had begun — the wrecking ball was in action. In the chain of reactions that followed, two other Ponzi schemes collapsed: Celsius and 3AC. Smaller outfits Finblox and Babel soon followed — and more are to come.

When investigators look back and piece together the causes of the crypto apocalypse of 2022, key factors will be huge VC money pouring into the space, the massive printing of Tethers — from 4 billion at the start of 2020 all the way to 83 billion earlier this year — and Grayscale’s Bitcoin Trust.

GBTC was an attempt to wrap Bitcoin in an institutionally compatible shell. As I wrote in “Welcome to Grayscale’s Hotel California,” GBTC’s arbitrage trade brought billions of dollars of real money into the crypto ecosystem.  

It also caused explosive growth in crypto leverage. Many of the firms that are collapsing now, looked to GBTC as a way to deliver ridiculously high returns. They would exchange their cash or bitcoin for shares of GBTC and after a 6-12 month lockup, sell those shares on the secondary market for a premium to retail investors. That premium averaged around 18% in 2020. 

It was a sure-fire way to make money until the premium dried up. GBTC has been trading below the price of bitcoin since February 2021.  

All through 2020 and into 2021, there was a massive retail inflow of cash chasing a “reflexive Ponzi” in the form of a GBTC arb situation. And all Ponzi schemes end the same way — they crash stupendously.

See also David Gerard’s post on the bubble pop.

Further reading: “The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto Crashing,” by David Gerard and Amy Castor

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Scam Economy podcast: Crypto Jenga: Celsius and the Latest Crypto Crash 

Earlier this week, David Gerard and I did a podcast together for Matt Binder’s Scam Economy. It just went up this evening. [Youtube; Apple Podcast; Google Podcast, Spotify]

The interview is based on a popular story that David and I recently co-wrote: “The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto Crashing,” which has now been translated into German and French, and soon, possibly Italian.

It’s as if the entire crypto space has been held together by a giant lynchpin, someone pulled out the lynchpin, and now everything is tumbling to the ground.

UST crashed, Celsius followed, and more recently, Three Arrows Capital has failed to meet lender margin calls. Small crypto funds are next to fall, as David spelled in his recent story on yield farm platform Finblox.

The network effects that brought bitcoin to its heights from 2020 to 2021 are now working in reverse.