- By Amy Castor and David Gerard
- Our Patreons still have banking — here’s Amy’s, and here’s David’s. Your contributions help us do all of this!
- Our patrons can also get a couple of “Bitcoin: It Can’t Be That Stupid” stickers just by messaging one of us and asking.
- David has signed author copies of his books for sale.
- Sign up on Amy’s blog to see every new post she makes as it goes up, and click here and enter your email address for every new post on David’s blog as it goes up.
“I like the Bernie Madoff test: does this have a higher return than Bernie Madoff promised? If so, it’s probably a scam!”— HappyHippo
Amy wrote about why Bitcoin would rather continue contributing to the destruction of the planet than switch to proof of stake. [MIT Technology Review]
Amy was also quoted in Cointelegraph talking about stablecoins, mostly BUSD. [Cointelegraph]
David did a fun podcast with C. Edward Kelso back in November, about FTX exploding and the ongoing forest fires in the world of pretend nerd money. He also did a video in November with El Podcast. [Anchor.fm; YouTube]
Silvergate’s goose continues cooking
What’s next for crypto’s favorite bank? Will a team of FDIC agents storm Silvergate? The market is expecting an unfriendly resolution. The bank’s stock (NYSE:SI) is 95% down on its one-year price and is still being heavily shorted.
We wrote up Silvergate’s current problems on Thursday. One of the many ways that Silvergate screwed itself over was by putting cash deposits into long-term treasuries. When their panicky crypto customers needed their money, Silvergate had to sell bonds at a loss of $1 billion in Q4 2022. If they had just bought one-month T-bills, they would have been better off — but those don’t pay as much interest.
Silvergate has paid back its $4.3 billion loan from FHLB-SF, though. [American Banker]
What we still don’t know is who pressured Silvergate to pay back the loan immediately. It’s utterly unclear why they had to liquidate a chunk of mildly underwater securities to pay off FHLB-SF instead of rolling over the advances.
How did Silvergate end up in this situation in the first place? Greed. A banking charter is a literal license to print money. But that wasn’t enough for them. So Silvergate CEO Alan Lane, who joined the bank in 2008, got into cryptocurrency because crypto was an under-served customer base. But Silvergate didn’t stop to ask themselves why it was under-served. Anyway, look at all this free money!
Worse than that, Silvergate de-diversified — they got rid of those tawdry and tedious retail deposits and mortgages that the bank had focused on since the 1980s. This left them at the mercy of the sector crashing, or one large customer collapsing.
Frances Coppola said: “The problem is not the business model, it’s the customers. If your customers are volatile, you’re at risk of runs. And if your customers are fraudsters, you’re at risk of lawsuits.” [Twitter]
On Friday afternoon, Silvergate made a “risk-based decision” to shut down its inter-crypto-exchange payments network, the Silvergate Exchange Network (SEN). [Silvergate website, archive]
This was a major part of Silvergate’s business. The SEN allowed real-time transfers of real money, any time of day or night, which crypto companies loved. It helped Silvergate attract billions of dollars in deposits from crypto exchanges and stablecoin issuers.
Signature Bank’s similar Signet platform is still up and running, for some reason.
Moody’s just downgraded Silvergate’s credit rating for borrowing from B3 to Ca. This is Moody’s second-lowest grade: “highly speculative and are likely in, or very near, default, with some prospect of recovery in principal and interest.” [Bloomberg; Moody’s, PDF]
MicroStrategy has a loan to pay off to Silvergate — or its successor — by Q1 2025. “For anyone wondering, the loan wouldn’t accelerate b/c of SI insolvency or bankruptcy,” says MicroStrategy. [Twitter]
The MicroStrategy loan is not delinquent — and it has nothing to do with Silvergate’s present crisis. But this loan, and similar loans to bitcoin miners, are part of the thinking that got Silvergate here. If you’re making loans secured by bitcoins at bubble prices, then you’re an idiot.
Signature Bank, crypto’s tiny lifeboat
There were two banks critical to US crypto. Silvergate on the West Coast and Signature Bank in New York. With the potential collapse of Silvergate, that means $750 billion per year in USD transfers between crypto exchanges is gone. Now it’s all on Signature.
Signature Bank’s 10-K for 2022 is out. [Business Wire; 10-K, PDF]
Crypto was one-quarter of deposits to Signature in Q3 2022. When FTX crashed in November, crypto companies were caught short and had to withdraw their dollars in a hurry.
Signature could weather this rush because they were diversified, unlike Silvergate. They then claimed in December, and later in their 10-K, that they were totally trying to get out of crypto anyway. The January letter from the Fed, the FDIC, and the OCC warning banks to stay away from crypto probably helped push this opinion along.
(We wonder slightly where all these crypto exchanges are going to get US dollar banking now. If you have any thoughts, let us know!)
In 2022, Signature’s deposits declined $17.54 billion or 16.5% to 88.59 billion. Most of that ($12.39 billion) was crypto deposits leaving the bank. At the end of last year, the bank’s crypto asset deposits totaled $17.79 billion, or 20% of its deposits.
Unlike Silvergate, Signature doesn’t lend money to the crypto industry, nor do they have loans secured with crypto. Their relationship with crypto clients is only US dollar deposits and their Signet platform.
But Signature’s stock price (NASDAQ:SBNY) is being dragged down with Silvergate’s. SBNY is 64% down on its one-year price.
The Wall Street Journal got hold of some Tether emails. Tether “intermediaries” used faked companies and shell accounts in 2018 to skirt the Bank Secrecy Act and move money for terrorists. Oops. [WSJ]
One of those intermediaries was a major USDT trader in China. On a list of several accounts created for use by Tether and Bitfinex, another account was in Turkey and was allegedly used to launder money raised by Hamas.
Elsewhere, the sentencing of Tether/Bitfinex US money mule Reggie Fowler has been adjourned again. It’s now scheduled for April 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET. [Twitter]
Voyager Digital: a terminally stupid loan to the cool kids at 3AC
Voyager Digital went broke because a single unsecured loan to Three Arrows Capital was over a quarter of their loan book, and then 3AC went bust. The Unsecured Creditors’ Committee has prepared a report on Voyager’s loan practices in general, but especially that one fatally stupid loan. [Committee Report, PDF]
Voyager’s rewards program was run at a substantial loss — it was “primarily implemented as a marketing tool.” So Voyager implemented the lending program to fund its rewards program.
Evan Psarapoulos, Voyager’s chief commercial offer, told Ryan Whooley, the company’s treasury director “we have to beef up the team and onboard/lend to riskier borrowers.”
So Voyager ran a super risky lending program. Just in 2022, 3AC, Celsius, and Alameda Research each borrowed more than 25% of Voyager’s total assets at various times. If 3AC hadn’t taken down Voyager, it would have been someone else.
Voyager’s risk committee met through 2022, though Voyager executives didn’t believe the committee had the power to overturn decisions by Psarapoulos or CEO Steve Ehrlich.
Various borrowers sent varying amounts of information to be able to borrow from Voyager. Genesis sent audited financials. Galaxy sent unaudited financials. Celsus and BitGo sent balance sheets. Wintermute sent income statements.
But 3AC sent only a single-sentence statement of their net asset value and had a half-hour phone call with Voyager. Here is the complete text of the letter from 3AC that let them borrow a quarter of Voyager’s assets:
AUM Letter PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL
Three Arrows Capital Ltd. (the “Company”)
To Whom It May Concern,
We confirm the following for Three Arrows Capital Ltd as at 1-January-2022 in millions of USD.
On behalf of Three Arrows Capital Ltd.
Voyager sought out a relationship with 3AC in particular because of “the prestige that 3AC had at the time in the industry.” So 3AC could set its terms. It only wanted to borrow without providing collateral, and, incredibly, it refused to provide audited financial statements.
Psarapoulos figured 3AC was safe because Genesis had lent to 3AC and Voyager thought Genesis’ diligence process was robust. Ehrlich said refusing to provide financials was “not uncommon for hedge funds.”
Voyager’s first loan to 3AC was on March 8, 2022. Two months later, Terra-Luna collapsed.
Tim Lo from 3AC told Voyager in May that 3AC had lost only $100 million in the Terra-Luna collapse. But on June 14, 2022, Lo told Psarapoulos that 3AC directors Zhu Su and Kyle Davies had disappeared, and things were “in bad shape.”
Voyager recalled all its loans. 3AC returned no assets. On June 24, 2022, Voyager issued a notice of default. 3AC entered liquidation on June 27. Voyager filed for Chapter 11 on July 6.
In other Voyager bankruptcy news, Judge Michael Wiles said the SEC had asked him to “stop everybody in their tracks” with its claims that Voyager’s internal VGX token may have been a security. The SEC needs to explain its claim and how to address its concerns. [Reuters]
The Department of Justice, the FTC, New Jersey, and Texas object to wording in Voyager’s latest proposed confirmation order that might purport to restrict government action against Voyager. [Doc 1134, PDF; Doc 1135, PDF; Doc 1136, PDF]
NovaWulf put in a bid to start a new Celsius company with actual lines of business and issue shares to Celsius creditors. This is now the official Stalking Horse bid. NovaWulf hopes to get the new company up and running by June 2023. We think the plan is a hope-fueled bet on crypto bubbling again, but it’s this or liquidation. [Doc 2150, PDF; Doc 2151, PDF]
Celsius, the UCC, and the Custody ad-hoc group want the court to let them put to creditors a settlement that would get Custody holders “72.5% of their eligible Custody Assets on the effective date of the Debtors’ Plan.” [Doc 2148, PDF]
A 60-day stay, with further discovery, has been agreed upon in the KeyFi v. Celsius suit and countersuit. [Stay order, PDF]
Celsius is moving to compensate cooperating witnesses for their time and effort — both their past help to the examiner and further help Celsius may need going forward — in the cause of recovering money for creditors. [Doc 2147, PDF]