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“And it seems to me, you lived your life like a candle in the wind. You’ve abruptly toppled over and you’re burning things. Now there’s one less fiat onramp, for those who’ve been orange pilled. And there is no liquidity, for all the crypto shills.”— Rycochet on Silvergate Bank
Silvergate Bank: Time wounds all heels
Silvergate was the easiest crypto death pool call this week. The bank has announced it is voluntarily unwinding and liquidating, “in light of recent industry and regulatory developments” — its customers kept treating deposits as their own money or something, and regulators and legislators hated it a whole lot. All deposits will be returned in full. [Press release]
“The Company is also considering how best to resolve claims and preserve the residual value of its assets, including its proprietary technology and tax assets.” We’re not sure which proprietary technology this means — Silvergate wrote off its investment in Diem, formerly Facebook’s Libra, in its preliminary Q4 2022 accounts, and it just shut down the Silvergate Exchange Network.
FDIC examiners went into Silvergate last week — as we predicted — and have been reviewing Silvergate’s books since. [Bloomberg]
The FDIC was discussing how to keep Silvergate alive — even suggesting a rescue by crypto-related investors. Yeah, right. We suspect they already asked every other bank in the US, none of whom would offer a dollar for this thing.
The big question is: what happens to the loans secured by bitcoins that Silvergate made to MicroStrategy and various bitcoin miners?
Silvergate’s total loan book, bitcoin and otherwise, was $1.4 billion as of September 30, 2022, including the infamous $205 million loan to MicroStrategy. The bitcoin loans are not “bad loans” — they’re not in default, as yet. But they were clearly stupid loans — some idiot thought that lending money to weird companies with insane business models, against an asset that was only up because of a bubble, was a good idea.
So, if Silvergate’s cut up for parts, who takes on these loans?
Loans collateralized with crypto will be a nuisance to transfer because you also need to transfer rights to the collateral (which is sitting in Coinbase Custody, the MSTR loan at least). The MSTR crypto was pledged rather than transferred — there’s a custody account for this specific deal — which is a bit less fiddly. And the bitcoin price is, of course, incredibly volatile, so the collateral itself is risky.
No sane bank is going to want to take on these loans at anywhere near face value. But we expect there will be some buyer who’s interested, at a suitable discount.
If no bank is willing to buy a loan from an insolvent bank, the FDIC tries to close the loan by negotiating with the borrower about possible early repayment. But we don’t expect these loans to end up in that position.
Silvergate Capital stock (NYSE:SI) is a dead cat bouncing between $3.00 and $3.50 today. It was $219 in November 2021. We hope the short sellers have managed to cash out. [Yahoo!]
Frances Coppola on Silvergate: “This is the story of a bank that put all its eggs into an emerging digital basket, believing that providing non-interest-bearing deposit and payment services to crypto exchanges and platforms would be a nice little earner, while completely failing to understand the extraordinary risks involved with such a venture.” [Coppola Comment; Coppola Comment]
Unbanking, on the blockchain
Marco Santori, chief legal officer at Kraken crypto exchange, tells The Block that Kraken is going to start its own crypto bank any day now. With “pens with the little ball chains.” [The Block]
Kraken got itself a Wyoming SPDI charter in 2020 — that’s the same charter as Caitlin Long’s Custodia Bank, which was recently refused an account at the Federal Reserve.
Kraken Bank originally told Decrypt it was aiming to launch in the first quarter of 2021. It’s currently “planning a phased launch” in, er, 2022, apparently. [Kraken, 2020; Decrypt, 2020; Kraken, 2023, archive]
Kraken recently lost US dollar access via Signature Bank for non-corporate customers. In the meantime, Kraken has various other dollar options. The dollar channel for ordinary schlubs is via SynapseFi, “The Launchpad for Financial Innovation” — a payment processor marketing itself hard to crypto companies, though stressing that it never touches crypto itself — or MVB Bank of West Virginia, which thinks there’s a market in “Web3.” [Kraken, archive; SynapseFi; MVB Bank]
UK payments processor BCB Group is angling to take over from Silvergate as the fiat rails to the crypto industry. BCB actually has an FCA license, so the FCA considered they could pass basic money laundering muster at least. BCB launched its BLINC network in 2020; BCB’s recent publicity push is marketing for that. [Coindesk; Coindesk, 2020]
Crypto.com has lost its onramps for actual money, except euros in the European Economic Area and a GBP onramp via BCB — but no US dollar access. [CoinDesk]
Michel de Cryptadamus writes up crypto.com: “At the end of the day we will probably discover that the entire cryptocurrency industry is 5,000 shell companies run by 20 dudes in a foul smelling room in some non-extradition country.” [Cryptadamus]
Crypto miners operating on public land haven’t been paying their taxes. Federal mineral lease operators have been using natural gas to power crypto mining without paying their gas royalties. The miners have been using mobile data centers in containers to evade oversight. [Office of Inspector General, PDF; Gizmodo]
Bitcoin miner Riot Platforms, née Riot Blockchain, has now filed its delayed 10-K for 2022 after the SEC told Riot to restate its accounts. There isn’t a lot that’s exciting here. The bitcoin mining business is knife-edge, bitcoin prices are down, and governments and the general public increasingly loathe bitcoin miners. Riot is branching out into selling its expertise in data center power distribution. Risks to Riot’s business include a pile of lawsuits against executives and directors concerning “allegedly false and misleading statements made in prior securities filings.” [SEC]
At the March 7 hearing in the bankruptcy of Voyager Digital, Judge Michael Wiles approved the purchase of Voyager assets by Binance US — assuming Binance US can pass various regulatory hurdles. (LOL.) [Doc 1159, PDF]
SEC staff think Binance US is likely an unregistered securities broker, but their objections weren’t specific enough to convince Judge Wiles to stop the sale. [WSJ]
In the hearing, Binance stressed that it really wants personal information, such as social security numbers, for all Voyager customers. Not just the ones moving to Binance US, but all of them: “Data is at the heart of the deal.” Judge Wiles was not impressed and said that SSNs from the Voyager customers who didn’t go to Binance would definitely not be a thing that Binance got. [Twitter]
More good news for bitcoin
The Financial Conduct Authority is hitting more UK crypto ATMs, this time in east London. No crypto ATM operator in the UK is registered with the FCA for anti-money laundering purposes, so all of them are illegal. [FCA]
In India, the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance is now requiring crypto-asset businesses to register with the FIU as reporting entities under AML laws. They also have to do basic know-your-customer — which they weren’t obliged to do before. Local crypto companies are actually positive about this move. [Gazette of India, PDF; CoinDesk]
In the US, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board warns that crypto exchange “proof of reserves” statements are meaningless garbage. [PCAOB]
FTX in bankruptcy wants to redeem Alameda’s GBTC shares for the bitcoins backing them. Grayscale said no, so FTX is suing for redemption. Remember that Grayscale could now redeem GBTC any time they like — they just choose not to. [Press release]
Easy Money by Ben McKenzie and Jacob Silverman is available for preorder! The release date is July 27. [Amazon US; Amazon UK]
Image: With apologies to Alex Shaeffer.