News: Tether prints $1B at a time, Tesla buys bitcoin, Roubini calls Saylor a cokehead, scammers hijack QuadrigaCX website

We are midway through February. Tether has surpassed $32 billion in tethers and appears to be quite proud of the fact. BTC is scratching $49,000 and ETH is over $1,800. There is so much craziness now in the crypto markets with shitcoins pumping galore, and big companies getting in on the bitcoin Ponzi.

In the meantime, I am concerned crypto is going retail again. Friends are calling and asking about bitcoin. One of my friend’s offspring was talking up dogecoin on Facebook. And I am overhearing conversations about crypto in grocery stores and parking lots—flashbacks of 2017, but this is worse. Retailers are going to get hurt all over again.

Another reminder, I have a Patreon account. If you want to support my writing, please consider subscribing. I’m currently making $572 a month on Patreon, which is fantastic because I can now buy decent bottles of wine. But at some point, I would love to bring that up closer to $2,000 or find a way to make a living doing this.

Tether: We’re done with the baby prints

On Thursday and again on Saturday, Tether issued $1 billion in tethers. These are the biggest single prints of USDT ever—and there were two in a row. Previously, the biggest prints were $600 million, which was rare. Normally, bigger prints were $400 million, and if Tether needed more, it would simply issue several in a row. But that’s clearly not enough to feed the monster now. 

By monster, I mean this snowball is getting so big, Tether is struggling to manage it. Seventy percent of bitcoin is traded against tethers, and as real money keeps getting siphoned out of the system, Tether needs to create more and more fake dollars to fill the ever-widening chasm. Tethers are counterfeit. They are not real dollars, but they are treated as such on offshore exchanges.

You can’t have a system built entirely on fake money. Eventually, it will collapse under its own weight. We saw this with QuadrigaCX. As soon as enough people tried to cash out, the exchange’s founder Gerald Cotten flew to India and pulled off what appears to have been one of the most bizarre exit scams in history—unless you believe he is really dead.* I’m still getting calls from reporters and filmmakers wondering what the hell happened.

Tether CTO Paolo Ardoino says the $1 billion prints were for replenishments and chain swaps—wherein a customer sends in tethers and gets them reissued on a different blockchain. If it were a chain swap, you would see a corresponding burn. But we aren’t seeing any burns, meaning those tokens went almost immediately into circulation.

Luca Land tracked the first 1 billion print and found that the entire amount—previously, I said “majority,” but Luca says all of it—went to Bitfinex, Huobi, RenrenBit, Binance, and FTX.** The largest recipient was FTX, followed by Binance. Those of us who follow @whale_alert are accustom to seeing tethers flying off to “unknown wallets.” Luca thinks those unknown wallets serve as intermediate wallets to throw us off the trail.

The Block published a story on Thursday, right after Tether’s first monster print, with lots of quotes from Ardoino, who explains that big companies are buying USDT from over-the-counter desks and high-frequency trading firms. This explains the demand for all these tethers, he claims.

“When clients of these firms want to buy bitcoin, they send USD, and then these firms convert USD to USDT to bitcoin. This method is faster and most convenient,” he told The Block. 

Why would someone go to the trouble of converting cash to USDT to buy BTC when they could simply buy BTC directly with cash on a regulated exchange? That makes no sense—unless it involves money laundering and capital flight. Tether does have a big market in Asia, Ardoino said.

Another explanation is that Tether is printing USDT out of thin air, using those to buy bitcoin with alias accounts on unregulated exchanges and cashing out via banked exchanges and OTC trading desks. Or else, they buy BTC and hold onto it as a way to make the markets more illiquid and easier to manipulate. (If they sold all the bitcoin they were buying with tethers, they would crash the markets, so until a new influx of cash comes into the system, they have to hold onto it.)

Coindesk interviewed Nouriel Roubini on CoindeskTV. Of course, he gave it to them straight, calling Tether a criminal enterprise and Michael Saylor a cokehead. The three reporters broke out into giggles. The questions they asked were naive, for instance, how is Tether printing tethers different from what is going on in Washington with all their dollar printing? Roubini made important points and predicts Tether will be dead within the year—read the transcript on my blog.

NY AG Tether investigation update

Tether has agreed to hand over a slew of documents to the NY attorney general showing how they issue tethers, what’s behind tethers, and so on. The original deadline was Jan. 15, but they needed another 30 days and the NY AG was okay with that. We are looking for another court filing to drop at some point after Feb. 15.

Don’t expect miracles anytime soon, though. The NY AG will still need time to take a position on what she has received. I’m sure her office is working with the Department of Justice in their investigation—and passing all the material along to them.

Someone was asking me on Reddit, what can the NY AG actually do to Tether? Answer: She has sweeping investigatory and prosecutorial powers, and she can issue a cease and desist. But ultimately, the U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security will be instrumental in taking Bitfinex/Tether down.

To put things in perspective, Tether has been in operation for six years. It took seven years and the coordinated effort of law enforcement in 17 countries to bring down Liberty Reserve. (ABC News)

Tesla buys BTC with clean car credits

The big news of the week was Tesla purchased $1.5 billion of bitcoin, as revealed in its 10-K filing. Here you have a company dedicated to clean energy buying one of the filthiest assets in the world. The bitcoin network requires the energy of a small country like Argentina, Norway or the Netherlands. Musk doesn’t give a hoot about the planet. (My blog)

Just to be clear, $1.5 billion is peanuts. It will support the bitcoin miners for about a month. Of course, on the news of Tesla buying bitcoin, the price of BTC shot up from 39,400 to 48,000 in less than 24 hours. The higher the price of BTC, the faster real money exits the system when the miners sell their 900 newly minted BTC per day.

Michael Burry, the investor from “The Big Short,” said in a series of deleted tweets (apparently, he routinely deletes tweets) that Musk bought BTC to distract from Chinese regulators looking into quality complaints with Tesla vehicles. Burry is shorting Tesla and has called on the electric-vehicle company to issue more stock at its ridiculous price. (Business Insider)

But wait! It’s green energy!

Most of the world doesn’t realize that bitcoin uses a country’s worth of electricity. They think it’s mainly used for ransomware and by criminals to buy drugs and such, so when they learn about bitcoin’s horrendous CO2 production, they become alarmed.

As a result, bitcoiners are desperately scrambling to declare that bitcoin consumes renewable green energy. Most of what they are spouting is blithering nonsense with no facts to support their claims. They are also trying to say that bitcoin consumes less energy than the rest of the financial system, which is simply dumb, as Frances Coppola points out.

Other interesting newsy bits

Gerald Cotten may be dead and buried—or more likely, sipping cocktails on a beach somewhere—but QuadrigaCX sprung to life again! However, it turns out scammers set up an imitation Quadriga website to lure in potential victims. EY, the trustee for the failed exchange, sent out a warning notice. The website has since been taken down. (EasyDNS)

India is set to ban cryptocurrency investments completely. Investors will be given a transition period of three-to-six months after the new law goes into force to liquidate their investments. (Bloomberg Quint)

Crypto Capital money mule Reginald Fowler has three more weeks to find new counsel after he stiffed his previous attorneys. (My blog)

Dogecoin has been pumping thanks to r/wallstreetbets and Musk and others tweeting about it for the lulz. David Gerard wrote a wonderful piece on dogecoin explaining its unique history. (Foreign Policy, paywalled)

Apparently, Elon Musk was tweeting about DOGE for the lulz back in April 2019. (Financial Times)

Dogecoin creator Billy Markus said on Reddit that he sold all his dogecoin in 2015 after he got laid off. He wanted dogecoin to be a force of good, and he is disappointed to see the nonsense “pump and dumping, rampant greed, scamming, bad faith actors.”

The Sydney Morning Herald did a feature on Australian-born-and-raised Greg Dwyer, one of the founders of Bitmex, who was indicted last year for violating anti-money laundering laws, but is still at large. “As recently as July, social media posts suggested Dwyer was in Bermuda, and enjoying all it had to offer.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R) wants municipal workers to get paid in bitcoin. Aside from the legal and tax ramifications and all the difficulties in setting this up, I’m sure employees will be so happy to wake up and find their paycheck lost 30% of its value whilst they were sleeping. No, this is a terrible idea. (The NY Post)

BNY Mellon, the world’s largest custody bank, said it will hold, transfer and issue bitcoin and other crypto on behalf of its asset-management clients. The bank will begin offering these services later this year. Because they are a state-chartered bank, they can do this in NY without a BitLicense. (WSJ, Coindesk)

Mastercard is planning to support crypto natively on its network. However, it’s only going to support cryptocurrencies that meet certain requirements—including stability, privacy and compliance with anti-money laundering laws. The problem is that no cryptocurrencies meet Mastercard’s criteria. (Arstechnica, Mastercard announcement)

BitPay’s bitcoin cards can be added to Apple Wallet, giving crypto holders a new way to spend via Apple Pay. BitPay converts your bitcoin to cash, so it’s no different than selling your BTC first, and merchants won’t know the difference. (Business Insider)

This Valentines Day, consider giving that special someone a CryptoFlower! It will only set you back 4 ETH ($7,200). Each flower is genetically unique and immutable. And they don’t need water or sunlight because they live on the Ethereum blockchain. (FT)

Last but not least, the CBC QuadrigaCX documentary is coming soon! It was nearly a year ago that David Gerard and I met in Vancouver for the filming. It was also one of the last times I enjoyed a meal inside a restaurant sitting next to people.

*Update, Feb. 14—Someone on Reddit was giving me a hard time, arguing that I can’t say Cotten pulled off an exit scam unless I explain that he might actually be dead. I won’t believe he is dead until someone exhumes the body and proves it’s him. See my Quadriga timeline for details.

**Update, Feb. 15—The unidentified tether customer in Luca Land’s diagram turns out to be FTX.

Nouriel Roubini: ‘Tether is a criminal enterprise,’ SEC should probe Elon Musk’s bitcoin tweets

Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, thinks Tether is issuing fake money. And that nothing short of an audit will prove the $30 billion in USDT the BVI-registered company has spewed out into the crypto markets thus far are even 74% backed. (Stuart Hoegner, the firm’s general counsel, claimed they were three-quarters backed in April 2019 court documents.)

Tether is a “criminal enterprise,” he bluntly told reporters on Coindesk TV. In a 10-minute interview, Roubini predicted Tether’s looming demise, called for the SEC to look into Elon Musk’s bitcoin tweets, and claimed that central bank digital currencies will spell the end for crypto.

Dr. Doom, as Roubini is called, talks quickly, doesn’t mince words, and his face barely changes expression. He has a reputation as a perpetual pessimist. Ask him a question, and he will give you a straightforward, often bleak, answer. Though he might argue, he is simply being a realist.

I am not sure why Coindesk had him on their program. Roubini hates bitcoin and his responses elicited laughter—though it wouldn’t be the first time. Roubini “sounded like a madman in 2006,” when he stood before economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced a crisis of solvency was brewing, IMF economist Prakash Loungani told the NYT in August 2008. “He was a prophet when he returned in 2007.”

Anyhow, I transcribed the talk only because I thought Roubini’s points made sense. He was interviewed by Coindesk’s Lawrence Lewitinn, Christine Lee, and Emily Parker.

Lee: The narrative on bitcoin has shifted from a means of payment to a store of value for some. It is not so much used as a currency as a digital gold. Institutions and public companies are buying this thesis and we are seeing bitcoin hit records as a result. What do you make of this institutional and corporate interest in bitcoin, underlined by Tesla’s $1.5 billion bitcoin investment on Monday? 

Roubini: As you suggested, bitcoin and crypto is not a means of payment. It is not a currency. It is not a unit of account. Is not a scalable means of payment. It is not a single numeraire. Now, people say it is an asset. But think of it. What are assets? Assets like stocks, bonds and real estate give you income or give you some use, like real estate. And, therefore, they give you capital gain. Gold does not give you income but it has other uses,—industrial activity and jewelry—and therefore, has some value. It used to be used as a means of payment. 

In the case of bitcoin, it does not have any income. It doesn’t have any use. It doesn’t have any utility. So the value of it based on what? Based on no intrinsic value and purely a speculative bubble. That is why I argue that bitcoin, like all the other shitcoins, are worth zero. [Coindesk reporters giggle.] 

Actually, negative given the hogging of energy and the environmental cost. If there was a carbon tax on crypto, the value of these assets would be negative. 

So what is the fundamental value? What is the use? What is the utility that justifies the capital gain? None. It is a speculative bubble that is based on pump-and-dump, spoofing, wash trading and manipulation by Tether, which is a total scam. [More giggling from Coindesk crew.]

So, for institutional investors, saying we are going to invest in crypto doesn’t make any sense. You have a failing company that had a flat stock market like MicroStrategy for a decade, and its head was a coke addict who decided to bet the entire house on bitcoin. [CoinDesk crew really losing it.] That is irresponsible behavior. It is not gonna be any corporate head that is going to put his cash, as you point out, into something that is so volatile. You put your cash into something that is stable. 

And for someone like Elon Musk who knows he has a market impact to manipulate to first, take an individual position to bitcoin, pump the price up, and then say that Tesla is invested. And Tesla doesn’t make money yet. It is also irresponsible and it is market manipulation. [Note: Musk was tweeting about BTC, pushing up the price, before Telsa announced it had purchased $1.5 billion worth.]

The SEC should be looking at people that have a market impact that manipulate the price of assets. That is also criminal behavior. It is totally a criminal enterprise. Tether is a criminal enterprise, and a bunch of whales and insiders are manipulating the price of bitcoins and other shitcoins day in and day out. That is a fact.

Lewitinn: Dr. Roubini, always a ray of sunshine, of course. The question about Tether is this: We have known for a while now that it has been backed entirely by dollars. It is something like 70-some-odd percent. That came out a while ago. There have been questions about its backing for some time, for several years. Yet it is still trading on par with the US dollar. Conceivably, they have enough assets at least for a while to keep the peg going with the dollar. How much of a real worry is it for crypto if there is even a small run on tether?

Roubini: First of all, we don’t know if it is backed 70% or not. Their lawyer says 70% but we have no idea. It doesn’t mean any[thing] absolute independent audit of it. [A bit garbled here, but he is saying, outside of a third-party audit, which Tether has never had, there is no way of knowing what’s backing tethers.]

We also know they are really issuing, literally, at an exponential rate, new tethers. In the last year alone, something like 25 billion. And in the last few weeks, a billion per week. So it looks like they are getting desperate, and it is a typical Ponzi scheme, in which you maintain the value of something by issuing more of it and more of it and so on. 

Lewitinn: How different is that from what is going on right now from the money printing happening in Washington? 

Roubini: The money printing in Washington is happening at a rate that is much less than the issuance of fiat by Tether and other shitcoins. If you look at the chart of it, literally, the case of Tether is exponential. Second, central banks, if you know, their assets are matching their liabilities. For every dollar of currency in excess of reserves that are in the central bank balance sheet there is an asset, foreign reserve, or gold or treasury assets. 

So the idea that fiat currencies are not backed by anything is utterly false. If you look at the balance sheet of any central bank, there are assets and there are liabilities. And actually, there is a positive net worth most of the time. But in the case of Tether there is nothing backing it. Again, even 70% is not true. And we know that every fixed exchange rate that is based on not-full-backing and not fully collateralized eventually collapses. 

The entire monetary history, every fixed exchange that is not backed has collapsed. It is only a matter of time. And the trigger is gonna be when the indictments of Tether and Bitfinex are going to occur, and it is only a matter of time this year. Because we know that there are investigations occurring. 

Parker: Let’s move to central bank digital currencies for a moment. We know that China is moving quite rapidly in this area. Do you think that the US dollar will remain the world reserve currency?

Roubini: I think that the Chinese are going to go ahead. [Sweden’s] Riksbank bank is going to go ahead. The [European Central Bank] is going to go ahead. And until now the US was behind the curve, but they realize that the Chinese had a plan to dominate the global financial system. It’s their e-commerce. It is their own platform of private payment systems like AliPay and WeChat Pay and that is going to be the e-RNB. And it is only a matter of time before we are going to phase out cash all over the world. And if the US wants to maintain the role of the US dollar as a major global reserve currency, they will have to move to an e-dollar. 

The problem with that is that people get excited in the crypto world when central banks end up talking about a central bank digital currency. A CBDC, first of all, has nothing to do with blockchain. It is going to be private. It is going to be centralized. It is going to be permissioned. And it is going to be based on a bunch of trusted authority verifying transactions.

It has nothing to do with blockchain. It has nothing to do with crypto. And as a payment system, it is going to dominate, not only crypto, which has absolutely no payment services, but also any private form of payment system that is digital, from credit cards to bank deposits to AliPay to WeChat pay to Venmo to Square to PayPal, and so on. Because it is going to be cheap, it is going to be instantaneous clearing and settlement. It is going to be a system that is going to dominate any form of private money

If and when a central bank currency is going to be introduced, the problem is going to be that any form of private digital payment system is going to be crowded out, starting with crypto, which doesn’t have any payment service in the first place. 

Lee: Dr. Roubini, it sounds like you believe that the technology underlying bitcoin is at least sound and that governments and central banks around the world will adopt it, and if that is the case, what happens to privacy? And you also mentioned something about negative rates becoming the norm. Tell us about that?

Roubini: First of all, I said the opposite of the technology. The central bank digital currencies will not be based on blockchain. They are going to be private, not public. They are going to be centralized, not decentralized. They are going to be permissioned, not permissionless. They are going to be a bunch of central banks and private banks that are trusted verifiers of the transaction, rather than being trustless. So the technology is not going to be blockchain. It is not going to be crypto. That is my point. 

Secondly, the advantage of having a central bank digital currency is that right now, if there is a very severe economic recession, central banks cannot go very negative with the policy rates. That is why they do quantitative easing. They do credit easing. Because if you go lower than, say, 75 basis points, people are going to switch their excess reserves into cash if there is a nominal zero interest rate. So they are not going to pay the tax. 

However, if you phase out cash, then you have no option than to keep your money in the digital form. And then the negative policy rate in a severe recession or depression can go to minus one, minus two, minus three, minus four, minus five, whatever you want it to be. So if and when that happens, and if there is a recession that is severe enough, central bank digital currencies are going to allow you to have much more [of an] easing monetary policy with much more negative policy rates. That is the direction we are going to go. 

Lee: Is there anything that can happen that would change your mind about bitcoin? 

Roubini: So far, no. As they say, it is not a unit of account. It is not a means of payment. It is not a single numeraire. It is not a stable store of value. And with proof-of-work, you get five transactions per second. And if it was to be adopted as a means of payment, you would have deflation. Because the quantity of it is limited in the long run. If you want to create a digital currency that actually works as a means of payment, its growth has to be the growth of nominal GDP, so that the demand can be satisfied by supply that increases as much as nominal GDP, meaning the inflation target plus the growth of the economy. Otherwise, you are going to get permanent deflation on every price in goods and services, so it’s fundamentally flawed even from that point of view. 

Update: In an earlier version of this story, I mentioned Musk had deleted some of his BTC tweets. So far, I haven’t found any hard evidence of that, so I removed my comment.

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News: COVID-19 shuts down crypto conferences, Libra activates plan B, investor sues bitcoin miner Canaan

Good news this week. I’ve started freelancing for Decrypt. I’m in their Slack channel, and it’s nice to feel part of a group again. That and a few freelance gigs mean I’m less freaked out about making ends meet after leaving my last gig. Although now, I’m worried about COVID-19 and its impact on crypto media and the world economy as a whole.

This newsletter is going to be a bit different. I’m going to focus on the bigger stuff—or things that are interesting to me while supplementing them with additional notes or thoughts I might have—and then list off a bunch of other news that has caught my eye.

Coronavirus, crypto conferences, and the hell to come

I wrote a blog post about how the new coronavirus is impacting crypto conferences. My story even got picked up in Charles Arthur’s Overspill newsletter. (He’s a former tech writer for The Guardian.) In a week’s time, things have only gotten worse, with more events canceling. The city of Austin has canceled SXSW, which had a blockchain track. MIT issued an official statement Thursday night that is was canceling any event larger than 150 people but somehow made an exception for the MIT Bitcoin Expo, March 7-8.

What’s shocking is that the school did this despite knowing the dangers—more than two dozen cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts have been linked to a Biogen meeting in Boston with 175 attendees in late February. The news of this started coming out on Thursday, the very day MIT gave the green light for its expo. Even on Saturday, Boston Blockchain Week, scheduled for March 7-13, removed all events from its calendar.  

Digital Chambers has postponed its DC Blockchain Summit, originally scheduled for March 11-12. Bitcoin Magazine has postponed its Bitcoin 2020 event, March 27-28.

Coindesk has made it clear that it is absolutely not canceling its New York City-based Consensus conference until it is forced to do so. The event, scheduled for May 11-13, drew in 4,000 people last year and 8,500 the year before. Here’s the refund policy:

“If Consensus is cancelled due to guidance from health organizations and local/federal governments, attendees will receive a full refund on their ticket purchase within 60 days of CoinDesk making the announcement to cancel. Further, if an attendee is unable to attend because his or her home country is barred from traveling to the United States, we will also issue a full refund within 60 days.”

South Korea, China, US step up efforts to disinfect dirty fiat

The new coronavirus can live on paper money, says the WHO, so South Korea’s banks are taking banknotes they receive and putting them through a heating process to kill off any germs. China is doing something similar. And now the U.S. is taking any U.S. dollars that it gets from Asia, disinfecting them, and keeping them for 7-10 days before reintroducing them to the financial system. It is routine for banks to disinfect banknotes, but now they are stepping up the process. Bitcoin is a contactless form of payment, but unfortunately, you can’t buy toilet paper, rice, beans or baby formula with it. (Decrypt, Reuters)

Baseline protocol: coaxing the enterprise to use public Ethereum

The Baseline Protocol is a thrilling new enterprise blockchain initiative from ConsenSys, EY, Microsoft, and a handful of other projects looking to sell consulting hours.

In short, the initiative is an effort to get big companies to use the Ethereum public blockchain. Baseline is supposed to serve as a middleware with its secret sauce being privacy-preserving zero-knowledge proofs. ZKP is key because otherwise, why would companies want to put their private dealings on a widely shared blockchain?

But what actually goes on the blockchain? The answer: not a lot, and certainly not any actual documents. What goes on the blockchain is a hash of the file you share via some other means along with a timestamp, so you can check the authenticity of the document. ZKP serves to hide the transaction of tokens and business logic in smart contracts.

A German company called Unibright plans on playing “a major role” in developing Baseline. Interestingly, Unibright has its own token (UBT), which had a big pump recently. UBT couldn’t get listed on any major exchanges. Instead, it is traded mainly on the Estonia-registered Hotbit and decentralized exchange IDEX. (Decrypt, David Gerard)

Reggie Fowler pleaded not guilty to wire fraud

Arizona businessman Reginald Fowler flew from his home in Chandler, Ariz., to stand before a judge Thursday and plead not guilty to a new charge of wire fraud. He now faces five counts and plans to go to trial next year. Yes, that’s right. His trial date, originally scheduled for April 28, has been moved to Jan. 11, 2021, because his lawyers need more time to prepare for the case. Until then, he remains free on bond. (My blog.)

How did bitcoin mining maker Canaan get listed on Nasdaq?

That’s like, such a good question. Bitcoin mining machine maker Canaan Creative operates out of China. Last year, it became the first crypto company to be listed on the Nasdaq. Woot! But after an unexplained pump in February, the stock tanked. And then on Wednesday, Phillippe Lemieux, an investor in Canaan, filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, saying Canaan misled investors. Some of the most damning information in the suit comes from a blog post by Marcus Aurelius, or MAV, titled “Canaan Fodder.” Canaan had three prior unsuccessful attempts to list on Asian exchanges. MAV calls the Nasdaq listing a “dumping ground of last resort.” I’m sure CAN stockholders will be happy to hear that. (Decrypt)

UK’s FCA issues warning about Bitmex

U.K.’s financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, is warning Brits about Bitmex. Arthur Hayes’ bitcoin derivatives platform is promoting its services without authorization, the regulator said. Bitmex said it is trying to “assess” the situation.

The FCA issued a similar warning about Kraken, but that was soon taken down. Kraken CEO Jesse Powell said the regulator made a mistake and fixed it. “Seems like it might have been some scams pretending to be Kraken got reported,” he told Decrypt. (Decrypt)

Libra activates plan B

Plan B vs plan AFacebook’s Libra may issue multiple coins based on national currencies in addition to its original idea—a coin based on a basket of assets. If it does that, it’ll be just another PayPal, but on the Calibra wallet.

Bloomberg and The Information were the first to report on the news, and the financial press followed, all linking back to these stories. (The Information originally said the national coins would replace the original Libra token but has since issued a correction, stating that the national coins would run alongside the Libra token.)

This is not a new plan at all. David Marcus and Mark Zuckerberg talked about doing this back in October. In terms of technology, there’s no innovation here either. The big hurdles for Libra are proving to the world that it can comply with anti-money laundering laws. And so far, it hasn’t been able to do that. (Decrypt, David Gerard, Bloomberg, The Information)

Other stuff that caught my eye

“If they’re not outright scams, they’re normally cash grabs.” One former coiner describes his experience working for crypto projects. (Medium)

Looks like Massive Adtoption’s Jacob Kostechki has exited the crypto world and gone into real estate. He’s now tweeting under @_jake_i_am.

Haseeb Qureshi, a managing partner at crypto venture fund Dragonfly Capital, wrote a good article describing how flash loans work. Flash loans were behind two recent hacks—one for $350,000 and another for $600,000—of margin trading protocol bZx. (Medium)

More info coming out on who invested in Telegram’s $1.7 billion initial coin offering: A Russian oligarch, a former cabinet minister and the COO of Wirecard. (Coindesk)

In April 2018, The Reserve Bank of India banned banks from doing business with crypto companies. On March 4, India’s crypto community rejoiced as the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the RBI’s ban was unconstitutional. The RBI plans to fight the ruling. (Economic Times, Cointelegraph)

The hostile takeover of the Steem blockchain is comedy cold for nocoiners. (Twitter thread)

Stephen Palley offers his take on the Feb. 26 ruling in the Ripple lawsuit: His most ooph worthy comment: If the court’s reasoning is accepted, “purchasers of crypto on secondary markets can state securities claims against the issuer where they did not directly purchase the crypto.” (Twitter thread, court order)

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Coronavirus: Will crypto conferences survive? What about crypto media?

Novel coronavirus is a real threat. We now know the incubation period for COVID-19 is up to 14 days, and people can spread the disease without showing any symptoms at all. The best way to keep from getting ill is to avoid close contact with other people. Ultimately, that means cutting back on air travel and opting out of large events. 

As a result, companies in all fields are canceling conferences in droves. They either can’t sell enough tickets or too many sponsors and speakers are starting to pull out. In some cases, entire cities are outright banning large indoor gatherings.  

Last week, Facebook canceled the in-person part of its F8 developer conference in San Jose, originally scheduled for early May. In 2019, more than 5,000 people attended F8.

Nvidia said Monday that it will not hold its GTC 2020 conference that had been scheduled for March 22-26 in San Jose. As many as 10,000 attendees were expected at the event, which centered around semiconductors, graphic chips, and AI technologies.  

Also, on Monday, Facebook and Twitter pulled out of SXSW Conference & Festivals, a sprawling 10-day event in Austin set to kick off on March 13. The event drew more than 400,000 attendees last year. SXSW says the event is still going as planned, even though an online petition is in the works to cancel it.  

Similarly, the crypto world is feeling the pain. Tron has postponed indefinitely its Nitron Summit due to coronavirus concerns. The event was scheduled to take place between Feb. 29 and March 1 in Seoul, South Korea.

Paris Blockchain Week, originally set to kick off on March 31, is postponed until December. Even that is risky, though. December is when the cold and flu season starts up again, and a coronavirus vaccine isn’t due out until sometime in 2021.  

How will crypto media fair?

Coindesk Consensus 2018
Consensus 2018 was a massive event. People waited in long lines to register.

If the trend continues — and likely it will — conference cancellations could hit some crypto media publications hard. I’m talking about Coindesk in particular. The company pulls in 85% of its revenue from conferences, according to a May 2019 report in The Information. Coindesk doesn’t feature ads on its site anymore, so events are its bread and butter.

It hasn’t always been that way. I remember ads for every bottom-of-the-barrel initial coin offering on the site a few years ago. I’m not sure why Coindesk stopped serving ads, but they seem to have completely disappeared from the site after its relaunch in November

Last year, Coindesk held one investor event in New York and another in Asia. But its flagship conference is Consensus. Held annually in Manhattan, Consensus is widely considered the most significant event in the cryptosphere, accompanied by lots of satellite conferences around the same time. This year, Consensus is scheduled for May 11-13 at the New York Hilton midtown.

In 2018, just coming down from the peak of the crypto hype cycle, Consensus drew in more than 8,500 attendees, each paying about $2,000 per ticket. Coindesk’s total revenue for the year was $25 million, so do the math — that’s $21 million in events alone. 

Consensus 2019 saw less than half that with only 4,000 attendees. But even at an estimated $10 million in revenue, that’s still a decent amount of money. Despite the drop-off, Kevin Worth, Coindesk’s CEO, told The Information that Digital Currency Group, which owns 90% of Coindesk, still planned on growing its media business.

Indeed, Coindesk has been on a bit of a hiring spree. Almost anyone who has been writing about crypto has gotten pulled into working for the media outlet. It will be interesting to see what happens if Coindesk ends up having to cancel Consensus 2020 and potentially even Consensus 2021 — or even if it sees a significant drop in attendees.

Oddly, Consensus is the only event listed on the Coindesk’s website at this time. The company’s other two events — “Invest: NYC” and “Invest: Asia,” as they were called last year — are conspicuously missing. I reached out to Coindesk this morning. If they respond, I’ll post their comments here.

Other media pubs also rely on events for revenue, though not to the extent that Coindesk does, and their events aren’t nearly so huge. 

Breakermag started planning an NYC event called Breakercon before it shuttered in 2019. The Block took over the event renaming it “Atomic Swap.” This year, The Block is now calling the one-day-event, scheduled for May 12, The Block Summit. Tickets cost about $800 and CEO Mike Dudas expects things to go as planned with 400 attendees.

Last year, a leaked investor pitch deck for The Block indicated that of the $5 million the startup wished to see in 2020, $3.4 million will come from subscription revenue; $1.1 million will come from ads and $500,000 from events. At least The Block has its revenue model spread out a bit, so it’s not so heavily dependent on a single event. 

Decrypt relies on Ethereum venture studio Consensys’ patronage to keep its doors open. Consensys holds an Ethereal Summit each year in New York City right before Consensus. That also appears to be on track for May 8-9.

Cointelegraph has a separate events division that does BlockShow Asia, which it’s been holding since 2016. This year the event is scheduled for Singapore in November. The outlet, which claims 6 million visitors a month, also makes money on ads and consulting.

My guess is that as the coronavirus spreads, we’ll see more crypto events being canceled. Some conferences are opting to go the “decentralized” route and put everything on video, but I just don’t see that being too popular. Most crypto people go to conferences to network and party — the talks, not so much. 

A bigger threat: Crypto ice age

The bigger problem here is the crypto ice age, a term that refers to the general slowdown in the space that set in after 2017 due to increased regulation and the plunge in the price of bitcoin. As David Gerard details in a recent blog post, crypto media publications and low-end blogs are now collectively chasing an ever-shrinking pool of ad funds.

In general, the media advertising model has gone the way of the dinosaur. Subscriptions work for some publications. But big outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal who employ the model successfully have hundreds of thousands of readers. The crypto world simply does not have that big of a following.

Events are a big deal for many crypto pubs, and if that important revenue stream dries up, it could push some outlets to the breaking point. Expect more layoffs in 2020 with some crypto pubs and blogs falling off the map completely.

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