Crypto collapse: FTX first-day hearing, Genesis screws DCG, Silvergate Bank

We just posted our latest on the crypto crash series. This one is on David’s blog. [David Gerard]

Here’s some of what we cover in this episode:

  • FTX had its first-day hearing in its Delaware bankruptcy.
  • The SEC was told to back off from FTX by eight members of Congress, five of whom got donations from FTX founders.
  • Genesis sets parent company DCG teetering.
  • Gemini Trust was exposed to risk via Genesis.
  • DCG is not bailing out Genesis this time around.
  • Silvergate said its FTX exposure was limited to deposits. It’s not about the deposits!
  • Binance is fine, and nothing is wrong! Probably!

Image: The FTX legal team entering the court.

The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto Crashing — a quick map of where we are and what’s ahead

Since November 2021, when Bitcoin hit its all-time high of $69,000, the original cryptocurrency has lost 70 percent of its face value. And when Bitcoin falters, it takes everything else in crypto down with it. 

The entire crypto space has been a Jenga stack of interconnected time bombs for months now, getting ever more interdependent as the companies find new ways to prop each other up.

Which company blew out first was more a question of minor detail than the fact that a blow-out was obviously going to happen. The other blocks in the Jenga stack will have a hard time not following suit. 

Here’s a quick handy guide to the crypto crash — the systemic risks in play as of June 2022. When Bitcoin slips below $20,000, we’ll officially call that the end of the 2021 bubble.

Recent disasters

TerraUSD collapse — Since stablecoins — substitutes for dollars — are unregulated, we don’t know what’s backing them. In the case of TerraUSD (UST), which was supposed to represent $18 billion … nothing was backing it. UST crashed, and it brought down a cascade of other stuff. [David Gerard; Foreign Policy; Chainalysis Report]

Celsius crumbles — Celsius was the largest crypto lender in the space, promising ridiculously high yields from implausible sources. It was only a matter of time before this Ponzi collapsed. We wrote up the inevitable implosion of Celsius yesterday. [David Gerard]

Exchange layoffs — Coinbase, Gemini, Crypto.com, and BlockFi have all announced staff layoffs. Crypto exchanges make money from trades. In a bear market, fewer people are trading, so profits go downhill. Coinbase in particular had been living high on the hog, as if there would never be a tomorrow. Reality is a tough pill. [Bloomberg; Gemini; The Verge]

Stock prices down — Coinbase $COIN, now trading at $50 a share, has lost 80% of its value since the firm went public in June 2021. The company was overhyped and overvalued.

US crypto mining stocks are all down — Bitfarms ($BITF), Hut 8 Mining ($HUT), Bit Digital ($BTBT), Canaan ($CAN), and Riot Blockchain ($RIOT). Miners have been borrowing cash as fast as possible and are finding the loans hard to pay back because Bitcoin has gone down.

UnTethering

Crypto trading needs a dollar substitute — hence the rise of UST, even as its claims of algorithmic backing literally didn’t make sense. What are the other options?

Tether — We’ve been watching Tether, the most popular and widely used stablecoin, closely since 2017. Problems at Tether could bring down the entire crypto market house of cards.

Tether went into 2020 with an issuance of 4 billion USDT, and now there are 72 billion USDT sloshing around in the crypto markets. As of May 11, Tether claimed its reserve held $83 billion, but this has dropped by several billion alleged “dollars” in the past month. There’s no evidence that $10.5 billion in actual dollars was sent anywhere, or even “$10.5 billion” of cryptos.

Tether is deeply entwined with the entire crypto casino. Tether invests in many other crypto ventures — the company was a Celsius investor, for example. Tether also helped Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange launch, and FTX is a major tether customer.

Tether’s big problem is the acerbic glare of regulators and possible legal action from the Department of Justice. We keep expecting Tether will face the same fate as Liberty Reserve did. But we were saying that in 2017. Nate Anderson of Hindenburg Research said he fully expects Tether execs to end the year in handcuffs. 

Other stablecoins — Jeremy Allaire and Circle’s USDC (54 billion) claims to be backed by some actual dollars and US treasuries, and just a bit of mystery meat. Paxos’ USDP (1 billion) claims cash and treasuries. Paxos and Binance’s BUSD (18 billion) claims cash, treasuries, and money market funds.

None of these reserves have ever been audited — the companies publish snapshot attestations, but nobody looks into the provenance of the reserve. The holding companies try very hard to imply that the reserves have been audited in depth. Circle claims that Circle being audited counts as an audit of the USDC reserve. Of course, it doesn’t.

All of these stablecoins have a history of redemptions, which helps boost market confidence and gives the impression that these things are as good as dollars. They are not. 

Runs on the reserves could still cause issues — and regulators are leaning toward full bank-like regulation.

Sentiment

There’s no fundamental reason for any crypto to trade at any particular price. Investor sentiment is everything. When the market’s spooked, new problems enter the picture, such as: 

Loss of market confidence — Sentiment was visibly shaken by the Terra crash, and there’s no reason for it to return. It would take something remarkable to give the market fresh confidence that everything is going to work out just fine.

Regulation — The US Treasury and the Federal Reserve were keenly aware of the spectacular collapse of UST. Rumour has it that they’ve been calling around US banks, telling them to inspect anything touching crypto extra-closely. What keeps regulators awake at night is the fear of another 2008 financial crisis, and they’re absolutely not going to tolerate the crypto bozos causing such an event.

GBTC — Not enough has been said about Grayscale’s Bitcoin Trust, and how it has contributed to the rise and now the fall in the price of bitcoin. GBTC holds roughly 3.4 percent of the world’s bitcoin.  

All through 2020 and into 2021, shares in GBTC traded at a premium to bitcoin on secondary markets. This facilitated an arbitrage that drew billions of dollars worth of bitcoin into the trust. GBTC is now trading below NAV, and that arbitrage is gone. What pushed bitcoin up in price is now working in reverse.

Grayscale wants to convert GBTC into a bitcoin ETF. GBTC holders and all of crypto, really, are holding out hope for the SEC to approve a bitcoin ETF, which would bring desperately needed fresh cash into the crypto space. But the chances of this happening are slim to none.

The bitcoins are stuck in GBTC unless the fund is dissolved. Grayscale wouldn’t like to do this — but they might end up being pressured into it. [Amy Castor]

Whales breaking ranks — Monday’s price collapse looks very like one crypto whale decided to get out while there was any chance of getting some of the ever-dwindling actual dollars out from the cryptosystem. Expect the knives to be out. Who’s jumping next?

Crypto hedge funds and DeFi

Celsius operated as if it was a crypto hedge fund that was heavily into DeFi. The company had insinuated itself into everything — so its collapse caused major waves in crypto. What other companies are time bombs?

Three Arrows Capital — There’s some weird stuff happening at 3AC from blockchain evidence, and the company’s principals have stopped communicating on social media. 3AC is quite a large crypto holder, but it’s not clear how systemically intertwined they are with the rest of crypto. Perhaps they’ll be back tomorrow and it’ll all be fine. [Update: things aren’t looking good. 3AC fails to meet lender margin calls.] [Defiant; Coindesk; FT]

BlockFi — Another crypto lender promising hilariously high returns. 

Nexo — And another. Nexo offered to buy out Celsius’ loan book. But Nexo offers Ponzi-like interest rates with FOMO marketing as well, and no transparency as to how their interest rates are supposed to work out.

Swissborg — This crypto “wealth management company” has assets under management in the hundreds of millions of dollars (or “dollars”), according to Dirty Bubble Media. [Twitter thread]

Large holdings ready for release

Crypto holders have no chill whatsoever. When they need to dump their holding, they dump.

MicroStrategy — Michael Saylor’s software company has bet the farm on Bitcoin — and that bet is coming due. “Bitcoin needs to cut in half for around $21,000 before we’d have a margin call,” Phong Le, MicroStrategy’s president, said in early May. MicroStrategy’s Bitcoin stash is now worth $2.9 billion, translating to an unrealized loss of more than $1 billion. [Bloomberg]

Silvergate Bank — MicroStrategy has a $205 million loan with Silvergate Bank, collateralized with Bitcoin. Silvergate is the banker to the US crypto industry — nobody else will touch crypto. Silvergate is heavily invested in propping up the game of musical chairs. If Silvergate ever has to pull the plug, almost all of US crypto is screwed. [David Gerard]

Bitcoin miners — Electricity costs more, and Bitcoin is worth less. As the price of Bitcoin drops, miners find it harder to pay business expenses. Miners have been holding on to their coins because the market is too thin to sell the coins, and borrowing from their fellow crypto bros to pay the bills since July 2021. But some miners started selling in February 2022, and more are following. [Wired]

Mt. Gox — at some point, likely in 2022, the 140,000 bitcoins that remained in the Mt. Gox crypto exchange when it failed in 2014 are going to be distributed to creditors. Those bitcoins are going to hit the market immediately, bringing down the price of bitcoin even further.

Feature image by James Meickle, with apologies to XKCD and Karl Marx.

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Coinbase freezes hiring, rescinds job offers: ‘Coinbase ghosted me’

Coinbase is losing money. Its stock is in the toilet. Now, the largest crypto exchange in the US says it’s extending its hiring freeze and rescinding job offers.

L.J. Brock, Coinbase’s chief people officer, shared the grim news in a blog post on Thursday. It’s been only two weeks since the San Francisco firm initially announced plans to pause hiring. Yesterday’s blog post signals just how dire things have become:

“In response to the current market conditions and ongoing business prioritization efforts, we will extend our hiring pause for both new and backfill roles for the foreseeable future and rescind a number of accepted offers.”

The announcement comes on the same day Gemini said it would be trimming 10% of its staff. In a blog post, co-founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss attributed the layoffs to “turbulent market conditions that are likely to persist for some time.” 

Coincidently, a CFTC lawsuit also dropped on Thursday claiming Gemini misled regulators to gain approval for a bitcoin futures product it was pursuing in 2017.

Coinbase is struggling to turn a profit. Last month, it posted a $430 million loss for Q1 2022 after missing analysts’ predictions on both profit and revenue for the quarter. The exchange said it was bleeding users. 

The company’s stock price (Nasdaq: COIN) is down more than 70% since the beginning of the year and is currently trading at $74 per share. It’s hard to imagine that COIN was as high as $343 in November 2021. 

The tumble in Coinbase’s stock price coincides with the crypto markets. Bitcoin has barely been able to keep its head above $30,000, after losing 60% of its value since its November record. The stock market is also suffering. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite is down 22% since January.  

‘Coinbase ghosted me’

Leading up to 2022, Coinbase planned to triple its workforce. The firm hired 1,200 people in the first quarter and had 3,730 employees at the end of last year, according to its latest earnings report. Now, it’s not even calling some people back after extending job offers. 

I spoke with one person, whose name I won’t reveal, who said Coinbase offered him a job as a security engineer in January. The man, who is in his 30s and has a decade of experience at FAANG companies, told me he had a verbal offer from Coinbase after an interview panel. But then he was ghosted and never heard from them again. 

“I honestly was only interested in getting a competitive offer to better my negotiation at other places I was interviewing,” he told me in a private message. “So grateful Coinbase ghosted me.”

Otherwise, had he gotten the offer in writing, he might have seriously considered taking the job, even as a no-coiner. The comp in the verbal offer was tempting. 

Coinbase offered him a $280,000 base salary plus a 15% bonus and $600,000 annual equity, for total compensation of $920,000, he said.

“We don’t do a four-year program where you vest 25% each year. We don’t have a cliff either, so you start vesting immediately on a quarterly basis,” Coinbase told him.

The company has performance multipliers and suggested that potentially, he could make $1.5 million annually. 

Coinbase has a 2% 401(k) matching program. As an employee, he would get one month off per year along with unlimited paid time off. That’s in addition to four companywide weeks off.

In January, Coinbase proudly announced that the entire company would shut down for one week at the end of each quarter so employees could “recharge.” 

Oh, and there’s a $500 monthly wellness stipend, in case you want to join a gym or take yoga.

After the interview, the would-be employee got an email from the recruiter saying that things went great and they wanted to extend an offer. The recruiter asked if comp would be okay before they put the contract together.

And then, nothing. 

It was just as well, he told me. “Because the equity would have cut in half, and the company will look far worse after the coming collapse.”

Other would-be employees aren’t so relieved. On Blind, an anonymous app for the workforce, someone wrote: “I was supposed to start jun 6th. My offer has been rescinded. This feels like a nightmare that I can’t wait to wake up from.” 

“Dodged a bullet,” a Coinbase employee replied. 

Why rescinding job offers is bad

Rescinding job offers at the last minute is a nasty thing to do to people, especially if they’ve already submitted notice at their current job, told their landlord they are moving, or put their home up for sale. 

It can also blacken the offering company’s reputation. Word gets out, and you’ll have a much harder time convincing people to work for you in the future. It also makes Coinbase’s financial health look worse like they’ve somehow managed to run out of cash running a casino.

Meanwhile, Coinbase execs aren’t doing too bad for themselves. In 2020, including stock options and bonuses, CEO Brian Armstrong made $59 million, Chief Product Officer Surojit Chatterjee made $16 million, and Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal made $18 million, according to SEC filings

Hacker News is outraged. Coinbase did in any hope of hiring competent non-hodlers.

Here’s what Blotto_Otter on Something Awful wrote: 

“When I read stuff like this, all I can think about is when I started in public accounting right in the middle of the 2007/2008 crash, and out of all the unpleasant stuff most accounting firms did during that time — layoffs, hiring freezes, salary freezes and cuts, benefit cuts — the one thing they did not do was revoke job offers from people who had already accepted offers. They did everything but that because they understood that that is the one thing that will make your name mud when it comes to recruiting new hires in the future.”

Also, Coinbase could potentially get sued for reneging on job offers, if it extended a no-caveat offer and the would-be employee can prove they suffered losses. National Law Review wrote about this in 2019.

In its blog post, Coinbase said it was extending its severance policy to individuals it offered jobs and would notify them by email. Blind posted a copy of the rescind email, along with another email Coinbase sent to new hires two weeks ago telling them it would not rescind job offers. What’s next? Layoffs?

It’s just a shame Coinbase doesn’t put its job offers on the blockchain.  

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News: Craig Wright suing more people, exchanges respond by delisting BSV, and Arwen launches

I am trying to make my news posts shorter with an effort to focus mainly on cryptocurrency exchanges, unless something else comes up that is just fun to write about. If you enjoy my stories, tips are always welcome via Patreon.

At a hearing on April 18, Quadriga’s court-appointed monitor continued its battle with the exchange’s third-party payment processors to get them to hand over transaction records and funds. The court also extended Quadriga’s creditor protection until June 28.

Screen Shot 2019-04-19 at 9.53.58 AM
Dorian Nakamoto, one of those who turned out not to be Craig Wright.

Craig Wright, who claims to be Satoshi, is suing people who are accusing him of not being Satoshi. (Wright has yet to prove he actually is.) As mentioned in my last newsletter, it all started when Wright sued twitter user Hodlonaut. Wright has now followed with libel suits against Bitcoin podcast host Peter McCormack, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin and crypto blog Chepicap. (CoinGeek, a publication financed by Calvin Ayre, Wright’s billionaire backer, has a full story.)

Naturally, the Bitcoin community is up in arms. In response, Binance—an exchange that has been traditionally unselective in the coins it lists—has delisted BSV (stands for Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision), the coin that resulted from the bitcoin fork spearheaded by Wright and Ayre. The move was followed by several other exchanges delisting BSV, including Kraken, ShapeShift and Bittylicious. Blockchain.info removed support for BSV from its wallet.

Kraken’s BSV delisting was in response to a poll it put up on Twitter. This quote from Kraken founder Jesse Powell is priceless. He says:

“In this case, it is a unique case for us, we haven’t delisted any other coins because the founders, people who are promoting it turned out to be total assholes.”

Angela Walch, a law professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law, compared the #DelistBSV movement to Visa and PayPal not processing Wikileaks transactions and expressed surprise the crypto world was cheering it.

Meanwhile Gemini’s Tyler Winklevoss says Gemini never listed BSV in the first place, and Chandler Guo, a Chinese miner who has made a fortune on ICOs and Bitcoin forks, announced that he would do the opposite and list BSV.

Crypto exchanges just aren’t pulling in the gazillions they used to. Binance generated about $78 million in profit last quarter, up 66 percent quarter-over-quarter. But that still falls short of full year 2018, when the exchange made $446 million in profits. Coinbase brought in revenue of $520 million in 2018, down 44 percent year-over-year.

Hacks, inside jobs and irreversible goof-ups are pushing some crypto exchanges to the brink. Coinnest, once South Korea’s third-largest exchanges, is closing. Users have until April 30 to get their funds off the exchange. Coinnest lost $5.3 million in a botched airdrop in January, though it blames its closure on low trading volume.

Elsewhere, on April 10, Bittrex’s application for a BitLicense (required to do business in New York State) was rejected—in part, because Bittrex customers were using fake names, like “Give me my money,” “Elvis Presley” and “Donald Duck” to trade.

Bittrex says the NY Department of Financial Services (DFS) “sent four people who didn’t know anything about blockchain.” DFS responded again, saying the exchange “continues to misstate the facts” and “presents a misleading picture about the denial.”

Binance is about to begin the process of moving its BNB (currently an ERC20 token) off the Ethereum network and onto Binance Chain, its custom blockchain. Interestingly, The Block’s Larry Cermak notes that Binance has quietly changed its white paper to remove a clause about the exchange using 20 percent of its profits to buy back BNB.

Arwen, a self-custody solution that uses on-blockchain escrows and off-blockchain atomic swaps to allow traders to maintain control of their keys while they trade, launched on Singapore’s KuCoin earlier this week. KuCoin raised $20 million in VC funding last year, and it is the first exchange to partner with Arwen, created by a company of the same name based in Boston.

Finally, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, is reportedly eyeing a New York license for its crypto exchange Bakkt. The launch date for Bakkt has been delayed for months due to skepticism from the CFTC. The regulator appears most concerned over how tokens will be stored.