The latest from David and me! In this edition:
- The process of cutting Signature up for its organs
- Other banking woes across crypto
- FTX foolishness
- Tether is pumping
- Voyager appeal
- and we stick our necks out again and predict the near-term obvious
The latest from David and me! In this edition:
“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 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]
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]
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.
“Sam Bankman-Fried walks into the courtroom. his pants split with a sound like thunder and guns and cocaine spill out all over the floor. he spins around and punches a security officer hard in the face sending him flying. he turns, sits down calmly on his chair and says, to thunderous applause from the fans gathered to hear his famous catchphrase, ‘OK your honour, here’s what I think happened’”— Hammerite
The criminal indictment against Sam Bankman-Fried has been updated, with a superseding indictment on February 23. [Superseding indictment, PDF]
The new charges are clearly informed by the cooperation of Sam’s former co-conspirators — and by his crime confession tours in the press and on Twitter.
The Federal Election Commission is now listed as a victim of Sam’s fraud, with allegations that SBF tried to buy influence over crypto regulation in Washington.
The indictment details all the tricks that Sam (allegedly) pulled to influence both Democrats and Republicans, in concert with other FTX executives — and how he tried to conceal his influence.
Other new allegations include bank fraud. The act of misleading a bank in the course of business is a crime all by itself — such as when you accept money in the name of one entity (Alameda) for another entity (FTX), or when you set up a shell corporation (North Dimension) and lie to your bank (Silvergate) about what that shell does.
Sam also used Alameda to fill a $45 million hole in FTX US. He gave Alameda a $65 billion credit line, which allowed it unlimited access to customer funds on FTX. Customer and company funds were thoroughly commingled.
The indictment doesn’t specify the cause of the hole in FTX US, but Sam has repeatedly claimed that FTX US was solvent.
Sam ultimately controlled both FTX and Alameda, even after claiming to have stepped away from Alameda.
The indictment also lists billions of dollars worth of assets that have been forfeited, including multiple SBF accounts at Binance.
FTX and its subsidiaries was never a legitimate business. It was Sam’s piggy bank.
The New York Attorney General’s office is suing the CoinEx crypto exchange. The NYAG alleges that CoinEx sold securities and/or commodities, did not register with the CFTC or SEC, and misrepresented itself as registered. [Press release; Complaint, PDF; Affidavit of OAG Detective Brian Metz, PDF]
CoinEx, which is based in Hong Kong, has responded by barring all US citizens. You have until April 24 to get your cryptos off the exchange. [Twitter]
New York alleges that CoinEx offered to New York customers various cryptos that are securities — AMP, LUNA, RLY, and LBC — while the exchange was not registered to deal in securities.
AMP is the token of Flexa, who want to use it to sell burritos. LBC is the token of video site LBRY, which the SEC recently had a slam-dunk win against in court, finding that it was absolutely the security it clearly was. Luna is the twin coin of TerraUSD, which crashed all of crypto last May.
New York says these tokens are all securities under New York’s Waldstein test: “any form of instrument used for the purpose of financing and promoting enterprises, and which is designed for investment, is a security.” They say the tokens are also securities under the federal Howey test — as LBC was recently shown to be.
It happens to be a violation of New York commercial law to call yourself an “exchange” if you offer trading in securities or commodities and you’re not registered with the CFTC or SEC.
CoinEx also failed to respond in any way to a previous NYAG subpoena — and, per General Business Law §353(1), failure to comply with a subpoena is prima facie proof that the subpoenaed entity “is or has been engaged in fraudulent practice.”
New York wants CoinEx to block New York from its website, pay restitution, disgorgement, and costs, “and provide New York investors with the option to rescind their transactions.”
New York is bringing a “special proceeding” — it wants the court to rule on its filing. “A special proceeding goes right to the merits. The Court is required to make a summary determination upon all the pleadings, papers, and admissions to the extent that no triable issues of fact are raised.”
Why did New York go after CoinEx in particular? This complaint is detailed, but it also looks like a template. We suspect this may be the first of many such complaints against crypto platforms. CoinEx ignoring the subpoena probably annoyed New York a lot too.
The SEC previously called out each of the tokens on CoinEx that the NYAG names as securities:
Binance US has delisted AMP. But Coinbase still lists AMP and RLY. Gary Gensler has been saying for a while that he thinks nearly all crypto tokens are securities and that Coinbase should register with the SEC.
Coinbase’s Q4 earnings report is out, as part of its 10-K annual report for the year ending December 31, 2022. Trading volumes are down even further, and they’re still losing money. [10-K]
As a public company, Coinbase has to put on a happy face for investors — but they’ve been bleeding money for a year now. Net loss for 2022 was $2.625 billion, per GAAP. The COIN stock price has gone down 70% in the past 12 months.
Coinbase would prefer you to look at non-GAAP “adjusted EBITDA,” which comes out to a loss of only $371.4 million. Their “adjusted EBITDA” excludes stock-based compensation expenses in particular. Yes, we’re sure your numbers look better if you exclude the bit where you have to pay your employees.
Coinbase makes its money from (1) BTC and ETH trading, and (2) their share of the interest on the USDC reserve. Also, the majority of their volume comes from a few large customers. So Coinbase would extremely much like to diversify.
CFO Alesia Haas said in the investor earnings call: “Our fourth quarter net revenue increased 5% quarter-over-quarter to $605 million. This was driven by strong growth in our subscription and services revenue.” She means that Q4 revenue was only up because of interest on USDC. [Coinbase, PDF]
Coinbase wants to list every token going — even as many of the hottest tokens are blitheringly obviously securities under the Howey test. Coinbase has spent the past several years helping their very good venture capital friends such as a16z dump their bags on retail.
Coinbase goes on at length about the amazing ambiguity in what constitutes a security under US law. Who can even know what might be deemed a security tomorrow? It is a mystery.
Sure, the Howey test is simple and broad, and sure the SEC has won every case it’s ever brought where it claimed a given crypto was a security. But do you feel lucky?
The 10-K even includes a list of tokens Coinbase trades that the SEC has already said are securities! Coinbase questions whether these tokens are really securities, and confidently asserts that “Despite the SEC being the principal federal securities law regulator in the United States, whether or not an asset is a security under federal securities laws is ultimately determined by a federal court.”
This is true. But it’s also true that the SEC has won every single time. And the consent orders in these cases — because almost nobody was stupid enough to take their case to trial — note that the tokens in question were always offerings of securities. It wasn’t a court finding that made the token a security.
But Coinbase is desperate to diversify and makes it clear that they really want to risk their backsides on this business line of maybe-securities that don’t even make them a lot of money.
The SEC shut down Coinbase’s Earn staking product in 2022 before it could be launched. Haas explained in the analyst call why Coinbase thinks its staking product isn’t a security: “we are passing on rewards directly from the protocol. We are not establishing an APY, we are not establishing the reward rate. That is established at the protocol level. And then we are passing that through and collecting a fixed commission on that amount.” We guess we’ll see if the SEC concurs. [Coinbase, PDF]
Coinbase literally lists Satoshi Nakamoto as a risk factor for its business:
“the identification of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous person or persons who developed Bitcoin, or the transfer of Satoshi’s Bitcoins”
FTX Japan K.K. users are getting back 100% of their cryptos. Users in other jurisdictions are likely to get cents on the dollar, if that. This is because the US crypto lobby viciously fought any sensible regulation for years — but Japan locked crypto down hard after Mt. Gox exploded in 2014. Taste the freedom! [Bloomberg]
Galois Capital, a real-money hedge fund that thought they’d get into some crypto, shuts its doors after losing $40 million, half its assets, in the collapse of FTX. Whoops! [Twitter, FT, archive]
The Bank for International Settlements — the central bank for central banks — reports that the fall of FTX didn’t have much impact on the rest of the financial world: [BIS bulletin, PDF, Coindesk]
“Nevertheless, despite crypto’s large user base and the substantial losses to many investors, the market turmoil in 2022 had little discernible impact on broader financial conditions outside the crypto universe, underlining the largely self-referential nature of crypto as an asset class.”
Caitlin Long’s Custodia Bank was refused an account at the Kansas Fed. Custodia appealed the decision. The Federal Reserve Board has looked at Custodia’s appeal and told them to go away. [Federal Reserve]
We’ve mentioned previously that the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) is introducing new rules for crypto exchange registration in the wake of the collapse of FTX. The new regulations, which will apply in all provinces, have been released:
These apply to any exchange with Canadian customers, including non-Canadian exchanges. [Press release; OSC, PDF]
The Financial Action Task Force, the multi-country advisory group set up to combat money laundering, is not happy that its rules on crypto traceability, such as the travel rule, have not been implemented sufficiently widely. At the FATF Plenary on February 22-24, “delegates further agreed on an action plan to drive timely global implementation of FATF standards relating to virtual assets.” [FATF]
The International Monetary Fund has put out a paper, “Elements of Effective Policies for Crypto Assets,” with guidelines that any country that ever might want to hit up the IMF for a loan would be well advised to follow — “amid the failure of various exchanges and other actors within the crypto ecosystem, as well as the collapse of certain crypto assets. Doing nothing is untenable as crypto assets may continue to evolve despite the current downturn.” [Press release; paper, PDF]
Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission is consulting on licensing requirements for crypto exchanges to be allowed to sell to retail customers. Hong Kong wants safe custody of customer cryptos — they’re not demanding third-party custodians, an arms-length subsidiary will be sufficient — KYC, cybersecurity, accounting and auditing, risk management, AML, and prevention of market misconduct. So, the very basic requirements of being a financial institution. Responses should be in by March 31. [SFC; SFC, PDF]
In the US, the SEC got a lot of stick for not going after crypto harder in the bubble. Then it came out that the Blockchain Eight group of representatives had written to Gary Gensler telling him to back off. Now the legislature has demanded action, and Gensler is delivering. Here’s how the Blockchain Eight got the opposite of what they wanted. [The American Prospect]
“Gensler also made clear that he has been grappling with the same question as many of the rest of us: What, exactly, is the point of crypto?” [Intelligencer]
John Naughton on the latest UK Treasury crypto consultation paper. “The second lesson is that permissionless blockchains can never be allowed within the financial services sector.” [Guardian]
97% of Voyager creditors have voted for Binance to buy Voyager Digital! We think it’s unlikely that regulators will let the deal go through, and Binance US doesn’t have the money to cover all those liabilities to Voyager customers — but hey, who knows? [CoinDesk]
FTX in Chapter 11 is suing Voyager Digital in Chapter 11 for the return of a loan that Alameda paid back to Voyager just before it went into bankruptcy protection. FTX, Voyager and both companies’ Unsecured Creditors’ Committees have come to a settlement! An ad-hoc group of Voyager creditors objects to the deal. [Doc 1048, PDF; Doc 1084, PDF]
The Voyager UCC has subpoenaed the ex-top brass of FTX for depositions — Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang, Sam Bankman-Fried, Sam Trabucco, and Daniel Friedberg. The notices to the court don’t detail what the UCC wants to ask — just that they are asking. Voyager’s link to FTX is the huge pile of FTT that the company counted as part of its assets. [e.g., Doc 1018, PDF]
SBF’s lawyers have already moved that the subpoena was deficient because it was handed to Sam’s mom Barbara Fried and not into Sam’s own hands personally. [Doc, PDF]
Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) was the pension fund that invested USD$150 million into equity in Celsius Network. Executive vice-president and CTO Alexandre Synnett, who was the executive involved in the Celsius investment, “left the organization on his own volition about two weeks ago,” said CEO Charles Emond in the 2022 earnings call. CDPQ will not be touching crypto going forward. [BetaKit; The Logic, paywalled]
Bitcoin miners are diversifying because mining is sucking as a business. Riot Blockchain has changed its name to Riot Platforms. [Coindesk]
Crypto firm Phoenix Community Capital and its founder Luke Sullivan, with links to various UK parliamentary groups, appears to have vanished. Some of the firm’s assets and its name appear to have been sold to a new company run by an individual called “Dan,” who has told investors it has no obligation towards them. [Guardian]
Data Finnovation, who took out BUSD, now looks into weird bridging on Tether. [Medium]
Image: Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong is being patted down with a makeup sponge as a big green screen looms behind him. Fortune
“somethings are better left unsaid. Recommend no more news like these, for the sake of the people, our industry (and your business)”— Changpeng Zhao, Binance
Binance USD (BUSD) is a $16 billion stablecoin — an Ethereum ERC20 token — issued by New York-based Paxos. It’s backed by actual dollars in bank accounts.
There’s also a version of BUSD on the Binance BNB Blockchain, bridged from Ethereum. Sometimes the Binance-peg BUSD is fully backed by Paxos BUSD! Other times, it isn’t.
Both the SEC and the New York Department of Financial Services have acted against Paxos and its issuance of BUSD.
The NYDFS has told Paxos to cease issuing BUSD — so there will be no new BUSD after February 21. Paxos has told customers it will proceed with orderly redemptions, as long as they have proper KYC. In its consumer alert, the NYDFS wrote: [WSJ, paywalled; NYDFS; Paxos; PR Newswire]
DFS has ordered Paxos to cease minting Paxos-issued BUSD as a result of several unresolved issues related to Paxos’ oversight of its relationship with Binance in regard to Paxos-issued BUSD.
… It is important to note that the Department authorized Paxos to issue BUSD on the Ethereum blockchain. The Department has not authorized Binance-Peg BUSD on any blockchain, and Binance-Peg BUSD is not issued by Paxos.
The SEC has sent Paxos a Wells Notice alleging that BUSD is an unregistered security. Paxos issued a statement saying it disagrees and is prepared to “vigorously litigate if necessary.” Of course, Paxos is already stopping issuing new BUSD. [WSJ, paywalled; Paxos]
A Wells Notice is a heads-up that an enforcement action is very close to coming your way. Paxos can respond with a Wells Submission — where they try to convince the SEC not to sue them — but we doubt they will because any response would be public. More likely, Paxos will negotiate a settlement.
We don’t know the SEC’s precise issue with BUSD because Paxos hasn’t released the Wells Notice, and the SEC hasn’t filed a complaint yet. But we can make a few educated guesses:
Now that Paxos has stopped issuing BUSD, Binance will have to find another stablecoin to auto-convert to, probably Tether. Coincidentally, Tether just minted another billion USDT. [Twitter]
The BUSD price is still very close to $1. But the Binance exchange has had a surge in withdrawals — $831 million net outflows in 24 hours — and the price of Binance’s free-floating BNB token has crashed. [Coindesk; Twitter]
What does all this mean for Binance? The US has already cut off Binance’s banking by forcing Silvergate and Signature to cut ties with the exchange. Europe and other jurisdictions have done the same. Binance can’t get access to actual dollars, and now it can’t get access to dollars via BUSD either.
Frances Coppola and Dirty Bubble have excellent posts on Binance and its stablecoins. [Coppola Comment; Dirty Bubble]
Fox News reporter Eleanor Terrett posted a rumor on February 14 that the SEC had issued Wells notices to other US stablecoin companies including Circle — ordering them to cease and desist sales of unregistered securities. This turns out not to have been the case! As yet, anyway. [Twitter, archive; Twitter, Twitter]
Based on the jaw-dropping criminality revealed in the examiner’s report, Celsius Network and the Unsecured Creditors’ Committee have filed suit against past executives of Celsius to recover as much money from them as possible. [Doc 2054, PDF]
Celsius and the UCC are suing co-founders Alex Mashinsky, Daniel Leon, and Hanoch “Nuke” Goldstein; former CFO Harumi Urata-Thompson; former general counsel Jeremie Beaudry; former head of trading Johannes Treutler; former vice-president of lending Aliza Landes, who is also Daniel Leon’s wife; and Kristine Mashinsky, wife of Alex.
The suit itself starts on page 25 of the PDF. Most of the complaint reiterates the events detailed in the examiner’s report. The claims are:
The plaintiffs ask for actual and punitive damages.
Meanwhile, Celsius has a recovery plan! We outlined the various recovery proposals previously. Celsius and the UCC have picked the NovaWulf plan — transfer substantially all assets and businesses to a NewCo, 100% owned by the creditors, and issue SEC-compliant “revenue share tokens.” NovaWulf will contribute $45 million to $55 million in actual cash and manage the company. [Doc 2066, PDF]
The shares will be tokens, but the share issuance has to pass SEC registration. It’s just an ordinary equity stock. But it’ll run on a blockchain, apparently.
“Earn” creditors with claims below $5,000 get liquid crypto (BTC, ETH, and USDC) up to about 70% of their claim.
Other Earn creditors will get liquid crypto and equity in NewCo, which will own illiquid crypto, mining, retail and institutional loans, and other assets. The NewCo will actively seek out new business.
The large Earn creditors will also get an interest in a “well-funded litigation trust” to “vigorously pursue designated litigation claims against certain former insiders of Celsius and other third parties.” (See above.)
Insider CEL claims get zero; outsider CEL claims get $0.20 per CEL.
NovaWulf Digital Management has previously provided services for bitcoin mining (TeraWulf and Marathon). For their $45 million, NovaWulf get … to manage NewCo? There are some Management Share Tokens in the plan.
We think this looks a bit speculative and hopeful. It’s not clear that it’s better than just liquidating. But at least it’s a plan? Celsius creditors large and small seem to be very receptive to hope right now.
In the FTX bankruptcy, Judge Michael Dorsey has denied the US Trustee’s motion to appoint an examiner. It would cost too much time and money: “I have no doubt that the appointment of an examiner would not be in the best interest of the creditors,” he said. “Every dollar spent in these cases on administrative expenses is one dollar less to the creditors.” He thinks John Jay Ray III is sufficiently independent of the previous management’s malfeasance to investigate what happened here just fine. [The Block]
In the FTX criminal case, Judge Lewis Kaplan has ordered the names of Sam Bankman-Fried’s two additional bail bond co-signers to be unsealed. Both are from Stanford. The signer for $200,000 is Andreas Paepcke, a senior research scientist at Stanford University. The signer for $500,000 is Larry Kramer, the former dean of Stanford Law School, and a close friend of Sam’s parents. Neither has had to put in any actual cash as yet. [Bloomberg]
Prosecutors are not happy that Sam has been using a VPN to access the internet. Sam’s lawyers say he used the VPN to access his NFL Game Pass subscription to watch the AFC and NFC championship games, as well as the Super Bowl. We flatly don’t believe that Sam has the faintest interest in any variety of sportsball. [Doc 66, PDF, Coindesk; Bloomberg]
FTX gave $400 million to obscure hedge fund Modulo Capital. The money is currently sitting in a JPMorgan account. JPMorgan was Modulo’s prime broker, handling its stocks and stock futures. In November, the holdings were converted to cash. It’s unclear why federal prosecutors haven’t seized the funds yet. [NYT]
Daniel Friedberg, the former FTX chief regulatory officer, was also a George Santos donor. Truly a fitting donor. [Seattle Times]
Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI) from the House Financial Services Committee have questions for the SEC about the arrest of SBF. He was arrested the night before he was supposed to testify before the Committee, on charges that the SEC had a part in authorizing. “The timing of the charges and his arrest raise serious questions about the SEC’s process and cooperation with the Department of Justice.” Was the SEC conspiring to get Sam arrested? Huge if true. [Financial Services, PDF]
In Voyager, the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of Voyager LLC has produced an Investigation Report, conducted by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which has been filed in redacted form. [Doc 1000, PDF]
Judge Michael Wiles let the company redact the document for privileged information and attorney-client work product, and the Voyager UCC was okay with this. So the executive summary states the report’s conclusion as:
Upon consideration of the factual record developed over the course of the Investigation and research and analysis of relevant legal theories, Quinn Emanuel has concluded [rest of paragraph redacted]
In summary: Voyager, and crypto itself, were both just too good and pretty for such fragile beauty to survive macroeconomic factors and “severe industry headwinds.” Also, a quarter of Voyager’s loan book was an entirely unsecured loan to 3AC. Blame them, they screwed everyone! It is not our fault that we were making blitheringly stupid loans while number was going up — our Risk Committee was only “kind of” formalized. It’s definitely not worth suing the directors or officers, okay?
The report’s entire “CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS” section is redacted.
Furthermore, [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]
The trouble with an 18% interest rate is that anything offering those sort of returns in the real world is a Ponzi scheme, and the company offering 18% will go broke and you’ll lose all your money. Celsius and Voyager investors are discovering the other problem — you have to pay tax on that 18% interest, even if the company is in chapter 11 and you can’t get your money out. [Bloomberg]
The Bank of Lithuania has shut down another payment processor, Payrnet UAB — which used to issue credit cards for various crypto companies, including Crypto.com. [Twitter]
Paul Grewal, chief legal officer at Coinbase, argues that none of the prongs of the Howey test of whether a financial product is a security apply to Coinbase’s staking product, which takes money from customers and gives them a return on it. Oookay. [Coinbase, archive]
Every crypto ATM in the UK has been illegal since the FCA refused to license any of the operators in March 2022 and told them to shut down or else. Police, working with the FCA, are finally raiding the operators. [Guardian]
Image: Paxos hosted a party with synchronized swimmers at the Versace Mansion at Bitcoin 2022 in Miami. James Jackman for WSJ.
due to a mistake in the internal reporting system, it didn’t tell him that he’d taken all the customers’ money and given it to his hedge fund to gamble with— Qwertycoatl on SomethingAwful
Binance is broke. It’s got the same problem as the rest of crypto — the assets are imaginary, but the liabilities are real.
Remember the 2 billion BUSD bailout fund for distressed crypto enterprises that Binance announced in November? Bitfinex’ed suggested it was for a hole in Binance’s accounts — and now we’re seeing that Binance is sure behaving like there’s a huge hole in their books.
But Binance got an audit! Well, not an audit as such. But it was done by accountants who sometimes audit other things!
The “proof of reserves,” issued by Paris-based accounting firm Mazars, specifically disclaims being anything meaningful. But it makes sure to use the word “proof.”
The report didn’t address any of the tricky bits — it didn’t include non-crypto liabilities, it didn’t assess the effectiveness of internal financial controls, and it didn’t actually vouch for the numbers. Michael Burry: “The audit is essentially meaningless.” [Mazars, archive; WSJ; Twitter, archive]
Mazars has been issuing these “proofs of reserves” for Crypto.com and Kucoin as well. But now Mazars has abruptly halted all work for crypto firms — and scrubbed all mention of such work from its website. This is Mazars running like hell to get as far away from the bomb as possible before it goes off. [Bloomberg]
Meanwhile, users have been taking their cryptos off Binance and going home. Binance outflows hit $6 billion in the week Mazars halted its work for crypto. [FT]
Binance cut off USDC withdrawals again, claiming a “wallet upgrade.” It just looks a bit like a “wallet inspector.” [Twitter]
CZ went on CNBC Squawk Box to reassure everyone that everything is fine … though he didn’t seem as at ease as he usually does:
CZ: “We are financially okay.”
Rebecca Quick: “Can you have a 2.1 billion withdrawal?”
CZ: “We will let our lawyers handle that.”
CZ was asked why he wouldn’t engage a Big Four auditor to pick up where Mazars left off. CZ said most of these big firms “don’t even know how to audit crypto exchanges.” Andrew Ross Sorkin then pointed out that Coinbase has a Big Four auditor, Deloitte. Quick rolls her eyes at the end of CZ’s stumbling explanation (0:26 in the Twitter link). [YouTube; Twitter]
When FTX bought out Binance’s share in the company, Binance got paid $2.1 billion in funny money. CZ told Squawk Box that “it was all in FTT tokens, which are now worthless.” [Twitter]
70% of Binance’s reserves are in BUSD, Tether, and BNB — the last of which is their internal exchange token, akin to supermarket loyalty card points, in the style of FTX’s FTT.
The BNB token has crashed in the past week, from $290 to $240, according to Coingecko.
Keep in mind that BUSD on Binance is internal magic beans, and absolutely not the same as Paxos dollar-backed BUSD. If Binance thinks it could get away with cashing in the bridged BUSD at Paxos, that’s $2 billion of actual US dollars Binance could secure for itself.
BUSD on Binance is on their own BNB blockchain, formerly known as Binance Smart Chain — a very hacked-up fork of the Geth software for Ethereum. The idea is to have a platform that runs the Ethereum Virtual Machine, lets you rug pull, and so on. This “blockchain” features transactions that seem to parachute assets into the system from space with no verifiable history. Data Finnovation digs into the weird bits. “It’s probably not fair to call this a ‘blockchain’ anymore.” [Twitter, archive]
And there’s still no verifiable evidence that tethers can actually be cashed in for dollars — even if you’re Binance.
Confidence men are called that because they can say the most outlandish things and not bat an eye. CZ has mostly come across in media as fundamentally being on the ball.
But remember that Sam Bankman-Fried projected being smart as well — until we got a look inside FTX, and saw how incredibly stupid every single smart guy in FTX really was.
After Reuters published multiple reports of money laundering at Binance — including Binance letting Iran cash out bitcoins in violation of international sanctions — the U.S. Justice Department is “split” over charging Binance with money laundering. The split seems to be whether to charge them now or later: “Some of the at least half dozen federal prosecutors involved in the case believe the evidence already gathered justifies moving aggressively against the exchange and filing criminal charges against individual executives including founder Changpeng Zhao, said two sources.” The DoJ has discussed various plea deals with Binance’s lawyers. The investigation has been going on since 2018. [Reuters]
Binance was also slashing staff in late November. [Twitter, archive]
It’s only a matter of time before Binance starts freezing withdrawals — just like FTX, Voyager, Celsius, and so many other crypto exchanges in the last seven months.
Who can bail out Binance? Only Tether is left. Perhaps some new crypto exchange will pop up and achieve improbable volumes in a remarkably short time. There should be some Jane Street wunderkind on hand to front the operation.
The FTX liquidation proceedings in the Bahamas are distinctly odd and in direct conflict with FTX’s Chapter 11 proceedings in the U.S. [Bloomberg]
FTX froze withdrawals on November 8. The Bahamas government placed FTX Digital Markets, FTX’s Bahamas subsidiary, into liquidation on November 10. And John Jay Ray III, who took over as CEO of FTX Trading, filed for Chapter 11 in the US on November 11.
The joint provisional liquidators (JPLs), the three men in charge of liquidating FTX Digital Market’s assets, now want dynamic access to FTX systems — they don’t want just lists of specific data, they want to be able to go fishing through the system themselves.
Ray, who cut the JPLs off from the system on November 12, is saying “no way.” He and his team are pissed because of all the pillaging of FTX that occurred after FTX froze withdrawals.
FTX objected to the Bahamas motion saying there was no urgency and the other side was being utterly uncooperative: [Objection, PDF]
“Debtors have made repeated overtures to JPLs and Commission to meet and those overtures were met with avoidance and obfuscation. The JPLs and the Commission have refused to provide responses to Debtors’ questions about the assets ‘secured’ by the Commission. Instead, the JPLs file baseless motions seeking extraordinary relief on an unnecessarily truncated timeframe.”
Ray thinks FTX cofounders Bankman-Fried and Gary Wang, the JPLs, and the Bahamas Securities Commission are all in cahoots. He told Congress: [Twitter, archive]
“The process in the Bahamian islands is not a transparent process. We have opened up the ability to share everything we have with the Bahamian government, similar to how we share with other liquidators around the world not only in this case but in other cases. It’s meant to be a very cooperative situation. The pushback that we’ve gotten is sort of extraordinary in the context of bankruptcy. It raises questions, it seems irregular to me, there are lots of questions on our part, and obviously, we’re investigating.”
James Bromley, one of FTX’s attorneys in the bankruptcy, has filed a declaration with rancorous correspondence between FTX and the Bahamas liquidators attached as exhibits. [Declaration, PDF]
Judge Michael Dorsey, who is presiding over the Chapter 11 proceedings in Delaware, told lawyers for the JPLs and Ray to try to find a middle ground. (His job is to be a referee, after all.) If they can’t work things out, they’ll be facing off in an evidentiary hearing tentatively scheduled for January 6, 2023. [Doc 197, PDF; Doc 203, PDF]
So that you can understand FTX’s concerns, here’s a rundown of all the questionable stuff that’s happened so far:
On November 9, the day after FTX froze withdrawals, SBF told Bahamas attorney general Ryan Pinder that he would open withdrawals for Bahamian customers. Pinder previously worked at Deltec Bank — Tether’s banker since 2018 — but we’re sure that hasn’t influenced his decision-making, probably. [Doc 203, PDF]
From November 10 to 11, roughly 1,500 individuals, who claimed to be Bahamian residents, withdrew $100 million in crypto from FTX. Every other FTX customer in the world remained locked out of the system.
SBF said the Bahamas Securities Commission had told him to let the local customers in. The BSC denied this. [Twitter, archive]
SBF later told Tiffany Fong that he let the locals get their cryptos out because “you do not want to be in a country with a lot of angry people in it.” Could he have had in mind, not a mob, but particular individuals who might have had very robust opinions about not getting their cryptos back? [YouTube]
Separately from these withdrawals, at least two actors accessed FTX systems and withdrew another $477 million — hours after Ray filed for Chapter 11 on November 11. They also minted new FTT tokens. [Elliptic]
Ray and his lawyers say that SBF and Wang, who, acting on orders from the Bahamas Security Commission, minted FTT and transferred funds to a cold wallet under the control of the Commission. Ray still hasn’t figured out who the other actor was, but he’s working on it.
The JPLs have been tight-lipped as to what assets the Commission seized or how the assets were transferred.
There’s also the issue of the $256 million that FTX spent on 35 properties in the Bahamas — including land for a massive headquarters that never got built. The Bahamas regulators want to claim the properties back and they want the sale of the properties administered locally. Ray is likely to push back on this as well. [CNBC]
It’s hard to say for sure what’s going on here. We are beginning to suspect that FTX was a money-laundering chop shop, with some crypto businesses on the side. This would further suggest possible bribery of some local authorities. But the dots aren’t yet joined up.
After four days, SBF has decided that Bahamas prisons aren’t so great, and he would rather be in a nice U.S. jail instead. [Reuters]
Ryan Salame, co-chief executive of FTX Digital Markets, is the first FTX insider on record as spilling the beans on SBF. He told the Bahamas Security Commission on November 9 that FTX customer funds had been used to cover losses at Alameda Research. [Doc 225, PDF, page 34; FT, archive]
In 2021, Salame was a budding megadonor to U.S. Republican Party candidates — in step with SBF donating to Democratic candidates. Salame took out a $55 million loan from FTX, paid cash for a $4 million home in Maryland, and was buying up restaurants in Lenox, a town in Western Massachusetts. [NYT]
We’re not saying that’s what he used it for — but restaurants are notorious as a vehicle for laundering dubious cash.
Total donations by FTX to US politicians seem to be about $89 million when you trace all the darkish money as best as possible. [Institute for New Economic Thinking]
$73 million of those political donations are at risk of being clawed back in the bankruptcy proceedings. [Bloomberg]
Molly White live-tooted the Senate hearing on FTX and summarized it in her newsletter. [Mastodon; Substack]
Here are all of the written testimonies. [Senate Housing Committee, PDFs]
John Jay Ray III wants to sell FTX subsidiaries, starting with LedgerX, FTX Japan, and FTX Europe AG. [Doc 233, PDF]
FTX now has an official creditors’ committee of nine firms or individual investors, including crypto trading firm Wintermute. They still need to pick counsel, which should happen any day now. One of the first matters they will be weighing in on is a proposal to redact personal information rather than publishing a full list of creditors. [Doc 231, PDF]
When the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan invested in FTX, it asked the company a slew of questions related to their financial affairs — but received answers only to a few of them. OTPP put in $95 million anyway. [Globe and Mail, archive]
How a crypto exchange can inveigle itself into the banking system — and how FTX seems to have done this with its Farmington equity purchase. Buy a bank, convert to a Federal Reserve member bank, notify the Fed that you’re going into digital assets and you’ve determined it’ll all be fine and you’re totally going to set up risk management. “If you’re lucky, your bank won’t be examined for a year or two. By then, you might have cranked up quite a dumpster fire.” [American Banker; Wall Street on Parade]
Canada has tightened crypto regulation even further in the wake of FTX. Client cryptos must be stored with a custodian and have no margin or leverage for Canadian customers. Non-Canadian platforms with Canadian customers will also be required to follow these rules. The Ontario Securities Commission had already refused FTX permission to operate in the province, but other provinces didn’t — and many Canadian FTX customers got caught up in the bankruptcy. [Leader Post]
Eliezer Yudkowsky, the AI risk guy who named “Effective Altruism,” advises his fellow Effective Altruists to take the FTX money and run. For the sake of charity, you understand. Others mention that clawbacks in bankruptcy exist — but ehh, it’ll probably be fine, right? [Effective Altruism forum, archive]
David spoke on CBC on Tuesday about FTX. It went pretty well. “TWO AND TWO MAKES FOUR! GRAVITY WORKS! MAGIC DOESN’T HAPPEN!” [Twitter; Yahoo News]
There’s no interesting news in the Celsius Network or Voyager Digital bankruptcies. Looking through the filings, it’s all procedural sports ball and not matters of real import. Everyone’s on holiday and nothing is going to happen until January. Perhaps Celsius won’t have run out of cash by then.
The next report of the examiner on Celsius was supposed to be out in December — but the court still hasn’t resolved the question of who investigates whether Celsius was Ponziing, which is the big bomb here.
Voyager is just sitting around and giving money to expensive bankruptcy professionals. Binance was talking about buying Voyager’s assets — but frankly, that’s a deal we suggest the creditors not take. They only just escaped being caught up in FTX’s bankruptcy.
Celsius has filed a motion to commence a $7.7 million clawback action against Voyager, as well as an extension of time to file a claim against Voyager’s estate. The Voyager Unsecured Creditors’ Committee is reviewing Celsius’ motion with the intention to object. [Twitter, archive]
Bankruptcy professionals will cost Celsius $115 million in the three months leading up to mid-February. [Doc 1676, PDF]
Crypto broker Genesis owes the Gemini exchange $900 million. Gemini has now formed a creditors’ committee to recoup the funds from Genesis and its parent DCG. [FT]
Did you know that 80% of the current market cap (613 million) of Gemini’s dollar stablecoin GUSD was printed in the weeks before the FTX collapse? Even odder, one unlabeled wallet appears to have minted 460 million GUSD. [Twitter, archive]
On September 30, 2022, Gemini sought to incentivize GUSD adoption by increasing GUSD deposits to MakerDAO’s PSM (peg stability mechanism). MakerDAO was unimpressed. [The Defiant]
Tether’s accountant, BDO Italia, is reconsidering whether it wants to do crypto attestations. “In common with several other professional service firms, we are currently evaluating our approach to this sector and the work we undertake for our clients.” Tether only hired them in August. [WSJ, paywalled]
In the lead-up to FTX going down, CZ from Binance was very upset that SBF appeared to be destabilizing Tether’s peg with … a mere $250,000 trade. We know this because there’s a secret chat group for the exchanges to conspire, er, sort out issues. SBF also put screenshots from these chats into the Congressional Record in his bizarre written testimony before the hearing, which he didn’t manage to attend. [WSJ; Forbes]
The secret ingredient is still crime. Police in China have arrested a gang who laundered $1.7 billion via crypto, including Tether — even after Beijing’s crackdown on crypto. [CNBC]
Three Arrows Capital (3AC)’s liquidator Teneo estimates 3AC’s assets at $1 billion as of July. That’s $37 million of actual money, $238 million in cryptos, $22 million in NFTs, and $502 million in venture and other investments. A lot of those “assets” are obviously imaginary. 3AC’s liabilities, which are extremely real, are over $3 billion. [The Block]
Grayscale wanted to turn GBTC into an exchange-traded bitcoin fund. The SEC said “LOL, no.” Grayscale sued claiming unequal treatment compared to the bitcoin futures ETFs, and even questioning whether the SEC had the right to decide against its ETF proposal. Now the SEC has written a 73-page response to Grayscale’s dumb lawsuit. [SEC, PDF]
Argo Blockchain Plc, a UK-incorporated bitcoin miner, has had trading in its shares suspended by the Financial Conduct Authority. The company is planning to file for bankruptcy. [Twitter; Bloomberg]
MicroStrategy is still going down the toilet. Bitcoin prices fell well below the “low watermark” for carrying value in Q3 2022. The company will likely face a new record digital-asset impairment charge in Q4. [Marketwatch]
Dump on retail managed: Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong no longer holds any Coinbase stock. But he’s very bullish on crypto, he wants to make clear! [Protos]
Image: Robyn Damianos for the Wall Street Journal
The 2021–2022 crypto bubble made a lot of traders look like geniuses. Then the bubble popped, the tide went out, and the traders turned out to be hugely overleveraged formerly-lucky idiots.
Sociologists know that when a cult prophecy fails, most cultists exit the cult, and the remaining factions turn on each other.
Crypto watchers know that this can also be exceedingly funny.
Sam Bankman-Fried’s boosters compare him to the legendary banker J. P. Morgan. He’s spent the crypto collapse bailing out ailing companies to keep the entire market afloat.
Bankman-Fried runs three large crypto enterprises:
On November 2, Coindesk’s Ian Allison posted an explosive story on a partially leaked balance sheet for Alameda. [CoinDesk]
Of Alameda’s $14.6 billion in claimed assets, $5.8 billion is FTT — FTX’s internal exchange token. You can use FTT for cheaper trading fees and increased commissions. FTT is also traded outside FTX.
Allison also noted that $5.8 billion is actually 180% of the circulating supply of FTT!
Alameda’s liabilities are listed at $8 billion, most of which is $7.4 billion of loans — quite a bit of that from FTX.
Alameda is super cashed-up … if you account for FTX’s own FTT token at mark-to-market, and not what you could actually get for that much of their private illiquid altcoin.
To make matters worse, Dirty Bubble notes that a lot of Alameda’s other assets are crypto tokens from other Sam Bankman-Fried enterprises. [Dirty Bubble Media]
Alameda and FTX seem to have printed FTT, pumped its price using customer assets — FTX was quite open that it was the FTT market maker, and there’s no other real demand — and used the mark-to-market value of their illiquid made-up token as collateral for loans, or as evidence that pension funds should invest in crypto companies.
This works great while number is going up!
Regular readers will know that this sort of flywheel scheme is precisely what Celsius Network tried to run with their CEL token and Nexo with their NEXO token. Celsius is bankrupt, and regulators have noticed that Nexo is only solvent if you allow them this particular tricky bit of accounting.
Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison said the leaked balance sheet Coindesk got a hold of was “incomplete,” and there were $10 billion in assets not listed there. [Twitter, archive]
The crypto world spent a few days wondering if Alameda was the next Three Arrows Capital.
Large flows of FTT were noticed on the blockchain on November 6. Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao confirmed that this was Binance selling off its FTT: [Twitter, archive]
“As part of Binance’s exit from FTX equity last year, Binance received roughly $2.1 billion USD equivalent in cash (BUSD and FTT). Due to recent revelations that have came to light, we have decided to liquidate any remaining FTT on our books.”
The remaining FTT that Binance sold was worth $530 million. [Bloomberg]
CZ was also annoyed at Bankman-Fried’s lobbying efforts for crypto regulation in Washington: “We won’t support people who lobby against other industry players behind their backs.” [Twitter, archive]
The crypto market is incredibly shaky. Alameda and FTX operate as separate corporations, but the market seems to think they’re closely entwined. Trouble at Alameda leads to worry about FTX.
So panicked holders, thinking Alameda might be insolvent, started withdrawing funds from FTX as fast as possible — and hardly deposited anything at all.
FTX paused all withdrawals on the Ethereum, Solana, and Tron blockchains around 11:37 a.m. UTC on November 8, according to Steven Zheng at The Block. [The Block]
Finally, just after 4 p.m. UTC, Bankman-Fried and CZ announced that Binance was buying FTX. Specifically, they have a non-binding letter of intent, pending due diligence. [Twitter, archive; Twitter, archive]
Essentially, CZ started a bank run on FTX, then swooped in to buy his competitor after breaking it. CZ did to Bankman-Fried what Bankman-Fried has been accused of doing to a string of others.
At present, this is only a letter of intent, not a done deal — CZ is making Bankman-Fried suffer. He could just let FTX go hang.
CZ said FTX was in a “significant liquidity crunch.” This is the sort of “liquidity crunch” that everyone else calls “insolvency.” If it were just liquidity, FTX could have borrowed against its assets and found another way out of this. [Twitter, archive]
We don’t know for sure that Alameda was trading with FTX customer funds — but this sort of fractional reserve operation is the only not-entirely-fraudulent reason that FTX could have run out of customer funds in this way.
Bankman-Fried claimed on November 7 that “FTX has enough to cover all client holdings. We don’t invest client assets (even in treasuries).” This appears not to have been true, and he later deleted the tweet. [Twitter, archive]
If FTX couldn’t get its funds back from Alameda quickly, that would have then led to the liquidity crunch.
Bankman-Fried was quick to reassure customers that FTX US was not affected and that it was “fully backed 1:1, and operating normally.” So at least FTX US explicitly claims it isn’t playing the markets with your deposits. [Twitter, archive]
FTX US is also attempting to buy the remains of the bankrupt Voyager Digital, a deal that we think is likely to go through.
The separation of customer funds and platforms is the whole point of FTX US versus FTX. It’s there to make Sam look good to regulators.
But it’s all Sam Bankman-Fried. It’s Sam’s left pocket versus his right pocket.
We think that if your paycheck goes into FTX US, you probably want to stop doing that immediately.
Alameda has likely been borrowing against the FTT it held — the FTT that is now crashing. (Earlier today, FTT was worth $19; as we post this, it’s trading at $4.60.)
Binance might rescue FTX, but it’s sure not going to rescue Alameda.
This means a series of margin calls by everyone who’s lent to Alameda. If Alameda defaults, those lenders will likely end up with worthless FTT.
BlockFi and Genesis have a pile of money in Alameda. BlockFi is or will be owned in some unspecified manner by FTX US, but that doesn’t make the books balance — there’s already a rumor of a 24-hour margin call by BlockFi against Alameda. [Twitter]
Remember that Three Arrows Capital collapsed when their UST turned out to be worthless. This then took out a pile of other crypto trading firms — most notably Celsius Network and Voyager Digital.
We’re left with two questions:
The crypto market is not happy. Bitcoin has been up and down like a yo-yo today, from $19,500 just before 4 p.m. UTC to a peak of $20,500 and a trough of $17,500.
We predict more market excitement to come — specifically, a possible Alameda collapse, a chain reaction of lender failures, and attempts to cover sudden balance-sheet holes, much as we saw after the Terra-Luna and Three Arrows collapses.
But Caroline Ellison from Alameda insists there’s another $10 billion behind the sofa or something. Maybe it’s all fine!
Image: FT Alphaville
“Of all the offspring of Time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder’s welcome.”~ Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Celsius Network seems to be admitting the company’s dead and it’s not coming back. The debtor companies filed a motion on September 29 to sell off whatever assets remain.
The leading contender is, wait for it, Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX, who was previously noted to be sniffing around the gaping balance sheet hole called Celsius. [Bloomberg]
Here’s the filing to sell off everything, with its marvelous title in full: Debtors’ Motion Seeking Entry of an Order (I) Approving the Bidding Procedures in Connection with the Sale of Substantially All of the Debtors’ Assets, (II) Scheduling Certain Dates with Respect Thereto, (III) Approving the Form and Manner of Notice Thereof, (IV) Approving Contract Assumption and Assignment Procedures, and (V) Granting Related Relief. [Motion, PDF]
The filing asks to start a bidding process, in a conventional manner, for any remaining spare change to be found in the stiff’s pockets. Celsius would like bids to be put in by November 15, with a hearing to approve the winner around November 28. Celsius hopes to sell any remaining assets by December 20. The auction would be advertised in the New York Times and CoinDesk.
This isn’t actually a bad idea. We’ve said repeatedly that taking Celsius out of everyone’s misery is the right move. Celsius is an ex-parrot. It is bereft of life. There’s no viable business here. In any ordinary bankruptcy, selling off whatever’s left would be the correct thing to do at this point.
But this isn’t an ordinary bankruptcy. Vermont’s filing sets out the issues. There have been shenanigans here, and Vermont doesn’t want those put aside before the examiner can report: [Objection, PDF]
“As of the Petition Date, at least 40 state securities regulators were engaged in a multistate investigation arising from, inter alia, concerns about potential unregistered securities activity, mismanagement, securities fraud, and market manipulation by Celsius and its principals. At least six of those states had taken regulatory enforcement action against Celsius as of the Petition date, and several more states have done so since then.”
Ownership of the “custody” and “withhold” accounts have yet to be resolved. Do the accounts belong in full to the named creditors or are they part of the general pool of assets? (See our list of Celsius account types.) And who owns the stablecoins?
If any of the assets constitute securities, Vermont wants those to be registered as offerings of securities. (Spoiler: many of them are likely to constitute securities, and none are registered.)
Also unresolved: Celsius insiders withdrew nearly $18 million in cryptos in the weeks before Celsius froze withdrawals on June 12.
Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all concur with Vermont’s objections. The states want to see the examiner’s report before any sale goes forward. They also want to approve the bidders to verify that they are compliant with state regulations, or can become compliant in a timely manner. [Texas objection, PDF; Coordinating states’ objection, PDF]
The US Trustee also objects to the auction. As well as the above objections, the Trustee asks that a privacy ombudsman be appointed, as “customers of these Debtors have significant concerns regarding transparency and irregularities.” [Objection, PDF]
Some individual creditors object on the same grounds — e.g., Daniel Frishberg, who thinks the examiner’s report may show that Celsius was a Ponzi scheme. Immanuel Herrmann has objected on behalf of an unofficial “Steering Committee” of Earn, Loans, and CEL depositors — they don’t object to an asset sale but do feel this current proposal is rushed. [Frishberg objection, PDF; Herrmann objection, PDF]
The US Trustee held a 341 creditors’ meeting on October 13. Celsius interim CEO Chris Ferraro responded to questions under oath — and Ferraro knows nothing, nothing! Most of his answers amounted to “I’ll have to follow up on that,” “I don’t know,” and “I need to consult with my lawyers.” [Reddit]
The next Celsius hearing is on October 20 at 10 am ET. There’s an omnibus hearing on November 1 at 11 a.m. ET. Custody and withhold hearings are scheduled for December 7 and 8 at 9 a.m. ET. [Schedule, PDF]
Celsius has requested to set a “bar date,” the deadline for customers to submit proofs of claims, of December 13, 2022. [Motion, PDF]
If you agree with the schedules of assets and liabilities that Celsius filed earlier, you don’t need to file a claim. Go to page 92 to check your claim. [Schedule, PDF]
If you do need to file a claim, Celsius has submitted a form for approval with the bar date motion.
As soon as she was appointed examiner in the Celsius bankruptcy on September 29, Shoba Pillay, previously an assistant US attorney, set to work.
She has already spoken to the debtors. She has outlined the various documents she will be requesting and has set forth a plan on how to avoid duplicating work already done.
Pillay has also filed a “Rule 2004 Motion,” to collect almost anything she might need. This motion will be heard on October 20 and is sure to be granted. [Rule 2004 motion, PDF; Notice motion, PDF]
Federal Rule of Bankruptcy 2004 — that’s a rule number, not a year — allows tremendously broad discovery and deposition. A witness in a 2004 examination is not always entitled to attorney representation or cross-examination and has only a limited right to object to questions. 2004 exams are sometimes referred to as “fishing expeditions” — because they need to be, in order to do their job. [Cullen Dykman; Nolo]
Pillay has proposed a work plan: [Motion, PDF]
Core Scientific provides hosting services to Celsius Mining. Core claims the bankrupt company owes them $5.4 million. They’re tired of subsidizing Celsius’ failing mining business. They want their money, or they want out of their contract before Celsius turns them into a dead parrot too.
Celsius argues that Core breached their agreement by failing to deploy mining machines on time, and is unjustly trying to pass on power charges. They say Core is in violation of the automatic stay, which stops creditors from trying to collect debts until court bankruptcy proceedings are completed. They have called for a hearing on October 20 to ask the court to enforce the stay. [Filing, PDF; Coindesk; The Block]
Core responded saying that Celsius’ claims were “premised on the incorrect notion that Core Scientific must subsidize the Debtors’ money-losing mining business to the tune of millions of dollars a month.”
Core says they have deployed all of the mining equipment Celsius gave them and are paying out of pocket to keep the machines running. They are seeking relief from the court to either terminate their contract or to get paid. They want to delay the hearing on October 20 and they are requesting a status conference. [Letter, PDF]
Celsius’s lawyers responded that Core’s request for a status conference is “unwarranted and premature.” We think Celsius is dragging this out for as long as they can run up a tab with Core that will never be paid. [Letter, PDF]
There’s a new tool that lets you search the Celsius creditor database with your name and find your coinage! You can use the leaderboard to find the top losers. [Celsiusnetworth; Gizmodo]
US federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York subpoenaed Celsius days after it blocked withdrawals in June. The subpoena was issued by a grand jury. Federal grand juries are used by Department of Justice prosecutors to conduct criminal investigations and potentially issue indictments. [FT, archive]
The SDNY subpoena is disclosed on p. 48 of this October 5 filing. Pages 48-50 list investigations by multiple state regulators. [Filing, PDF]
Celsius has filed its proposal for a key employee retention plan (KERP). They want to divvy up $2.96 million amongst 62 key non-insider employees — so as to keep them working on the dumb “Kelvin” plan to revive this dead parrot. Celsius currently has 275 employees in total. [Motion, PDF]
Alex Mashinsky, who recently stepped down as Celsius CEO, is dumping his CEL tokens for USDC dollar-equivalent stablecoins. [Twitter, Twitter]
Celsius cofounder Daniel Leon, who also just stepped down, sold $11.5 million worth of CEL in 2020 and 2021. [FT]
Jason Stone of KeyFi, a.k.a. DeFi whale 0x_b1, used to manage Celsius’ investments. Stone sued Celsius in July, saying they hadn’t paid him and called Celsius a Ponzi scheme. Celsius countersued in August, claiming Stone was an incompetent thief. Anyway, Celsius has just updated their counterclaim. [Complaint, PDF]
In a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the debtor has to file a disclosure statement with their bankruptcy plan. The statement needs to provide “adequate information” about the debtor’s financial affairs so creditors can make an informed decision when they go to vote on the bankruptcy plan.
Voyager filed its first amended disclosure statement related to its second amended joint plan on October 5. The plan involves selling off all of its assets to FTX US. [Statement, PDF]
The US Trustee objected to Voyager’s disclosure statement. The plan doesn’t say it’s a liquidation plan, but the proposal is basically to liquidate Voyager. The plan also shields Voyager CEO Stephen Ehrlich and his assets from third-party claims. The Trustee wants clearer disclosure for creditors of precisely what this statement is. [Objection, PDF]
The Texas State Securities Board objects to the sale of Voyager to FTX, “because, at this time, the Debtor and FTX are not in compliance with Texas law.” Texas thinks the plan “attempts to limit the Debtors’ liability for unlawful post-petition — but pre-sale closing — conduct for which state-regulatory fines and penalties may apply.” That is, they think the quick sale is an attempt to hide malfeasance. [Objection, PDF]
Specifically, Texas thinks FTX has been offering investment contracts that constitute unregistered securities to Texas residents. The affidavit from Joe Rotunda, Director of the TSSA Enforcement Division, details Texas’ ongoing case against Voyager since April 2022 for unlicensed offerings of securities — and then it gets stuck into FTX.
Rotunda states that the interest-bearing accounts offered by FTX US are likely unregistered securities. FTX US claims to be registered with FinCEN as a money transmitter — but it isn’t registered with Texas as a money transmitter. FTX Capital is registered with Texas as a broker-dealer, so that’s nice.
The FTX trading app lets US customers use FTX non-US despite FTX Trading’s claims not to serve US customers, and despite Rotunda correctly entering his address as Austin, Texas. Rotunda transferred ether to a wallet on FTX. Rotunda is pretty sure the FTX (US or not) yield program is an investment contract and not a registered one.
Rotunda also confirms that “The Enforcement Division is now investigating FTX Trading, FTX US, and their principals, including Sam Bankman-Fried.” [Affidavit, PDF]
Bankruptcies are expensive. The professionals operating on behalf of Voyager Digital and Celsius Network have begun submitting their bills.
Kirkland & Ellis in Voyager: $2,994,615.46 for July 5 to July 31. [Fee statement, PDF]
Kirkland & Ellis in Celsius: $2,570,322.67 for July 13 to July 31 July — yes, that’s only two and a half weeks. [Fee statement, PDF]
Akin Gump in Celsius: $741,898.56 for July 13 to Aug. 31. [Fee statement, PDF]
Alvarez & Marsal in Celsius: $2,961,249.80 for July 14 to Aug. 31. [Fee statement, PDF]
South Korean crypto investment firm Blockwater Technologies defaulted on a loan from TrueFi, a decentralized lending protocol. TrueFi issued a “notice of default” to Blockwater on October 6 after Blockwater missed a payment on a loan of 3.4 million BUSD. TrueFi said the debt represents about 2% of its total outstanding value. Blockworks’ loan was “restructured” in August, and they paid back 654,000 BUSD at that time. TrueFi wants “a potential court-supervised administrative proceeding” —i.e., putting Blockwater into something like bankruptcy. [TrueFi blog; Bloomberg; Twitter]
Do Kwon is the founder of Terraform Labs, whose UST “stablecoin” collapsed in May, took the rest of crypto down with it, and started us on writing this newsletter series. Kwon talked to Laura Shin for her Unchained podcast on October 14 from a totally legitimate unknown location where he definitely isn’t on the run. The podcast comes out on October 18. [Twitter; Unchained]
Grayscale runs crypto investment funds, most notably GBTC, which Amy has dissected at length. Grayscale is now creating Grayscale Digital Infrastructure Opportunities, to buy up used bitcoin mining rigs from distressed mining companies. These will be used for mining by Foundry Digital, which is also owned by Grayscale owner Digital Currency Group. This will be made available as a fabulous investment opportunity to “accredited investors such as hedge funds and family offices at a minimum investment of $25,000.” [Bloomberg]
The Department of Justice has issued a new report on crypto crime: “The Role Of Law Enforcement In Detecting, Investigating, And Prosecuting Criminal Activity Related To Digital Assets.” This report was as required by President Biden’s March 2022 executive order on crypto. [DOJ, PDF]
The latest crypto crash update is up!
David Gerard and I discuss:
The full update is on David’s blog this time. Head on over there and read it! [David Gerard]
Image: They look smug here, yes?
David Gerard and I just published our latest news roundup and analysis on the ongoing crypto crash.
In this update, we cover:
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.
“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
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:
Let’s review the four types of Celsius customers:
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]
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]
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.
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.
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]
“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
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.
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 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.)
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.
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]
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]
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]
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:
If you like our work, please do sign up for our Patreons — here’s Amy’s and here’s David’s.
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.
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]
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 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]
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]
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]
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?
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]
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 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]
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]
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.
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 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.
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