The Looming $62 Billion Crypto Contagion

Illustration by Gracelynn Wan for Forbes

In 2017, cryptocurrency exchange Binance created the first of a new kind of blockchain-minted digital asset: BNB coin, designed to reward customer behavior such as trading or referring friends to its own platform. “A model for building a scalable, and impactful cryptocurrency business,” heralded CoinDesk editor Pete Rizzo in 2019, after Binance moved the coin to its own proprietary blockchain. “Unbelievable brilliance.”

Today, the only unbelievable thing about the whole cloth of crypto inventions known as exchange tokens, like BNB, is that they have inflated to tens of billions of dollars in value and in large part have become the foundation upon which the fast-growing digital-assets markets rest.

The weakest link in former billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire was FTX’s own exchange token, which traded under the symbol FTT. According to Reuters, Bankman-Fried had lent his trading company, Alameda, billions of dollars in FTX customer funds, collateralized by these FTT tokens, which were essentially invented as a way to offer trading discounts and other perks.

“The way that FTT works,” said Bankman-Fried in an August 2022 interview with Forbes, “It is not that you get free FTT for doing things. The way to think about it is that you get free shit for having FTT. So, there’s a bunch of doo-hickeys.”

At the peak in 2021 FTT had a market value of $9.6 billion, but unlike a common stock, which represents legal ownership in the assets of a corporation, FTT does not represent any equity ownership in the FTX company. If FTT had any intrinsic value, it was in the form of discounts that FTX customers using these tokens could get trading on the exchange–as much as 60% for active traders.

You can think of these exchange tokens as being akin to loyalty or reward points you might get as a frequent customer of Starbucks or the UnitedMiles by flying on that airline. They have value, but it’s unlikely that a bank would allow you to use them as collateral if you wanted to purchase a home.

However, in the highly speculative and often bizarre world of digital assets, these loyalty tokens trade on numerous crypto exchanges just as stocks do on the New York Stock Exchange, and FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried reportedly used them as collateral for the loans his company made. Up until a week ago FTT traded at $26 and had a market capitalization of $3.5 billion.

But after Bankman-Fried’s rival Changpeng Zhao, Binance’s billionaire founder, went on Twitter to say he was planning to sell over $500 million of FTT, it sparked the crypto equivalent of a bank run. Today FTT sells for $2.70, and given FTX’s recent bankruptcy filing, it is likely headed to zero.

But the story of exchange tokens in cryptoland is far from over. Forbes counts more than 16 global crypto and DeFi (decentralized finance) exchanges currently using these tokens for a combined market value of no less than $62 billion.

In fact, so-called exchange tokens are an important underpinning to the crypto exchange ecosystem because they are effective in creating customer loyalty–especially when token prices are rising. Virtually all such tokens offer holders exchange-specific perks such as trading fee discounts, preferential margin loan terms, enhanced rewards for staking (lending) and exchange-branded cashback Visa cards.

Exchange tokens are also awarded to customers that refer new traders to a platform, in a system similar to multi-level marketing organizations like Amway. Exchange tokens function as the fuel for crypto’s self-fulfilling bubbles.

Binance–the largest crypto exchange in the world–has its own token, BNB, which by itself has a market capitalization of $45.9 billion, though it does not represent any equity in Changpeng Zhao’s company nor has it been registered as a security with the U.S. SEC.

Anyone who opens an account on Binance and starts trading can buy or earn these BNB tokens, which offer 25% discounts on spot and margin transaction fees and 10% on futures. If you refer friends, you can get up to 40% commission every time they make a trade on Binance. Also, because Binance has created its own blockchain that mints BNB coins, you can use BNB to pay for goods and services, book airfare and hotels on sites like Travala for instance, participate in exclusive token sales and even earn free tokens by completing surveys and tasks.

You can also put BNB to use by staking, earn a flexible percentage yield by depositing it on BNB Chain-based projects and apply for crypto loans. Notably, these digital assets are also essential for anyone who want to use Binance’s decentralized exchange (DEX), which theoretically can’t be shut down by U.S. regulators.

Unlike bitcoin, which is mined every ten minutes, all of the 350 million FTT tokens that would ever exist were created in what is known as a pre-mine. “There will never be any more minted,” said Bankman-Fried recently. In fact, over a period of about three months starting around June of 2019 almost all of FTT’s premined tokens were sold prior to getting listed on crypto exchanges. “Effectively, all of the FTT tokens were owned by a collection of people and entities,” said Bankman-Fried.

In order to create scarcity and essentially bolster the value of its exchange tokens, FTX and Binance conduct what are known as token burns. Periodically both exchanges send tokens to irretrievable addresses reducing the float, similarly to a share buyback, and thus increasing the value of the exchange tokens outstanding. Since 2019 FTX has burned 21 million FTT tokens.

In total, Binance has burned more than 42 million BNB, which would be worth $11.6 billion at today’s prices. CZ has said Binance doesn’t borrow money and has never used BNB as collateral on loans. He recently began advocating that exchanges undergo a “proof” of funds.

In terms of governance, exchange tokens, like loyalty reward programs, are completely under the control of the entity that issues or redeems them, even if they profess to stick to pre-arranged schedules for issuance or burning. DeFi tokens, by contrast, claim to offer holders the ability to propose and vote on platform changes. But in reality, many large DeFi platforms concentrate governance in the hands of big investors and founding teams.

Additionally, just as FTT did not give holders stakes in FTX, purchasing a DeFi token does not necessarily convey ownership rights into the underlying platform. The table below offers details on some 16 different cryptocurrency and DeFi-platform exchange tokens representing more than $60 billion in market value.

Conspicuously absent are Coinbase and Kraken, which are U.S.-based and have avoided issuing exchange tokens, presumably because they would likely be deemed securities by the SEC. All of the tokens listed trade on exchanges daily like stocks–most of them have plummeted in value in the last year—but not a single one offers any ownership in the companies that they are affiliated with. Buyer beware.

TOKEN VALUES

The 16 crypto and DeFi exchanges below created exchange tokens to attract and retain customers. Though they trade like stocks and have a value of over $60 billion, none represent ownership in their affiliated platforms.

I report on all things crypto and oversee the Forbes Crypto Confidential newsletter and the annual Forbes Blockchain 50 list which features billion-dollar leaders in distributed ledger

I write about digital assets trends and am a leading creator of the Forbes Digital Assets tools and functionality our viewers require. I support the generation of relevant, curated investor

Source: The Looming $62 Billion Crypto Contagion

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The Fall of FTX

Crypto Now Braced For A $2 Billion Goldman Sachs Bombshell As The Price Of Bitcoin, Ethereum, BNB, XRP, Solana, Cardano And Dogecoin Swing

Bitcoin BTC 0.0%, ethereum and other major cryptocurrencies have bounced back from a huge market meltdown this month (that some think could reveal the future tech giants). The bitcoin price has rebounded 20% since crashing to a low of under $18,000 per bitcoin last week—despite a dire China warning—with ethereum and other top ten cryptocurrencies BNB BNB +0.3%, XRP XRP -0.9%, solana, cardano and dogecoin also making gains.

Now, reports have emerged Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs is looking to raise $2 billion to snap up the assets of embattled crypto lender Celsius which has been hard hit by the latest bitcoin and crypto crash. Goldman Sachs is soliciting crypto funds and traditional financial institutions as part of the deal that could see it buy Celsius’ crypto assets at a discount, it was first reported by Coindesk, with Blockworks adding the deal could happen even if the lender does not declare bankruptcy, citing anonymous sources.

Goldman didn’t want to buy into the top of the market,” one source told Blockworks. “This is more their style.” Celsius, which had $12 billion in assets under management as of May of this year, has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy after suspending user withdrawals from the platform earlier this month, citing “extreme market conditions” and exacerbating a crypto price crash that sent bitcoin spiraling under $20,000.

Celsius has hired restructuring advisors Alvarez & Marsal, it was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal, adding to previous reports Citigroup C +3.3% has been tapped to advise on possible solutions. Goldman Sachs’ reported bid for Celsius’ crypto assets is likely to return some degree of confidence to the market after traders were left rattled by the pace of the bitcoin, ethereum and cryptocurrency sell-off.

“Even so, it may not be the best time to buy, as it may take considerable time before the crypto market digests the recent turmoil and enters a new phase of sustained demand from broad segments of investors, not just stressed asset hunters,” Alex Kuptsikevich, FxPro senior market analyst, said via email. The Celsius meltdown, coming hot on the heels of the collapse of the terraUSD stablecoin its support coin luna, has sparked fresh calls for better crypto market and crypto company regulation.

“I suspect after the recent events with Celsius that the U.S. will provide more clarity soon, on regulation towards custodial providers and lenders, to bring more stability to the crypto space,” Marcus Sotiriou, an analyst at the U.K.-based digital asset broker GlobalBlock, wrote in an emailed note.

I am a journalist with significant experience covering technology, finance, economics, and business around the world.

Source: Crypto Now Braced For A $2 Billion Goldman Sachs Bombshell As The Price Of Bitcoin, Ethereum, BNB, XRP, Solana, Cardano And Dogecoin Swing

Critics:

Nearly three weeks after Celsius Network suspended fund withdrawals and other operations from its platform, questions about its future are mounting.  The maneuvers behind the scenes are also increasing. The crypto firm has hired Alavarez & Marsal, a restructuring advisory firm. Celsius has tapped restructuring attorneys from law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

But the most interesting news is that Goldman Sachs  (GS) – Get Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (The) Report is trying to raise $2 billion from investors to buy distressed Celsius assets, according to Fortune and Coindesk.  Clearly the goal is to allow investors to buy Celsius’s assets at a low price in the event of the firm’s bankruptcy.

According to Fortune, which cites anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Goldman Sachs has solicited crypto firms and web 3 firms, the new iteration of the internet, as well as traditional financial institutions and companies specializing in restructuring. Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On June 12, Celsius announced that it would suspend indefinitely various transactions, including withdrawals of funds “due to extreme market conditions.” Today we are announcing that Celsius is pausing all withdrawals, Swap, and transfers between accounts,” the company said at the time. “We are taking this action today to put Celsius in a better position to honor, over time, its withdrawal obligations.”

Celsius is a cryptocurrency lending platform. The company allows anyone to borrow cryptocurrency and earn interest for lenders. “Earn high. Borrow low. Change the world,” the firm says on its website. One of its catch phrases is “Borrow like a Billionaire.” Celsius, through its CEL token, promises “financial rewards” as much as 30% extra returns weekly. But some options are not available to U.S. based users.

When it raised $400 million last October from investors led by WestCap and Canadian Caisse de dépôt du Québec (CDPQ), Celsius Network saw its valuation soar to $3 billion. The company wants to be an intermediary between traditional finance and the sphere of cryptocurrencies.

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Bitcoin Brice Trades Around $21,000 As Crypto Firms Announce Layoffs

Cryptocurrencies have been sinking along with other higher-risk assets as the Federal Reserve steadily reverses the aggressive monetary policies it adopted earlier in the coronavirus pandemic. Lately, its efforts to raise interest rates to combat surging inflation have further dented investors‘ risk appetite. The market value of the entire crypto sector has fallen to less than $1 trillion from about $3 trillion in November, according to CoinMarketCap. Those falls reflect a significant drop in trading activity and momentum, and until that turns around, industry players like Coinbase are likely to remain under pressure, said KBW Managing Director Kyle Voigt.

Coinbase Chief Executive Brian Armstrong said the company had grown too quickly, expanding from about 1,250 employees at the start of last year to around 5,000 currently. “We saw the opportunities but we needed to massively scale our team to be positioned to compete in a broad array of bets,” he wrote in a note to staff. “While we tried our best to get this just right, in this case it is now clear to me that we over-hired.”

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
COIN COINBASE GLOBAL INC. 51.58 -0.43 -0.83%

The price of ether, the in-house currency of the Ethereum network, fell 4.5% to $1,187.30, its lowest close since Jan. 21, 2021. Over the weekend, the price fell below $1,360, the early 2019 high from the previous cycle. Other cryptocurrencies were mixed. Cardano fell 1.9%, but Solana was up 1.3% and Stellar was up 0.5%.

Source: Bitcoin price trades around $21,000 as crypto firms announce layoffs | Fox Business

BlockFi, a platform for trading and lending cryptocurrency, announced via a blog post on Monday that it’s laying off 20 percent of its 850 employees — around 170 to 200 people. CEO Zac Prince said in a Twitter thread that the layoffs can be traced to a “dramatic shift in macroeconomic conditions” and BlockFi’s push to become profitable.

It’s not the only crypto company letting workers go. On Friday, Crypto.com (the company with the Super Bowl ad featuring LeBron James) announced that it’s laying off around 260 workers, or around 5 percent of its workforce, according to a Twitter thread from its CEO, Kris Marszalek.

The layoffs come as the crypto market is struggling as a whole. The value of Bitcoin and Ethereum have been falling throughout Monday morning, and Celsius, a lending platform, has halted withdrawals, citing “extreme market conditions.” (BlockFi has specifically said that it has “no exposure to Celsius” on Twitter.) Binance, a large crypto exchange, paused Bitcoin withdrawals for about three hours, citing a technical issue, and within the past few months, we’ve seen coins like Terra essentially go to zero.

Crypto firms have struggled to weather the storm. Coinbase announced that it was slowing hiring in May and reportedly rescinded over 300 job offers the next month; several other companies, like Gemini, Mercado Bitcoin, and Bitso have also had to lay off at least 10 percent of their workers within the past month.

BlockFi says in its post that the layoffs come after a period of explosive growth. The company says it had “about 150 employees” at the end of 2020 and has since grown to a headcount of “over 850.” After the layoffs, however, the company will be down to around 600 employees.

Similarly, Crypto.com was riding high just a few short months ago. In November 2021, it reportedly paid $700 million to plaster its name onto a sports arena in Los Angeles, which was formerly known as the Staples Center. “In the next few years, people will look back at this moment as the moment when crypto crossed the chasm into the mainstream,” Marszalek told the Los Angeles Times when the naming deal, which is supposed to last for 20 years, was announced.

It’s easy to see why crypto companies have been hiring; the space has exploded during the pandemic with prices for major coins rocketing up, NFTs exploding onto the scene, and celebrities and companies alike hyping the blockchain. But, as 2022 has worn on and interest rates have gone up, the growth has started to reverse; trillions of dollars in value have been wiped out from the crypto market, NFT sales have slumped, and companies, including BlockFi, have run into trouble with regulators as governments try to figure out how to handle crypto. Not everyone who bought the boom has made it, and many in the space are predicting a “crypto winter.

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Transparency In Crypto Industry ‘Critical’: Ripple CEO

Speaking with “Mornings with Maria” from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Garlinghouse discussed regulation for the industry, noting that he traveled to Davos for the conference to engage with other CEOs and finance ministers from around the world “to talk about how these technologies can actually solve real world problems, and reduce costs and improve efficiency.”Garlinghouse also addressed volatility in the crypto market on Tuesday.

“There’s no question that regulation around crypto is still trying to find solid footing and finding the right posture for the United States,” Garlinghouse said before arguing that “the United States has really been behind other G-20 of markets,” including the U.K., Switzerland and Singapore.

He said that those markets “have led in establishing a framework that works for investors as well as entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the new technologies and building the next generations of Google and Facebook.”

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
COIN COINBASE GLOBAL INC. 59.48 -6.62 -10.02%
BITQ EXCHANGE TRADED CONCEPTS TRUST BITWISE CRYPTO INNOVATORS E 7.45 -0.57 -7.11%

Along with the stock market, bitcoin has experienced a lot of volatility recently. Two weeks ago, bitcoin plunged to the $25,000 level, its lowest since December 2020, then bounced back over $30,000, according to CoinDesk. As of Tuesday morning, the crypto was trading around the $29,000 level, down from its all-time high of over $68,000 reached in November 2021.

The crypto is down more than 36% year-to-date.“There’s no question there’s been a lot of turbulence in the crypto market,” Garlinghouse said, noting that “if you zoom out, though, over the last two years, you have to remember that bitcoin was at about $8,000 two years ago. Today it’s around $30,000.”

Brad Garlinghouse, the CEO of financial technology company Ripple Labs, discussed regulation and volatility in the cryptocurrency markets from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “This is a new market,” he continued. “There’s certainly been a lot of excitement about what’s going on in the market [and] sometimes that excitement gets ahead of the reality.”

“We’ve been focused on how do we use technologies to solve real problems for customers and those are the kind of solutions that will scale regardless of the turbulence and volatility of the market,” he went on to argue.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have had some rough weeks in anticipation of and following the half-point interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve. It was the second of several anticipated increases this year as the central bank seeks to combat soaring inflation, which is at a high not seen in four decades.

The expectation now is that the Fed will take aggressive action to try and curb inflation, which remains near 40-year highs, according to the data for April released earlier this month, which has reduced investor appetite to hold assets perceived as higher risk.

Adding to more fears of volatility in the crypto market was the decoupling of the TerraUSD, a stablecoin whose value was tied to $1, the Wall Street Journal reported. The world’s largest stablecoin by market cap, tether, also briefly edged down from its $1 peg.  Garlinghouse pointed out on Tuesday that “stablecoins have been in the news because that was one of the catalysts that really drove the market a couple of weeks ago.”

Stablecoins are digital currencies with values that are pegged to traditional assets, like the dollar, another currency or gold. Its correspondence with the dollar is what, in theory, makes it stable. However, volatility in the crypto market last week challenged that presumption.

Brad Garlinghouse, the CEO of financial technology company Ripple Labs, discusses the turbulance in the crypto market from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. “I think now more than ever the transparency that companies like Ripple have championed across the crypto industry is critical,” Garlinghouse told host Maria Bartiromo.

“That transparency for tether I think is to really make sure the people participating feel, buy and have access to whatever financial information they need to feel comfortable that it is in fact dollar-backed.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told a House committee hearing earlier this month that the sharp drop in crypto markets highlighted the need for additional federal regulation to respond to the wave of speculative investment in the currency whose secrecy is a major part of its attraction. In addition, a top official at the SEC indicated that tighter rules around crypto stablecoins could be drawing closer, Reuters reported.

Source: Transparency in crypto industry ‘critical’: Ripple CEO | Fox Business

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Bitcoin And Crypto Now Braced For A $10 Trillion Earthquake As Ethereum, BNB, XRP, Solana And Cardano Soar

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have rebounded this week, riding a wave of good news for the crypto market.

The bitcoin price jumped to over $45,000 per bitcoin after a senior Russian official said the country would accept bitcoin as payment for its energy exports. Meanwhile, the ethereum price has continued to climb as “enthusiasm” builds ahead of a long-awaited upgrade.

Now, Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with around $10 trillion in assets under management, has said his company is “studying” digital currencies due to climbing client demand.

“As we see increasing interest from our clients, BlackRock is studying digital currencies, stablecoins and the underlying technologies to understand how they can help us serve our clients,” Fink wrote this week in a letter to BlackRock shareholders.

Fink has previously dismissed bitcoin and crypto, saying in a CNBC interview last year that he doesn’t see much demand for crypto. In February, Coindesk reported BlackRock was gearing up to follow other Wall Street giants including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citi, into crypto services, and is planning to let clients borrow from BlackRock by pledging crypto assets as collateral.

This week, Goldman became the first major U.S. bank to trade crypto over the counter, working with crypto merchant bank Galaxy Digital to offer a bitcoin-linked instrument called a non-deliverable option.

Fink, who branded bitcoin an “index of money laundering” five years ago, pointed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and wide-ranging financial sanctions placed on the country as a catalyst for mainstream crypto adoption.

“The war will prompt countries to re-evaluate their currency dependencies,” Fink wrote. “Even before the war, several governments were looking to play a more active role in digital currencies and define the regulatory frameworks under which they operate.”

The war in Ukraine has also upended the world order that had been in place since the end of the Cold War, according to Fink, who predicted it will “put an end to the globalization we have experienced over the last three decades.”

“It has left many communities and people feeling isolated and looking inward,” he wrote. “I believe this has exacerbated the polarization and extremist behavior we are seeing across society today.”

Fink’s comments chime with others in the financial world who see strict Russia sanctions, which have included the country’s banks being excluded from the SWIFT interbank messaging service and restrictions put on the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves, as a shake-up of the system.

In March, a Credit Suisse analyst said the Russian war in Ukrainian will create a new world financial order that could boost the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“We are witnessing the birth of Bretton Woods III—a new world (monetary) order centered around commodity-based currencies in the East that will likely weaken the Eurodollar system and also contribute to inflationary forces in the West,” Zoltan Pozsar, global head of short-term interest rate strategy at the giant investment bank, wrote in a report.

I am a journalist with significant experience covering technology, finance, economics, and business around the world. As the founding editor of Verdict.co.uk

Source: Bitcoin And Crypto Now Braced For A $10 Trillion Earthquake As Ethereum, BNB, XRP, Solana And Cardano Soar

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Critics:

The Federal Reserve’s surprisingly hawkish policy turn has had a surprise beneficiary: Cryptocurrencies. Digital coins extended gains on Thursday after the Fed stepped up its taper, and laid the foundation for a tightening cycle that could bring as many as three rate hikes in 2022. Normally, cryptocurrency benefits from loose monetary policy and its inflationary side-effects; but at least for now, investors are taking the longer view.

Bitcoin (BTC-USD), barely a week removed from an ugly selloff that dragged it below $50,000, rallied by over 2% on the day. Other digital coins that power smart contract layer-1 blockchains like Ethereum (ETH-USD) — which helps power the blockchain for the majority of decentralized finance (DeFi), non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other smart-contract applications like Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) — Solana (SOL1-USD), Terra (LUNA1-USD) and Avalanche (AVAX-USD) are also posting big gains.

It’s been a rough fall for cryptocurrencies, even as the introduction of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) lure in smaller investors. In recent weeks, the value of the asset class has plummeted by more than $700 billion from almost $3 trillion to $2.15 according to Coinmarketcap.

Fears over the Fed’s policy and the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have contributed to a volatile tone in markets, with crypto trading in tandem with risk-sensitive stocks. Louis LaValle, a managing director with crypto investment firm 3iQ Digital Assets U.S., told Yahoo Finance that crypto’s whipsawing is linked to the sheer volume of new investors, especially institutions, who purchased digital coins for the first time this year.

That includes billions that have flooded into crypto derivatives. Open interest on BTC futures is down by $10 billion since October, but still more than twice as high as the $8 billion it saw a year ago, according to data from The Block.

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