Things went downhill for FTX after Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, reversed on a deal to save the company.
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Kalley Huang is a technology reporter based in San Francisco.
Last week, the cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy and its chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried, resigned, a downfall that has stunned crypto insiders and sent shock waves through the industry.
The collapse capped days of whiplash for FTX after its rival and the world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, pulled out of a deal to acquire the company.
On Thursday, FTX’s new chief executive, John Jay Ray III, said in a bankruptcy filing that he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate control.” Mr. Ray had helped manage the aftermath of some of the largest corporate collapses in history, including the implosion of Enron in 2001.
FTX is one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges. It enables customers to trade digital currencies for other digital currencies or traditional money, and vice versa. It is based in the Bahamas and was run by Mr. Bankman-Fried. It has spent millions of dollars lobbying U.S. legislators to institute crypto-friendly regulation.
The company had built its business on risky trading options that are not legal in the United States. The crypto industry overall has increasingly been the target of regulatory scrutiny on Capitol Hill and across the globe.
FTX filed for bankruptcy at the end of last week, after Binance reversed course on a deal to save the company.
The bankruptcy filing on Thursday by Mr. Ray, the new FTX chief, described numerous corporate missteps, including the use of software to “conceal the misuse of customer funds.” Mr. Ray also said in the filing that he could not trust that financial statements assembled under Mr. Bankman-Fried’s leadership were accurate.
The savings of hundreds of thousands of customers who deposited their holdings on the FTX platform are in jeopardy. So far Mr. Ray’s team has secured about $740 million worth of cryptocurrency belonging to parts of FTX’s business, a sum he called “only a fraction” of what he was hoping to recover.
The cryptocurrency industry has long struggled to convince regulators, investors and ordinary customers that it is trustworthy. The collapse has kicked off investigations by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission focused on whether FTX improperly used customer funds to prop up Alameda Research, a trading firm that Mr. Bankman-Fried also founded.
When the cryptocurrency market experienced a $2 trillion crash in May, FTX offered financial lifelines to several collapsing firms. Its fall has rippled through the industry: Lenders such as BlockFi and Genesis have announced pauses in operations.
The price of FTT, a native cryptocurrency token for FTX, has dropped more than 90 percent since Nov. 8. The price of Bitcoin is down about 19 percent this month, and the price of Ether is down about 24 percent.
Traders use FTT for operations like paying transaction fees. Last year, Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, sold his stake in FTX back to Mr. Bankman-Fried, who paid for it partially with FTT tokens.
On Nov. 2, the crypto publication CoinDesk reported on a leaked document that appeared to show that Alameda Research, the hedge fund run by Mr. Bankman-Fried, held an unusually large amount of FTT tokens. Alameda’s need for funds to run its trading business was a big reason Mr. Bankman-Fried created FTX in 2019. But the way the two entities were set up meant that trouble in one unit shook up the other as crypto prices began to drop in the spring.
Binance announced on Nov. 6 that it would sell its FTT tokens “due to recent revelations.” In response, FTT’s price plummeted and traders rushed to pull out of FTX, fearful that it would be yet another fallen crypto company.
FTX scrambled to process requests for withdrawals, which amounted to an estimated $6 billion over three days. It seemed to enter a liquidity crunch, meaning it lacked the money to fulfill requests.
On Nov. 8, Binance said it had reached an agreement to bail out FTX by buying the company. But, Mr. Zhao added in the announcement, “Binance has the discretion to pull out from the deal at any time.”
In a concurrent announcement, Mr. Bankman-Fried said the deal would protect customers and allow FTX to finish processing their withdrawals. He tried to dispel rumors of conflict between FTX and Binance, adding, “we are in the best of hands.”
On Nov. 9, Binance announced it would no longer buy FTX, saying it had arrived at that decision “as a result of corporate due diligence.” It also cited regulatory investigations and reports of mishandled funds.
“Every time a major player in an industry fails, retail consumers will suffer,” Binance said in a statement. “We have seen over the last several years that the crypto ecosystem is becoming more resilient and we believe in time that outliers that misuse user funds will be weeded out by the free market.”
Why Did FTX Collapse? Here’s What to Know. – The New York Times