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Everything that happened to FTX and what you need to know
Last week witnessed the biggest crypto story of the year, and one of the biggest of all time – the swift and astonishing collapse of FTX. The story, which is a Netflix documentary in the making, saw the unraveling of an empire that was seeking investment just two months ago that would have valued it at $32 billion, but which, after a whirlwind 10 days, became bankrupt, losing customers everything.
What happened to FTX? Let’s find out.
The FTX Empire Grows
FTX was founded by Sam Bankman-Fried and Gary Wang in May 2019 and quickly made a name for itself as a steady and trustworthy derivatives exchange. In a world where people were used to the shady antics of BitMEX, FTX presented a more professional face, with Bankman-Fried appearing to be one of the new breed of more legitimate and law-abiding operators.
As FTX grew, Bankman-Fried became entwined in the political element of the crypto scene, funding groups to lobby Washington on crypto’s behalf, although his public allegiance to the political left alienated a huge swathe of the crypto Twitterati.
By the middle of this year, FTX had grown into the second biggest derivative trading platform in the space, tentatively valued at over $32 billion dollars in September, with big-name sponsorships and bailouts of bankrupt crypto exchanges giving the impression it was still actively pursuing expansion and hoping to challenge the market leader in the derivatives field – Binance. With one million active users, it was well on the way.
Coindesk Cries Foul
The problems for FTX began on November 2 when Coindesk alleged that Alameda Research, the trading firm that made up the other half of the FTX empire, held much of its $14.6 billion balance sheet in the FTT token issued by FTX. As Coindesk pointed out, this meant that Alameda was resting on “a foundation largely made up of a coin that a sister company invented, not an independent asset like a fiat currency or another crypto.”
This revelation caused Changpeng Zhao, the founder and CEO of Binance, to declare that Binance planned to liquidate its own holdings of FTT tokens, which it had received when it sold $2.1 billion worth of FTX equity back to FTX in 2021. Zhao didn’t reveal how many FTT tokens Binance would be liquidating, but when a $584 million FTT transfer into Binance from an unknown wallet was spotted later that day, he admitted that this was just “part of it”.
Zhao said the sale would be completed with “minimal” disruption to the market, but just hours later, on Monday afternoon, the value of FTT plummeted from $23 to $15 due to sudden massive sell pressure.
Here Comes the Run
The aforementioned selloff prompted further fears that Alameda, and in turn FTX, was at risk of facing liquidation on $3.4 billion worth of its FTT holdings due to the price collapse, stoking fears that it would soon be insolvent.
These fears began the event that every exchange fears – a run. FTX users frantically began requesting their funds from the exchange, with around $6 billion of withdrawals submitted in the 72 hours before Tuesday morning. This caused an inevitable backlog, which in turn led to further fears that FTX was not actually able to fulfill the requests. Bankman-Fried tweeted that “FTX is fine” and that all assets were covered. He then instantly deleted the tweet, which only served to cause more panic.
Bankman-Fried Reaches Out
Unbeknownst to the public, while he was busy deleting reassuring tweets, Bankman-Fried had realized that the drop in the value of FTT had indeed lost the company billions of dollars or user funds, and worse could be to come. He approached Seychelles-based cryptocurrency exchange OKX for help in funding the billions needed for customer withdrawals. When OKX couldn’t help, Bankman-Fried realized there was only one person left he could call on – Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao.
Bankman-Fried approached Zhao for the money, but Zhao, not one to miss an opportunity, turned the request massively to his advantage – on Tuesday afternoon he tweeted that Binance was looking not just to bail out FTX, but to acquire it. The revelation sent shockwaves through the crypto space, and led many to suggest that Zhao had been planning for such a result all along.
Nevertheless, customers were suddenly hopeful that they could be made whole. Bitcoin leapt $1,000 as a result, and even the FTT token managed a small resurgence. However, not everyone was convinced, offering reminders that Binance hadn’t looked at FTX’s books yet, and no one knew what horrors lurked in there.
Binance Pulls Out
While Binance was looking over the books, allegations emerged that FTX had been using customer funds for its own money making activities, such as collateral for loans and lending Alameda billions to trade with. This was followed by suggestions that U.S. authorities were looking into FTX’s collapse, with particular focus on the alleged misuse of customer funds.
The following day, Wednesday 9th, it was revealed that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department had been looking into the affairs of FTX’s American arm, FTX US, for potential securities violations for months already.
These revelations acted like an air raid warning for Binance, and on Wednesday night it stepped away from the deal, citing “corporate due diligence, as well as the latest news reports regarding mishandled customer funds and alleged US agency investigations.” This left the cryptocurrency industry with its very own Lehman Brothers situation; FTX was at the center of a huge lending and borrowing web, a web that had already been severely tested in 2022 by the collapse of Celsius, Three Arrows Capital and TerraUSD. The scale of its involvement with other crypto companies as known to be vast, but no one knew quite how vast yet.
FTX Can’t Fill the Hole
To avoid ultimate catastrophe, FTX was left on Thursday morning needing to fill an $8 billion hole of its own making, or face bankruptcy. Bankman-Fried tweeted an apology thread on Thursday in which he took responsibility for the errors made, reinforced the need for funding if customers were to get any of their money back, and announced that Alameda Research was being wound down.
Later on Thursday, the Securities Commission of The Bahamas, where FTX is registered, called for all company assets to be frozen, suggesting that any prospect of users getting withdrawals out from the exchange were now doomed to failure. However, a loophole was spotted by some Twitter users who offered to pay FTX staff up to $1 million to change their residency to Bahamian in order to get their funds off the exchange. Some, apparently, succeeded in their quest.
By Friday it was clear however that the hole was just too big to be plugged, and at 2:14pm on Friday, FTX filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, bringing the curtain down on a disastrous, and thoroughly unnecessary, episode of devastating drama.
Damage Will Take Months to Come Out
To put the size of the FTX collapse into perspective, Bankman-Fried’s personal net worth at the start of last week was thought to be in the region of $15 billion, tied up in FTX and its assets, including FTT tokens.
At the time of Bankman-Fried’s resignation, Bloomberg put this figure at just $3. This was a little over the value of one FTT token, which had peaked at $80 in September last year.
The fallout of the FTX collapse has only just begun, with people asking what happened to FTX only being the beginning. The full damage will only be known months down the line. The initial concern is for the million or so customers who have lost all their funds. They have no protection, and their only recourse will now be joining the long list of creditors all fighting for the scraps that remain, a battle that is likely to be long and largely fruitless.
Born on a blockchain with “HODL” as a middle name, the crypto-savvy Jordan Huxley guides our readers through the digital world of crypto with insightful guides and informative content, unveiling the power of crypto in his own, unique way. Get the latest updates on blockchain-related tech, advancements, news, and events with Jordan and our team of crypto gambling gurus on the Punt Casino Blog.