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Latest update — Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried trial [Day 12]

The former FTX CEO faces seven counts of conspiracy and fraud. A New York court will decide his fate.
Cointelegraph reporters are on…

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The former FTX CEO faces seven counts of conspiracy and fraud. A New York court will decide his fate.

Cointelegraph reporters are on the ground in New York for the trial of former FTX CEO Sam “SBF” Bankman-Fried. As the saga unfolds, check below for the latest updates.

Oct. 19: Former FTX legal counsel presents spreadsheet used to track $2.1 billion in loans to SBF, other execs

FTX’s former general counsel Can Sun was unaware of the exchange’s commingling of funds with Alameda Research, he told jurors on Oct. 19 as part of his testimony in Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial.

Sun said he learned about Alameda’s exemption from the liquidation engine system from other employees in August 2022. Normally, the system would liquidate loss-making trades, but Alameda reportedly bypassed the mechanism due to its exception.

Upon learning about the problem, Sun allegedly worked on a plan to fix the issue. The plan would include a delay-liquidation mechanism to replace the non-exemption on Alameda’s account. According to the plan, the delayed mechanism would later be applied to other market makers on FTX, which also sought to notify customers and regulators about the issue. According to San, the plan was stalled by other FTX departments and was never implemented.

Furthermore, Sun acknowledged that he relied on Bankman-Fried’s statements about segregating customer funds to develop the company’s terms of service and answer regulators’ inquiries. FTX’s terms of services said that “none of the Digital Assets in your account are the property of, or shall or may be loaned to, FTX Trading” — in opposition to what was apparently happening between the sister companies. The same terms would apply to fiat assets, Sun noted in his testimony.

Additionally, the former FTX attorney disclosed a spreadsheet he used to trace loans made by Alameda to Bankman-Fried, Gary Wang, Ryan Salame and Nishad Singh. According to the spreadsheet, Alameda loaned them $2.1 billion across 35 loans.

These loans were used to fund other venture investments by FTX. While this process wasn’t the most transparent way of carrying out investments, it was a legal option at the time, Sun said. 

According to prosecutors, the spreadsheet did not include millions of dollars transferred to Salame and Bankman-Fried. Sun said he was unaware of the additional transactions.

Sun traveled from Japan to testify in court as part of his non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice.

The trial of Bankman-Fried will resume on Oct. 26. The prosecution expects to rest its case on that date. The defense counsel has not yet confirmed whether a case will be brought.

Oct. 18: “Lawyers should do better than this” — Judge Kaplan

District Judge Lewis Kaplan ran out of patience during Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial on Oct. 18, calling out on lawyers representing both parties in the criminal court case. The judge’s comments came after a witness fleeing Texas for the trial testified for roughly 15 minutes.

Cory Gaddis, a policy specialist at Google, spent over three hours flying only to confirm that Google’s metadata indicates Caroline Ellison and Bankman-Fried owned a fabricated balance sheet of Alameda Research. According to Ellison’s testimony from last week, she developed seven alternative spreadsheets to mislead Alameda’s lenders about its financial health in 2022.

In cross-examination, Bankman-Fried’s defense counsel ended Gaddis’ testimony at the third question after realizing he wasn’t a technical expert.

“Lawyers should do better than this,” Judge Kaplan said, complaining about prosecutors and the defense counsel’s witness strategies.

For example, in the morning, former FTX lobbyist Eliora Kats took a short test just to confirm FTX had publicly advocated in Washington, D.C. for crypto regulation, which was already public knowledge, noted Judge Kaplan.

“These people [jurors] are giving up weeks of their lives, and I care about it,” he noted.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case on Oct. 25. The defense counsel has not yet confirmed it hasa case.

Oct. 18: Forensic analysis of Alameda and FTX accounts

Accounting professor Peter Easton provided a breakdown of the alleged commingling of funds between FTX and Alameda Research since 2021. Easton is an accounting specialist working on forensic financial analysis and testified on Oct. 18 at the Southern District Court of New York as part of Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial. 

According to Easton’s analysis, Alameda invested in Genesis Capital, K5 Global Holdings, Anthropic PBC, Dave Inc, Modulo Capital and other ventures, partially using funds from FTX customers. In June 2022, Alameda had a negative balance of $11.3 billion with FTX, while the companies’ liquid assets stood at $2.3 billion, meaning a gap of $9 billion between the sister firms.

Another critical point from the analysis: Alameda has 57 accounts with FTX that could have negative balances, whereas no other customer could do so. The analysis challenges Bankman-Fried’s defense argument that Alameda had similar privileges as other market makers on FTX.

Another finding of the analysis is that Alameda repaid $6.6 billion in loans to crypto lenders during the bear market in 2022. Of these funds, 68% ($4.5 billion) were traced as customer assets, while 32% ($2.1 billion) came from its own funds.

At least 35 properties in the Bahamas were purchased with customer funds totaling $228.5 million, according to Easton.

Oct. 13: BlockFi would not have filed for bankruptcy without the FTX debacle

The BlockFi team warned its leadership about the crypto lender’s over-exposure to FTX Token (FTT) in August 2021, according to evidence presented in court on Oct. 13 during Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial.

A credit memo prepared by BlockFi’s team in August 2021 recommended against a loan of 10,000 Bitcoin (BTC) to Alameda Research, worth nearly $470 million at the time.

Zac Prince, founder and former CEO of BlockFi, said the loan was denied, but Alameda increased its borrowings with BlockFi in the following months, reaching $1 billion in the second quarter of 2022. Prince testified that Alameda had always paid its loans on time until the collapse of FTX in November 2022, and that the loans had always been overcollateralized. He was unfamiliar with the fact that Alameda was paying the loans using funds from FTX customers.

One of the stress scenarios presented by BlockFi’s team in 2021 observed that if Alameda entered into default, with all lenders calling for repayment at the same time, the price of FTT would drop 60% to 75% in a day (or more).

Another stress evaluation during the same period noted that even in a scenario in which all collaterals decline 100%, FTX would still have a positive balance of $638 million in assets. The projections were made based on consolidated balance sheets presented by Alameda.

The connection between Alameda and BlockFi started at the end of 2021, when the first $15 million was lent to Alameda. Prince noted that Alameda went through due diligence processes across many departments on BlockFi, but the financial documents provided were unaudited. 

Alameda was lent capital under open-term loans, which allowed borrowers such as BlockFi to call for repayment of funds at any time. In June 2022, following the collapse of the Terra ecosystem, BlockFi called back millions in loans owned by Alameda.

According to Prince, the loans were paid, and the companies deepened their relationship amid the bear market.

Seeking capital from investors during the same period, BlockFi entered into an agreement with FTX US that included $400 million in credit and a potential acquisition of BlockFi in July 2023, which never happened since both companies went bankrupt as a result of last November’s events.

Alameda offered FTT, SOL (SOL) and SRM as collateral for loans. According to Prince’s testimony, those tokens were held on BlockFi’s account on FTX. BlockFi also used FTX as a trading platform for its clients’ orders. At the time of FTX bankruptcy, the crypto lending platform had $650 million lent to Alameda and $350 million in funds available for trading.

Once it became clear that funds were impaired and loans wouldn’t be repaid, BlockFi filed for bankruptcy. Prince noted that despite the challenges of the bear market, BlockFi would not have filed for bankruptcy without the FTX debacle.

Oct. 12: Ellison’s testimony continues, with further focus on relationship with Sam Bankman-Fried

The cross-examination of Caroline Ellison started in the Southern District Court of New York on Oct. 12, with the former CEO of Alameda Research discussing the decision-making process between Alameda and FTX, as well as how her romantic relationship with Bankman-Fried played a role in the events leading up to the exchange’s collapse. 

The defense counsel first explored the capital lent to Alameda by crypto lenders Genesis and Voyager. According to Ellison’s testimony, funds borrowed by Alameda could be legally used for a range of purposes, including trading activities and covering the company’s operating expenses. The defense used her remarks to show that Alameda’s lenders knew the capital was being used for undefined purposes.

She also reported that communication with Bankman-Fried deteriorated after their last breakup in April 2022, with her avoiding meeting with the former partner one-on-one and preferring to communicate via Signal or group meetings instead. The communication challenges a her concerns about FTX venture investments made Ellison consider resigning as CEO of Alameda in early 2022.

In response to questions from Bankman-Fried’s defense attorney, Ellison acknowledged having held at least 20 meetings with prosecutors since December 2022 as part of her cooperation agreement, including a review of her answers on Oct. 9, one day prior to her testifying as a witness in the case. In December, before an agreement was in place with the U.S. government, she acknowledged the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched her house.

During the bear market, Ellison also created financial forecasts of how much money would be needed to hedge Alameda against market downturns, according to her testimony. She discovered that Alameda would have to sell billions of dollars in assets to have an appropriate hedge.

Additionally, Ellison discussed Alameda’s Northern Dimension bank account, which FTX used while it had difficulty opening its own. Later on, around the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, FTX was able to get its account and began redirecting users’ funds. However, legacy customers still sent funds to Northern Dimension’s account. As evidence, the defense pointed to one of her meetings with prosecutors in December 2022, in which she suggested that Bankman-Fried was unaware that FTX customers’ funds were still being sent to Alameda. 

Oct. 11: Caroline Ellison details the final months of FTX

On her second day of testimony at the trial of Sam “SBF” Bankman-Fried trial on Oct. 11, Caroline Ellison provided more information about the months leading up to the FTX debacle in November 2022. Lenders required Alameda Research to repay millions in loans in mid-June following the market downturn in May, according to Ellison. “I was very stressed out,” she said.

Genesis Capital was one of these lenders, recalling $500 million in loans, according to screenshots taken from conversations between Ellison, Bankman-Fried and Genesis employees via Telegram.

At the time, Alameda had over $13 billion of debt on its credit line with FTX, while its open-term loans exceeded $1.3 billion. As per Ellison’s testimony, Bankman-Fried instructed her to devise “alternative ways” to disclose Alameda’s financial information to lenders, specifically Genesis.

According to Ellison, Genesis could recall all loans to Alameda if it were aware of Alameda’s true financial status, as well as damage its reputation. “I didn’t want Genesis to know that,” she stated about Alameda’s multibillion-dollar liability toward FTX.

As per prosecutors’ evidence, Ellison worked on at least seven alternative spreadsheets for Genesis. A spreadsheet sent by Alameda to Genesis in June listed $10.3 billion in total liabilities, whereas the actual amount was approximately $15 billion at the time.

Bankman-Fried’s plans to survive the storm included raising capital from Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. According to evidence presented in court, Ellison made a list of “things Sam is freaking out about” months before the exchange collapsed.

The list featured raising capital from “the MBS,” borrowing more capital from BlockFi, which had already lent Alameda over $660 million, as well as “getting regulators to crack down on Binance,” in an effort by Bankman-Fried to expand FTX’s market share, Ellison said.

She also mentioned a $150 million bribe that FTX allegedly paid to a Chinese official in 2021 to release funds frozen there as part of an investigation into money laundering. The alleged bribe is not included in the trial.

Oct. 10: Gary Wang is cross-examined, star witness Ellison enters

The fourth day of the trial began with Gary Wang concluding his testimony. He was cross-examined by one of SBF’s lawyers, Christian Everdell. 

During the cross-examination, Wang was asked about Bankman-Fried’s intention to shut down Alameda, to which Wang responded that SBF thought there was a “30% chance” it should be shut down. He also said he wasn’t sure whether the tweet by Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao or leaked financials caused the FTX bank run.

After Wang was dismissed by Judge Lewis Kaplan, Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda and an ex-girlfriend of Bankman-Fried, was called to the witness stand.

In the opening questions, Ellison was asked why she was guilty of the crimes for which she was accused and responded that “Alameda took several billions of dollars from FTX customers and used it for investments.”

She reportedly placed the entire blame for the misuse of FTX user funds on Bankman-Fried. Ellison claimed he “set up the systems” that allowed Alameda to take $14 billion from the exchange.

Ellison also revealed personal information about her relationship with the defendant, including his aspirations to be U.S. president and that he considered paying former U.S. President Donald Trump not to run for reelection. 

Additionally, she testified on the firm buying back FTX Tokens (FTT) from Binance or else “Binance would cause trouble,” along with using loans from Genesis in 2021 as a funding source.

“Alameda took several billions of dollars from FTX customers and used it for investments,” said Ellison, according to reports. “I sent balance sheets that made Alameda look less risky than it was.”

Ellison admitted to not feeling qualified for the CEO role at Alameda, though she was encouraged by SBF, and said she took a $3.5 million loan from the firm “for a gambling company people at FTX wanted to put in my name” and for political contributions.

Oct. 6 Gary Wang’s testimony continues admits to “special privileges” given to FTX on Alameda

The trial continued for the fourth day on Friday, Oct. 6, with a shorter session ending at 2:00 pm Eastern Time because jurors opted not to take a lunch break. 

Wang, the former chief technology officer of FTX, continued to testify after a brief stint the previous afternoon. On this day, Wang testified that the back-end code and the database for FTX.com kept track of many coins a user had and the availability of a feature called “allow negative.”

According to Inner City Press, the prosecutor asked Wang what would happen if that feature was checked to which Wang said, “Then you are allowed to go beyond. “

He then said that Alameda’s account was allowed this special privilege and could, therefore, “trade more than it had in its account. They had a large line of credit. And it could trade faster than others.”

“It withdrew more than it had in its account, like $8 billion in fiat and crypto,” Wang said. When asked where the money came from, he said, “from FTX customers.”

According to Wang’s testimony, he overheard Bankman-Fried saying Alameda could withdraw up to $50–$100 million from FTX. He said that after a 2020 database query, he saw Alameda’s balance was negative to an amount greater than the revenue of FTX itself.

Wang pleaded guilty to four charges in December 2022, one of which was wire fraud. Like Ellison, Wang has agreed to cooperate with officials via a plea deal that could see him avoid up to 50 years in prison.

Oct. 5: Wang details relationship between FTX and Alameda Research

In over four hours of testimony, Wang provided in-depth details about the relationship between the companies and how the crypto empire ended up with an $8 billion hole in customer assets.

According to Wang, a few months after FTX’s inception, in 2019, Alameda received special privileges from FTX. Prosecutors used screenshots of FTX’s database and code available on GitHub to show that Alameda was allowed to have an unlimited negative balance at FTX, a special line of credit of $65 billion in 2022 and an exemption from the liquidation engine. 

The commingling of funds and problems between companies evolved over time. In 2020, Bankman-Fried instructed Wang that Alameda’s negative balance should not exceed FTX’s revenue — a rule that changed over the years, according to Wang’s testimony. In late 2021, for example, Alameda’s liability to FTX stood at $3 billion, up from $300 million in 2020. 

“I trusted his judgment,” Wang said when asked why he agreed to Alameda’s privileges. 

However, these alleged privileges were part of Alameda’s role as a primary market maker for FTX, the defense argued later during Wang’s testimony. The defense counsel also noted that other market makers had similar privileges at FTX, and being able to go negative was a key feature of any market maker. 

Another point emphasized by prosecutors was the MobileCoin exploit in 2021. Bankman-Fried allegedly told Wang and Ellison to add the multimillion-dollar deficit to Alameda’s balance sheet instead of keeping it on FTX to hide the loss from FTX investors.

Months before FTX’s collapse, Bankman-Fried, Wang and former engineering director Nishad Singh discussed shutting down Alameda and replacing its role with other market makers. The company’s liabilities, however, were too high at the time, sitting at $14 billion. Alameda remained in operation until November 2022.

Wang’s testimony will continue on Oct. 10, the same day Ellison’s will be heard.

Oct. 5: Yedidia cross-examination, witness testimonies in focus

A liability of $8 billion from Alameda to FTX was at the center of prosecutors’ cross-examination of Adam Yedidia on Oct. 5. Yedidia is a close friend of Bankman-Fried and was a developer at FTX. He was also one of ten people to live in Bankman-Fried’s $35 million luxury resort in the Bahamas.

According to Yedidia’s testimony, since early 2021, FTX used an Alameda account labeled North Dimension to deposit users’ funds while facing difficulties opening its own bank account. Funds would be considered Alameda’s liability toward FTX, which reached $8 billion in June 2022.

While Yedidia was aware of the funds sent to Alameda’s account, he didn’t see it as a concern when he first heard about it in 2021. However, after learning about the liability amount in 2022, he voiced his concerns to Bankman-Fried during a tennis game. According to Yedidia, Bankman-Fried said the debt should be settled between the companies within six months to three years.

Scenes from outside Bankman-Fried’s trial location in New York. Source: Ana Paula Pereira/Cointelegraph

“I trusted Sam, Caroline, and others in Alameda to handle the situation,” he said, answering questions from prosecutors. Upon learning that Alameda was not only holding the funds but using them to pay its debtors, Yedidia resigned in November 2022.

While prosecutors used the case to illustrate how the companies were commingling funds, Bankman-Fried’s defense counsel sought to share a broader picture of FTX and Alameda’s relationship with the jury.

The defense highlighted that FTX was growing fast, with its leadership working over 10 hours a day during the 2021 bull market, including Bankman-Fried, who oversaw several parts of the company at the time.

The defense counsel also pointed out that Yedidia had been under several inquiries from prosecutors under an immunity order, meaning cooperation with prosecutors would protect him from facing any charges regarding his role at FTX. 

Also, according to Bankman-Fried’s defense, FTX’s difficulties opening a bank account and its reliance on Alameda’s North Dimension to deposit funds were well known. Yedidia’s cross-examination will resume this afternoon in the federal courtroom in lower Manhattan.

Two witnesses testified during the second part of the Bankman-Fried trial on Oct. 5: Matthew Huang, co-founder of Paradigm and Wang, co-founder of FTX and Alameda Research.

Paradigm invested a total of $278 million in FTX in two funding rounds between 2021 and 2022. According to Huang, the venture capital firm was not aware of the commingling of funds between FTX and Alameda, nor of the privileges that Alameda had with the crypto exchange.

Such privileges included Alameda’s exemption from FTX’s liquidation engine (a tool that closes positions at risk of liquidation). With the exemption, Alameda was able to leverage its position and maintain a negative balance with FTX.

The Paradigm co-founder also acknowledged that the firm did not conduct deeper due diligence on FTX, instead relying on information provided by Bankman-Fried.

Another concern for Paradigm was FTX not having a board of directors. According to Huang, Bankman-Fried was “very resistant” to the idea of having investors on FTX’s board of directors but promised to build one and appoint experienced executives to serve on it.

During his brief testimony, Wang acknowledged that he, along with Bankman-fried and Ellison, had committed wire fraud, securities fraud and commodities fraud.

Wang also noted that Alameda had special privileges with FTX, such as the ability to withdraw unlimited funds from the exchange, as well as a line of credit of $65 billion. To illustrate these privileges, Wang pointed out that any other market maker would have a credit line in the millions, while Alameda had a credit line in the billions.

A loan of approximately $200 million to $300 million from Alameda was also mentioned by Wang, allegedly as part of the purchase of other crypto firms. However, the loans were never credited to his account. His testimony will continue on Oct. 6.

Oct. 4: DOJ and Bankman-Fried’s defense state their arguments

The first hours of SBF’s trial have offered a glimpse of the arguments the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the former FTX CEO’s defense will bring to court in the coming weeks.

After a jury selection in the morning, both parties gave opening statements to the 12-person jury present in the court.

The DOJ took a tough stance against Bankman-Fried in its first statement, portraying the FTX founder as someone who deliberately lied to investors to enrich himself and expand his crypto empire.

According to the DOJ, Bankman-Fried lied to FTX customers and investors, using Alameda as a key partner to “steal customers’ funds,” a phrase that was frequently used during the opening statements.

A sign outside Bankman-Fried’s trial location in New York. Source: Ana Paula Pereira/Cointelegraph

As per the trial preview, the DOJ will focus its arguments on allegations that Bankman-Fried misled customers, investors and lenders regarding the safety of their funds while using Alameda to steal their money and influence politicians in Washington.

The defense, meanwhile, brought arguments about Bankman-Fried being a young entrepreneur who made business decisions that “didn’t work out.” The defense denied the existence of secret transactions between Alameda and FTX or a backdoor used to steal customer funds. According to the previous arguments presented, all transactions were legitimate or made in good faith by Bankman-Fried during the crypto market downturn and the subsequent collapse of FTX in November 2022.

The defense also highlighted the role of Binance in the bank run that led to FTX’s collapse. Testimonies will continue throughout the day.

According to the defense, Bankman-Fried assumed FTX was allowed to loan funds to Alameda as part of a business relationship with the market maker, and there was no secret door for transactions between the companies.

Prosecutors also noted that Ellison, Wang and Singh would offer the jury insider details about Bankman-Fried’s role in FTX’s operations and alleged crimes. However, the defense pointed out that as part of the cooperation agreement with the government, they were supposed to give testimony against Bankman-Fried, raising doubts about their credibility.

The defense also downplayed the accusations against the nature of the relationship between FTX and Alameda, arguing that FTX margin traders were aware of the risks associated with transactions.

“There was no theft,” the defense claimed. “It’s not a crime to be the CEO of a company that files for bankruptcy.”

In the second half of the first day of the trial, the jury heard from two witnesses: Mark Julliard, a French trader and former client of FTX, and Adam Yedidia, a friend of Sam Bankman-Fried and former employee at Alameda Research and FTX.

In his testimony, Julliard said he had four Bitcoin (BTC) held at FTX at the time of the exchange’s collapse, worth nearly $100,000. He admitted that FTX and Bankman-Fried’s marketing efforts, as well as the notable venture capital companies backing FTX, gave him the confidence to use the exchange for crypto trading. He assumed that venture capital firms had done due diligence on FTX and its leadership.

During the questioning, prosecutors emphasized that the trader used FTX exclusively for spot trading and was unaware that the exchange used client funds for crypto trading with Alameda Research.

Questions for Yedidia were focused on his educational background at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he first met Bankman-Fried and had two professional experiences with the FTX founder. Yedidia worked at Alameda briefly in 2017 as a trader and then returned to work for FTX in 2021 as a developer. He was among 10 people living in the Bahamas on FTX’s $30 million real estate.

In Yedidia’s testimony, prosecutors used former FTX ads as evidence that the company was always positioning itself as a safe, trusted and easy way to invest in cryptocurrency, including marketing campaigns with NFL player Tom Brady and comedian Larry David. The trial will resume Oct. 5.

Oct. 3: SBF trial begins

Bankman-Fried’s trial will take place in a Manhattan federal court. Source: Ana Paula Pereira/Cointelegraph

The trial of Bankman-Fried began on Oct. 3 with jury selection. Bankman-Fried is charged with seven counts of conspiracy and fraud in connection with the collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange he co-founded. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The case is being heard by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has presided over a long list of other high-profile cases, including ones involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the Gambino crime family, Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.

Bankman-Fried was ordered to be jailed on Aug. 11 after Kaplan found that his sharing of former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison’s personal papers amounted to witness intimidation. Alameda Research was a trading house also founded by Bankman-Fried. Previously, he had been under house arrest in his parents’ home in Stanford, California, on a $250-million bond.

December: SBF arrested

Bankman-Fried was arrested in the United States on his arrival from the Bahamas on Dec. 21, 2022. He had been arrested in the Bahamas on Dec. 12 after the U.S. government formally notified the country of charges the U.S. was filing against him. He declared his intention to fight extradition from the Caribbean nation but changed his mind after a week in Bahaman jail and consented to extradition.

Meanwhile, FTX co-founder Gary Wang and Alameda Research CEO (and reportedly sometime SBF girlfriend) Ellison agreed to plead guilty in the burgeoning case.

November: FTX collapses

Bankman-Fried’s troubles began when reports emerged on Nov. 2 that Alameda Research had a large holding of FTX Token (FTT), FTX’s utility token. That revelation led to questions about the relationship between the two entities. On Nov. 6, Changpeng Zhao, CEO of rival exchange Binance, announced that his exchange would liquidate its FTT holdings, which were estimated to be worth $2.1 billion. Zhao turned down an offer tweeted by Ellison to buy Binance’s FTT.

A run began on FTX. Bankman-Fried gave reassurances on Twitter (now X) that the exchange’s “assets are fine” and accused “a competitor” of spreading rumors. By Nov. 8, the price of FTT had fallen from $22 to $15.40.

Also on Nov. 8, Bankman-Fried announced on Twitter that he had come to an agreement with Zhao “on a strategic transaction.” He wrote, “Our teams are working on clearing out the withdrawal backlog as is. This will clear out liquidity crunches; all assets will be covered 1:1.”

On Nov. 9, Zhao announced that Binance would not pursue the acquisition of FTX after due diligence and more reports of mishandled funds. The price of Bitcoin (BTC) plummeted to $15,600. The FTX and Alameda Research websites went dark for a few hours. When the FTX website came back, it bore a warning against making deposits and was unable to process withdrawals.

On Nov. 10, Bankman-Fried posted a 22-part Twitter thread that began with “I’m sorry.” It was the first of a long string of public statements he made about the exchange’s fall. The following day, the entire staff of Alameda Research quit, and FTX, FTX US and Alameda Research filed for bankruptcy in the United States. Bankman-Fried resigned as FTX CEO and was replaced by John J. Ray III, who was best known for his role in the Enron bankruptcy.

SBF and FTX before the fall

At the beginning of 2022, FTX had a $32-billion valuation and was thought to be in enviable financial condition. Bankman-Fried was seen as a respected business leader by much of the crypto community and the world at large. He was photographed with political leaders and spoke at congressional hearings

He had gained a reputation as a philanthropist, pursuing a philosophy popular among academics known as “effective altruism.” Part of his implementation of that philosophy was political activism in the form of financial support for candidates.

As the crypto winter set in, Bankman-Fried spoke of FTX and Alameda Research’s “responsibility to seriously consider stepping in, even if it is at a loss to ourselves, to stem contagion.” The companies made a bid for Voyager Digital that was rebuffed.

FTX made a deal with Visa to introduce its own debit card in 40 countries.

Bankman-Fried, Ellison and other alumni of Jane Street Capital founded Alameda Research in 2017. Bankman-Fried went on to found FTX with Wang in 2019. Zhao was an early investor in the exchange.

This is a developing story, and further information will be added as it becomes available.

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Will Resurgent Inflation Savage The Tech Trade

Will Resurgent Inflation Savage The Tech Trade

By Simon White, Bloomberg Markets Live reporter and strategist

Equity markets are facing mounting…

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Will Resurgent Inflation Savage The Tech Trade

By Simon White, Bloomberg Markets Live reporter and strategist

Equity markets are facing mounting concentration risks as just a handful of stocks drive returns. Not only that, the mainly tech-related names dominating the move are highly exposed to inflation which is on the precipice of re-accelerating. Investors face potentially steep downside, but it is possible to build a portfolio of companies well placed to weather a resurgence in price growth.

When one company’s earnings have the ability to influence the macro narrative and materially affect the $43 trillion S&P, it’s clear the threats from narrow breadth are elevated. Nvidia’s results, released on Wednesday evening, may have exceeded expectations and are on the cusp of taking the index to new highs, but that only underscores the reality the tech-heavy market leaves portfolios acutely exposed to inflation. This should be a clarion call that it’s time to act. What better time to fix the diversification roof than when the disinflation sun is still shining?

Concentration risks are at 50-year highs. The top five stocks in the in the S&P 500 now account for over a quarter of its market cap, from only about an eighth a decade ago. You have to go back to the time of the Nifty Fifty in the late 1960s and early 70s to see leadership as narrow as it is today.

Back then, it was the tech titans of the day — Xerox, IBM, Polaroid – that were among the few stocks disproportionately powering the advance. And in what could prove to be an omen for the current cycle, the Nifty Fifty’s fate was sealed by rising inflation, which triggered the most brutal bear market seen since the Great Depression.

It’s even more of a problem today as tech companies have high duration, leaving them singularly vulnerable to a revival in price growth. A greater proportion of cash flows in the future leaves a stock’s total present value at risk from higher real rates.

The benefits of avoiding high-duration stocks when inflation is elevated can be seen in the chart below. The blue line shows a rebalancing strategy that goes long low-duration stocks when US CPI is over its 10-year moving average, and high-duration stocks when inflation is under it (using the inverse of the dividend yield as an approximation for an equity’s duration).

As we can see, the strategy cleanly outperforms the S&P in real terms.

But we can do better than that. It’s possible to build a portfolio of stocks resilient to inflation that’s not just dependent on their duration. After all, it’s a pretty blunt instrument. Ideally we want to find stocks that should do well if inflation re-accelerates (as I expect it will – see below), but is not fully reliant on that outcome.

Companies that are capital light and have strong pricing power should be well-placed to weather – if not prosper in – elevated inflation. The companies should also have demonstrated real growth over the long term.

More specifically, screen for companies with:

  • over $1 billion market cap
  • real dividend growth and sales growth
  • low fixed costs
  • strong pricing power
  • reasonable valuations

That gives us a portfolio of about 15-20 names which is rebalanced monthly. The real return of the portfolio is shown in the chart below, along with the real returns of the S&P and the 60/40 equity-bond portfolio.

The portfolio is designed to be forward looking — the coming years are unlikely to look like the previous decades given we are now in an inflationary regime — seeking stocks that are robust to price growth that is above its long-term average and prone to lurching higher.

It is nevertheless reassuring to see that the portfolio does well on its backtest. It has outpaced the S&P in real terms over the last quarter century. It also outperformed in the rising inflation period during the pandemic. More generally, a strategy that went long the Inflation Portfolio when inflation was elevated, and long the market otherwise, fared better than the S&P over the last 25 years.

The current portfolio contains 16 names. All are good quality companies with most having reasonable valuations, the average P/E ratio being equal to the market’s. Only two are tech companies.

The most common grouping is industrials. Again, this is reassuring as in inflation regimes over the last five decades, the top performing sectors were steel, mining and chemicals.

Through the life of the portfolio (2000-2023), industrials has had the largest average weight, followed by financials.

Banks are generally not a good holding when inflation is high as they typically lend long and borrow short, and see the real value of their assets decline more than their real liabilities. But there are several non-bank financials, such as the CBOE (in the portfolio now) and MSCI, which are quality firms with strong pricing power who stand in good stead when price growth is elevated.

None of this would be necessary if inflation was going the way Team Transitory think it already has. But there is a mounting body of forward-looking indicators that expect inflation should soon re-accelerate. We may have already got a glimpse of this with the most recent hotter-than-expected CPI and PPI reports.

Still, with any portfolio screening strategy there are caveats. There are turnover and price-slippage costs that could materially affect the realized return. There is also, of course, no reason why the backtested past should look like the future.

Nonetheless, the deep concentration of high-duration stocks leaves the market as exposed to inflation as it has been since the early 1970s. The potential downside justifies a different approach that tries to mitigate inflation risks without becoming overly dependent on them. After all, we may soon find that the Magnificent Seven’s name sounds just as ironic as the Nifty Fifty’s.

Tyler Durden Thu, 02/22/2024 - 15:45

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All Of The Elements Are In Place For An Economic Crisis Of Staggering Proportions

All Of The Elements Are In Place For An Economic Crisis Of Staggering Proportions

Authored by Michael Snyder via The Economic Collapse blog,

They…

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All Of The Elements Are In Place For An Economic Crisis Of Staggering Proportions

Authored by Michael Snyder via The Economic Collapse blog,

They were able to delay the U.S. economy’s day of reckoning, but they were not able to put it off indefinitely.  During the pandemic, the Federal Reserve pumped trillions of dollars into the financial system and our politicians borrowed and spent trillions of dollars that we did not have.  All of that money caused quite a bit of inflation, but it also created a “sugar rush” for the economy.  In other words, economic conditions were substantially better than they would have been otherwise.  Unfortunately, there will be a great price to be paid for such short-term thinking. 

From the federal government on down, our entire society is absolutely drowning in debt, and now it appears that our economic problems are about to go to the next level.

In early 2024, there are all sorts of signs that economic activity in the U.S. is really starting to slow down.

For example, we just learned that consumer spending “fell sharply” during the month of January…

Consumer spending fell sharply in January, presenting a potential early danger sign for the economy, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Advance retail sales declined 0.8% for the month following a downwardly revised 0.4% gain in December, according to the Census Bureau. A decrease had been expected: Economists surveyed by Dow Jones were looking for a drop of 0.3%, in part to make up for seasonal distortions that probably boosted December’s number.

However, the pullback was considerably more than anticipated. Even excluding autos, sales dropped 0.6%, well below the estimate for a 0.2% gain.

Sadly, the truth is that U.S. consumers just don’t have as much money to spend these days.

They are up to their eyeballs in debt, and delinquency rates have been spiking.

Many consumers are tightening up on their finances, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Disney+ lost more than a million subscribers during the fourth quarter of last year…

Disney+ Core subscribers (which include U.S. and Canada customers, as well as international users, excluding the India-based Disney+ Hotstar) dropped to 111.3 million from the 112.6 million reported in the previous quarter, according to Disney’s quarterly earnings results released Wednesday.

In early 2024, we have also seen large employers ruthlessly slash payrolls all over the nation.

The following summary of some of the most shocking layoffs that we have seen recently comes from Zero Hedge

1. Twitch: 35% of workforce
2. Roomba: 31% of workforce
3. Hasbro: 20% of workforce
4. LA Times: 20% of workforce
5. Spotify: 17% of workforce
6. Levi's: 15% of workforce
7. Xerox: 15% of workforce
8. Qualtrics: 14% of workforce
9. Wayfair: 13% of workforce
10. Duolingo: 10% of workforce
11. Washington Post: 10% of workforce
12: Snap: 10% of workforce
13. eBay: 9% of workforce
14. Business Insider: 8% of workforce
15. Paypal: 7% of workforce
16. Okta: 7% of workforce
17. Charles Schwab: 6% of workforce
18. Docusign: 6% of workforce
19: CISCO: 5% of workforce
20. UPS: 2% of workforce
21. Nike: 2% of workforce
22. Blackrock: 3% of workforce
23. Paramount: 3% of workforce
24. Citigroup: 20,000 employees
25. Pixar: 1,300 employees

During the pandemic we witnessed a lot of temporary layoffs, but the last time we saw large corporations conducting permanent mass layoffs on such a widespread basis was in 2008 and 2009.

And we all remember what happened back then.

Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise faster than paychecks.

For example, it is being reported that the cost of auto insurance has been increasing at “the fastest annual rate on record”

The cost of auto insurance jumped 1.4% in January, bringing the total annual gain to 20.6% – the fastest annual rate on record. When compared with early 2019, motor vehicle insurance is nearly 40% more expensive. Experts say the problem could soon get worse before it begins to improve.

Needless to say, most Americans have not seen their paychecks increase by 20.6 percent over the past year.

Of course just about everything else has been rapidly getting more expensive too, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.

On top of everything else, we are also facing an unprecedented commercial real estate crisis.

Our financial institutions are sitting on mountains of bad commercial real estate loans, and Kevin O’Leary is warning that “thousands more” will fail within the next three to five years

Regional banks are doomed.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing… if you’re prepared for it.

It’s been almost a year since Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) collapsed in March – the victim of idiotic management. But the sobering reality is the small banking crisis is far from over.

In the next three to five years, thousands more regional institutions will fail. That’s why I don’t have a dime saved or invested in a single one.

Is Kevin O’Leary right about this?

I don’t know.

We will just have to wait and see what happens.

But without a doubt, things certainly do not look good at this moment.

Needless to say, it isn’t just the U.S. that is experiencing economic turbulence these days.

Last week, we learned that the Japanese economy has officially entered a recession

Japan has lost its spot as the world’s third-largest economy to Germany, as the Asian giant unexpectedly slipped into recession.

Once the second-largest economy in the world, Japan reported two consecutive quarters of contraction on Thursday — falling 0.4% on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter after a revised 3.3% contraction in the third quarter. Fourth-quarter GDP sharply missed forecasts for 1.4% growth in a Reuters poll of economists.

The Germans are facing big problems too.

In fact, Germany is being called the “sick man of Europe” right now.

Interestingly, it is at this time that Jeff Bezos has decided to sell off billions of dollars worth of Amazon stock

Amazon’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos has sold another $2bn worth of the company’s stock, bringing the total value of shares he has offloaded in the past week to $4bn, according to regulatory filings.

An Amazon filing on Tuesday showed that Bezos, who stepped down as the Seattle-based company’s chief executive in 2021 but remains executive chair, sold 12mn shares for about $2bn between Friday and Monday.

He certainly doesn’t need the cash.

So why is he doing this?

Does he know something that the rest of us do not?

I don’t think so.

Instead, I think that he can see what the rest of us can see.

Stock prices have risen to record highs even as the overall economy is clearly heading into a major downturn.

That makes this the perfect time to sell.

Jeff Bezos didn’t get to where he is by being stupid.  He can see what is coming and he is getting out while the getting is still good.

*  *  *

Michael’s new book entitled “Chaos” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com, and you can check out his new Substack newsletter right here.

Tyler Durden Thu, 02/22/2024 - 16:20

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Realtor.com Reports Active Inventory UP 15.7% YoY; New Listings up 10.9% YoY

What this means: On a weekly basis, Realtor.com reports the year-over-year change in active inventory and new listings. On a monthly basis, they report total inventory. For January, Realtor.com reported inventory was up 7.9% YoY, and down 40% compare…

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What this means: On a weekly basis, Realtor.com reports the year-over-year change in active inventory and new listings. On a monthly basis, they report total inventory. For January, Realtor.com reported inventory was up 7.9% YoY, and down 40% compared to January 2019. Now - on a weekly basis - inventory is up 15.7% YoY, and that would put inventory still down about 39% compared to February 2019.

Realtor.com has monthly and weekly data on the existing home market. Here is their weekly report: Weekly Housing Trends View — Data Week Ending February 17, 2024
Active inventory increased, with for-sale homes 15.7% above year ago levels.

For a 15th consecutive week, active listings registered above prior year level, which means that today’s home shoppers have more homes to choose from that aren’t already in the process of being sold. So far this season, the increase in newly listed homes has resulted in a boost to overall inventory, but while the added inventory has certainly improved conditions from this time in 2021 through 2023, overall inventory is still low compared to the same time in February 2020 and years prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

New listings–a measure of sellers putting homes up for sale–were up this week, by 10.9% from one year ago.

Newly listed homes were above last year’s levels for the 17th week in a row, which could further contribute to a recovery in active listings meaning more options for home shoppers. This past week, newly listed homes were up 10.9% from a year ago, accelerating slightly from the 9.5% growth rate seen in the previous week.
Here is a graph of the year-over-year change in inventory according to realtor.com

Inventory was up year-over-year for the 154th consecutive week following 20 consecutive weeks with a YoY decrease in inventory.  

Inventory is still historically very low.

Although new listings remain well below "typical pre-pandemic levels", new listings are now up YoY for the 17th consecutive week.

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