The wording of the statement leaves open the question of how big the firm’s indirect exposure might be – including a portfolio of digital tokens that stood at $129 million as recently earlier this year, according to investor documents; many of those tokens, including the Solana blockchain’s SOL, were among those closely associated with Sam Bankman-Fried, the once-billionaire crypto whiz-kid-turned-pariah who ran FTX.
What's driving the extra scrutiny now is the surfacing of a slide deck – posted on a public website but confirmed as authentic by a person familiar with the matter – that Sino had shopped to investors earlier this year when it was raising a crypto investment fund, with a target of as much as $200 million.
FTX was described in the slide deck as a "partner" in the fundraising, with the potential to unlock "significant strategic value." As of January, the fund had already raised $90 million, with FTX as an anchor investor.
Sino, in seeking to market its own investing track record, included a detailed list of its own investments – some $129 million of "mark-to-market investments." They included Solana's native SOL tokens along with serum (SRM), maps (MAPS), oxygen (OXY) and jet protocol (JET).
Each of those tokens has suffered price declines of 80% or more as Bankman-Fried's crypto empire unraveled, including the recent FTX bankruptcy.
It's not clear if Sino still owns the tokens that made up the proprietary trading book as of January or how much the new fund currently manages or what the fund owns. CoinDesk could not obtain recent documents on the fund detailing performance or the current portfolio.
In the event that the investments haven't liquidated, one concern might be that what little value is left in the token holdings might be eroded further if Sino moved to dump them; the tokens are so thinly traded there likely aren't enough willing buyers at the current, already depressed price.
“There isn't enough liquidity to sell all the tokens,” said Sara Gherghelas, blockchain analyst at DappRadar. “The selling could be possible if the team uses some of their own tokens to provide the liquidity necessary. If this happens, it will cause a drastic decrease in the price.”
The Liquid Value I fund was rolled out in late 2021 at the height of the bull market mania, targeting a raise of $200 million. It was the first time Sino, which previously had invested primarily only as a principal, had turned to outside capital in a formal fund vehicle.
The fund wasn’t publicly available to retail investors, instead shopped around to high net worth individuals.
Bankman-Fried himself was an indirect investor in the Liquid Value I fund's general partner via his trading firm Alameda Research and an entity called Alameda Ventures, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing in February.
Among its principal investments, Sino Global also detailed a $6.8 million portfolio of assets for which there was no available market price. Those included equity stakes in FTX and its American arm, FTX.US.
The slide deck doesn’t say exactly what investments would be made in the new fund, but it does say that the “Liquid Value Fund I could exhibit a similar breakdown” to Sino’s proprietary investments.
Liquid Value Fund I is currently active, according to a filing with a Cayman Islands fund directory, with a registration date of September 2021.
Patrick Loney, the firm’s general counsel and head of investor relations, responded to an email from CoinDesk seeking comment on the Liquid Value I fund, by saying he would get back soon. He cc’d Mona Hamdy, chief strategy officer.
Hamdy said in an email after publication of this report that the outside investment fund does not hold positions similar to the principal holdings detailed in the slide deck. She said that a large focus of the fund's investing efforts has been on infrastructure and gaming.
If the token investment selections in Liquid Value Fund I were similar to the choices that Sino had made for its investment portfolio, that might be a bad sign for the fund because, as is the case with the proprietary portfolio, many of the prices for those tokens have suffered steep declines this year.
Data from CoinGecko shows that MAPS, OXY and JET are very thinly traded in digital-asset markets, with less than $250,000 of daily trading volume.
Ajay Dhingra, head of research and analytics at Unizen, said, “If someone executes a market sell order of 1 million MAPS, it can easily wipe out the buy-side books with slippage of 25-30%.”
Investors wiped out?
Sino said in its statement this week, "We trusted FTX to be a good actor committed to pushing the industry forward," and "[w]e deeply regret that misplaced trust."
"Sino Global Capital is functioning as normal and continues to invest as a fund," according to the statement. "Fund investments have been balanced across ecosystems, and we do not employ leverage or short-term trading strategies."
But at a basic level, the fund's own strategy and operations were so tightly linked with FTX's that, even apart from any losses, a quick dissociation is likely to be difficult.
It's possible that Sino sold off some of the holdings to take profit or reduce exposure. But even if they were sold before the dramatic downfall of the last two weeks, the returns would be questionable given the price declines earlier this year across crypto markets.
The Tom Brady connection
A person familiar with the matter told CoinDesk that a key pillar of the fund’s marketing was to play up the connections with FTX and Bankman-Fried.
Bankman-Fried’s name and FTX’s logo featured prominently on the January slide deck.
Also touted were FTX’s “rapidly growing brand recognition in the U.S through high-profile sponsorships of Miami Heat Arena, [Major League Baseball] and star athletes including Tom Brady, Steph Curry and Lewis Hamilton.”
Sino’s Graham was initially scheduled to appear on a panel this week on the “outlook for digital assets” at an investment conference in Singapore alongside Matthew Heller, an FTX executive.
A revised agenda showed that the two men were later scrapped from the panel.
UPDATE (Nov. 19, 20:52 UTC): Adds comment from Mona Hamdy, Sino's chief strategy officer.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.
Learn more about Consensus 2023, CoinDesk’s longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to consensus.coindesk.com to register and buy your pass now.