First Mover Asia: Bitcoin, Ether Rise Late Despite FTX Fatigue

ALSO: Sam Reynolds considers the advantages of licensed custodians as the crypto industry wrestles with the fallout from crypto exchange FTX's implosion.

AccessTimeIconNov 15, 2022 at 1:30 a.m. UTC
Updated Nov 15, 2022 at 11:51 a.m. UTC

James Rubin is CoinDesk's U.S. news editor based on the West Coast.

Good morning. Here’s what’s happening:

Prices: Bitcoin, ether and other major cryptocurrencies surge late to ride into the green.

Insights: Could licensed custodians help the crypto industry save itself?

Catch the latest episodes of CoinDesk TV for insightful interviews with crypto industry leaders and analysis. And sign up for First Mover, our daily newsletter putting the latest moves in crypto markets in context.

Prices

Bitcoin Overcomes FTX Fatigue

846.00
+21.2 2.6%
$16,600
+400.1 2.5%
$1,243
+43.6 3.6%
S&P 500 daily close
3,957.25
−35.7 0.9%
Gold
$1,771
+4.8 0.3%
Treasury Yield 10 Years
3.87%
0.1
BTC/ETH prices per CoinDesk Indices; gold is COMEX spot price. Prices as of about 4 p.m. ET

By James Rubin

Battered but unbowed by FTX fallout, bitcoin rose late Monday from the depths of red to regain its foothold snugly above $16,000.

The largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization was recently holding steady at about $16,600, up nearly 2% over the past 24 hours, even as crypto market observers believe that it could dip to lower levels. Earlier in the day, BTC had dipped to about $15,850, below its most recent support.

This article was adapted from Market Wrap, CoinDesk’s daily newsletter diving into what happened in today's crypto markets. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every day.

“We have seen broader market instability despite some positive macro developments for risk assets as a whole,” David Duong, head of institutional research, at crypto exchange Coinbase, wrote, adding: “It’s still emerging which counterparties may have lent or interacted with either FTX or Alameda (FTX’s sibling company) and what those exact liabilities are. BTC could not only retest 2022 lows but touch the $13K level. We think there is support at $13.5K."

Ether was recently changing hands at about $1,200, up roughly 3%. The second-largest crypto in market value and other major altcoins have been reckoning with the aftershocks of crypto exchange FTX's balance sheet vulnerabilities and consequent filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. On Friday, the centerpiece of erstwhile crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried's crypto empire suffered hacks accounting for about $600 million in outflows. Regulators are ratcheting up their scrutiny of the exchange and its sibling, Alameda Research, whose heavy balance sheet allocation of FTX's FTT token sparked FTX's rapid unraveling.

FTX congagion remained virulent with Serum's SRM token recently falling more than 12%. On Saturday, DeFi protocols across the Solana ecosystem began unplugging from the onchain exchange that Bankman-Fried had lauded for fear that they didn’t know who wielded control – a concern fueled by the FTX hack. And the Solana Foundation said Monday it has tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies stranded on FTX – as well as 3.24 million common stock shares in Sam Bankman-Fried’s bankrupt crypto exchange. Nevertheless, its SOL token rose about 10%.

The CoinDesk Market Index, a broad-based index designed to measure the market capitalization weighted performance of the digital asset market, was trading flat.

Equity markets broke a recent trend upward with the Nasdaq dropping 1.1%, and the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average declining 0.8 and 0.6%, respectively after online retailer Amazon pushed forward with layoffs, part of a larger cost-cutting campaign tied to the company’s pessimistic expectations for the months ahead.

While some analysts remained horrified by FTX's self-inflicted downfall, with an Arcane Research newsletter calling the "situation a mess," and noting that one of the largest crypto companies in the industry was playing with customers’ money," others saw it as a potential building block for the young, crypto industry.

Venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary told CoinDesk TV’s First Mover program that FTX’s collapse doesn't mean it will be the end for crypto and described the debacle as a “defining” moment that will “stabilize” the industry. “This does not kill crypto,” added O’Leary, who said that he had considered rescuing FTX before SEC chief Gary Gensler highlighted anew the industry’s lack of regulation. “There’s going to be a silver lining to this disaster. There’s no question about it. It’ll be called regulation.”

Biggest Gainers

Asset Ticker Returns DACS Sector
Solana SOL +10.8% Smart Contract Platform
XRP XRP +9.4% Currency
Polygon MATIC +7.1% Smart Contract Platform

Biggest Losers

There are no losers in CoinDesk 20 today.

Insights

By Sam Reynolds

Imagine for a moment if there were a class of companies whose sole job was to safeguard customers’ assets being held by an exchange or other institution from theft, hacks or misuse by executives. And imagine if these companies were registered with the government, insured and regularly audited, with the results available for the public to inspect.

Now imagine if the majority of exchanges didn’t use these services because it slowed their business down.

Welcome to November 2022.

“If you use an external independent, licensed custodian, we would never have gotten into this situation because they couldn't have had access to customer deposits,” Alessio Quaglini, CEO of Hex Trust, said in an interview with CoinDesk.

Quaglini said that with a custodian, clients’ assets are legally and technologically segregated, available for public monitoring via block explorers, and insured. Assets are disclosed, as are liabilities.

To put it bluntly: the funds would have been safe from outsider threats, insider threats, and Alameda Research.

“The ledger would have been at least managed by an independent party versus the kind of internal ledger that they were using between FTX and Alameda,” said Quaglini. “The frosting on the cake was the ‘hack’ where employees were leaving, nobody knew who was in charge of what, and then all of the sudden funds disappear because you don’t know who’s in control of the private keys.”

Despite all the due diligence that was allegedly done on FTX by some of the world’s most important venture capital funds like Sequoia, Softbank, and Temasek, this issue never came up. Caught in the Bankman-Fried cult of personality, these VCs never thought it necessary to have some safeguards in place to protect customer funds — which would have certainly been a requirement in the TradFi world.

“Investors are guilty in this case of throwing money [at FTX] without asking for really basic things like segregation [of] clients’ assets. The fact that investors were not demanding this was quite embarrassing,” said Quaglini.

In July 2020, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), greenlit nationally chartered banks in the U.S. to provide custodian services for crypto. In the days following that announcement, crypto raced from $9,514 to over $11,000.

Institutional capital was accustomed to having custodians, and this was the key to unlocking this narrative. This is how the asset class hit $1 trillion, and another Mt. Gox was prevented.

Some exchanges have their own custodians, like Coinbase and Gemini. These are separate entities from the main exchange, licensed appropriately under local law (Coinbase and Gemini both have New York licenses).

But FTX did not.

Nor does Binance.

Without custodians, and their requirements for public disclosure, we have no way of checking who’s solvent and who’s insolvent. Publicly known wallets can help, but that’s not the full picture. The public will have to take the word of executives at face value, and pray that Crypto.com’s balance sheet is as strong as it claims.

Exchanges are now effectively operating as unregulated banks with fractional reserve banking minus the capital requirements, regulations, or ironically, transparency.

Something has to change. Hopefully, it's not stringent regulation that strangles the industry.

Binance’s Changpeng Zhao wants to establish an industry association to promote best practices as part of his recovery fund. But will this include the use of licensed custodians? Time will tell. So far, all he’s been calling for is self-custody.

Important events.

10 a.m. HKT/SGT(2:00 UTC) China's Retail Sales (YoY) (Oct)

CoinDesk TV

In case you missed it, here is the most recent episode of "First Mover" on CoinDesk TV:

As if things weren't bad enough for bankrupt FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange was drained of some $600 million in an apparent hack. Hacken CEO Dyma Budorin joined "First Mover" to discuss the details. Also O'Leary Ventures Chairman and Shark Tank star Kevin O'Leary, one of the high-profile investors in FTX, joined First Mover Plus, bankruptcy expert Thomas Braziel gave his assessment of FTX and what to expect in court.

Headlines

Solana Foundation Invested in FTX, Held Millions in Sam Bankman-Fried-Linked Cryptos on Exchange: The foundation addressed the fallout of the FTX debacle in a blog post.

Morgan Stanley Says There Is Still Much Leverage in the Crypto Ecosystem: Retail investors may start to sell if bitcoin trades below $10,000, the report said.

Bitcoin Miners' Balance Slides as FTX Collapse Weighs on Crypto: Data tracked by Glassnode shows, the number of bitcoin held by miner wallets has dropped to a 10-month low.

FTX Collapse Exposed 'Weaknesses' in Crypto, Janet Yellen Says, Bloomberg Reports: The U.S. Treasury Secretary said the crypto sector is in need of "very careful regulation" while some lawmakers are already preparing to propose tougher rules.

FTX’s Failure Is Sparking a Massive Regulatory Response: Lawmakers, regulators and criminal investigators are looking into FTX’s collapse, and Sam Bankman-Fried’s tweets aren’t helping.

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James Rubin is CoinDesk's U.S. news editor based on the West Coast.

CoinDesk - Unknown

James Rubin is CoinDesk's U.S. news editor based on the West Coast.