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Crypto.com customers worry it could follow FTX as CEO tries to reassure them everything’s fine

Source image: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/15/cryptocom-customers-worry-it-could-follow-ftx-ceo-reassures-them.html

The logo of Crypto.com is seen at a stand during the Bitcoin Conference 2022 in Miami Beach, Florida, April 6, 2022.

Marco Bello | Reuters

As the crypto universe reckons with the fallout of FTX’s rapid collapse last week and tries to figure out where the contagion may head next, questions have been swirling around Crypto.com, a rival exchange that’s taken a similarly flashy approach to marketing and celebrity endorsements.

Like FTX, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, Crypto.com is privately held, based outside the U.S. and offers a range of products for buying, selling, trading and storing crypto. The company is headquartered in Singapore, and CEO Kris Marszalek is based in Hong Kong.

Crypto.com is smaller than FTX but still ranks among the top 15 global exchanges, according to CoinGecko. FTX spooked the market not just by its speedy downfall but also because the company was unable to honor withdrawal requests, to the tune of billions of dollars, from users who wanted to retrieve their funds during the run on the firm. When it became clear that FTX didn’t have the liquidity necessary to give users their money, concern mounted that rivals may be next.

Twitter lit up over the weekend with speculation that Crypto.com was facing problems, and crypto experts held Twitter Spaces sessions to discuss the matter. Meanwhile, revelations landed on Sunday that, in October, Crypto.com mistakenly sent more than 80% of its ether holdings, or about $400 million worth of the cryptocurrency, to Gate.io, another crypto exchange. It was only after the transaction was exposed through public blockchain data that Marszalek acknowledged the mishap.

Kris Marszalek, CEO of Crypto.com, speaking at a 2018 Bloomberg event in Hong Kong, China.

Paul Yeung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Changpeng Zhao, CEO of rival exchange Binance, fanned the flames of speculation, tweeting on Sunday that if an exchange has to move large amounts of crypto before or after it demonstrates the wallet addresses, “it is a clear sign of problems.” He added, “Stay away.”

Confidence is clearly shaken. Crypto.com’s native Cronos (CRO) token has dropped nearly 40% in the last week. The crumbling of FTX’s FTT token was one sign of the crisis that company faced.

“I would just get your money out of Crypto .com now,” said Adam Cochran, an investor in blockchain projects and founder of Cinneamhain Ventures, in a tweet over the weekend. “If they are full reserves they shouldn’t care if you sit on the sidelines for a week, but their handling of this hasn’t met the bar.”

Marszalek has spent the early part of the week trying to reassure users and regulators that the business is fine. On Monday, he said on YouTube that the company had a “tremendously strong balance sheet” and that it’s “business as usual” with deposits, withdrawals and trading activity. He followed up with a tweet Monday evening, indicating that “the withdrawal queue is down 98% within the last 24 hours.”

He spoke to CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday morning, answering questions about the state of his company, the market and how he’s differently positioned than FTX. He said in the interview that the company has engaged with over 10 regulators about the “shocking events” surrounding FTX and how to keep them from happening again.

“I understand that right now in the market, you’ve got a situation where everyone is done taking people’s word for anything,” Marszalek said. “We focused on demonstrating our strength and stability through our actions.”

Marszalek acknowledged that Crypto.com, like other exchanges, has faced increased withdrawals since the FTX news broke, but he said his platform has since stabilized.

A familiar refrain

The skeptics can point to recent history.

FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said his company’s assets were “fine” two days before he was desperate for a rescue because of a liquidity crunch. It’s a familiar tactic. Alex Mashinsky, CEO of the now bankrupt crypto lending platform, Celsius, reassured customers of solvency days before halting wtihdrawals and ultimately filing for bankruptcy.

The exterior of Crypto.com Arena on January 26, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Rich Fury | Getty Images

There are other similarities, too.

Just as FTX signed a massive deal last year with the NBA’s Miami Heat for naming rights to the team’s arena, Crypto.com agreed to pay $700 million last November to put its name and logo on the arena that hosts the Los Angeles Lakers, among other teams in L.A. FTX had Tom Brady and Steph Curry promoting its products. Crypto.com reeled in Matt Damon as a pitchman. Both companies bought Super Bowl ads and partnered with Formula One.

Marszalek has personal issues from his past that may also be concerning. The Daily Beast reported in November 2021 that Marszalek departed his last job “amid accusations from customers and business partners that they had been ripped off.” The Australian company was called Ensogo, and it offered online coupons. It abruptly shut down in 2016.

According to documents filed with the Australian Securities Exchange, Ensogo requested its stock be suspended from trading in June 2016. The board accepted Marszalek’s resignation at that time and the company said in a filing that it “is yet to announce the appointment of a new CEO.”

A spokesperson for Crypto.com told the Daily Beast that the board decided to shutter Ensogo, and “there was never a finding of wrongdoing under Kris’s leadership.”

How many coins?

Then there are Crypto.com’s books.

Last week, Crypto.com released unaudited information about its assets to blockhain analytics firm Nansen, who used the information to create a chart showing where those assets were held. One startling revelation: Crypto.com had 20% of its assets in wallets in shiba inu, a so-called “meme token” that exists purely for speculation, building off the shiba-inu dog image of the similarly popular joke token, dogecoin.

Marszalek said on Monday that this was just a reflection of the assets Crypto.com customers were buying. He said in a tweet that it was a popular purchase in 2021, along with dogecoin.

When asked by CNBC on Tuesday if Crypto.com holds tokens on its balance sheet, Marszalek said it’s a “very conservatively run business” that holds “mostly fiat and stablecoins as our source of capital.”

“Yeah but how much?” asked CNBC’s Becky Quick, reminding Marszalek that FTX had “billions of dollars” in its self-created FTT token before it declared bankruptcy.

Marszalek declined to say.

“We’re a privately held company,” he said, adding that he’s not going to provide specifics “about our balance sheet.”

He was quick to say that the company is “very well capitalized,” and reiterated comments from his YouTube session on Monday, telling CNBC that the company has “a very strong balance sheet” with “zero debt and zero leverage in the business, and we are cash flow positive.”

The company has already been hammered during the crypto winter, which has pushed bitcoin and ether down by two-thirds this year. In recent months, Crypto.com reportedly slashed over one-quarter of its workforce. Daily trading volume in CRO is down to about $365 million, according to data from Nomics. Last year, that figure was above $4 billion.

Marszalek’s main goal now is evident: avoid an FTX-type run that could see the company lose a boatload of customers. But he also wants to make it abundantly clear that all the reserves are available to honor any withdrawal requests, and that there’s no hedge fund activity taking place with user deposits.

“We run a very simple business,” he said. “We give 70 million users globally access to digital currencies and take a fee for that.”

Coinbase and Binance have similarly been on media tours trying to assuage customer concerns.

FTX saga means people will increasingly hold their own crypto, says Blockchain.com CEO

Blockchain.com CEO Peter Smith expects the whole way that crypto enthusiasts hold their investments to change dramatically. Smith, whose company operates an exchange and offers a crypto wallet, told CNBC last week that consumers don’t need to trust third parties to hold their crypto funds, and are increasingly doing it themselves.

“You’re going to see people shift toward crypto on their own private keys,” Smith said, adding that the company has about 85 million users who already do it that way. “The ultimate reality and coolest part of crypto is you can store your funds on your own private key where you have no counterparty exposure.”

From a governance standpoint, FTX was uniquely troubled. The company had no board, no finance chief and no head of compliance, despite raising billions of dollars, some from top firms like Sequoia and Tiger Global, and racing to a $32 billion valuation.

Marszalek has a more traditional corporate structure. Crypto.com has a four-person advisory board as well as a CFO, a head of legal and a senior vice president of risk and operations. That doesn’t mean there can’t be fraud (see: Theranos) or bad behavior (read: WeWork), but it’s at least a sign that some controls are in place as Crypto.com and other players try to weather a crypto winter that keeps getting colder.

“We feel quite good about where we are as a company and our operations,” said Marszalek, pointing out that the company generated over $1 billion in revenue last year and has topped that number this year. “What worries me is the impact of this collapse on the whole industry. It sets us back a good couple of years in terms of the industry’s reputation.”

WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek

Watch CNBC's full interview with Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/15/cryptocom-customers-worry-it-could-follow-ftx-ceo-reassures-them.html

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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures

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According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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