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Crypto peaked a year ago — investors have lost more than $2 trillion since

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An attendee wears a “Will Work for NFTs” shirt during the CoinDesk 2022 Consensus Festival in Austin, Texas, US, on Thursday, June 9, 2022. The festival showcases all sides of the blockchain, crypto, NFT, and Web 3 ecosystems, and their wide-reaching effect on commerce, culture, and communities.

Jordan Vonderhaar | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A year ago this week, investors were describing bitcoin as the future of money and ethereum as the world’s most important developer tool. Non-fungible tokens were exploding, Coinbase was trading at a record and the NBA’s Miami Heat was just into its first full season in the newly renamed FTX Arena.

As it turns out, that was peak crypto.

In the 12 months since bitcoin topped out at over $68,000, the two largest digital currencies have lost three-quarters of their value, collapsing alongside the riskiest tech stocks. The industry, once valued at roughly $3 trillion, now sits at around $900 billion.

Rather than acting as a hedge against inflation, which is near a 40-year high, bitcoin has proven to be another speculative asset that bubbles up when the evangelists are behind it and plunges when enthusiasm melts and investors get scared.

And the $135 million that FTX spent last year for a 19-year deal with the Heat? The crypto exchange with the naming rights is poised to land in the history books alongside another brand that once had its logo on a sports facility: Enron.

In a blink this week, FTX sank from a $32 billion valuation to the brink of bankruptcy as liquidity dried up, customers demanded withdrawals and rival exchange Binance ripped up its nonbinding agreement to buy the company. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried admitted on Thursday that he “f—ed up.”

“Looking back now, the excitement and prices of assets were clearly getting ahead of themselves and trading far above any fundamental value,” said Katie Talati, director of research at Arca, an investment firm focused on digital assets. “As the downturn was so fast and violent, many have proclaimed that digital assets are dead.”

Whether crypto is forever doomed or will eventually rebound, as Talati expects, the 2022 bloodbath exposed the industry’s many flaws and served as a reminder to investors and the public why financial regulation exists. Bankruptcies have come fast and furious since midyear, leaving clients with crypto accounts unable to access their funds, and in some cases scrapping to retrieve pennies on the dollar.

If this is indeed the future of finance, it’s looking rather bleak.

Crypto was supposed to bring transparency. Transactions on the blockchain could all be tracked. We didn’t need centralized institutions — banks — because we had digital ledgers to serve as the single source of truth.

That narrative is gone.

“Speaking for the bitcoiners, we feel like we’re trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with crypto and we want out,” said Michael Saylor, executive chairman of MicroStrategy, a technology company that owns 130,000 bitcoins. “The industry needs to grow up and the regulators are coming into this space. The future of the industry is registered digital assets traded on regulated exchanges, where everyone has the investor protections they need.”

Bitcoin bull Michael Saylor on FTX-Binance chaos: Crypto industry needs to grow up

Saylor was speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” as FTX’s demise roiled the crypto market. Bitcoin sank to a two-year low this week, before bouncing back on Thursday. Ethereum also tanked, and solana, another popular coin used by developers and touted by Bankman-Fried, fell by more than half.

Equities tied to crypto suffered, too. Crypto exchange Coinbase tumbled 20% over two days, while Robinhood, the trading app that counts Bankman-Fried as one of its biggest investors, fell by 30% during the same period.

There was already plenty of pain to go around. Last week, Coinbase reported a revenue plunge of more than 50% in the third quarter from a year earlier, and a loss of $545 million. In June, the crypto exchange slashed 18% of its workforce.

“We are actively updating and evaluating our scenario plans and prepared to reduce operating expenses further if market conditions worsen,” Alesia Haas, Coinbase’s finance chief, said on the Nov. 3 earnings call.

How it started

The downdraft started in late 2021. That’s when inflation rates started to spike and sparked concern that the Federal Reserve would begin hiking borrowing costs when the calendar turned. Bitcoin tumbled 19% in December, as investors rotated into assets deemed safer in a tumultuous economy.

The sell-off continued in January, with bitcoin falling 17% and ethereum plummeting 26%. David Marcus, former head of crypto at Facebook parent Meta, used a phrase that would soon enter the lexicon.

“It’s during crypto winters that the best entrepreneurs build the better companies,” Marcus wrote in a Jan. 24 tweet. “This is the time again to focus on solving real problems vs. pumping tokens.”

The crypto winter didn’t actually hit for a few months. The markets even briefly stabilized. Then, in May, stablecoins became officially unstable.

A stablecoin is a type of digital currency designed to maintain a 1-to-1 peg with the U.S. dollar, acting as a sort of bank account for the crypto economy and offering a sound store of value, as opposed to the volatility experienced in bitcoin and other digital currencies.

When TerraUSD, or UST, and its sister token called luna dove below the $1 mark, a different kind of panic set in. The peg had been broken. Confidence evaporated. More than $40 billion in wealth was wiped out in luna’s collapse. Suddenly it was as if nothing in crypto was safe.

The leading crypto currencies cratered, with bitcoin dropping 16% in a single week, putting it down by more than half from its peak six months earlier. On the macro front, inflation had shown no sign of easing, and the central bank remained committed to raising rates as much as would be required to slow the increase in consumer prices.

In June, the bottom fell out.

Lending platform Celsius paused withdrawals because of “extreme market conditions.” Binance also halted withdrawals, while crypto lender BlockFi slashed 20% of its workforce after more than quintupling since the end of 2020.

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Prominent crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, or 3AC, defaulted on a loan worth more than $670 million, and FTX signed a deal giving it the option to buy BlockFi at a fraction of the company’s last private valuation.

Bitcoin had its worst month on record in June, losing roughly 38% of its value. Ether plummeted by more than 40%.

Then came the bankruptcies.

Singapore-based 3AC filed for bankruptcy protection in July, just months after disclosing that it had $10 billion in assets. The firm’s risky strategy involved borrowing money from across the industry and then turning around and investing that capital in other, often nascent, crypto projects.

After 3AC fell, crypto brokerage Voyager Digital wasn’t far behind. That’s because 3AC’s massive default was on a loan from Voyager.

“We strongly believe in the future of the industry but the prolonged volatility in the crypto markets, and the default of Three Arrows Capital, require us to take this decisive action,” Voyager CEO Stephen Ehrlich said at the time.

Next was Celsius, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in mid-July. The company had been paying customers interest of up to 17% to store their crypto on the platform. It would lend those assets to counterparties willing to pay sky-high rates. The structure came crashing down as liquidity dried up.

Meanwhile, Bankman-Fried was making himself out to be an industry savior. The 30-year-old living in the Bahamas was poised to pick up the carnage and consolidate the industry, claiming FTX was in better position than its peers because it stashed away cash, kept overhead low and avoided lending. With a net worth that on paper had swelled to $17 billion, he personally bought a 7.6% stake in Robinhood.

SBF, as he’s known, was dubbed by some as “the JPMorgan of crypto.” He told CNBC’s Kate Rooney in September that the company had in the neighborhood of $1 billion to spend on bailouts if the right opportunities emerged to keep key players afloat.

“It’s not going to be good for anyone long term if we have real pain, if we have real blowouts, and it’s not fair to customers and it’s not going to be good for regulation. It’s not going to be good for anything,” Bankman-Fried said. “From a longer-term perspective, that’s what was important for the ecosystem, it’s what was important for customers and it’s what was important for people to be able to operate in the ecosystem without being terrified that unknown unknowns were going to blow them up somehow.”

Sam Bankman-Fried faces possible bankruptcy after failed FTX deal

It’s almost as if Bankman-Fried was describing his own fate.

FTX’s lightning-fast descent began this past weekend after Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao tweeted that his company was selling the last of its FTT tokens, the native currency of FTX. That followed an article on CoinDesk, pointing out that Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s hedge fund, held an outsized amount of FTT on its balance sheet.

Not only did Zhao’s public pronouncement cause a plunge in the price of FTT, it led FTX customers to hit the exits. Bankman-Fried said in a tweet Thursday that FTX clients on Sunday demanded roughly $5 billion of withdrawals, which he called “the largest by a huge margin.” Lacking the reserves to cover the virtual bank run, FTX turned to Zhao for help.

How it’s going

Binance announced a nonbinding agreement to acquire FTX on Tuesday, in a deal that would’ve been so catastrophic for FTX that equity investors were expecting to be wiped out. But Binance reversed course a day later, saying that FTX’s “issues are beyond our control or ability to help.”

Bankman-Fried has since been scrambling for billions of dollars in an effort to stay out of bankruptcy. He says he’s also been working to maintain liquidity so clients can get their money out.

Venture firm Sequoia Capital, which first backed FTX in 2021 at an $18 billion valuation, said it was marking its $213.5 million investment in FTX “down to 0.” Multicoin Capital, a crypto investment firm, told limited partners on Tuesday that while it was able to retrieve about one-quarter of its assets from FTX, the funds still stranded there represented 15.6% of the fund’s assets, and there’s no guarantee it will all be recouped.

Additionally, Multicoin said it’s taking a hit because its largest position is in solana, which was tumbling in value because it “was generally considered to be within SBF’s sphere of influence.” The firm said it’s sticking to its thesis and looking for assets that can “outperform market beta across market cycles.”

“We are not short term or momentum traders, and we do not operate on short time horizons,” Multicoin said. “Although this situation is painful, we are going to remain focused on our strategy.”

It won’t be easy.

Ryan Gilbert, founder of fintech venture firm Launchpad Capital, said the crypto world is facing a crisis of confidence after the FTX implosion. While it was already a tumultuous year for crypto, Gilbert said Bankman-Friedman was a trusted leader who was comfortable representing the industry on Capitol Hill.

In a market without a central bank, an insurer or any institutional protections, trust is paramount.

“It’s a question of, can trust exist at all in this industry at this stage of the game?” Gilbert said in an interview Thursday. “To a large extent the concept of trust is as bankrupt as some of these companies.”

WATCH: Crypto exchanges are scrambling

CoinDesk: Crypto exchanges are scrambling to put together "proof of reserves" in the wake of near-collapse of FTX


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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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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.

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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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