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This 22-year-old survives Lebanon with a bitcoin mining business that’s been earning $20,000 a month

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Ahmad Abu Daher repairing mining equipment in the basement of a home in Zaarouriyeh.

Ahmad Abu Daher

It takes a lot to keep a grassroots cryptocurrency mining business up and running in Lebanon. Ahmad Abu Daher says he and his team of more than 40 Lebanese and Syrian employees are working around the clock to man thousands of machines across the country.

“We can’t sleep. We can’t have any break,” the 22-year-old Abu Daher told CNBC at 2:36 A.M. Lebanon time. “All of my team are still awake. They don’t sleep. Our shift is working 16 hours per day, and sometimes, up to 18 or 19 hours.”

Abu Daher’s voice competes with the sound of machines whirring in the background, each crunching thousands of complicated math equations to produce a mix of crypto tokens – now a vital source of income in a country where money has stopped making sense. 

Lebanon once boasted a thriving and resilient banking sector that attracted the world’s elite. But after decades of war, bad spending decisions by the government, and financial policies that the World Bank has compared to a Ponzi scheme, the country’s economy is in ruin.

See also: In bankrupt Lebanon, locals mine bitcoin and buy groceries with tether, as $1 is now worth 15 cents

Mining equipment at one of Ahmad Abu Daher’s crypto farms in Lebanon.

Ahmad Abu Daher

The local currency has lost more than 95% of its value since 2019, the minimum wage has plunged to $17 a month, pensions are virtually worthless, and bank account balances are just numbers on paper. Banks close without warning and ATMs are often either out of cash or entirely offline from nationwide blackouts. When locals are able to gain access to their accounts, many tell CNBC that they have grown accustomed to withdrawing money at 15% of its original worth. 

Against this backdrop, Abu Daher jumped into the crypto mining business a little over two years ago. He and a friend began with three machines running on hydroelectric power in Zaarouriyeh, a town 30 miles south of Beirut in the Chouf Mountains.

“When we started, it was our great idea to make money while sleeping or eating,” said Abu Daher. Nowadays, Abu Daher says he is online 20 hours a day.

An architect by training, Abu Daher saw several other university students unable to find work after graduation, so he realized he had to be proactive, teaching himself various technical tasks by watching YouTube videos.

Ahmad Abu Daher repairing mining equipment in the basement of a home in Zaarouriyeh.

Ahmad Abu Daher

It has been 26 months since Abu Daher first set up shop, and he says that business is thriving.

He now has about 400 crypto farms with between 5 and 100 machines each, in 42 villages across the country running on a mix of hydropower, solar power, and fuel. Abu Daher says that he pulls in about $20,000 a month, and typically, half of those proceeds come from mining and the other half from selling machines and trading in crypto.

When CNBC asked for crypto exchange statements and copies of bank balances to corroborate the estimate, Abu Daher said that the figure was pieced together from trading, mining, and selling machines, in a mix of transactions involving cash, checks, and tether, as well as multiple crypto wallets.

Abu Daher certainly has the trappings of a mining baron.

“When Ahmad pulled up in a white Range Rover to greet us and take us for a tour of the town, I was kind of impressed,” said Mohamad El Chamaa, a journalist at L’Orient Today who previously reported on Abu Daher’s crypto mines. “I had known him before Covid when he was a college student at the architecture department and I was his TA. It looked like the crypto business was treating him well.”

Lebanese locals turn to bitcoin and tether to earn, save, and spend as hyperinflation takes over

Building a bitcoin mining business

Abu Daher had a few black swan events on his side soon after he broke into crypto mining.

In May 2021, China expelled crypto miners, flooding the market with cheap, used mining rigs and reducing competition. This happened as cryptocurrency prices climbed toward all-time record highs.

As geopolitics permanently reshaped the landscape of the crypto mining industry, Abu Daher and his team began to build out their own farms across Lebanon with rigs acquired at fire sale prices from miners in China. Paying for those machines was not always straightforward.

“Due to sanctions controls, difficulty with using cash, and specifically in Lebanon, the banking system and the inability to use dollars or wire money, USD tether is essentially a key intermediary currency between people in the Chinese hardware market to Lebanese purchasers,” said Nicholas Shafer, a University of Oxford academic studying Lebanon’s crypto mining industry.

Detailed administrative and political vector map of Lebanon.

Getty Images

Abu Daher’s farms span the country, with roughly half of his equipment in the hydro-rich Chouf range, and the remaining 50% scattered throughout Lebanon, including in the Beqaa Valley, which is close to the Syrian border, and offers solar power as an alternative electricity source. (Though, as Shafer notes, the problem with solar is capacity — solar typically does not produce enough megawatts to mine at scale.)

Abu Daher also started to host rigs for people living across Lebanon, who needed stable money but lacked technical expertise and access to cheap and steady electricity, as the nation often experiences blackouts.

The mining boss does appear to be sharing those profits with his team. Shafer, who conducted field research at some of Abu Daher’s mining sites, says that of Abu Daher’s 40 employees, all receive a formal salary ranging from $800 to $4,000 per month in U.S. dollars or in tether. The blacksmith, who makes the least of any of Abu Daher’s staff, earns more than 26 times the minimum wage in Lebanon, according to Shafer.

Abu Daher mines for a mix of cryptocurrencies, including litecoin, dogecoin, bitcoin, and ethereum classic — and in some cases, he has programmed the machines to switch to mine whichever is the most profitable coin that day. He uses software called TeamViewer to remotely monitor and keep track of all this hardware.

“Each machine can mine many coins, and each coin has their specific equations,” explained Abu Daher. “Maybe today the best coin to mine is bitcoin, tomorrow it’s litecoin, and the day after that, it’s ethereum. We are always moving to have the most profit that we can.”

Around two-thirds of his customers are Lebanese, including some mining for bitcoin, dogecoin, or litecoin as a way to get spending money for daily expenses like fuel and food. One-quarter are Syrian, and the remaining 8% are a mix of people living in Egypt, Turkey, France, and the United Kingdom.

With some of his clients, Abu Daher is merely a custodian of the machines — housing them, cooling them, and providing steady electrical power and strong internet access. He charges a fee and in exchange, he gives them a cut of the mining proceeds in crypto. Others just ask him to broker the equipment sale and install it.

Ahmad Abu Daher and his friend began mining ether with three machines running on hydroelectric power in Zaarouriyeh, a town 30 miles south of Beirut in the Chouf Mountains. Abu Daher has since scaled his business to thousands of machines spread across Lebanon.

Ahmad Abu Daher

Unlike the massive mining farms of Texas that stack hundreds of thousands of machines into buildings the size of multiple football stadiums, Abu Daher prefers to spread out his electrical footprint, divvying up his thousands of miners in places like stores, basements, and apartments, each with 10 to 20 machines, unless it’s a house where he can split up groupings of miners into different rooms. In exchange for the space, Abu Daher pays rent in cash. In what was once a barbershop, for instance, Abu Daher runs 15 ASICs.

“At first glance, the town does not look like much of what you would think a ‘mining’ town would look like, but then you look inside the storefronts that are replacing traditional businesses, and you get a better feeling. For example, one of Ahmad’s farms used to be a barbershop – there’s still a mirror inside and ads for beauty products – but make no mistake that it is a fully fledged mining farm,” said El Chamaa of some of the mines in the Chouf range.

He added that, “The mining farms themselves were not as impressive as the ones I’ve seen on TikTok, but my keen observation was that they get the job done either way.”

Now, Abu Daher is trying to educate the locals about mining, mainly because he needs the extra manpower to keep the business going.

“We are trying to let someone in each village learn about mining in the purpose to help us. We can’t cover all the machines we have by my team, because we have a huge amount of machines, and we are selling a huge amount of machines,” he said.

AntMiner L3++ miners running at one of Ahmad Abu Daher’s crypto farms in Mghayriyeh in the Chouf Mountains.

Ahmad Abu Daher

Lifeline to ‘fresh dollars’

In Oct. 2019, money stopped making sense in Lebanon. After a season of unrest triggered by an ill-fated taxation scheme and years of economic mismanagement, banks first limited withdrawals and then shut their doors entirely as much of the world descended into Covid lockdowns.

Hyperinflation took root. The local currency, which had a peg of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to $1 for 25 years, began to rapidly depreciate. The street rate is now around 40,000 pounds to $1. After re-opening, the banks refused to keep up with this extreme depreciation, and offered much lower exchange rates for U.S. dollars than they were worth on the open market.

Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration against the political elites and the government, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 8, 2020 after the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut.

STR | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Today, withdrawals of U.S. dollars deposited into the Lebanese banking system before 2019 are capped, and each so-called “lollar” is paid out at a rate worth about 15% of its actual value, according to estimates from multiple locals and experts living across Lebanon.

Meanwhile, banks still offer the full market-rate exchange rate for U.S. dollars deposited after 2019. These are now known colloquially as “fresh dollars.”

Cryptocurrencies are volatile — the price of bitcoin has dropped about 70% from its peak a year ago — but the power of earning fresh dollars is a massive incentive for Lebanese to enter mining.

Rawad El Hajj, a 27-year-old with a marketing degree, tells CNBC that his 11 machines mine for litecoin and dogecoin.

Rawad El Hajj

Rawad El Hajj, a 27-year-old with a marketing degree, found out about Abu Daher’s mining operation three years ago through his brother.

“We started because there is not enough work in Lebanon,” El Hajj said.

El Hajj, who lives south of the capital in a city called Barja, started small, purchasing two miners to start.

“Then every month, we started to go bigger and bigger,” he said.

Because of the distance to Abu Daher’s farms, El Hajj pays to outsource the work of hosting and maintaining the rigs. He tells CNBC that his 11 machines mine for litecoin and dogecoin, which collectively bring in the equivalent of about .02 bitcoin a month, or $360.

It’s a similar story for Salah Al Zaatare, an architect living 20 minutes south of El Hajj in the coastal city of Sidon. Al Zaatare tells CNBC that he began mining dogecoin and litecoin in March of this year to augment his income. He now has 10 machines that he keeps with Abu Daher. Al Zaatare’s machines are newer models so he pulls in more than El Hajj — about $7,200 a month.

“I got into it because I think it will become a good investment for the future,” Al Zaatare told CNBC.

Al Zaatare pulled all of his money out of the bank before the crisis hit in 2019, and he held onto that cash until deciding to invest his life savings into mining equipment last year.

“I don’t have any problem now living in Lebanon since I am getting fresh dollars from mining,” said Myriam Harfoush, a 32-year-old French teacher living in Baakleen — about a 45-minute drive south of Beirut.

Harfoush, who trades in crypto on the side, told CNBC in a WhatsApp message that she took all of her money out of the bank at the start of the crisis and now has mining machines in Zaarouriyeh. (Harfoush only spoke to CNBC in written messages on WhatsApp, citing concerns over speaking by phone.)

“If you can get the machine, and you get the power, you get the money,” said Shafer. “Crypto is something that with the right type of expertise, you can produce in your local context.”

Overhead power lines transmit hydroelectricity to the surrounding towns.

Mohamad El Chamaa

The energy dilemma

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, dogecoin, and litecoin are created through a process known as proof-of-work, in which miners around the world run high-powered computers that collectively validate transactions and simultaneously create new tokens. The process requires a lot of electricity, and because this is the only variable cost in a low-margin industry, miners tend to seek out the cheapest sources of power.

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More often than not, renewables offer the most competitive pricing on electricity.

“It’s a way to convert a locally stranded resource (electricity) into a global commodity,” explained Nic Carter, a partner at Castle Island Ventures, which focuses on blockchain investments. “Hydro, especially run on the river, is one of those classic resources which tends to have a supply-demand mismatch.”

Dammed hydro can better accommodate fluctuations in demand and grid needs, whereas run-of-the-river hydro produces constantly, Carter tells CNBC.

Helium machine mounted on top of a house in Lebanon.

Mohamad El Chamaa

“So you often see these stranded or underutilized hydro resources being monetized part of the time with bitcoin mining, as we saw infamously in Sichuan and Yunnan in China,” continued Carter.

Abu Daher taps into a hydropower project which harnesses electricity from the 90-mile Litani River that cuts across southern Lebanon. He says he is getting 20 hours a day of electricity at old pre-inflationary rates.

“So basically, we are paying very cheap electricity, and we are getting fresh dollars through mining,” continued Abu Daher.

But the government, facing electrical shortages, is starting to crack down.

In January, police raided a small crypto mining farm in the hydro-powered town of Jezzine, seizing and dismantling mining rigs in the process. Soon after, the Litani River Authority, which oversees the country’s hydroelectric sites, reportedly said that “energy intensive cryptomining” was “straining its resources and draining electricity.”

But Abu Daher tells CNBC he is neither worried about being raided — nor the government’s proposal to hike up the price of electricity.

“We had some meetings with the police, and we don’t have any problems with them, because we are taking legal electricity, and we are not affecting the infrastructure,” he said.

Whereas Abu Daher says that he has set up a meter that officially tracks how much energy his machines have consumed, other miners have allegedly hitched their rigs to the grid illegally and are not paying for power.

Electricity harnessed from the Litani River transmits electricity to the Charles Helou power station, which provides enough electricity to power the mining farms in the area.

Mohamad El Chamaa

“Basically, a lot of other persons are having some issues, because they are not paying for electricity, and they are affecting the infrastructure,” he said.

Abu Daher, who has a knack for building creative designs to solve real-world problems, says that his next goal is creating a closed energy loop for his mining farms. He envisions a system in which the heat produced by the machines is harnessed and that geothermal energy is repurposed to power the miners, as well as to heat homes and hospitals in the villages where these mines are located.

“Instead of buying fuel to heat up our homes, we would buy mining machines. We produce heat to heat up our building, and at the same time, we produce money,” Abu Daher explained of his grand vision for the future of crypto mining in Lebanon.

Ahmad Abu Daher repairing mining equipment in the basement of a home in Zaarouriyeh.

Ahmad Abu Daher


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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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