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Cryptocurrency Lending Giants Face Financial Ruin Amid Market Uncertainty, Lack of Regulatory Guardrails

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 By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 1 July 2022

Starting with the lofty goal of competing with traditional banks, cryptocurrency lending giants and their clients now face financial ruin due to their appetite for risk and a paucity of regulatory guardrails.

Celsius Network, which suspended withdrawals in mid-June, had advertised a seemingly difficult-to-reconcile mix of interest rates, charging just 0.1 percent for loans, but paying more than 18 percent on deposits.

Weeks later, savings accounts, that amounted to $11.8 billion (roughly Rs. 93,300 crore) in mid-May, remained frozen.

“Celsius is going bankrupt one way or another,” said Omid Malekan, a professor at Columbia University. “Even if they recoup 98 cents on the dollar for their depositors, no one would ever want to use it.”

Since then, other operators have faced a similar fate, from CoinFlex to Babel Finance, which also tried their hand at lending and had to freeze withdrawals, while Voyager Digital had to limit them.

These platforms allowed clients to deposit cryptocurrencies, and either receive interest or borrow digital money by using their savings as collateral.

“It’s a real shame things got to this point,” said one Celsius user contacted on the Reddit platform, who claimed to have over $350,000 (roughly Rs. 2.7 crore) tied up on with the lender.

“Clearly Celsius should have planned for this kind of scenario,” the user added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The devastating sequence started with the sharp decline of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin which lost nearly 60 percent of its value in the past six months.

The plummeting value – which dropped as global inflation accelerated and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rattled the world economy – led to a chain reaction and forced borrowers to provide new financial guarantees or immediately repay loans.

Some borrowers, such as the Singaporean investment firm Three Arrows Capital which is now in liquidation, could not provide the creditors enough cash to cover withdrawals and froze client accounts.

“The majority of these companies had provided uncollateralised or undercollateralised loans,” said Antoni Trenchev, co-founder of Nexo, another crypto platform that he said avoided trouble by following a stricter lending policy and “prudent risk management.”

Unlike banks, these lenders were not required to hold cash in reserve against bad loans.

‘Deep need for regulation’

A handful US states have opened or expanded investigations into Celsius, and some, including Alabama, last year ordered the platform to stop lending to their residents.

“I do expect there to be a very strong crackdown across the board,” Malekan said. “There’s a lot of fodder there for governments to go after.”

Despite the turbulence, most observers expect cryptocurrencies to recover from the current lending trouble and don’t believe this spells an end for loans in the sector.

“It’s not the worst crisis crypto has had,” said Charles Jansen at S&P Global Ratings.

Malekan said the situation offers an opportunity to weed out weaker firms.

“During a bear market, you learn which were the projects that have a core value proposition and solve an actual problem, versus which are the ones that were just a pipe dream.”

Some, like Trenchev, expect a major consolidation in the sector with healthy operators gobbling up those that are struggling.

The episode also has raised awareness of the risks of a lack of government oversight.

“There is a deep need for regulation, which is something that everybody in the field agrees on,” said Jansen, whose company is vying to be recognised as risk assessor in the crypto world.

In the absence of a specific regulatory framework market watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, has been taking the lead but largely with punitive steps.

Several bills have been introduced in the US Congress in recent months that aim to address the need for closer oversight, but a bipartisan Senate proposal from Republican Cynthia Lummis and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has been gaining momentum.

The bill has been well received by the crypto community, especially because it empowers the sector’s preferred regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, over the SEC.

Some critics see the proposal as too accommodating.

“It’s bipartisan in the sense that senators from different parties are giving the crypto industry pretty much what it wants,” tweeted Hilary Allen, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law.

“It gives most jurisdiction over crypto assets to the CFTC, which has no investor protection mandate and far fewer resources than the SEC,” she added.

Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin falls below $19,000 as cryptos creak under rate hike risk

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By: Reuters, Updated September 19, 2022

SINGAPORE, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Cryptocurrencies fell to fresh lows on Monday on regulatory concerns and as investors globally turned shy on risky assets with interest rate rises looming around the world.

Bitcoin , the biggest cryptocurrency by market value, fell about 5% to a three-month low of $18,387.

Ether , the second largest cryptocurrency, dropped 3% to a two-month low of $1,285 and is down more than 10% in the last 24 hours. Most other smaller tokens were deeper in the red.

The Ethereum blockchain, which underpins the ether token, had a major upgrade over the weekend called the Merge that changes the way transactions are processed and cuts energy use.

The token’s value has fallen amid some speculation that remarks last week from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler implied the new structure could attract extra regulation. Trades around the upgrade also were unwound.

“It’s speculation as to what might or might not happen,” said Matthew Dibb, COO of Singapore crypto platform Stack Funds, on the regulatory outlook.

“A lot of the hype has come out of the markets since the Merge,” he said. “It’s really been a sell-the-news type of event,” he added, given the nervous global backdrop, and said ether could test $950 in coming months.

“Looking at the landscape right now, both fundamentally and technically, it’s not looking great. There’s no immediate bullish catalyst that we can see that’s going to prop up these markets and bring in a whole lot of new money and liquidity.”

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Bitcoin once again slips below $20,000

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By: Reuters, September 18, 2022

Sept 18 (Reuters) – Bitcoin on Sunday dropped 1.54% to $19,804, slipping from the 20,000 mark after losing $310 from its previous close.

The world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency is down 58.9% from the year’s high of $48,234 on March 28.

Ether , the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, dropped 3.2 % to $1,422.1 on Sunday, losing $47 from its previous close.

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U.S. seizes $30 mln in crypto from North Korea-linked hackers

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By: Reuters, September 9, 2022

Sept 8 (Reuters) – The United States has seized over $30 million in cryptocurrency stolen by North Korean-linked hackers Lazarus from the popular online game Axie Infinity, crypto intelligence firm Chainalysis said on Thursday.

The company said in a blog post it played a role in the recovery with U.S. law enforcement and other crypto organizations, without naming them, in the first ever recovery of stolen cryptocurrency by a North Korea hacking group.

Chainalysis and North Korea’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The seizures represent about 10% of the total funds stolen in March from Ronin Network, a sidechain built for the play-to-earn game Axie Infinity, Chainalysis said.

Ronin said in March hackers stole about $615 million in cryptocurrency.

“We estimate that so far in 2022, North Korea-linked groups have stolen approximately $1 billion of cryptocurrency from DeFi protocols,” Chainalysis said. He was referring to decentralized finance protocols, an umbrella term for financial services offered on public blockchains.

The U.S Department of Treasury in May sanctioned virtual currency mixer Blender, saying it was used in the laundering process for the Axie Infinity heist.

The Treasury Department in April also linked Lazarus to the attack.

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Crypto gaming firm Animoca Brands raises $110 million

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By: Reuters, September 8, 2022

LONDON, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Hong Kong-based blockchain gaming developer Animoca Brands has raised $110 million from investors, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

The company said the fund raising values the company “similar to its previous funding round” but did not specify its new valuation.

In July, Animoca said it had a valuation of around $5.5 billion. read more

(This story corrects paragraph 1 to read Hong Kong-based not Singapore)

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Binance to convert users’ USDC into its own stablecoin

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By: Reuters, September 6, 2022

Sept 5 (Reuters) – Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, said on Monday it is introducing “BUSD Auto-Conversion,” which will be used to convert any existing user balances and new deposits of USD Coin (USDC), Pax Dollar (USDP) and True USD (TUSD) into its own stablecoin.

The move is intended to enhance liquidity and capital efficiency for users, the company said in a statement.

Binance said it will remove and cease any trading on spot pairs that include USDC, USDP and TUSD; it will start the conversion on Sept. 29.

USDC, which is principally operated by Circle Internet Financial and is the second largest stablecoin, has a nearly $51.9 billion market capitalization. Binance’s stablecoin, BUSD, is valued at about $19.4 billion, according to crypto data provider CoinGecko.

USDC products affected include saving accounts, DeFi staking subscriptions and crypto loans, which will be closed and liquidated on Sept. 23.

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Crypto Exchange FTX Ordered to Halt ‘False and Misleading’ Claims by US Bank Regulator

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 August 2022

A US bank regulator ordered crypto exchange FTX on Friday to halt what it called “false and misleading” claims the exchange had made about whether funds at the company are insured by the government. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said a July tweet by Brett Harrison, head of FTX’s US operations, contained misleading claims that funds held at and stocks purchased through FTX were FDIC insured, and ordered the company to remove any misleading language from its social media accounts and websites.

In the tweet, which Harrison has since deleted, he stated that direct deposits from employers to the crypto exchange are “stored in individually FDIC-insured bank accounts” and that stocks purchased via FTX US “are held in FDIC-insured” brokerage accounts. The FDIC said in its cease and desist letter to FTX US that those statements implied that FDIC insurance was available for cryptocurrency and stock holdings, and that the agency does not insure brokerage accounts.

The order, one of five sent to crypto firms by the FDIC on Friday, comes as regulators have ramped up efforts to police crypto firms that may be misleading investors on whether their funds enjoy a government backstop. The issue has come to a head of late, as turmoil in the crypto market has led to stress and the collapse of some high profile firms.

The bank regulator issued a similar cease and desist letter to bankrupt crypto firm Voyager Digital, arguing that the company had misled customers by claiming their funds with Voyager would be covered by the FDIC. Later, the FDIC issued an advisory urging banks dealing with crypto companies to ensure that customers are aware of what types of assets are government-insured, particularly in cases where firms offer a mix of uninsured crypto products alongside insured bank deposit products.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

In a tweet on Friday, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried emphasised FTX is not FDIC-insured, and apologised if anyone misinterpreted previous comments.

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