One of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, FTX, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US amid warnings the embattled industry faces a 2008-style crisis.
FTX’s founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, also resigned as chief executive after a precipitous fall from grace that began last week with reports about the financial structure of his crypto empire.
In a statement, FTX said a range of related businesses including its US-based exchange and Alameda Research, a trading firm also owned by Bankman-Fried, had filed for chapter 11 proceedings in the US state of Delaware “in order to begin an orderly process to review and monetise assets for the benefit of all global stakeholders”.
Also included in the bankruptcy filing were “approximately 130” further businesses that made up the sprawling FTX group, a network of associated companies tied together through subsidiaries, contractual agreements, and the shared figurehead of Bankman-Fried himself.
CNBC reported that the bankruptcy filing showed FTX has more than 100,000 creditors, assets in the range of $10bn to $50bn as well as liabilities of between $10bn and $50bn. The volume of trades at FTX so far this year was $627bn, according to the crypto website CoinGecko, placing it in the top five exchanges with industry leader Binance on $4.9tn.
The FTX statement added that Bankman-Fried, 30, had resigned as chief executive, and would be replaced by John J Ray III, an American lawyer who previously rose to prominence when he was appointed in 2004 to oversee the liquidation of Enron, the Texas energy company that collapsed in 2001 after massive financial fraud was exposed.
“I’m piecing together all of the details, but I was shocked to see things unravel the way they did earlier this week,” Bankman-Fried tweeted on Friday. “I will, soon, write up a more complete post on the play by play, but I want to make sure that I get it right when I do.”
As of Friday morning, Bloomberg terminals were reporting Bankman-Fried’s wealth as down “100%” from $16.2bn earlier this year, with his current net worth estimated at $3.
On Thursday, the Bahamas securities regulator froze the assets of the Bahamas subsidiary of FTX. The islands’ Securities Commission said it had frozen the assets of FTX Digital Markets and related parties, as well appointing a liquidator for the unit.
There were also signs on Friday of knock-on effects from FTX’s struggles. BlockFi, a crypto lender, said it was pausing customer withdrawals. FTX had bailed out BlockFi in June with a $250m loan, a week after having loaned almost $500m to the struggling crypto broker Voyager Digital. BlockFi said it was “not able to operate business as usual” given the situation.
Bitcoin, the cornerstone crypto asset, fell by up to 7% to $16,361 on the bankruptcy news, close to Thursday’s two-year low. The crypto market reached a peak of $3tn last year but is now trading at about $850bn.
On Friday, Changpeng Zhao, the founder of FTX’s rival Binance, warned the crypto market faced a 2008-style crisis with more failures to come. Speaking before FTX filed for chapter 11 protection, he told a conference in Indonesia that the global financial crisis was “probably an accurate analogy” to this week’s events, the Financial Times reported.
“The events of the past week have precipitated a Lehman Brothers moment for the entire crypto economy,” said Carol Alexander, a professor of finance at the University of Sussex.
The contagion could last for weeks, with many other firms going bankrupt.”
FTX’s fall from the top of the crypto industry started last week when reports emerged that the balance sheet of Alameda was loaded with billions of dollars worth of FTT, the exchange’s crypto token, implying that both businesses were vulnerable to a decline in the token’s value.
A declaration on Sunday by Binance, the world’s biggest crypto exchange, that it was selling its FTT holdings was followed by a bank-style run on FTX as customers rushed to withdraw a reported $6bn in 72 hours.
As the company faltered under the weight of withdrawal requests, others in the industry turned on FTX. Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload, shared a text message from the attorney Ira Rothken, alleging that FTX was being investigated for failing to prevent US-based customers from trading on its offshore exchange.
In a statement on Thursday, Bankman-Fried admitted he had “fucked up”, but said that the US branch of FTX, which is ringfenced from the much larger unregulated offshore exchange, was unaffected by the troubles.
“This is all about FTX International, the non-US exchange,” he wrote, originally in all caps. “FTX US users are fine!”
Now, however, the heavily regulated American exchange has joined its corporate siblings in bankruptcy proceedings.