What Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder and CEO of FTX, did with the help of his colleagues, was to create their own magic money creation tool. It was a crypto token called FTT and was backed by nothing more than the hyped reputation of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. In that sense, it traded much like the “stock” of FTX.
And much like the price of debt on Wall Street was levitated by the Fed’s $8 trillion buying binge over a decade, the price of FTT soared through a buying binge by FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s own hedge fund, Alameda Research. FTT’s price went from less than $4 in December 2020 to more than $84 in September 2021 – a 2,000 percent gain in less than a year. (And all those sophisticated institutional investors in FTX didn’t find that suspicious?) This morning FTT is trading at $1.61 – despite the fact that some very sophisticated investors in FTX have written down their investment to zero.
CNBC explains what was going on with the FTT token as follows:
“The source explained that Alameda could post the FTT tokens it held as collateral and borrow customer funds. Even if FTX created more FTT tokens, it would not drive down the coin’s value because these coins never made it onto the open market. As a result, these tokens held their market value, allowing Alameda to borrow against them – essentially receiving free money to trade with.
“FTX had been able to sustain this pattern as long as it maintained the price of FTT and there was not a flood of customer withdrawals on the exchange. In the week leading up to the bankruptcy filing, FTX did not have enough assets to match customer withdrawals, the source said.”
— Nobody Special (@JG_Nuke) November 11, 2022
Reuters reported that Bankman-Fried had moved as much as $10 billion of FTX customers’ money to his hedge fund, Alameda Research, through a “backdoor” in its software. Alameda lost much of the money on wild bets while $1 billion to $2 billion had just “disappeared,” according to Reuters.
The Financial Times reported that FTX held just $900 million “in easily sellable assets” against $9 billion “of liabilities the day before it collapsed into bankruptcy.” CoinDesk reported that a significant amount of the assets listed at Alameda were FTT tokens.
Creating money out of thin air always ends badly. So what happens when government paper currency and the bank’s dark trading pools come unstuck, like Sam Bankman-Fried’s little FTX? That almost happened in 2008 (the GFC). It’s essentially different from FTX only in scale. It is the root source for the creeping corruption in the West — something-for-nothing always corrupts.