A year ago Thursday, the first domino fell that led to the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried's crypto empire.
On Nov. 2, 2022, CoinDesk published a now-award-winning scoop that revealed Bankman-Fried's trading firm Alameda Research was mysteriously brimming with FTT tokens issued by his FTX exchange. It was the first sign that Alameda and FTX were more closely intertwined than Bankman-Fried had let on and that he was in a financially precarious position, but that wasn't the half of it. As was learned later, Alameda and Bankman-Fried allegedly – and, according to prosecutors, improperly – took FTX customers' money for their own use.
But what about FTX the company? It's still in bankruptcy court. Matrixport, a crypto financial services company, estimated in September that the company's reorganization would on average return 37 cents on the dollar to creditors – which seems surprisingly high, given how dire things looked a year ago when the company was in freefall, customers were scrambling to get their money and the company infamously got hacked hours after its Chapter 11 filing.
And that recovery estimate could even be conservative. For instance, the value of the bankruptcy estate grew by around $1 billion over the past two weeks thanks to a massive rally in the price of the Solana blockchain's native token SOL, a cryptocurrency and project championed by Bankman-Fried.
FTX holds some 55.8 million SOL tokens, the majority of which (42.2 million) are locked up and not immediately tradable on the market, according to CoinGecko. Last month, reports emerged about FTX's holdings in the form of an official debtor venture portfolio, which pegged the SOL holdings at a market value of $1.16 billion. But since then, SOL has risen from around $20 per token to around $40 now.
'Amazing to think about SOL'
"It's amazing to think about SOL here," said Thomas Braziel, CEO of 117 Partners, which advises investors on buying distressed assets.
There are $10 billion of customer claims against the company, said Braziel, who expects them to recover at least 80% of their money – in other words, they'd lose out on $2 billion or so. But if SOL's price gets to $50 to $60, that "leads to 100%+ certainty for creditors," he said.
And the secondary effects are "huge," Braziel added. "Creditors like the Voyager estate, for instance, would start to be in the money."
That said, FTX's SOL holdings only start to unlock next year, and the majority of the tokens are frozen until 2027 or 2028.
"This is great, but it's not entirely straightforward because a lot of the solana is locked," Braziel said. "Some of it is being moved around, being staked and perhaps there are plans to explore selling some of it. Just like with Anthropic, it's fantastic news, but the estate has to get liquid on this stuff."
The Anthropic that Braziel mentioned is an artificial intelligence startup that Bankman-Fried bankrolled. Anthropic has recently enjoyed a wave of funding from the likes of Amazon and Google that has boosted its valuation and, presumably, the value of FTX's stake.
There have also been discussions about reopening the FTX exchange to squeeze out more money for creditors.
Against all odds and despite the allegations of misdeeds, FTX's fortunes have turned around massively even as Bankman-Fried's personal situation has worsened: Jurors could start deliberating his fate as soon as Thursday, the anniversary of the CoinDesk story that undid him.
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