(Bloomberg) -- Sam Bankman-Fried, chief executive of digital asset exchange FTX, said his efforts to bail out companies during the crypto market downturn have had “mixed” results.
The 30-year-old billionaire engineered deals worth about $1 billion to backstop struggling companies after the prices of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin declined sharply in the spring and summer. Not all of these bailouts had a happy ending, Bankman-Fried said in an interview on Bloomberg’s “David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations.”
“I think some were going to turn out to be profitable, some won't be,” Bankman-Fried said. “We had to make snap judgment calls.”
He pointed to a deal struck in June with troubled crypto lender Voyager Digital Ltd. as one that went badly. Alameda Research, the crypto trading firm that Bankman-Fried founded, offered a $485 million loan to Voyager, but it wasn’t enough to keep the company from filing for bankruptcy in July.
Bankman-Fried said he had higher hopes for other deals he was involved with, including one with BlockFi Inc. FTX US, the American affiliate of FTX, agreed to provide a $400 million revolving credit facility to BlockFi and gained the option to buy the crypto lending platform outright.
BlockFi had “just sort of burned through their runway, had a functional business with a strong team and just needed more cash to be able to operate effectively going forward,” Bankman-Fried said.
He said his backstopping, which earned him comparisons to John Pierpont Morgan in the 1907 banking crisis, was fueled in part by FTX’s profitability and fundraising, and had the ultimate goal of supporting companies in the industry, rather than only “maximizing on deals.”
In the interview, Bankman-Fried said he often goes to Washington to lobby Congress on behalf of the crypto industry. There are still big questions about whether the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will claim authority over the crypto space. Bankman-Fried said he’d be fine with either regulator taking charge.
“What we've tried really hard to do over the last year is get the industry to a place where it is happy to accept sensible regulation,” he said, noting that he believes tensions have cooled somewhat between regulators and the digital currency companies.
As for the crypto winter, even as the price of Bitcoin has slipped below $20,000, he noted that things could have been worse. He said he isn’t “super worried” about the industry imploding anytime soon.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
For more insights from the biggest names in business and philanthropy, watch “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg Television.David Rubenstein: When tech stocks and cryptocurrencies began to decline in May, did you get nervous?
Sam Bankman-Fried: Not super nervous. It was definitely going to be a rocky road for the industry, and you saw some businesses blow up when Bitcoin hit $20,000. If we saw things melt down much further than they did, if we saw NASDAQ drop 30%, 40% from here and Bitcoin go down to $10,000 per token, I think you would see another round of pain for the industry that would potentially be more of a medium- to long-term problem.
When this was going on, did you calculate your net worth every hour going down?
I tried not to. So if you just pretend that nothing has moved, then you can wish away all the problems.
You were called the J.P. Morgan of crypto after bailing out companies. Does that bother you?
It doesn't bother me too much. I think it’s something I thought was the right thing for the industry. And, you know, our very explicit mandate that we sort of gave to the team of people working on this was, “Your goal is not to make a fortune for us doing this.”
Like, “Your goal is to do OK deals. Your goal is for us to not get our faces ripped off.” But contingent on that, you know, do as much as we can to bail out the industry, and the higher goal was trying to backstop places rather than maximizing on these deals. I would’ve loved other people to do it. I think it would’ve been great.
Were those investments profitable?
Mixed is basically the answer. I think some were going to turn out to be profitable, some won’t be. I mean, with Voyager, I think there’s $70 million there that we put in that I’m not sure we’re ever seeing again.
And so we had to make snap judgment calls, and we made them such that if things turned out well, they’d be good investments, and if they turned out badly, they’d be bad investments. But we sort of limited the amount that we could lose from it.
The crypto industry seems to want to be regulated by the CFTC, and some people want the SEC to be the principal regulator. Do you have a view on this?
So in the end, both are going to be regulators. And, you know, the CFTC is going to regulate commodity futures, so it’s going to regulate very likely futures on tokens that are not securities. The SEC is very likely going to end up regulating spot security token markets.
And there’s some territory in between there. When you look at spot commodity markets, when you look at what security token futures might look like, those may end up as joint regimes; they may end up in one place or the other. In principle, I'm fine with either regulator or any combination of them. I think that the non-security token aspect of this is a nice fit for the CFTC’s regime.
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