Coinbase rival FTX U.S. valued at $8 billion in first funding round

Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder and chief executive officer of FTX, in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Lam Yik | Bloomberg | Getty Images

FTX U.S., the American affiliate of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, said Wednesday it has raised $400 million in its first external fundraising round.

The investment gives FTX U.S. a valuation of $8 billion, placing it among the world’s most valuable private crypto firms. Investors in the round include Temasek, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2.

The deal shows that start-up investors’ confidence in the nascent digital asset industry hasn’t been shaken, even as the prices of bitcoin and other tokens have fallen sharply.

Bitcoin and ether, the world’s two biggest virtual currencies, have both roughly halved in value since reaching record highs in November, while smaller tokens like solana and cardano have suffered even steeper declines.

The slump has led some to fear a more dramatic downturn known as “crypto winter” could be on its way. Brett Harrison, president of FTX U.S., said the market turbulence shows how crypto is a “volatile asset class.”

“Volatility cuts both ways,” he said. “With all of the large upturns that we’ve seen in crypto, we have to expect that there are going to be downturns as well. And we’re definitely in that period right now.”

Harrison said the phenomenon is “not specific to crypto” — stock markets have taken a tumble as well. “I think that we are going to eventually see a bounce back,” he added.

FTX was set up in Hong Kong in 2019 by 29-year-old crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried. The wider company, recently valued by investors at $25 billion, has since moved its headquarters to the Bahamas.

Bankman-Fried established FTX U.S. as the American sister to distinguish it from his main exchange, as officials in Washington began taking a closer look at the digital currency market. Trading launched on the platform in May 2020.

In a trading update Wednesday, FTX U.S. said average daily volumes on its platform grew sevenfold in 2021, peaking at more than $800 million in November after bitcoin notched a record high of almost $69,000.

The company facilitated more than $67 billion in spot crypto trades last year. It now has around 1.2 million registered users in total.

FTX U.S. hopes the investment will help it gain an edge over rivals like Coinbase and Robinhood. Like FTX, the company is making a push into derivatives — contracts that allow investors to speculate on the performance of an asset. It acquired LedgerX, a crypto futures and options exchange, in October.

Harrison says the U.S. market for crypto derivatives pales in comparison to the international marketplace. Investors see that there’s “an enormous opportunity for us to bring much of that volume onshore,” he added.

Coinbase is looking to make similar moves beyond spot trading, agreeing a deal to buy derivatives exchange FairX earlier this month.

Regulation is coming

Still, regulators are growing concerned by the rapid rise of the crypto industry. They fear certain aspects of the market may pose the threat of contagion across financial markets, and that consumers are getting into crypto investments without knowing the risks involved.

President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly expected to deliver an executive order calling for regulation of digital assets as early as next month.

Harrison said officials in Washington have two primary concerns with crypto — stablecoins and oversight of exchanges.

Digital currencies like tether and Circle’s USD Coin are meant to be pegged to the U.S. dollar, but it’s not that simple. Tether has admitted its reserves include short-term debt obligations and other assets as well as dollars. And, up until recently, USD Coin’s reserves had included assets other than cash and U.S. government bonds.

Meanwhile, crypto exchanges are currently regulated in the U.S. as money transfer businesses. Harrison says that’s “not a sustainable long-term future” and wants stricter oversight with rules against market manipulation, a major source of concern in the crypto market.


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