At its peak, crypto giant FTX was so big it attracted celebrities like tennis pro Naomi Osaka and actor Larry David to promote its brand. Now its collapse is shining a critical light on the industry — and pulling the stars into a lawsuit, too.
A legal complaint filed this week in Miami accuses now-bankrupt FTX and its CEO Sam Bankman-Fried of deceiving consumers into investing.
The lawsuit, which has yet to be certified, also names 12 celebrity “brand ambassadors” as defendants, including Osaka, David, quarterback Tom Brady, model Giselle Bündchen, basketball player Shaquille O’Neal and Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary.
But the celebrity-studded legal complaint is just one chapter in the saga of Bankman-Fried’s collapsing crypto exchange, which filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11.
The three-year-old empire — FTX, FTX.US and a trading firm called Alameda Research — once valued at $32 billion US, is fast becoming another cautionary crypto tale.
Bankman-Fried has been oscillating from regretful to defiant in tweets posted from his home in the Bahamas, saying he will raise $8 billion to fix FTX and then telling a Vox reporter, “F*** regulators [they] make everything worse.”
The details of the meteoric fall of FTX are emerging in the bankruptcy process.
20) I was on the cover of every magazine, and FTX was the darling of Silicon Valley.<br><br>We got overconfident and careless.
‘Complete failure of controls’
John J. Ray, the new court-appointed CEO of FTX, says he has overseen many corporate failures in his 40-year career, including the liquidation of Enron, but said this week: “Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here.”
London-based crypto blogger David Gerard spoke to CBC’s The Current on Friday and said Bankman-Fried came across as kind of a “nerdy, misunderstood trading genius.”
But behind the scenes bankruptcy filings now show FTX was shuffling money between entities — shoring each up with no backing, said Gerard.
“He knew he was broke. He was going out there nodding and smiling but knew FTX was a dead company,” Gerard told CBC.
As for the celebrity endorsements, Gerard said stars were likely well paid.
“It was a gig,” said Gerard.
And for investors, he said the draw was the promise “you could get rich for free. Who doesn’t want free money?”
FTX appeared strong and solvent, up until November.
But a balance sheet obtained first by the Financial Times and summarized in the Chapter 11 petitions in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware showed FTX had about $1 billion in cash or crypto currency backed by US dollars — which was offset by $9 billion US owed to customers.
Ray, the new court-appointed CEO, calls the FTX situation “unprecedented” and says the company was in the control of a “very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals.”
He calls Bankman-Fried’s ongoing tweets “erratic and misleading public statements.”
All this has left the cryptocurrency industry reeling.
“The more that gets uncovered, the more in awe those of us in the industry are about just how much of a cluster f— … it’s just a complete mess,” said Brian Mosoff, CEO of Toronto-based Ether Capital.
Mosoff says this crash will leave investors fearful.
“You just have this monumental collapse of this enormous and well-respected entity seemingly overnight. Everyone’s a little blindsided,” said Mosoff.
Ironically, the ad Larry David filmed for FTX — in which his character is portrayed as foolish for rejecting crypto — now seems prescient.
The two-minute spot features David as a curmudgeonly character who travels through time, expressing disdain for inventions ranging from the wheel to coffee to the light bulb, insisting they’ll never catch on. At the end of the two-minute spot, he rejects FTX. Now David is accused of being culpable for Americans’ trust in FTX.
Celebs face damaged reputations
Dave Pouliot, lawyer and Montreal founder of Coinmiles, says he’s not sure if actors can be held accountable — but says they may think twice before endorsing another crypto-token-based venture.
“Their personal reputation risk is at stake here. I think these are actors, they’re being paid to endorse a brand publicly. So whether or not they could be found liable from a civil perspective, but reputational damage will be done. They are not likely to appear in another commercial of an investment nature,” said Pouliot.
His company does not take investor money, instead offering bitcoin rebates to users. But Pouliot says he’d like to see the industry moved to regulate itself, building in better protections and education.
Part of the problem with FTX, was how great its founder seemed.
Bankman-Fried is a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics student who had worked at Jane Street, an elite financial firm. After founding FTX he attracted top Silcon Valley investors and donated millions to politicians, pushing for regulatory change.
It was after the rival owner of the world’s largest exchange questioned FTX’s stability that cracks appeared.
There was a three-day panic sell-off costing FTX billions.
Binance head Changpeng Zhao considered buying FTX but fast backtracked, citing regulator concerns. But further industry regulation is futile, says Mosoff.
“You can tick off as many regulatory check boxes and paper filings as you want. If [bad actors] want to do something nefarious, they’ll find a way to do it,” said Mosoff.
Mosoff says the Mount Gox scandal — a Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange that imploded in 2014 — and Quadriga — the exchange whose founder Gerald Cotten died mysteriously in 2018 taking the keys to $250-million in crypto assets to the grave — did not scare people away for good.
He said the FTX saga will hopefully slow the flocks of “get-rich-quick” investors drawn by Bitcoin’s rise from $4,000 to a $70,000 high in 2020.
“People were blindly sending money in to buy these assets,” he said.
In the end, despite volatility, Mosoff believes when all the current drama shakes out, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum will still retain their glitter.
Flair flight from Vancouver overshoots Ontario runway | CTV News – CTV News Vancouver
Vancouver couple Charissa Landicho and Mac Bradley just wanted a quick and cheap getaway, but a turbulent landing was not on their itinerary.
“I was definitely in shock because it was an overnight flight. I woke up, just, ‘What’s going on?'” Landicho said.
“We touched down and we could hear a loud thud. And it lifted up and it (went) down again,” she recalled.
It was a frightening experience for the 134 passengers on the Flair Airlines Boeing 737, which went off the runway just before 6:30 a.m. Friday morning in southern Ontario.
The flight from Vancouver was landing at the Kitchener-Waterloo airport when it overshot the runway and ended up in the grass.
“To me, it felt like we pulled right and then next thing you know, we’re off the tarmac, in the field pretty much, bouncing around, smacking around,” said Bradley.
“We probably went like 50 to 100 metres off the runway,” he continued.
He said their plane tickets cost about $100 each, roundtrip, potentially saving them hundreds by going with the budget airline.
With no announcement or warning, the couple said they were only told to stay put and waited an hour to finally get off the plane.
“It was a little bit questionable because it seemed like nobody really knew what to do on the plane other than just trying to keep calm. So that was a little bit unnerving,” said Bradley.
“And the fact that we just got an automated text after asking us to leave a Google review on our experience was a little satirical,” he added.
In a statement, Flair Airlines said there were no reported injuries and passengers were taken to the terminal by bus.
There is no word on what caused the aircraft to overshoot the runway, but the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has been deployed to investigate.
Black Friday impacted by changing shopping habits – CP24
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, November 26, 2022 2:04PM EST
When Shopify Inc.’s Harley Finkelstein surveys November’s retail landscape, he finds it hard to see where Black Friday stops and Cyber Monday begins.
The annual pre-holiday sales blitzes meant to encourage customers to drop cash on discounted goods have bled together in recent years, with stores extending Black Friday promotions beyond a single day and online retailers offering Cyber Monday deals all week — or all month.
“Black Friday/Cyber Monday used to be a weekend, now it’s more of a season,” said the president of the Ottawa e-commerce giant.
Many in the retail industry feel the divisions will be even more hazy this Cyber Monday as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to reshape shopping habits.
During the pandemic, which saw stores temporarily close and people retreat inside their homes, there was a surge in online shopping.
As measures meant to quell the virus eased, many kept shopping online — but not at the rate some brands anticipated.
“Online shopping grew in popularity, obviously, through the pandemic, but it’s actually fallen off now because people are returning back to the store,” said Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at J.C. Williams Group, a consulting firm.
“E-commerce spending is actually down year-to-date 11.5 per cent.”
The consumer shift back to brick-and-mortar stores blindsided Shopify, which had banked on online shopping continuing to accelerate at pandemic rates.
“It’s now clear that bet didn’t pay off,” chief executive Tobi Lutke said in a July statement announcing the company was laying off 10 per cent of staff as a result of the misjudgment.
The company’s stock traded for as high as $212 in the past year but has averaged closer to $50 in recent days.
So there’s a lot riding on the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.
“Black Friday/Cyber Monday is sort of our Super Bowl,” said Finkelstein. “The culture and the energy at the company is really high right now.”
A survey his company conducted with 24,000 consumers and 9,000 small and medium businesses around the world found 59 per cent of Canadians planned to spend the same amount as or more than last year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. That figure rose to 74 per cent for those between the age of 25 and 34.
Finkelstein finds it hard to predict how the weekend will go, though he suspects it will be very different from last year, when the country was consumed with product shortages and the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
“This Black Friday/Cyber Monday seems far less frantic than last year,” he said. “There are less supply chain issues, more physical stores are open, there’s more inventory. There’s better capacity planning at the shipping companies.”
However, there is a new problem: inflation remains stubbornly high.
Michelle Wasylyshen of the Retail Council of Canada says “consumers tightened their belts a little” in recent months but still plan to spend the same as they did last holiday season, roughly $790.
“The difference this year is that they will be looking for more meaningful or practical gifts,” she wrote in an email. “They might also decrease the number of people they buy for or will give fewer gifts per person, but they do plan to shop.”
Finkelstein also foresees a more measured approach.
“They may not buy five things they have mediocre love for. They may buy two things they deeply want,” said Finkelstein.
“And they may also be thoughtful about how they buy … Is there a discount coming? I’ll wait until Thursday night or until Cyber Monday.”
The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation, which noticed the Monday after Black Friday had delivered a big spike for online sales and traffic in the prior two years.
“We won’t be seeing quite the same spike that we have in the past,” Hutcheson predicted.
Some of that forecast comes from the stretched shopping window but also because some people are going to stick with their pandemic habits of online shopping.
Moneris is predicting Cyber Monday will be the busiest online shopping day, following a trend set in 2019 and 2020. However, Black Friday is still expected to be the busiest day in terms of total transaction count and dollars spent across all mediums.
Hutcheson said the week will play out as an “omnichannel view.”
Omnichannel is an industry term referring to making shopping seamless across online and mobile platforms as well as brick-and-mortar stores.
Finkelstein likes the term because the retail industry “is no longer online versus offline.”
“Saying omnichannel is a strategy will soon be akin to saying colour TV,” he said. “It is the norm and so consumers are shopping everywhere and everywhere.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.
Companies in this story: (TSX:SHOP)
Black Friday sales: Smaller crowds of shoppers reported in Toronto as deals spread over weeks – CP24
Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 25, 2022 9:20AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 25, 2022 2:40PM EST
Canadians hunting for Black Friday deals did so without facing long lines or crowded shopping malls this year, as an extended period of sales and decades-high inflation weighs on consumers and prompts some to rein in spending.
Retailers have stretched deals over several weeks and offered similar discounts online, taking some of the frenzy out of the holiday shopping event.
Several big box stores in the Greater Toronto Area, such as Best Buy and Walmart, lacked the usual early morning lineups that once epitomized Black Friday.
The Eaton Centre in the heart of Toronto appeared busy around lunchtime, but closer to a typical Friday rather than swarming with the crowds and queues seen in previous years. Few stores appeared to have lines of waiting customers.
A busy stretch of the city’s Queen Street West, which includes H&M, Zara, Aritzia and Aldo stores, similarly didn’t show signs of additional shoppers.
“We’re seeing a dilution of Black Friday as a physical shopping event where you go to the store early in the morning,” retail analyst Bruce Winder said Friday.
“It’s finally sort of hit that tipping point where it’s much less about the day and it’s more about the shopping period.”
The elongation of Black Friday sales has lessened the urgency for consumers to shop on one particular day, said Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group.
“The need to line up isn’t as necessary,” she said Friday. “Most of the retailers have been on sale a good portion of the week already.”
Shopper Amanda Ram said she normally comes to the Eaton Centre to check out Black Friday deals, though COVID-19 put a pause on that.
She said she normally tries to hit the mall before the after-work rush, but though it was busy she still noticed it wasn’t as packed as she remembered from before the pandemic – fewer and shorter lines, for one.
Overall Black Friday sales are expected to be strong as inflation intensifies the hunt for deals, experts say.
Yet the rising cost of living will also lead customers to “cherry pick” sales, Winder said.
Ram said she’s being more careful with her money as she shops for the holidays this year. With inflation driving up the price of her mortgage and everyday essentials, she feels less likely to get caught up in the allure of a great deal, and plans to do some online comparison at home before heading back to the mall.
She said she thinks inflation is definitely affecting how many people shop this weekend and heading into the holidays.
“It’s got to be on people’s minds.”
Stores that offer blowout deals of up to 70 per cent off will be busy while retailers with more tepid discounts won’t see the same traffic online or in stores, Winder said.
“If you’re a retailer and you’re trying to move something at 25 or 30 per cent off – it ain’t gonna sell,” he said.
Some retailers, especially those with high levels of inventory such as apparel, will likely offer bigger sales in stores than online.
“If the merchandise is already there and they’re running short on space, they’ll want to turn it into cash – especially if they don’t have room to pack it up and hold it for another year,” Winder said.
Meanwhile, after years of pandemic health restrictions, shopping in brick-and-mortar stores is expected to make a comeback this holiday season, including on Black Friday.
“We continue to see increased levels and excitement for in-person shopping across all our 18 shopping centres,” Sal Iacono, executive vice-president of operations for Cadillac Fairview, said in an emailed statement.
The company, which operates a number of malls across the country including the Eaton Centre in Toronto and the Pacific Centre in Vancouver, has seen retailers extend promotions over a longer period of time but still expects Black Friday to be a big shopping day, he said.
“We anticipate Black Friday to be one of the busiest shopping days at all our retail centres and we are looking forward to continuing to see the prolonged momentum throughout the entire season,” Iacono said.
Still, while some Canadians are eager to return to in-person shopping, others now prefer to do their holiday gift-buying online.
Bradley Thompson of Oakville, Ont., said he plans to do all his Christmas shopping on Black Friday – but won’t be stepping foot in a store.
“I’m not a big in-store shopper. I’m a real millennial in the sense that I’ll be doing all my shopping online,” he said.
“As a personal challenge, I try to get all of my Christmas shopping done during the Black Friday sales.”
He usually checks the sales at the big players like Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy, but Thompson said he’s increasingly also shopping at Etsy and smaller local businesses online.
Overall, he said the Black Friday deals he’s come across are good – but not great.
“The discounts don’t seem to be quite as steep as they used to be but they run them a little bit longer,” Thompson said.
“Inflation is crazy right now though, so every little bit I can save helps.”
– With files from Rosa Saba in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.
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