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New FTX CEO describes 'unprecedented' financial disaster – The Globe and Mail

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Former FTX CEO chief executive Samuel Bankman-Fried in Washington on Nov. 13. A restructuring expert who has taken over as chief executive officer of cryptocurrency exchange says he has never in his 40-year career seen ‘such a complete failure of corporate controls.’STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

John Ray, the restructuring expert who has taken over as chief executive officer of beleaguered cryptocurrency exchange FTX Ltd., says he has never in his 40-year career seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information.”

Mr. Ray has cleaned up multiple failures in his time, from Enron Corp. to Nortel Networks Corp. But, he asserted Thursday in an FTX filing in U.S. bankruptcy court, “From compromised systems integrity and faulty regulatory oversight abroad, to the concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals, this situation is unprecedented.”

Mr. Ray’s findings came just days after he became head of FTX on Nov. 11. However, any signs the crypto company was deficient in financial controls and disclosure appear to have eluded major investors for years. That includes the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which put US$95-million into Bahamas-based FTX over two rounds of investment, in October, 2021, and this past January, through its Teachers’ Venture Growth arm.

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In a statement to The Globe and Mail late Thursday, Teachers spokesperson Dan Madge said the fund will write down its investment in FTX to zero by year-end. Teachers conducts “robust due diligence on all private investments,” he said, describing the general process.

“Supported by experienced, external consultants with financial, commercial, and other relevant expertise, and often in consultation with investment partners, due diligence is designed to use company-provided materials and other research to assess the risk related to a specific investment,” he said.

“In FTX’s case, our underwriting process included working closely with third-party advisors and FTX to explore commercial, regulatory, tax, financial, technical and other matters,” Mr. Madge said. “Recent reports suggest potential fraud conducted at FTX which is deeply concerning for all parties. We fully support the efforts of regulators and others to review the risks and causes of failure for this business.”

Teachers did not provide details about the exact timing of its due diligence on FTX, nor any details about its particular findings from the process.

“We are disappointed with the outcome of this investment, take all losses seriously and will use this experience to further strengthen our approach,” Mr. Madge said.

Temasek Holdings Ltd., Singapore’s state investment fund, issued a lengthy statement on Thursday that recognized the “learnings” it will take away from the “inherent risks” of its US$275-million investment in FTX, all of which it is now writing off.

As FTX’s ties in Canada grew, was due diligence done by regulators and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan?

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Temasek said it conducted a nearly eight-month-long due diligence process on FTX that ended in October, 2021, for which it reviewed audited financial statements and sought advice from legal and cybersecurity specialists in an unspecified number of jurisdictions. It also gathered “qualitative feedback” on FTX by interviewing people “familiar with the company, including employees, industry participants and other investors.”

Temasek found that FTX was profitable, it said. “We recognise that while our due diligence processes may mitigate certain risks, it is not practicable to eliminate all risks.”

“It is apparent from this investment that perhaps our belief in the actions, judgment and leadership of Sam Bankman-Fried, formed from our interactions with him and views expressed in our discussions with others, would appear to have been misplaced.”

Mr. Ray says he has brought in multiple law firms and other professionals to help him administer the affairs of FTX, which he placed into bankruptcy. Part of his job is responding to regulators who are investigating Mr. Bankman-Fried, the FTX founder and former CEO.

In the bankruptcy filing, Mr. Ray describes FTX as a set of interrelated companies with no central cash-management system, missing financial statements for a number of its businesses and an expense-payment system in which executives approved expenses via chatroom emojis.

Mr. Bankman-Fried, the child of two Stanford Law School professors, “often communicated by using applications that were set to auto-delete after a short period of time, and encouraged employees to do the same,” Mr. Ray said. That resulted in an absence of decision-making records, “one of the most pervasive failures of the FTX.com business.”

Now, under Mr. Ray’s leadership, the FTX companies “are writing things down,” he said.

Mr. Ray said companies in two of FTX’s business lines received audit opinions from Armanino LLP, a 70-year-old California firm that he’s familiar with.

The auditing firm for the exchanges doing business as FTX.com was Prager Metis, “a firm with which I am not familiar,” Mr. Ray said, “and whose website indicates that they are the ‘first-ever CPA firm to officially open its Metaverse headquarters in the metaverse platform Decentraland.’”

New York City-based Prager Metis says it traces its roots back 100 years and has more than 100 partners and 24 offices. Neither Prager Metis nor Armanino responded to e-mails from The Globe requesting comment.

“I have substantial concerns as to the information presented in these audited financial statements,” Mr. Ray said, referring to Prager Metis. He said neither FTX stakeholders nor the bankruptcy court should rely on the financials “as a reliable indication of the financial circumstances” of those parts of FTX’s business.

Mr. Ray said under his leadership at FTX so far, he has not been able to locate any audited financial statements for Alameda Research LLC, an affiliated trading firm and hedge fund run by Mr. Bankman-Fried, or a number of venture-investment companies affiliated with FTX.

FTX was funnelling customer assets worth nearly US$10-billion to Alameda, The Wall Street Journal and crypto publication CoinDesk first reported last week.

Mr. Ray said in the filing that FTX Group’s “unacceptable management practices” included “the use of software to conceal the misuse of customer funds” as well as a secret exemption of the Alameda hedge fund from certain FTX.com protocols.

Mr. Ray also said FTX “did not have the type of disbursement controls that I believe are appropriate for a business enterprise,” describing how employees submitted payment requests through an online chat platform, on which supervisors “approved disbursements by responding with personalized emojis.”

Mr. Ray also said he understands that FTX corporate funds were used to purchase homes in the Bahamas and other personal items for employees and advisers. For some transactions, “there does not appear to be documentation that they were loans.”

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A shortage of pilots is making travel chaos in Canada even worse – CBC News

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From pandemic-related travel restrictions to extreme weather events, Canada’s travel industry has navigated an unprecedented amount of uncertainty of late. And now, just as demand for travel has returned to its 2019 level, airlines are navigating their next patch of turbulence: a lack of qualified pilots.

According to Transport Canada, in a typical pre-pandemic year, roughly 1,100 pilot licences were issued. When complemented by foreign-trained pilots, that was generally more than enough to satisfy the needs of carriers as large as WestJet and Air Canada, all the way down to regional, charter and cargo airlines.

But as demand for flying collapsed in 2020, so did the number of new pilots getting their paperwork. Government data shows less than 500 licences were awarded in 2020, a figure that fell to less than 300 in 2021 and just 238 last year.

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The department told CBC News in a statement that while labour shortages in the airline sector has been “identified as a priority area for action,” there are no current plans to loosen regulations. But the agency says it’s doing what it can to “increase the competitiveness of the Canadian flight training industry as well as improve the viability of aviation careers to address any shortages.”

Whatever changes do come will do little to help anyone in the short term, and travellers are already seeing the impact of the industry’s current labour crunch.

Staff shortages were a factor in charter airline Sunwing’s cancellation of 67 flights over the last two weeks of December, along with extreme weather.

Salaries for experienced pilots generally go up faster and higher at the major airlines than they do at most others, they are so typically able to have their pick among those available. That causes shortages just about everywhere else.

The head of the Air Transport Association of Canada says it’s a problem that had been brewing for many years, even before the pandemic.

“We haven’t had enough pilots for a long time, mostly at the regional level,” John McKenna said.

Long, expensive process

Getting a commercial licence is the last step in a multi-year process of becoming a pilot, a journey that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years.

In Canada, for many that journey ends with a dream job at either WestJet or Air Canada, but because of the expense and time commitment of training a new pilot, the major airlines often hire top staff from smaller carriers instead of methodically developing their own.

“Their fishing grounds is the regional carriers. And the regional carriers go down to the smaller carriers, air taxi groups … those levels have been hurting for many years,” McKenna said.

Canada’s two biggest airlines told CBC News in emailed statements that while there is indeed a higher than normal demand for pilots right now, both of them are managing to meet their needs.

“As a large global carrier operating the most modern, largest aircraft, we are a very desirable destination for talented pilots,” AIr Canada said. “As a result, we are able to attract pilots as required.”

“We have and continue to responsibly manage and plan our operations to meet the anticipated demand of our guests and are fully staffed across our network to support our operation,” WestJet said.

That’s not the case for everyone else. Small airlines often have so few pilots on staff that it doesn’t take the loss of very many to stop planes from flying.

Dave Boston
Dave Boston is a licensed pilot and also runs a job board to help other pilots find work. (Dave Boston)

In the fall, Sunwing applied to bring in more than 60 temporary foreign workers to meet demand for pilots, but that application was rejected, which exacerbated the chaos seen at the end of 2022. The airline has since cancelled almost all flights out of Saskatchewan and most out of Manitoba for the rest of the winter travel season.

Pandemic reduced numbers, too

It’s not just the big boys gobbling up all the qualified pilots, either. Many simply left the profession during the pandemic.

“Two years ago, to the day, literally almost every pilot [was] out of work,” says Dave Boston, a pilot with 25 years experience who’s also the man behind Edmonton-based aviation job board, Pilot Career Centre.

Faced with furloughs and layoffs at airlines big and small, many pilots tried to wait it out, but many simply moved on, he told CBC News in an interview.

“Many who had businesses or other interests, after maybe six months to a year, had to put food on the table, and they left the industry,” Boston said.

For the pilots who are left, headhunting is the new normal. He says he hears from desperate airlines every day, because they either can’t find the staff, or just lost yet another one. “It’s very common for pilots, unfortunately, to work there for six months [then] get a surprise interview that they don’t expect to get, and then they’re gone,” he said.

“It’s a real challenge right now.”

Zona Savic, right, listens to her instructor inside the cockpit of a flight simulator unit at Seneca College. Savic has long dreamt of being a pilot, and a lack of qualified flyers means she should have plenty of job prospects once she graduates.
Zona Savic, right, listens to her instructor inside the cockpit of a flight simulator unit at Seneca College. Savic has long dreamt of being a pilot, and a lack of qualified flyers means she should have plenty of job prospects once she graduates. (Shawn Benjamin/CBC)

One person hoping to meet that challenge is Zona Savic, a soon-to-be graduate of one of Canada’s premier aviation schools, Seneca College in Peterborough, Ont.

While she had planned to go into engineering, she joined the Air Cadets while in high school, and was quickly bitten by the aviation bug.

“I just knew from the moment that I was in that plane, this is what I was going to do,” she told CBC News in an interview.

She’s on track to get her pilot’s licence soon, and while she may do additional training to become an instructor herself, she says it’s a load off her mind to know that she won’t have to worry about finding a job.

And even better for the industry, she has no qualms about working her way up at smaller carriers flying niche, remote routes.

” I just love the feeling of flying, so if that’s what I’m doing, I don’t really care if I’m in Paris, or in Nunavut,” she says. “Anything is good for me, as long as I get to experience that.”

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Q4 economic growth slows to 1.6% as aggressive hikes bite – BNN Bloomberg

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Canada’s economy geared down at the end of 2022, growing at about half the pace of the third quarter and setting the stage for a period of little to no growth.

Preliminary data suggest gross domestic product was flat in December as increases in retail, utilities and the public sector were offset by decreases in the wholesale, finance and oil and gas industries, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in Ottawa. That followed a 0.1 per cent gain in November, which matched economist expectations in a Bloomberg survey, and a 0.1 per cent increase in October.

Overall, the monthly gains point to annualized growth in the fourth quarter of 1.6 per cent, according to an initial estimate from the statistics agency. Though it will likely be revised, it’s down sharply from a 2.9 per cent pace in the third quarter, 3.2 per cent during April to June, and 2.8 per cent in the first three months of last year.

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The numbers show that higher interest rates, which have jumped 425 basis points since last March, are slowing economic activity and weighing on consumption. The lagged effects of the Bank of Canada’s aggressive tightening campaign are expected to drag growth to a halt this year, with economists seeing two quarters of shallow contraction in the first half of 2023.

That’s a key reason why Governor Tiff Macklem and his officials said this month they plan to hold the benchmark overnight lending rate at 4.5 per cent if growth and inflation evolve broadly in line with their outlook. While the 1.6 per cent growth in the final quarter is slightly stronger than policymakers forecast last week, signs of slowing demand are mounting.

“The economy hasn’t yet absorbed the impact of past rate hikes,” James Orlando, an economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said in a report to investors. “Even though today’s growth numbers are holding up well, the BoC can feel comfortable keeping its policy on cruise control a little while longer.”

In November, growth in services-producing industries was partially offset by a decline in the goods sectors, the statistics agency said. Interest-rate increases continued to dampen activity for real estate agents and brokers, residential building construction, and legal services which have been trending downward since spring.

Construction dropped 0.7 per cent, with new construction of single detached homes and home improvement leading the decline. Accommodation and food services contracted 1.4 per cent on lower activity in bars and restaurants. Retail trade decreased 0.6 per cent, with the food and beverage subsector falling to its lowest level since April 2018.

The central bank expected fourth-quarter growth of 1.3 per cent annualized, while economists in Bloomberg surveys predicted a gain of 0.9 per cent. Official data for December and the fourth quarter will be released Feb. 28.

Based on initial estimates, Canada’s economy expanded 3.8 per cent in 2022, broadly in line the Bank of Canada’s estimate for a 3.6 per cent growth.

“The overriding message is that the economy is just managing to keep its head above water, which squarely fits with the BoC’s view,” Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said in a report to investors.

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Nike sues Lululemon, says footwear infringes patents

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Nike sued Lululemon Athletica on Monday, saying that at least four of the Canadian athletic apparel company’s footwear products infringe its patents.

Nike in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said it has suffered economic harm and irreparable injury from Lululemon’s sale of its Blissfeel, Chargefeel Low, Chargefeel Mid and Strongfeel footwear.

Nike said its three patents at issue concern textile and other elements, including one addressing how the footwear will perform when force is applied.

The Beaverton, Oregon-based company is seeking unspecified damages.

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Lululemon, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Christopher Cushing) 

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