Crypto exchange FTX valued at $32 billion amid bitcoin price plunge

Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, Florida, on June 5, 2021.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Cryptocurrency exchange FTX saw its valuation swell to $ 32 billion in a new funding round announced Monday, highlighting continued appetite for the sector even as investors grow wary about a sharp pullback in crypto prices.

The Bahamas-based company said Monday that it raised $ 400 million in a Series C financing round – its third fundraise in the last nine months.

FTX, which offers derivatives products as well as spot trading, is one of the world’s largest digital currency exchanges. Once an obscure name, the firm has become a key player in the nascent market, rivaling the likes of Coinbase and Binance.

The company does not offer trading in the United States. That function is provided by FTX US, its sister exchange. Last week, FTX US announced a $ 400 million investment valuing the firm at $ 8 billion.

FTX said all investors in the US affiliate, which included Singaporean state investor Temasek, SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and Tiger Global, jumped aboard for its own fundraise.

Having now raised a combined $ 2 billion in venture funding to date, FTX has built up a war chest at a time when digital currency prices have sunk considerably. Bitcoin is down 46% from its November record of almost $ 69,000, while other cryptocurrencies have slumped even further.

That’s led to fears the market may be on the cusp of a more severe downturn known as “crypto winter.” The last such occurrence happened in late 2017 and early 2018, when bitcoin tanked as much as 80% from its then-record high. Bear markets are typically bad news for crypto exchanges as it means volumes tend to dry up.

“I think we’re not entering a long term crypto winter,” Sam Bankman-Fried, FTX’s CEO and co-founder, told CNBC in an interview.

“There have been changes in expectations of interest rates, and that’s been moving crypto markets. But it’s been moving markets more generally as well.”

Indeed, stocks have taken a battering in recent weeks, with the Nasdaq down 11% year-to-date as investors reevaluate tech stocks amid concerns over higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve. Coinbase, FTX’s publicly-listed rival, has seen its shares slide 46% since debuting on the Nasdaq last April.

Asked whether his company could seek an initial public offering, Bankman-Fried said “it’s something we’ve been talking about.”

“I’m not sure whether we will. I could see it happening, I could see it not happening. We do not feel like we have any particular need to do it.”

However, he said the firm will “try and be prepared, in case it’s something we do end up wanting to do.” Such preparations would include audited accounts and a review of possible listing options, he added.

While the crypto market has seen seismic growth over the past couple of years, regulators have become increasingly wary about digital assets, concerned about their use in scams and other illicit activity.

A large focus for FTX, Bankman-Fried said, is acquiring licenses in several countries. Its US arm is now authorized to sell derivatives products such as futures and options, which allow investors to speculate on movements in the price of an asset. Bankman-Fried said FTX’s international business will be licensed across “the bulk of the Western world” by the end of this year.

The company plans to use the fresh funds to continue developing new products. FTX last year launched a marketplace for trading non-fungible tokens – the crypto world’s answer to collectible items – and is now starting to license its software to other businesses in the realms of fintech and gaming, Bankman-Fried said.

FTX said its user base grew 60% since October 2021, when it last raised money at a $ 25 billion valuation, while daily trading volumes rose 40% to an average of $ 14 billion. The company recently established a $ 2 billion venture fund to invest in crypto start-ups.

Who is Sam Bankman-Fried?

FTX was founded almost three years ago by Bankman-Fried and fellow co-founder Gary Wang.

While Bankman-Fried may have started his career as a trader at the Wall Street firm Jane Street, the crypto boss is not your typical finance executive. He lives on a vegan diet, wears t-shirts and shorts, and is based in a sunny island country.

He does, however, share one similarity with traditional financial types: long working hours. Bankman-Fried previously said he functions on as little as four hours of sleep a night. He says he sleeps “a bit more” now, but “not a ton.”

FTX’s latest investment places it among the most valuable private crypto start-ups globally. At just 29, Bankman-Fried is one of the richest people in crypto, having amassed a net worth of over $ 22 billion, according to Forbes. With his shares now worth more, that figure is likely to be even higher.

Bankman-Fried built an early fortune trading bitcoin at his quantitative trading firm Alameda Research. He used arbitrage, a trading strategy where investors look to profit from a divergence in prices for the same asset across different exchanges.

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