Long stories short
- Ukraine’s Zelensky visited the liberated city of Kherson, saying Ukraine was ready for “peace for all our country”.
- Paris overtook London as Europe’s biggest equities market in terms of primary listings’ market capitalisations.
- Jeff Bezos gave Dolly Parton, a vaccination advocate as well as singer, $100 million for her “courage and civility”.
This time last week Sam Bankman-Fried was notionally worth $16 billion as founder of a global crypto exchange and a derivatives trading company whose assets, he insisted, were “fine”.
- bankrupt, along with 130 of the companies he founded;
- probably worthless; and
- apparently considered a flight risk in the Bahamas, where he was rumoured at the weekend to be considering a dash to Dubai in his private jet. Dubai has no extradition treaties with the West.
The collapse of Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange and his Alameda Research trading firm is not just the cause of one of the fastest implosions of private wealth in history. It’s a bonfire of vanities from the Bay Area to Washington and a punch to the solar plexus for the entire fintech sector.
Thanks to SBF (as far as we know those are still his initials), reality is being recalibrated this morning in at least four places:
1. Cryptoland. The end of FTX doesn’t spell the end of cryptocurrencies. That won’t come until no one wants to buy them anymore, and Bitcoin is still trading at over $14,000 this morning. Nor is the SBF story mainly about crypto’s volatility, which hasn’t yet invalidated the basic case for a decentralised online currency. It’s more a story of delusion and greed in which
- $5 billion was withdrawn from FTX accounts by spooked investors eight days ago;
- $10 billion subsequently went missing from FTX, apparently diverted to Alameda Research as its principals scrambled for liquidity;
- $1-2 billion is still unaccounted for today, according to Reuters; and
- more than $400 million may have been “hacked” (stolen) from FTX on Friday evening as its staff tried to secure digital assets ahead of bankruptcy proceedings.
FTX and Alameda look less like new-fangled financial experiments than old-fashioned Ponzi schemes in which SBF recycled venture capital investments in the venture capitalists’ companies to sustain the myth that he was spreading wealth as well as creating it.
But crypto was still the starting point. The crypto boom of the pandemic years was the foundation of SBF’s fortune. It’s looking more and more like an old soufflée now; and vindication for that old-money megalodon Warren Buffett, who said it only ever attracted charlatans and would “come to a bad end”.
2. Techbroland. SBF never styled himself as a rival of the A-type tech titans prowling the digital frontier. He famously mussed his hair, slept on a beanbag and played League of Legends while on Zoom calls with investors. But he cultivated the image of the accidental billionaire propelled by his own nonchalant genius and in this has much in common with Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, whose star has been fading for much longer. A time when untested claims of genius could release billion-dollar seed rounds seems to have ended this past weekend. The FT reports that SBF wasn’t even any good at League of Legends.
3. The world of philanthropy, where SBF pledged billions to good causes as an embodiment of the neo-Benthamite Effective Altruism movement. He shared panels with fellow evangelists like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, even though they boasted smaller fortunes. Was it real, or was it marketing? For as long as his holdings’ value held, the money was real, but the do-good pitch was also an effective entrée into the world of nine-figure investments with scant due diligence.
4. The Democrats. SBF gave $40 million to the Democrats in real money to help fund their get-out-the-vote efforts in the build-up to the midterms. Expect to hear much more about this from Republicans before next month’s runoff Senate race in Georgia.
- A 13,000-word paean to SBF on the website of Sequoia Capital, which invested $200 million in Alameda Research and accepted nearly as much in investments from SBF.
- SBF’s bio as a corporate partner on the website of the World Economic Forum.
Sunak is a much greater gambler than Truss
The previous PM was always doomed to fail. On Thursday, Jeremy Hunt will unveil an autumn statement that bets the farm on a high-risk fiscal strategy that may well be the Tories’ last throw of the dice.
CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE
Boomtime in Kyrgyzstan
More than half a million Russians have fled their homeland to the mountainous Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan since the start of the war. Not all have stayed, but those who have driven up rents by as much as 100 per cent in parts of Bishkek, the capital, the Moscow Times reports. That has angered some locals, as well as those of the new arrivals who can’t afford the inflated cost of accommodation. Some have headed further into the Kyrgyz hinterland, driving mini-rent booms there. One upshot is growth. The tiny Kyrgyz economy grew by 8 per cent in the first eight months of this year, up from 3.6 per cent in the whole of 2021.
TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS
New look solar
Investing in solar panels has become more financially attractive for US homeowners thanks to state sweeteners and federal tax credits extended to 2032 by Biden’s recent climate bill. Making them more visually appealing is the next challenge. Researchers are exploring concepts that include incorporating solar panels into fabric for items like garden awnings, installing them in driveways, and developing wafer-thin solar cells that could one day be sprayed on to surfaces like paint. Using new colours, which until now have reduced panels’ efficiency by up to 50 per cent, could also be possible. Scientists at a Shanghai university sprayed a nanoparticle material onto solar cells that turned them blue, green and purple while only reducing their efficiency by 5 per cent. A company that develops solar tiles for roofs said while most clients wanted to use renewable energy, “they do not want to make their homes ugly”. Soon they won’t have to choose between the two.
The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT
Lobster trap hospitals
Up to one in three hospital beds in parts of England are occupied by people well enough to be discharged, but they don’t have anywhere to go due to a lack of social care. The Guardian reports that across England, 13,600 beds on average are filled by people who should be sent home or to a care home, equivalent to one in seven beds in acute hospitals. In two hospital trusts the number is one in three. Hospitals have become “lobster traps” for the elderly, Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told the Daily Mail: easy to get into and hard to get out of. He said investing in social care and freeing up beds was critical to improving emergency care, as the NHS breaks records for poor performance. Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is reportedly looking at letting councils raise more in tax to fund social care in this week’s Autumn Budget.
Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitic
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, began his trip to Bali for the G20 summit denying he had been taken to hospital on landing. After reports circulated on Monday that he’d been hospitalised with a heart condition, the Russian foreign ministry posted a video online showing the 72 year-old in shorts and a Jean-Michel Basquiat T-shirt, preparing for the summit of world leaders. He called the reports “a kind of game” (the governor of Bali said Lavrov had visited hospital for a check-up). Lavrov is Russia’s most senior official at the summit after Putin decided to skip proceedings – but his invasion of Ukraine is the dominant faultline this week, with G20 leaders split over the war and how it should end. Britain’s Rishi Sunak is expected to meet Lavrov and has said he will push for continued support for Ukraine and global action to counter Russia’s weaponisation of food supplies. Biden is also meeting China’s Xi Jinping for the first time since becoming US president.
CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING
Congress in play
Democrats held the US Senate at the weekend when former astronaut Mark Kelly scraped a win in Arizona, and they could still limit Republicans’ expected majority in the lower House to fewer than a handful of seats – or even hold that too. Control of the Senate will give Biden final say over federal judicial appointments for the next two years, which his party views as a crucial corrective to conservative overreach in the Supreme Court. Even if the House flips to the Republicans the narrowness of their likely majority already constitutes an extraordinary rebuke to those who expected a de facto veto over Biden’s spending and legislative plans. Last week Sensemaker predicted a shellacking for Biden “barring an upset”. The midterm results have been an upset for Republicans, a humiliation for Trump and a substantial boost for Biden. Whether it would serve his party for him to run for a second term at 81 is a separate question.
14/11 – King Charles III turns 74; 100th anniversary of the BBC’s first radio broadcast, 15/11 – European scrutiny committee questions foreign secretary James Cleverly; labour market and universal credit statistics released, 16/11 – Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden hold bilateral meeting at G20; UK house price index and latest inflation data published; Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey gives evidence to Treasury committee, 17/11 – Jeremy Hunt makes autumn statement alongside OBR assessment of public finances; Sadiq Khan holds London Mayor’s question time, 18/11 – UK retail sales figures released; Children in Need BBC appeal; 19/11 – Men and women’s Rugby League World Cup finals in Manchester.
14/11 – Biden and Xi Jinping to meet at G20; trial begins in Delaware for Elon Musk’s $56 billion remuneration at Tesla; World Diabetes Day, 15/11 – G20 summit starts in Bali; Donald Trump expected to announce his intention to run in 2024 presidential election; world population projected to hit eight billion, 16/11 – Launch attempt for Nasa’s Artemis I; IAEA board of governors hold meeting, 17/11 – Nato parliamentary assembly meets in Madrid; Apec ministerial meeting hosted in Thailand, 18/11 – Cop27 closes in Egypt; Halifax international security forum begins in Nova Scotia, 19/11 – Malaysia general election, 20/11 – 2022 Fifa World Cup begins in Qatar; Biden’s 80th birthday
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Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis and Jessica Winch.
Photographs Getty Images
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