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Government exhibit in the case against former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

Source: SDNY

While prosecutors are requesting that FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried spend 40 to 50 years in prison for his crimes, the defense team is urging the judge to consider a sentence that’s roughly 90% shorter.

Bankman-Fried’s fate will be announced in Manhattan on Thursday morning by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who presided over the monthlong trial in November. Bankman-Fried was found guilty of seven charges tied to the collapse of crypto exchange FTX and the roughly $10 billion of customer deposits that went missing.

The hope for Bankman-Fried’s team is that Kaplan takes into account the increased likelihood that FTX customers will be able to recoup most, if not all, of the money they lost when the exchange spiraled into bankruptcy in 2022.

Lawyers representing the bankruptcy estate of FTX told a judge in Delaware last month that they expect to fully repay customers and creditors with legitimate claims. Bankruptcy attorney Andrew Dietderich, who works with FTX’s new leadership team, said “there is still a great amount of work and risk” ahead in getting all the money back to clients, but that the team has a “strategy to achieve it.”

It was a potentially dramatic change in the narrative surrounding FTX’s collapse 16 months ago. At the time, it was believed that many thousands of customers — reportedly up to a million — collectively lost billions of dollars that would be unrecoverable due to the lightly regulated and unsecured nature of the crypto industry. Those clients faced the real possibility that the vast majority of their money had evaporated, just like in other cases of hedge funds and lenders that failed during the so-called crypto winter of 2022.

Much of the government’s successful case against Bankman-Fried hinged on convincing the jury that the defendant had stolen billions of dollars worth of FTX customer money to make risky bets at Alameda.

For months, as FTX has wound its way through a Delaware bankruptcy court, new CEO John Ray III and his team of restructuring advisors have been clawing back cash, luxury property, and crypto, as well as tracking down missing assets. They’ve already collected more than $7 billion, and that doesn’t include valuables like $26 million in gifts and property to Bankman-Fried’s parents, or the $700 million handed over to K5 Global and founder Michael Kives, who invested FTX cash in companies like SpaceX that have since increased in value.

Bankman-Fried’s defense team has asked the court for a sentence in the range of 63 to 78 months. Beyond the fact that he’s a “first time, nonviolent offender,” attorneys for the FTX founder largely lean on the argument that Bankman-Fried’s risky bets paid off and the bankruptcy estate expects to fully repay FTX customers.

It’s a story that Bankman-Fried was trying to sell as he awaited trial.

“FTX US remains fully solvent,” Bankman-Fried wrote in a Substack post on Jan. 12, 2023, while he was under house arrest at his parents’ home in Palo Alto, California. He said the exchange “should be able to return all customers’ funds.”

Prosecutors recommend a prison sentence of 40-50 years for Sam Bankman-Fried in FTX fraud

One key asset in FTX’s portfolio is its stake in artificial intelligence startup Anthropic. Late last week, FTX’s bankruptcy estate struck a deal with a consortium of buyers to sell the majority of its Anthropic holdings for $884 million. Under Bankman-Fried’s leadership, FTX invested $500 million in the startup in 2021 before the boom in generative AI. The company’s valuation hit $18 billion in December 2023, which would put FTX’s roughly 8% stake at about $1.4 billion.

During Bankman-Fried’s trial, Kaplan denied the defense’s request that it be permitted to say that FTX’s investment in Anthropic was a smart bet.

‘Still guilty’

Renato Mariotti, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Section, told CNBC that the more money the estate is able to recover for clients, the better for Bankman-Fried.

“If true, that is relevant and the judge is required to consider victim restitution at sentencing,” Mariotti said. “But even if victims weren’t harmed, he is still guilty of the offense.”

Mariotti said he expects the sentence to fall somewhere in between what the prosecution and defense are asking, predicting it will be “at least 20 to 25 years.”

Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried arrive for the trial of their son, former FTX Chief Executive Sam Bankman-Fried, who is facing fraud charges over the collapse of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange, at Federal Court in New York City, U.S., October 26, 2023. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

In addition to the Anthropic gains, FTX customers can look at the rebound in crypto for signs of optimism. Bitcoin is trading at close to $70,000, up from less than $17,000 at the time of FTX’s collapse.

In September, the bankruptcy team released a status report showing that FTX had $3.4 billion worth of digital assets, with over $1.1 billion coming from its investment in crypto coin Solana. In the defense’s letter to the court filed last month, attorneys note a sizable increase in the value of FTX’s Solana stake, saying that as of Feb. 26, the estate saw a roughly $4 billion increase over the last six months thanks to the token’s appreciation.

Solana fits into a category of so-called “Sam coins,” a group that also includes Serum, a token created and promoted by FTX and Alameda. Solana saw a huge run-up of late, climbing more than eightfold since the end of September.

Meanwhile, FTX’s bitcoin stash, which was worth $560 million at the time of the September report, when the coin was trading at around $25,000, has seen a significant uptick as well. Bitcoin’s value has increased by around 180% since then.

For FTX customers, being made whole, according to a judge’s ruling, means getting the cash equivalent of what their crypto was worth in November 2022. In other words, they’re not seeing any of the upside of FTX’s investments or being given virtual coins that would allow them to cash out at higher valuations.

Braden Perry, who was once a senior trial lawyer for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, told CNBC that Bankman-Fried faces at least 70 months in prison based on his base level offense, number of victims, sophisticated means and leadership role — even if there’s no monetary loss to the victims. The massive losses that were originally expected would suggest 30 years to life, Perry added.

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Sam Bankman-Fried set to testify at fraud trial in what experts deem a major gamble for the case

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Bitcoin miners brace for impact as halving goes live

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Bitcoin miners upgrade power centers and get into AI to brace for slashed revenue post halving

The Bitcoin halving is set to shake up the crypto's price and the network's miners

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Adam Sullivan left investment banking to mine bitcoin at an awkward time. It was May 2023, bitcoin was trading at around $21,000, U.S. regulators were in the thick of cracking down on the sector writ large, and Core Scientific, the company he had agreed to take over, was battling angry lenders in a Texas bankruptcy court over tens of millions of dollars in outstanding debt.

But Sullivan knew that, with a lifeline, he could get the business to a much better place. That’s because the halving was on the way, and with it would likely come a big rally in bitcoin.

Late Friday night, the bitcoin code automatically cut new issuance of the world’s largest cryptocurrency in half. It happens roughly every four years, and in addition to helping to stave off inflation, it historically precedes a major run-up in the price of bitcoin.

The technical event is relatively simple: Bitcoin miners get paid in bitcoin to validate transactions, and after 210,000 blocks of transactions are computed and added to the main chain, the reward given to the miners securing bitcoin is ‘halved.’

There are more than a dozen publicly traded miners on the network and thousands of smaller, private ones around the globe, constantly racing to process transactions and get paid in new bitcoin. Because the event leads to a cut to rewards paid to miners directly, they’ll be the first ones to feel the impact of the halving.

The price of bitcoin has touched new all-time highs after each “halving” event.

CNBC

Typically, when the halving cuts supply, it’s led to huge rallies for bitcoin.

In fact, the previous (and only) three halvings in the chain’s history have come before every bull run, in which the coin has touched new all-time highs and a surge of investors have entered the market for the first time.

That rapid price increase has helped many miners stave off the worst since it tends to offset the impact of having the block prize cut in half.

“As a company that was already in the process of scaling our infrastructure during the previous halving, we know the toll that halvings can take on a company if it is not adequately prepared,” Core’s Sullivan told CNBC.

The aggregate market cap of the 14 U.S.-listed bitcoin miners tracked by JPMorgan analysts declined 28% over the first half of April to $14.2 billion, reaching year-to-date lows. Bitdeer was the best-performing stock over the period, down around 20%, versus Stronghold Digital, which was 46% lower.

Some have billed the 2024 bitcoin halving as a seminal moment for the mining sector. Depending on how much prep work miners have done, it could easily make or break them.

“Being prepared for a halving means evaluating all of your power strategies, all of your software capabilities, all of your operations,” continued Sullivan.

Others are less concerned given recent price moves in bitcoin.

In a research note from Needham on Apr. 16, analysts said they expect the halving to only have a modest impact to miners’ estimated EBITDA margins, despite the 50% reduction in revenue, since the price of bitcoin has been trading in the range of $60,000 to $70,000.

“We expect geopolitical tensions and interest rate policy to be the biggest near-term drivers of crypto price action,” Needham analysts wrote, adding that at a bitcoin price above $60,000, the halving is “derisked for nearly all public miners.”

The bank did, however, single out their preference for low-cost bitcoin producers like Riot Platforms, Bitdeer, and Cipher Mining. Meanwhile, if bitcoin prices fall, Needham says the most outsized native impact will be felt by higher cost producers that are also levered to higher bitcoin prices via large treasury holdings.

Analysts from JPMorgan echoed a similar sentiment, writing in an Apr. 16 research note that they think “recent weakness offers an attractive entry point” for investors and that they are “especially bullish” on Riot, which they believe offers attractive relative valuations.

The 14 U.S.-listed miners tracked by JPMorgan account for around 21% of the bitcoin global network.

Power supply for Whinstone’s bitcoin mine in Rockdale, Texas.

Years spent bracing for the halving

Miners have had years to prepare for the halving, including seeking lower power costs and upgrading their fleets to more efficient machines.

“Bitcoin’s halving happens like clockwork every four years,” said Haris Basit, chief strategy officer of Bitdeer Technologies Group. “It’s a known variable that is a benchmark for us to remain focused on operational excellence.”

To that end, the Singapore-headquartered mining firm has invested in new data centers, but its core strategy has been to increase vertical integration through research and development. 25% of its staff is focused on R&D efforts, which Basit says have “led to new innovations and revenue pathways, such as our recently announced 4nm mining rigs and AI Cloud offerings.”

Analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald recently named Bitdeer as having one of the industry’s lowest “all-in” cost-per-coin.

Greg Beard, the CEO and Chairman of Stronghold Digital Mining, tells CNBC that miners whose only lever is more efficient machines will be at a disadvantage.

“Miners who own their low-cost power are better positioned,” said Beard. “Operational costs will be lower, allowing them to be more flexible with their capital.”

Core’s Sullivan agrees, noting that bitcoin mining data centers in the future will work hand-in-glove with power generators and grid operators to serve as a virtual battery for grid operators – allowing them to increase base load, curtail bitcoin data centers when they need to, and avoid peak generation loads, which he says are dirty and expensive.

“We own and operate our infrastructure, giving us greater control over operational and strategic decisions, such as the potential to expand into high-performance computing hosting,” said Sullivan.

Core Scientific, which launched in 2017 and now manages seven mining sites in five U.S. states, also owns the full technology stack. The company has been looking to diversify its revenue streams beyond purely bitcoin. Sullivan says that existing data centers offer reconfiguration opportunities to accommodate new types of high-value compute. 

“Certain data centers are located in close proximity to major metropolitan areas, making them candidates for low-latency, high-value compute applications,” said Core’s CEO.

Bitdeer’s bitcoin mine in Rockdale, Texas.

Riot Platforms CEO Jason Les told CNBC that preparation for the halving came down to the company’s long-standing focus on achieving a low cost of power, strong balance sheet, and significant scale of operations. Les says that’s what has positioned the firm to both withstand the halving with positive margins and be well positioned for upside on the other side of it.  

“Our new Corsicana Facility was energized just this week, and we will be significantly scaling up our hash rate with next-generation equipment at that new site over the remainder of the year,” said Les. “As a result, we are positioned to mine more bitcoin per day at the end of the year than we do today, despite the halving.”

Marathon Digital, which has grown more than 70% in the last year, took a different approach to scaling the business than its rivals. CEO Fred Thiel tells CNBC that the company grew quickly using an asset-light approach, where Capex was spent on mining rigs rather than infrastructure. 

“In December, we owned less than 5% of the sites where we were hosting our miners,” said Thiel. “Today we now own 53% of our total 1.1 gigawatts of capacity, having purchased it at less than the build and replacement cost.”

Owning sites lowers Marathon’s cost to mine by up to 20% on a marginal cost basis. Thiel also noted that by the end of 2024, Marathon expects to further improve efficiency by 10% to 15% as they deploy the next generation rigs across their new sites. 

That boost to efficiency isn’t just about new gear, however. The firm is deploying its custom firmware, which allows it to operate even more efficiently. 

Marathon, along with other mining firms, has begun diversifying its business model into ancillary operations beyond purely bitcoin mining.

Thiel says the company recently launched an energy harvesting division, where they are compensated to convert stranded methane and bio-mass into energy and then sell heat back into an industrial or commercial process, which essentially subsidizes and lowers our cost to mine significantly. Marathon expects this new business line to generate a significant portion of its revenues by the halving in 2028. 

Blockstream's Adam Back on teaming up with Tesla and Block to mine bitcoin with solar power

Diversifying revenue

The April 2024 bitcoin halving looks a lot different than the three that came before it.

For years, increased competition resulting from new miners coming online has been cutting into profits, because more miners means more people are sharing the same pool of rewards.

In a research note from JPMorgan on Apr. 16, analysts note that the network hashrate, a proxy for industry competition and mining difficulty, was up 4% in April from the month before. Stronghold’s Beard says the halving is a headwind dwarfed by the global hashrate increasing nearly five-fold from the last one in May 2020.

“Mining is a tough industry especially because there are a lot of nation states that have extra power power and they’re dedicating it to mining,” said Nic Carter of Castle Island Ventures. “It’s a free market, anybody can enter into it as long as they basics.”

U.S. spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds have also significantly shifted the pricing dynamics. In years past, the price of bitcoin didn’t surge until after the halving. But in the wake of record flows into these spot bitcoin funds, the world’s largest cryptocurrency touched a fresh all-time-high above $73,000 in March.

“The recently approved Bitcoin ETFs have proven to be huge pipelines of capital into Bitcoin and that universe of ETFs continues to grow with the recent approvals in Hong Kong as well,” said Riot’s Les. “We think the price action we’ve seen in bitcoin year-to-date reflect that and has us very optimistic on what bitcoin mining economics can look like in the months and years post-halving.”

Bitcoin resumes rally after hitting a new all-time high

Blackrock’s ETF reached $17 billion in net assets within a few months of launching. Beard of Stronghold tells CNBC that if Blackrock added even just a billion dollars more of bitcoin in April to its ETF, it would single handedly create demand for more coins than the mining industry will supply post halving.

What is also different this time around is that the block reward is no longer the primary form of miner revenue. Recent programming innovations in bitcoin have given way to a burgeoning ecosystem of projects building on top of bitcoin’s blockchain, which has translated to greater transaction fee revenue for miners.

There is a limit to how large the blocks can go but the value of those blocks is about to increase significantly, according to Bill Barhydt, who is the CEO and founder of Abra. From Barhydt’s vantage point, he supports miners with a mix of services, including their auto liquidations, so he has access to a lot of macro data across the sector.

“The math is simple,” begins Barhydt. “Bitcoin blocks are fixed in size and the demand for data within those blocks is going to increase significantly for several reasons, including more retail wallet holders moving their Bitcoin into and out of storage, new uses cases like Ordinals (NFT’s for Bitcoin) and DeFi on Bitcoin, institutional settlement requirements for exchange traded products in the U.S., Hong Kong, Europe, etc, lightning settlement transactions and more.”

At the current rate of adoption, Barhydt believes that transaction fees in this cycle would likely peak within 24 months at 10 times their cost during the previous cycle peak, due to a combination of a higher price for bitcoin itself, combined with higher demand for the space inside each block. 

Castle Island’s Carter isn’t so sure that fee-based revenue can completely make up for lost income post-halving.

“It’s not entirely clear that fees are fully offsetting the lost revenue, and in fact, I don’t expect that to happen” said Carter.

Fees tend to be really cyclical. They rise sharply during periods of congestion, and they fall back to near zero during other normal periods. Carter cautions that miners will see spikes in fees, but there is not yet an enduring, strong, and robust fee market most of the time.

Jack Dorsey backed start-up taps into geothermal, hydro and solar power to run bitcoin mines across Africa

Swapping ASICs for AI

In the last year, there has been a surge in demand for AI compute and infrastructure that can support the massive workloads required to power these novel machine learning applications. In a new report, digital asset fund manager CoinShares says it expects to see more miners shift toward artificial intelligence in energy-secure locations because of the potential for higher revenues.

Already, mining firms like BitDigital, Hive, Hut 8, Terawfulf, and Core Scientific all have current AI operations or AI growth plans.

“This trend suggests that bitcoin mining may increasingly move to stranded energy sites while investment in AI grows at more stable locations,” write analysts CoinShares.

But pivoting from bitcoin mining to AI isn’t as simple as re-purposing existing infrastructure and machines. The datacenter infrastructure is different, as are the data network needs.

“AI presents several challenges, notably the need for distinct and considerably more costly infrastructure, which establishes barriers to entry for smaller, less capitalized entities,” continues the report. “Additionally, the necessity for a different skill set among employees leads to increased costs as companies hire more AI-skilled talent.”

The rigs used to mine bitcoin are called ASICs, short for Application-Specific Integrated Circuits. The “Specific” in that acronym means that it can’t be used to do other things, like supporting the underlying infrastructure for AI market.

“If you’re a bitcoin miner, your machines can’t be repurposed,” explains Carter. “You have to buy net new machines in order to do it and the datacenter requirements are different for AI versus bitcoin mining.”

Sullivan says that Core Scientific, which has been mining a mix of digital assets since 2017, began to diversify into other services in 2019.

“The company has owned and hosted Nvidia DGX systems andGPUs for AI computing, having built and deployed a specialized facility specifically for high-value compute applications at our Dalton, Georgia data center campus,” he said.

Core has also partnered with CoreWeave, a cloud provider which provides infrastructure for use cases like machine learning.

Sullivan says the combined capabilities will support both AI and High Performance Compute workloads, resulting in an estimated revenue of $100 million, though he says the total potential revenue is much higher given their significant infrastructure footprint that can be fitted to host some of the most advanced GPU compute coming to market.

“Bitcoin mining is an early example of high-value compute, attracting significant capital and a number of companies scaling their operations to support the Bitcoin Network,” said Sullivan.

But Sullivan thinks few operators will be able to make the transition to AI.

Sullivan continued, “Bitcoin mining sites can only be repurposed if they meet the attributes that are required for HPC. Many existing sites across North America do not meet these needs.”

Spot bitcoin ETF decision: First trades expected after SEC grants multiple approvals

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Firstgreen remote operated electric skid steer hopes to reduce mining deaths

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Firstgreen remote operated electric skid steer hopes to reduce mining deaths

Mining fatalities climbed more than 30 percent from 2022 to 2023, with construction fatalities also continuing to rise. In a bid to help keep miners safe, FIRSTGREEN Industries has launched a new line of cabinless, remote operated skid steers designed specifically for use in critical mining operations.

We covered the copmany’s first cabinless electric loader, the Elise CBL, back in January. The CBL (for “Clean Building Logistics”) is designed to enable fully remote operation, reducing the risk of operator injury or exposure to hazardous materials like asbestos and radiation in high-risk demolition environments. And, because it’s electric, it can do so without adding diesel exhaust emissions (themselves a known carcinogen) to the list of hazards faced by its operators. Now, FIRSTGREEN is offering that same functionality to underground miners with the new ROCKEAT equipment line.

“We are thrilled to introduce ROCKEAT skid steers to the US market, which represents a significant leap forward in safety and sustainability for traditionally dangerous, high-emission industries like construction and mining,” Marcus Suess, COO of FIRSTGREEN Industries, told Construction Equipment Guide. “With continued national support to accelerate the expansion of critical mineral mining projects on home soil … addresses pressing environmental concerns but also contributes to the resurgence of homegrown industry.”

Available in big and bigger

Designed with a low clearance, 360-degree camera and remote operability, ROCKEAT machines redefine safety and efficiency in critical mining, construction and other hazardous industries; via FIRSTGREEN Industries.

The ROCKEAT comes in two models. Designated 700 and 1200, the two models are 67 in. and 71 in. wide, respectively, and available with either lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries. Max power output is 3 36.2 hp motors generating a maximum torque of 3 x 89 lb-ft of torque, with load capacities of 1,500 and 3,300 lbs., respectively. Charging is accomplished using standard 110v or 220v outlets, or by swapping batteries on the fly.

In both cases, the key feature is remote operation. The ROCKEAT machines can be operated via the standard, Danfoss-developed remote cabin, or the FIRSTGREEN mobile app for a quick backup solution, regardless of whether that’s a “I just need to back it up a few feet,” or, “Oh my God! It’s killing Kenny!” scenario.

Electrek’s Take

FIRSTGREEN quotes the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report saying that, of the 484 workplace fatalities reported in 2022, some 75 percent involved heavy equipment operators. By reducing the amount of noise in a mine with electrified equipment, and putting the operators far enough away to keep them out of harm’s way, the ROCKEAT may just be able to do what its makers say: keep workers a little bit safer.

To that end, FIRSTGREEN’s efforts to beef up the Elise and move into the mining space should be of great interest to companies like Caterpillar and Liebherr, who are also working to electrify their mining equipment offerings. Whether or not the upstart equipment brand will be able to establish a beachhead with its cabinless, remote-operated machinery and clever, practical, battery-swap technology remains to be seen.

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We added to 5 portfolio stocks in last week’s oversold market. Here’s the breakdown

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We added to 5 portfolio stocks in last week's oversold market. Here's the breakdown

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on April 1, 2024.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

It was a tough, choppy week for stocks, but the oversold market gave us many opportunities to put some of our cash to work selectively.

The Club added to five of our positions.

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