When the cryptocurrency exchange FTX declared bankruptcy about 15 months ago, it seemed few customers would recover much money or crypto from the platform. As John Ray III, who took over as chief executive during the bankruptcy, put it, “At the end of the day, we’re not going to be able to recover all the losses here.” He was countering Sam Bankman-Fried’s repeated claims that he could get every customer their money back.
Well, it turns out, FTX lawyers told a bankruptcy judge this week that they expected to pay creditors in full, though they said it was not a guarantee and had not yet revealed their strategy.
The surprise turn of events is raising serious questions about what happens next. Among them: What does this mean for the lawsuits FTX has filed in an attempt to claw back billions in assets that the company says it’s owed?
Will the possibility that customers could be made whole be raised at Bankman-Fried’s sentencing? Will potential relief for customers help his appeal?
Some clawback cases could become harder to win — or may be withdrawn. FTX’s restructuring lawyers have already filed about a dozen suits, including against Bankman-Fried’s parents, and they expect to file more clawback claims this year. Other high profile lawsuits include one against K5, an investment firm headed by Michael Kives, as well as Voyager Global.
Some of the clawback cases involve allegations of fraud, but not all do. Before fraud claims are argued, there is typically a legal fight over whether a company was insolvent at the time of the investment or that the investment led to insolvency. If every FTX creditor stands to get 100 cents on the dollar, the clawback cases that don’t involve fraud wouldn’t serve much of a financial purpose and may be more difficult to argue, some lawyers say. “In theory, clawbacks may go away there,” said Eric Monzo, a partner at Morris James who focuses on bankruptcy claims.
A rise in some crypto asset values could also impact the math. Creditors wanted the bankruptcy court to calculate their claims based on the current asset values rather than when the company collapsed in November 2022 amid a prolonged crypto market meltdown. But this week, the judge said that debts were linked to the date the company filed for bankruptcy. This gives FTX the benefit of any market upswings. For example, Bitcoin was worth about $17,000 when FTX filed for bankruptcy and now it’s worth about $43,000, making it a lot less expensive to pay off creditors demanding the value of their lost crypto. FTX, through K5, made an investment in SpaceX, which has risen dramatically in value.
What about Bankman-Fried’s sentencing and appeal? It is unclear whether the trial judge will consider any evidence about the potential for full payouts in the sentencing, though it could theoretically color his view of the harm caused. What is likely is that Bankman-Fried’s lawyers will argue on appeal that the trial judge was wrong to allow prosecutors to tell jurors that customers had lost their money and exclude evidence and testimony that suggested customers could be made whole. — Andrew Ross Sorkin and Ephrat Livni
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Job and wage growth far surpass expectations. The U.S. economy added 353,000 jobs last month, almost twice as many as the number forecast, and wages grew 0.6 percent from December. Workers were finding new jobs despite a series of layoffs in the tech sector.
Meta said it would pay its first dividends after reporting bumper profits. Profits last quarter at the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were three times more than during the same period in 2022. Meta also announced a $50 billion buyback, causing one analyst to say that the company is “coming-of-age.”
The PGA Tour raised $1.5 billion from U.S. investors. The financing round was led by Fenway Sports Group, owner of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, and a host of other big names in sports and finance. The deal raises new questions about a tentative agreement between the Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf competition, which have yet to finalize an alliance.
Donald Trump would not reappoint Jay Powell as Fed chair. The former president accused Powell of looking to lower interest rates to help President Biden, without providing any evidence. Trump said that if wins re-election in November, he would not back Powell to continue beyond 2026.
How to fix Boeing
Boeing’s chief executive, Dave Calhoun, spent most of the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday focused on safety. “We caused the problem, and we understand that,” he said of an incident on Jan. 5 in which a hole blew through the wall of a 737 Max 9 at 16,000 feet.
DealBook asked experts in company culture, aviation and management for radical actions that Boeing could take to restore public trust.
Design a completely new plane. The 737 Max, the workhorse of the Boeing fleet, is the last version of a plane introduced in 1968. “They’ve been putting in new components, but I think they need a whole new aircraft design,” said Bill George, the former chief of the medical device company Medtronic and an executive fellow at Harvard Business School. Calhoun has previously said that Boeing would not deliver its next all-new aircraft until the mid-2030s.
Move the headquarters back to Seattle, the heart of the company’s engineering operations. Boeing moved its base to Chicago in 2001, and then near Washington, D.C., in 2022. That was a mistake, George said. “Management needs to get back in touch with the engineers that understand flight safety,” he said.
Host tech-style product launch events. Ashley Fulmer, who researches trust dynamics in organizations at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, said that Boeing should communicate more with all of its stakeholders. She pointed to the types of big product launch events hosted by tech companies like Apple and Meta as one way Boeing could share information with the public. “I think at this point, gunning for no incidents is not enough,” she said. “What they need to have is regular demonstration of ability where, for example, they have innovated design to enhance safety and reliability.”
Should Boeing be nationalized? Matt Stoller, the director of research at the progressive think tank American Economic Liberties Project and the author of the monopoly-focused newsletter BIG, recently made the case that it should be, noting that the U.S. government already accounts for much of its revenue and helps sell its planes overseas.
But Richard Aboulafia, a managing director at the aerospace consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory, said he thought that nationalization would be unlikely. If anything, he said, the government could attach conditions for Boeing’s management to defense contracts, though there’s little precedent for such a move.
“The risk isn’t bankruptcy; it’s managerial malpractice,” Mr. Aboulafia said.
Chris Dixon on why he’s sticking with crypto
Chris Dixon has led crypto investments at Andreessen Horowitz since 2013, managing more than $7.6 billion raised in four crypto-focused funds. In his new book, “Read Write Own,” he argues that the next wave of the internet will be built on the blockchain, allowing creators and businesses to have direct relationships with their audiences without big companies in the middle.
DealBook talked with him about why he’s still all-in on the technology. The interview has been condensed and edited.
NFTs felt like a use case for the blockchain that was becoming mainstream. Now, most have lost their value. You say that artificial intelligence makes this concept of tokenizing more useful. How?
The technology behind NFTs was standardized in 2020. It’s very early. There were $8.7 billion in NFT sales in 2023. So, you know, still significant for a technology that’s four years old.
In a world of generative A.I., let’s just say you’re an illustrator and now A.I. allows people to get high-quality illustrations just using an application. I think that will happen across creative categories and in that world, I think it’s important to explore new income streams for creative people.
I compare it to video games, where virtual goods are almost half of the industry now. The most popular games like Fortnite don’t charge you to play the game because there’s just too many games out there. So instead they give the game away for free and charge for virtual goods. That’s a pioneering model.
Many of the use cases for blockchain you suggest — social networks where the user can easily leave with their followers, platforms for musicians to create and sell collectibles — sound exciting. Why are none of them happening in a mainstream way right now?
The first A.I. paper was published in 1943. There was a famous A.I. investment bubble in the 1980s, believe it or not. And then of course, there was ChatGPT.
There were smartphones in the 1990s. And then there was the iPhone.
Having been in the business, this is just how I feel these things go: You need to invest in them and build infrastructure and build apps and grow them. And you start off with things that maybe a million people or five million people get excited about. Then if you’re successful over time, you have kind of a ChatGPT or iPhone moment where it breaks out. And we haven’t had that yet with blockchain.
Having put billions of dollars on crypto, I don’t think it’s surprising to most people that you would be saying that it’s the future.
I would argue that that causality runs the other way. The reason I’m doing this — and not, you know, like a lot of people in Silicon Valley, switching to A.I. or other areas — the reason I’m sticking with this is that I believe in this.
Quiz: Executive compensation
A Delaware judge struck down a mega pay package for Elon Musk on Tuesday, prompting the billionaire entrepreneur to announce that he would hold a shareholder vote on moving the company’s incorporation to Texas. The pay package would have awarded Musk more than $50 billion. How much compensation was awarded to Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, the top earning chief executive of a publicly listed company, in 2022? (The data was compiled by the executive compensation research firm Equilar.)
Find the answer at the bottom of this newsletter.
Quiz answer: Pichai’s awarded compensation in 2022 was $226 million.
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