Crypto Customers Sell Claims at a Loss to Avoid Bankruptcy Wait
Hundreds of FTX, Voyager and Celsius customers are parting with their accounts, selling for pennies on the dollar to deep-pocketed investment firms.
Some customers with accounts stuck in failed cryptocurrency companies are choosing to take a big loss on their investments now to avoid dealing with uncertainties in drawn-out bankruptcies.
At least hundreds of customers burned by the collapses of FTX, Celsius Network LLC and Voyager Digital Ltd. are seeking to sell their cryptocurrency claims at deep discounts so they don't have to wait months or even years to see what they might recover as the platforms move through chapter 11.
Customers and other creditors holding roughly $1 billion in FTX claims and about $100 million in Celsius claims have expressed interest in selling them through an online market run by Cherokee Acquisition, a bankruptcy claims broker and buyer, the firm said.
Nearly 500 users of FTX, Celsius and Voyager have posted claims valued at roughly $126 million for sale on Xclaim Inc., a bankruptcy claims trading startup that recently changed its business to focus on providing a platform to buy and sell crypto claims. Xclaim has so far listed roughly $91.7 million in FTX customer claims, the company said.
These investors are taking the loss upfront to avoid going through bankruptcy proceedings that don't necessarily guarantee them a better outcome or they don't have the time to find out.
'[Bankruptcy] takes more time than people can deal with,' said Vladimir Jelisavcic, founder and manager of Cherokee Acquisition. 'Some people need or want money now.'
Xclaim founder and Chief Executive Matt Sedigh said the firm is getting calls from creditors every day. Because most of FTX's users live overseas, roughly two-thirds of the FTX claims submitted come from creditors based in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Mr. Sedigh said.
On the other end of the transactions, hedge funds and distressed-debt investors are making calculated bets. Fund managers including Contrarian Capital Management LLC, Invictus Global Management and digital-asset investment firm NovaWulf Digital Management have bought claims from Celsius or Voyager creditors, court papers show.
Professional asset managers have the capital and the time to ride out the bankruptcies and they said they are purchasing tokens that they believe have high upside. Other considerations include analysis of the quality of tokens they buy in case they aren't repaid through bankruptcy in dollars.
Pricing of the claims can change day-to-day. Voyager's bankruptcy claims dropped to 40 cents on the dollar on Xclaim after FTX collapsed in early November and the deal for it to buy Voyager fell apart. They had earlier traded at as much as 64 cents, Mr. Sedigh said. Celsius's claims also plunged, falling from highs of about 29 cents on the dollar to 19 cents shortly after FTX filed for bankruptcy.
The sales have so far only represented a share of the amounts owed to FTX, Celsius and Voyager customers. How much FTX creditors may recover in bankruptcy is unknown and the case is more complicated because the company lacked trustworthy financial information and its founders are subject to criminal investigations.
Xclaim and Cherokee Acquisition said their platforms allow cryptocurrency customers to get back higher returns because they make the historically opaque process of claims trading transparent, which creates competition among potential buyers.
NOIA Capital, a Luxembourg-based investment firm, has purchased FTX claims by offering sellers two options. The firm would pay 5% upfront of the value of the claims, with 20% payouts when the accounts are repaid in bankruptcy, or 2.5% upfront, with 35% of future proceeds, said Muhammed Yesilhark, chief investment officer of NOIA.
Mr. Yesilhark said the types of claims holders are varied and include companies that had been funded by FTX as well as wealthy individuals that are 'willing to just close this chapter of [their] life and move on.'
Ezra Serrur, who launched his hedge fund management firm Serrur & Co. in June, said selling accounts not only allows customers to get some money back right away, it also lets them lock in a loss to lower tax liability. Mr. Serrur was an investment analyst at distressed-debt hedge fund DSC Meridian Capital LP before founding his namesake hedge fund.
Buyers, on the other hand, have the capital to purchase claims and can leverage expertise in the intersection between cryptocurrency and chapter 11 to invest in digital assets with a significant upside, Mr. Serrur said.
'There is opportunity, if you're willing to sift through the paperwork, the docket, and understand the specifics,' Mr. Serrur said.
Some customers decided to hold on to their accounts. Josh Ragusa, a Voyager customer in California, said, '[I'd] rather take my chances with my holdings in the hope that I will be able to recoup my portfolio and that digital currency will again have its day.'
'Hope is a powerful drug,' Mr. Ragusa said.
But for others, the venture into crypto has been a costly but valuable lesson.
One customer who sold his claims to Mr. Serrur's fund was Dylan Jones. The California resident collected 16.5 cents on the dollar on his $165,205 Celsius claim through Xclaim. Mr. Jones said he opened his account because Celsius promised high returns that he thought 'were unmatched anywhere else.'
He said he wasn't surprised to see big losses in the cryptocurrency market. If he held on to these claims, he said he might see a return of between 10 cents and 20 cents based on the assets Celsius said it has been able to secure.
'My crypto investments were always limited to an amount of money that I was willing to lose if the experiment imploded, as it did,' Mr. Jones said. He said he has some regrets 'about not listening to my inner conscience when the market got rocky.'
'It was a life lesson learned in that there are very few opportunities to rapidly gain wealth without massive risk,' he said.
Write to Jonathan Randles at EMAIL
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