Hong Kong-based FTX Trading has just pulled off the largest funding round for a cryptocurrency exchange in history. After raising $900m, the company now has a market valuation of $18bn with backing from prominent international investors, including SoftBank.
Other notable investors include venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, private equity giant Thoma Bravo, Daniel Loeb’s Third Point, the Paul Tudor Jones family and British hedge fund manager Alan Howard. In total, the funding round included more than 60 investors.
The record-setting round comes amid a fierce pushback on cryptocurrency trading and mining in Hong Kong, mainland China, as well as the rest of the world.
FTX’s whopping $900m round – which towers over previous records set by Circle’s $440m BlockFi’s $350m – shows that investors see potential in FTX’s cryptocurrency trading platform despite the crackdown.
Katharine Wooller, managing director for the UK and Ireland at Dacxi, a cryptocurrency exchange platform, points out that “it must be noted that crypto has been somewhat in the doldrums since May following substantial correction and exchange volumes are down by up to 56%. Whilst, in my opinion, the worst is over, I would expect to see crypto trade sideways for the rest of the summer, with no substantial recovery before September.”
“Let us not forget that Coinbase IPO was met with similar early enthusiasm, reaching an all-time high of $342 before settling, at the time of writing, to a more reasonable $224, a price it has broadly held for the last month. Whilst there are not many businesses rather than cryptocurrencies themselves available for investment, care must be taken to avoid hype over substance,” she added.
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The regional government in Hong Kong has recently issued a draft law that would require cryptocurrency exchanges operating in Hong Kong to obtain a licence from the city’s market regulators before being allowed to trade. In addition, cryptocurrency exchanges will only be allowed to provide services to professional investors.
FTX’s 29-year-old CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said that if the city’s ban on retail investors also applies to citizens of other jurisdictions, FTX would leave Hong Kong for another base.
“I’ve loved my time here … but in the end, what’s important is that we’re in the right place for the business,” he told Nikkei Asia in a recent interview. “What we’ve been doing also is reaching out to try and find governments that would be really excited to have us and work with us. That’s something we’re still working on, and we have a lot of candidates in mind.”
Hong Kong’s move to tighten its grip on cryptocurrencies overlaps with tighter regulations on virtual coins in various countries, notably mainland China.
In recent months, the value of most cryptocurrencies took a hit as governments around the world tightened regulations on virtual coins. Bitcoin, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, lost $50bn in value after Chinese regulators announced that they would crackdown on the mining and trading of virtual currencies.
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) released a joint statement by three of the country’s major financial institutions, warning against the “hype and dangers of cryptocurrency.”
At a national meeting of the State Council’s Financial Stability and Development Committee in May, the issue of cryptocurrency was also brought up. A committee document specifically called for a “crackdown on bitcoin mining and trading behaviour.”
Shortly after, China closed its major bitcoin mining regions in inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan.
Last month, the PBOC ordered four state-owned banks and the leading Ant Group-backed mobile payment app Alipay to cut off all transactions linked to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
According to GlobalData’s analysis, governments around the world will likely implement more regulations to control cryptocurrencies. Pavel Matveev, CEO of Wirex, a cryptocurrency card providers, agrees, saying:
“Regulation is critical to address transparency issues with cryptocurrency exchanges and the cryptocurrency sector as a whole – so investors should be more confident that there’s a shake up to eliminate any weaknesses within the DeFi ecosystem.”
In the UK, the Bank of England released a discussion paper in which it explains that stablecoins should expect the same regulations as fiat currencies. The report also mentions exploring the potential of introducing its own digital currency, the “Britcoin”. And in the case of China, the country is hoping to guarantee the success of its own digital currency, which is currently being trialled in several of its cities.
Bankman-Fried actually moved to Hong Kong in 2018 to start FTX, following tougher regulations in the US that outlawed many complex cryptocurrency products.
The now two-year-old company said it has more than 1 million users and averages about $10bn in trading volume per day, with revenue surging more than tenfold this year. It said that it planned to use the fresh infusion of funds to expand its product offerings and for other investments.