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Crypto Lender Celsius Files for Bankruptcy After Cash Crunch

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·4 min read
Crypto Lender Celsius Files for Bankruptcy After Cash Crunch
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(Bloomberg) -- Cryptocurrency lender Celsius Network Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the latest casualty of a $2 trillion crash that has wiped out some of the industry’s biggest names and exposed hundreds of thousands of individual investors to steep losses.

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Celsius, which has more than 100,000 creditors, said it took the step to stabilize its business and work out a restructuring for all stakeholders. The filing was made in the Southern District of New York and listed Alameda Research, the trading firm co-founded by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, among major creditors.

The platform held about $4.3 billion of assets against $5.5 billion of liabilities as of Wednesday, according to court papers. The company has been trying to obtain new financing from third parties, but those talks made clear that a bankruptcy filing was necessary, Chief Executive Officer Alex Mashinsky said in a sworn declaration.

“The amount of digital assets on the company’s platform grew faster than the company was prepared to deploy,” Mashinsky said, detailing the path that led Celsius to bankruptcy. “As a result, the company made what, in hindsight, proved to be certain poor asset deployment decisions.”

The company, one of the largest cryptocurrency lenders, had amassed more than $20 billion in assets by offering interest rates as high as 18% to depositors before it halted all withdrawals in June amid a panic run by clients.

Celsius’s troubles are emblematic of the problems plaguing the digital asset space, where rising US interest rates have sent investors fleeing and triggered the collapse of lenders and hedge funds. Crypto broker Voyager Digital Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month while liquidators have been called in for bankrupt crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital.

Doubts about the sky-high yields backing products such as those Celsius offers intensified after the collapse of the TerraUSD algorithmic stablecoin in May. Another centralized lender Babel has also halted withdrawals and crypto prices have slumped, with Bitcoin and Ether losing half their value since end-December.

For Celsius, its business was built on loaning crypto borrowed from its customers to institutional investors. It was also a participant in a slew of decentralized-finance applications.

Read: How Billions in TerraUSD Went Up in Algorithmic Smoke: QuickTake

In a statement Wednesday, Celsius said it needed to halt withdrawals as without it, an acceleration of the pullouts “would have allowed certain customers —- those who were first to act -- to be paid in full while leaving others behind to wait for Celsius to harvest value from illiquid or longer-term asset deployment activities before they receive a recovery.”

Celsius didn’t respond to a request for comment. Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Alex Mashinsky said in the statement that the move would strengthen the future of the company.

The firm has petitioned to continue to operate. It isn’t requesting authority to allow customer withdrawals right now, saying that claims would be handled through the Chapter 11 process.

Bankruptcy Processes

Kirkland & Ellis is serving as legal counsel, with Centerview Partners as financial adviser and Alvarez & Marsal the restructuring adviser to Celsius.

Bankruptcy processes can take a while to resolve. Creditors of Mt. Gox, at one time the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange that closed doors in 2014 and began liquidation proceedings, have yet to be paid.

How much and what Celsius’s users will recover is unclear. Under its terms of service, treatment of its customers’ digital assets in case of insolvency is “unsettled” and “not guaranteed,” which may result in customers being treated as unsecured creditors.

Read: Celsius Paydowns Take Crypto Lender Into ‘Uncharted Territory’

When the TerraUSD (UST) stablecoin and related Luna token collapsed in May, Celsius scrambled to pull its funds out of Terra’s Anchor Protocol, which offered 20% returns on UST deposits. More recently, it suffered as another large holding -- a token known as staked ETH, or stETH, which is tied to the value of Ether -- became largely illiquid and more widely discounted to Ether.

In the past month, Celsius paid back all -- more than $900 million -- of its debt in decentralized applications Aave, Compound and MakerDAO, according to blockchain data and tracker Zapper. The paydowns have raised the specter of a legal debate on how and in what order should distressed crypto companies pay back creditors -- whether they are actual people or platforms governed by computer code referred to as smart contracts.

(Updates with details from CEO court filing begining in paragraph three.)

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