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Crypto billionaires’ vast wealth destroyed in weeks amid turmoil

An illustration picture taken in London on May 8, 2022, shows gold plated souvenir cryptocurrency Tether (USDT), Bitcoin and Etherium coins arranged beside a screen displaying a trading chart. (AFP)Premium
An illustration picture taken in London on May 8, 2022, shows gold plated souvenir cryptocurrency Tether (USDT), Bitcoin and Etherium coins arranged beside a screen displaying a trading chart. (AFP)

  • That’s now been reduced to just $2.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as a selloff in digital currencies from Bitcoin to Ether triggers a steep decline in the market value of Coinbase, the largest US cryptocurrency exchange

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As recently as November, Coinbase Global Inc. founder Brian Armstrong had a personal fortune of $13.7 billion. 

That’s now been reduced to just $2.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as a selloff in digital currencies from Bitcoin to Ether triggers a steep decline in the market value of Coinbase, the largest US cryptocurrency exchange.

The firm’s shares tumbled 78% since their April 2021 initial public offering through Wednesday, and were down another 23% to $56.50 at 12:18 p.m. after the company warned that trading volume and monthly transacting users were expected to be lower in the second quarter than in the first.  

It’s raised questions about Coinbase’s ability to withstand the sharp decline in crypto prices, forcing Armstrong to take to Twitter to defend the company. There is “no risk of bankruptcy" even amid a “black swan" event and users’ funds are safe, said Armstrong, the firm’s chief executive officer.

Billionaire crypto fortunes that swelled over the last two years are disappearing after a selloff that began with tech stocks spilled over into digital money. Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, and Ether have both fallen more than 50% since their record highs late last year. TerraUSD, an algorithmic stablecoin, is at risk of a complete collapse.

It’s a far cry from just weeks ago, when the crypto crowd was partying in Miami.

While almost all crypto holders have suffered wealth declines, some of the biggest and most visible losses are concentrated among founders of exchanges, where traders buy and sell digital currencies. 

At least on paper, Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of closely held Binance, has lost an even larger fortune than Armstrong. He debuted on the Bloomberg wealth index in January with a net worth of $96 billion, one of the world’s largest. By Wednesday that had shrunk to $16 billion, using the average enterprise value to sales multiples of Coinbase and Canadian crypto firm Voyager Digital as a basis for the calculations. 

Crypto exchanges in the US appear to be suffering more of a downturn than their global competitors. Trading volumes at Coinbase have steadily fallen since the beginning of the year, while more internationally focused Binance saw an uptick in volume last month. Binance’s US-focused business, by comparison, experienced even steeper declines than Coinbase’s.

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, co-founders of rival crypto exchange Gemini, have each lost about $2.1 billion -- or roughly 40% -- of their wealth this year. Michael Novogratz, CEO of crypto merchant bank Galaxy Digital, has seen his fortune plummet to $2.9 billion from $8.5 billion in early November.

Armstrong isn’t the only Coinbase billionaire losing money. Co-founder Fred Ehrsam, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader, is currently worth $1.3 billion, down more than 60% this year.

Armstrong owns 16% of Coinbase and controls 59.5% of its voting shares, according to the company’s 2022 proxy statement, while Ehrsam has a 4.5% stake and controls 26% of its voting stock. 

Coinbase’s bonds have also plunged, recently trading in line with some of the riskiest junk-rated notes. 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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