One facet of the collapsing crypto game (can’t really call it a “market”) has reminded me of a journalistic flop a quarter of a century ago, a story that got away and ended up costing millions of dollars.
One lesson from that failure was that a product that stinks stinks for a good reason: there’s something putrid underneath that will turn out to be poisonous.
The current stinker, in my opinion, is a crypto creature called the Celsius Network. I hope, dear reader, that you are not interested. Having zero knowledge of it is quite wise.
Celsius Network claims (or perhaps claimed by the time you read this) to be a crypto lender with the ability to pay “depositors” a yield of “up to 18.63 percent”.
Celsius also claimed to have assets worth US$24 billion ($34.6 billion) in December, a figure that had been halved by mid-May. the financial times reportedand it would be substantially less again now that it has had to suspend withdrawals and transfers.
Celsius claimed a variety of high yields for various crypto deposits, but the “richest” was for a token called SNX. If you have nothing better to do, you can read (with a sack of pool salt) this recommendation to deposit SNX with Celsius, something supposedly “very easy, foolproof and flexible”.
Yes, sure. And I have a Harbor Bridge to sell you.
Celsius even claims (or claimed) to pay “up to 7.21 percent” yield on a gold token, PAXG, which is supposed to be backed by physical gold.
Gold, as we graybeards know, is a metal that by itself does not generate interest. Physical gold lends at very low rates, nothing like 7 percent.
So let’s say it’s “interesting” that someone could claim that a token representing physical gold can generate a high return on a deposit.
Too good to be true
Celsius tone sucks. It represents the absurd levels at which the set crypto bezel has run, the game of imaginary value enjoying all the fun of the fair unregulated, exaggerated and psychotic, throwing the cups until the music stops.
My earlier failure to follow a Ponzi scheme was back on my mind. labor sunday days on Nine Network. We heard about something called the Wattle Group that pays ridiculously high interest.
It was too good to be true, and you know what that means.
At the time, a current affair occasionally he was doing stories about loan sharks. I called a couple to make sure they couldn’t get the kind of rates Wattle was claiming. They could not.
So we flew to Brisbane and tracked down Wattle’s figurehead, a certain Geoffrey Dexter. There wasn’t much going on in the registered office, so we tried to knock on the door, or at least knock on Dexter’s door.
The big returns came from bridging financing, Dexter explained. Developers who fell short for a couple of months would pay a lot as it wasn’t much for them in the longer scheme of things.
Yes of course.
We contacted the relevant Queensland authorities at the time; they had received no complaints and were therefore unable to act. Wattle had done nothing wrong.
Depositors were receiving the promised high returns and were happy.
So we didn’t have a story. There were other things going on, there were other stories to be told, and we didn’t want to accidentally promote something that sucked. She stayed in the background.
Until inevitably it exploded. It was a true Ponzi scam: fresh money from depositors was used to pay interest on the first batch.
It was being promoted by various scammers and some chumps. A couple went to jail, including Dexter, but that was after $160 million was spent on 2,700 mugs, including quite a few AFP officers.
I’ve felt guilty about it ever since, for letting it slip away.
‘When the tide goes out’
As the cryptocurrency craze has blossomed too far, when many hucksters have been making claims that were too good to be true, or just plain incomprehensible, Wattle comes to mind.
Far more than Wattle’s $160 million will be lost by the time the crypto dust settles.
This game has never made sense to me: I don’t sell drugs or credit card data on the dark web or ransom corporate computer systems, so I have no need to Bitcoin or its buds. Years ago I compared the craze to collecting NRL player cards.
When you can’t accept the premise of the game’s starting point, you can’t deal with the many derivatives like Celsius.
You may belatedly express your displeasure with politicians and regulators for not being able to deal with the nonsense that flourishes in plain sight, but that doesn’t help the fools who have burned through real money.
When the game was heating up, the cups didn’t want to hear anything negative about it anyway. Some of our more gullible politicians thought it was all very exciting.
But as we come to the end of the “everything bubble,” Warren Buffett’s great quote applies: “Only when the tide goes out do you find out who’s been swimming naked.”
Geoffrey Dexter received a 10-year jail sentence. I bet crypto scammers of a much larger scale will escape court altogether.