FTX bankruptcy warning

Sam Bankman-Fried

Sam Bankman-Fried told investors Wednesday that without a cash injection the company would need to file for bankruptcy, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

On a call before Binance pulled an about-face and bailed on its takeover offer, Bankman-Fried informed investors his crypto exchange faced a shortfall of up to $8 billion and needed $4 billion to remain solvent, the person said, asking not to be named discussing private talks. FTX is attempting to raise rescue financing in the form of debt, equity, or a combination of the two, the person said.

“I f—ed up,” Bankman-Fried told investors on the call, according to people with knowledge of the conversation. He said he would be “incredibly, unbelievably grateful” if investors could help.

An FTX representative declined to comment.

The acknowledgment of his firm’s deepening troubles and limited options is a stunning turn for the crypto industry’s onetime wunderkind, who was once worth $26 billion and likened to John Pierpont Morgan. It also underscores the uncertainty hanging over FTX, its clients and cryptocurrency markets.

Hanging in the balance as the exchange teeters is not just the fate of its investors and lenders but anyone who has been unable to retrieve customer assets since it halted some withdrawals earlier in the week. The failure of crypto firms Celsius and Voyager saw billions in client money tied up in bankruptcy proceedings.

Still, Bankman-Fried remained defiant during a hectic period of roughly 24 hours that included mounting speculation that Binance wouldn’t go through with the deal.

He repeatedly told investors during the conference call on Wednesday afternoon that it was simply not true that Changpeng Zhao was walking away from the takeover, the person said.

About an hour later, Binance said it was indeed backing out.

“Our hope was to be able to support FTX’s customers to provide liquidity, but the issues are beyond our control or ability to help,” Binance, the crypto exchange founded by Zhao, said in a statement.

In addition to the financial strains, FTX is drawing attention from US authorities.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are investigating whether the firm properly handled customer funds, as well as its relationship with other parts of Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire, including his trading house Alameda Research, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday. Officials from the Justice Department also are working with SEC attorneys, one of the people said.

Zhao said in a memo earlier on Wednesday that there was no “master plan” to take over FTX, and that “user confidence is severely shaken.”

The renewed concern about contagion risk is showing up in the plunging prices of digital assets. Bitcoin fell below $16,000, the lowest in two years, after Binance’s announcement.

Coinbase Chief Executive Officer Brian Armstrong said Tuesday in a Bloomberg TV interview that if the deal with Binance fell through, it would likely mean FTX customers would take losses.

“That’s a not a good thing for anybody,” he said.