ICO Firms Paid Themselves $24 Billion Absent of Accountability or Much Effort
A BitMEX report highlights the egregiousness of the ICO craze of 2017. Cryptocurrency companies were able to raise millions absent of accountability and with little work, and at the expense of likely unsophisticated buyers.
The scathing report, released on Jan. 16th by BitMEX, on the ICO market in 2017-18 concluded token startups raised over $24 billion during the period. These startups cumulatively “paid” over $1.5 billion to team members and saw the total value of their holdings reduced to under $5 billion as a result of the bear market.
The piece is third in a series of ICO-focused research papers. While earlier reports analyzed the interrelationships and treasury accounts of all projects turning to the controversial method of fundraising, the latest tracks $24 billion worth of tokens that teams issued and awarded themselves in 2017-18.
While BitMEX adjusted the price values of the tokens to account for cycles in the market, it states the holdings could have been worth over $80 billion during the cryptocurrency market’s peak in December of 2017. With highs in mind, token projects totaled over $70 billion in unrealized losses—equivalent to the GDP of Myanmar.
Based on illiquid spot prices, current holdings for ICO teams are worth roughly $5 billion. The research refers to these holdings as:
“[It is] money they essentially got from nothing, depending on one’s view. At the same time, the teams may have realized gains of US$1.5 billion by selling tokens, based on coins leaving team address clusters.”
Easiest Route to Becoming a Millionaire
BitMEX CEO Arthur Hayes called out teams looking to raise huge amounts of capital through ICOs who at the same time make no meaningful progress on their projects. The research added that $13 billion in profits was “easily” realized by crypto teams, with “very little work, accountability, or transparency.”
When you create poo poo out of thin air, gravity is a bitch. Check out the latest report from BitMEX Research on ICOs. https://t.co/SdlZ7hreTD
— Arthur Hayes (@CryptoHayes) January 16, 2019
Overall, teams profited by selling ether tokens raised from the market—or even issuing project tokens to themselves. Keep in mind that the computed dollar values are “gross estimates,” as the market has far from sufficient liquidity to support billion-dollar sales of obscure tokens.
Breaking Down the Numbers
Of all teams, the peer-to-peer capital markets project Veritaseum (VERI) issued the highest amount—over $4.8 billion worth—of its tokens to team members. Smart city project Noah Coin (NOAH) followed closely, with $4.4 billion issued to team members. Third in line is digital ecosystem financier Kin (KIN), which issued $1 billion worth of tokens to its team.
All values for the above mentioned were based on prices at the time of coin issuance. However, if price data from Jan. 19 is considered, Verisatuem and Kin have faced losses of $3.2 billion and $700 million, respectively.
The most unfortunate teams seem to be those from SALT and IoT Chain. Both projects saw a 97 percent decline in “proportional loss of value,” if data from team-controlled address clusters are considered. Other projects losing over 90 percent of their value in this metric include Arcblock (ARC), Metal (MTL), and Po.et (POE)—three of the arguably most ‘hyped’ projects of 2017.
Data suggests team members paid in Huobi Tokens (HT) enjoyed a massive payday. An analysis of coins transferred out of team-controlled address clusters concluded holders sold over $366 million worth in HT tokens. Interestingly, most of this could have been on Huobi’s exchange platform, where the HT is provided as an exchange pair for several cryptocurrencies. Similarly, Qash (QASH) members made over $175 million and presumably sold its tokens on the project’s own exchange.
Meanwhile, an analysis of team-controlled address clusters from Verisateum and Binance (BNB) suggests team members have “strong hands” when it comes to holding their payments. Verisateum employees have yet to move $1.5 billion worth of tokens from their wallets, and $447 million BNB tokens also remain locked in team wallets. HT and QASH holders join this list, with $248 million and $140 million held by its employees, respectively.
Insight for the Next Bubble
The research and data are grim for investors expecting another ICO frenzy:
“The ICO cycle now appears to be dying down to some extent and it’s much harder to raise funds than it was in late 2017. But with so much money made and lost, the events of 2017 and early 2018 are not likely to be quickly forgotten.”
Yet, in hindsight, it is clear that 2017 had elements of a speculative mania. Hopefully, lessons learned from the last cycle can mitigate fund misallocation during the next bull market.