Banking & Finance

Goldman Sachs Gears Up for a Run at Crypto

If it is true that the best time to buy is when there is blood in the streets, could that also be true of digital assets? Following the collapse of FTX and its $32 billion valuation, Goldman Sachs thinks so.

According to an exclusive report from Reuters Tuesday morning, the investment bank is planning to spend “tens of millions of dollars” on crypto assets, including outright purchases of companies. A valuation of tens of millions is considerably less than one of tens of billions, so Goldman is counting on a discount of substantial size.

Goldman’s head of digital assets, Matthew McDermott, told Reuters the bank was doing its due diligence on several crypto firms without naming any of them. McDermott said FTX’s collapse “definitely set the market back in terms of sentiment, [but that] the underlying technology continues to perform.”

The bank has invested in 11 companies that provide technologies to support compliance, cryptocurrency data and blockchain management. In early November, Goldman, MSCI and Coin Metrics launched a new classification system for the digital assets market called datonomy. The datonomy service classifies coins and tokens based on how they are used and is intended to increase transparency in the “digital assets ecosystem.”

McDermott also noted that FTX’s implosion “heightened the need for more trustworthy, regulated cryptocurrency players, and big banks see an opportunity to pick up business.” Not all big banks, however. Morgan Stanley and HSBC, for example, told Reuters that they have no plans to expand into crypto.

Notice the use of “regulated” in McDermott’s statement. He does not appear to mean regulated banks. Rather, he is talking about regulated crypto. Regulating crypto has burned a lot of pixels since FTX filed for bankruptcy, chopping the valuation of digital assets from around $2.9 trillion at the end of last year to just under $900 million as of Monday’s close.

By way of comparison, U.S. home prices dropped by more than $2 trillion in 2008, but the total value of all U.S. homes in December of that year was $26.2 trillion. The federal Troubled Asset Relief Program disbursed $443 billion of a $700 billion authorization to keep the U.S. economy from collapsing. The distraught banks, which were already regulated, became even more so following the near disaster.

Is regulation of digital assets required? Not everyone thinks so. Writing in the Financial Times last month, Stephen Cecchetti of Brandeis and Kim Shoenholtz of NYU argued that, rather than regulating digital assets, “It is far better to do nothing, and just let crypto burn.”

They go on:

Actively intervening would convey undeserved legitimacy upon a system that does little to support real economic activity. It also would provide an official seal of approval to a system that currently poses no threat to financial stability and would lead to calls for public bailouts when crypto inevitably erupts again.

Cecchetti and Shoenholtz say that regulating crypto “will encourage banks both to purchase crypto assets and to lend against them as collateral, making the banking system vulnerable to plunging market values.” The implosion of FTX and the plunging valuation of the crypto market have not caused even a ripple in traditional financial markets or among financial firms.

If new rules are needed at all, “they are ones that limit exposure of traditional leveraged intermediaries to the crypto world.” In other words, banks like Goldman Sachs could be prohibited from accumulating or trading crypto, nor should they be allowed to accept it as collateral.

Instead of trying to figure out a way to regulate crypto, “policymakers should … keep crypto systemically irrelevant.” Officials should constantly remind people that “crypto is rife with failures and fraud” and “let it implode under the pressure of its unsafe and unsound business practices.”

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