Alex Sunnarborg is a founding partner of Tetras Capital, a New York City-based cryptocurrency hedge fund Forbes estimates to have $30 million in assets under management. Tetras is well known for a recent bearish bet it made: It shorted ether in May 2018, a month when the digital currency’s average price was nearly $700. Today, ether hovers around $100. Before Tetras, Sunnarborg did a stint in investment banking and founded crypto exchange and research app Lawnmower, which was acquired by CoinDesk in 2017.
Forbes: How would you describe your investment strategy?
Sunnarborg: In a bull market when everything is going up, especially when bitcoin is going up, altcoins generally will return more than bitcoin. In 2017 when we launched, we were looking to make altcoin trades. [Altcoins are generally considered any crypto asset other than bitcoin.] They historically have more volatility and higher betas.
In a bear market, altcoins are still trading at a higher beta, but to the downside. In 2018, bitcoin fell about 75%, but altcoins fell 95%. It’s funny how strongly they’re still correlated, yet altcoins have a higher beta. Today, if we’re trying to hedge our exposure to this space, before we short bitcoin we look at something with a higher beta.
Forbes: You shorted ether in May 2018, when it was trading above $500. Now ether is at $100. Obviously, that went well. Was it your biggest win for 2018?
Sunnarborg: I would say so, yeah.
Forbes: Where’s the bottom for ether?
Sunnarborg: It’s funny, these cryptos don’t have a good way to come to a fundamental value. I can’t tell you ether is fundamentally going to bottom at $50. It was at $10 two years ago, right? These assets trade so much relatively to each other, so I think ether’s short-term bottom would be in line with bitcoin starting to turn. If bitcoin turned tomorrow and rallied, I think ether would, too.
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Forbes: Over the past few months, we’ve seen issues with ConsenSys struggling and doing layoffs. Do you think that’s a bad sign for the future of Ethereum?
Sunnarborg: Yeah. ConsenSys is an integral piece of the Ethereum ecosystem. All the Ethereum decentralized applications and products it supports have had minimal user growth. A lot of them still haven’t launched and are still pretty difficult to use, and the daily active user counts are less than 100.
Augur has about $40,000 of money at stake across all its prediction markets, but the investors behind Augur have put up tens of millions. It has a market cap of hundreds of millions. There’s this massive disconnect between how much money is still tied up in these projects and how much people actually use them.
I’ve also noticed some Ethereum developers basically talking about building on some competing blockchains. People are talking about launching on Dfinity or Polkadot. At least at a high level, it does not look or feel good. It looks like a drop in momentum and steam.
Forbes: Are you currently short ether?
Sunnarborg: I don’t think I should comment on that right now. We have not held ether since we first published our short thesis in July 2018. We then went short ether, and we have taken that position off three or four times in 2018.
Forbes: Has bitcoin bottomed yet?
Sunnarborg: I don’t think so, and I think calling that is very difficult. That’s part of the reason I’m really thankful that we’re in the position we are right now. We can hedge ourselves, remain more neutral and not have to call that exact price or timing bottom. I’m not confident right now. Our portfolio is relatively neutral—we have cash and short positions.
Forbes: What are you buying and holding?
Sunnarborg: Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of bitcoin. And if the market were to turn right now, what liquid altcoin sector would we even look at? We’re very biased against anything that did an ICO, because we think they’re pretty much all illegal securities offerings. Just by cutting that out, you are left with a very small handful of assets. A use case I still find interesting, because bitcoin doesn’t have that functionality yet, is private transactions.
Forbes: Among privacy coins, which do you like best?
Sunnarborg: I think Mimblewimble and Grin are pretty interesting—the fair launch process, the focus on privacy and the inflation. I think zcash and monero are both still interesting.
Forbes: Can you explain what Grin did to create a fair launch?
Sunnarborg: There’s only so many projects that don’t launch their blockchain or token without an ICO or some initial funding. Grin tried to use the ethos of bitcoin of saying there’s going to be a genesis block, and people are going to start mining the coin. There’s no way you can buy it or get access to this coin ahead of time. That’s very similar to how monero launched, and both of those attract a lot of interest from people in bitcoin, largely for that reason.
Forbes: What other factors do you look at?
Sunnarborg: Another huge thing for me is the security. So, things like that recent Ethereum Classic 51% attack (when users attacked the blockchain with computing power to spend the same coins twice, undermining the primary function of the blockchain). These blockchains where it’s possible to rewrite the blockchain for not that much money relative to how much you could make by double-spending—those are immediately not attractive. Unfortunately, in the crypto space, security and price are generally very correlated. So, as the price of ether falls, it gets less secure.
Forbes: I’ve seen you tweet about the virtual reality Ethereum-based platform Decentraland. Do you like that project?
Sunnarborg: I find the concept of digital land very interesting, because of its scarcity. I like the concept of digital scarcity. This land asset seems interesting as something I could own and build on, and maybe charge players a fee for. I could sell it to someone else in the future. The value actually makes sense to me. But there’s this other token in Decentraland called mana, which was created via an ICO. You have to use mana to buy land. I absolutely hate this token; it’s totally unnecessary. I think the ICO was just done to raise money. They sold these tokens, and then essentially, they’re backing into what to do with them.
Forbes: I’ve also seen you tweet about EOS and its growing number of transactions. Are you bullish on it?
Sunnarborg: No. The one-year long, $4 billion-dollar ICO seems a little excessive to me. The whole governance system, with 21 block producers that can essentially make, vote, or deny everything, is a weird concept to me.
Forbes: What should investors be monitoring for signals about where the market is headed?
Sunnarborg: One of the big, fundamental things I want to see is whether the Fidelity crypto trading product actually rolls out in March. And do people actually start to use it? A very similar question: What’s the status of trading platform Bakkt? Will it get approved, and are people going to use it?
And how does the composition of global exchange volume start to shape up from here? Does volume increase on regulated, brand-name platforms—platforms that the next wave of institutions would actually trust?
What I’m really looking for in all these comments: Will this market actually clean up? Can we start to trust crypto data more, like trading volume numbers? We need more regulated, trusted players to improve the trading venues, because I think right now the SEC and many people are scared of manipulation, hacks and very shady venues for trading.
What would be really good for a market bottom to happen would be for every potential bad thing to happen immediately. I would love to see the SEC come down on people really hard. One of the biggest problems in this space is there are so many bad actors, and so many were related to ICOs. The SEC just has such a massive task ahead of them.
One way to think about the bottom is that it happens when all the bad news gets washed out. At that point the only thing to do is go up, and you can’t really talk about any negative catalysts anymore, because they’ve all happened.
Basically, I think we’re pretty close to the bottom, and what would help is if some more of that clarity and action came out. It probably would have been helpful for the bottom if the VanEck exchange-traded fund would have gotten totally rejected; if the SEC slapped some more of these people around and essentially maximum pain came onto the market. At that point we would see where, if any, buyers jumped in.
Excerpted from the February 2019 issue of Forbes CryptoAsset And Blockchain Advisor.
-Jeff Kauflin; Forbes Staff
Jeff Bezos Is No Longer The Richest Person In The World After Amazon Stock Plunges
Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos lost his title as the richest man in the world during after-hours trading on Thursday, after his ecommerce behemoth reported lackluster third-quarter earnings.
Amazon shares fell 7% in after-hours trading, knocking Bezos’ fortune down to $103.9 billion. That puts him at number two among the world’s richest. The new number one: Microsoft cofounder and fellow Washington state resident Bill Gates, who is worth $105.7 billion.
Bezos became the richest man in the world in 2018 and the first centibillionaire to ever appear on the The Forbes 400 that year with a net worth of $160 billion, ending Gates’ 24-year run as number one.
But the Amazon chief executive’s net worth drop isn’t entirely due to the decline in Amazon shares. Bezos transferred a quarter of his Amazon stake to his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos as part of their divorce settlement, which was finalized earlier this year. MacKenzie Bezos is worth $32.7 billion, and among the top twenty wealthiest people in the world.
On Thursday afternoon, Amazon reported a 26% drop in net income in its third quarter, its first profit decline since 2017. In after-hours trading, Amazon dropped nearly 9% to $1,624 per share in the 20 minutes after the market closed. It has since rebounded slightly, hovering at $1,657 per share at 7:30 p.m. ET
The company said it is investing heavily in logistics and delivery infrastructure, with the goal of making one-day shipping the norm for Amazon Prime members.
The company disclosed during its second quarter earnings call in July that it had spent “a little bit” more than the estimated $800 million that it has previously said it would invest in one-day shipping infrastructure.
The company declined to disclose how much it had spent on one-day shipping in the third quarter. But chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky did disclose Thursday that the company plans to spend $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter, presumably to finance the one-day shipping initiative.
Gates, meanwhile, has been out of Microsoft since 2014 when he stepped down as chairman of the storied company, though he remains a board member. He has sold or given away the majority of his Microsoft stake and diversified his wealth over time. He is now the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in the world.
Bill Gates debuted on Forbes’ first ever billionaire list in 1987 with a net worth of $1.25 billion. Bezos first joined The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 1998, one year after Amazon went public, with a net worth of $1.6 billion.
-Angel Au-Yeung; Forbes
These Are The Biggest Givers On The Forbes 400
This has been a year of record-setting in billionaire philanthropy. In September, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of POM Wonderful and Fiji Water, pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology for environmental sustainability research.
In June, Blackstone cofounder Stephen Schwarzman donated $189 million to the University of Oxford—the largest single gift to the school since the Renaissance—to fund its work on humanities. The same month, Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli pledged $100 million to UCLA’s engineering school, the largest gift ever to the department.
Forbes tracks gifts and pledges like these as part of our ongoing coverage of charitable giving by the country’s richest people.
For the second year in a row, Forbes tracked the philanthropic giving of the richest 400 individuals in the U.S. and gave each member of The Forbes 400 list a philanthropy score. The score ranged from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most philanthropic. List members for whom we could find no charitable giving information received an N.A. (not available).
Though the number of the biggest givers—those who scored a 5—stayed flat in 2019, those who received scores of 4 and 3 increased compared with a year ago.
The changes reflect two things: The country’s richest have gotten somewhat more generous, and Forbes had more information to work with this year. Some billionaires were willing to share information on charitable giving for the 2019 list who didn’t in 2018. As a result, four dozen people got higher scores this year than a year ago.
This year, Warren Buffett led the list of top givers with $38.8 billion in lifetime giving, which is 32% of his net worth, and earned the top score of 5.
He was followed by last year’s biggest giver, Bill Gates, who has donated $38.5 billion so far. Two people who scored a 5 last year—Paul Allen and David Koch—passed away.
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Billionaires like DreamWorks Pictures founder David Geffen and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton moved up to the top score after each scored a 4 last year. According to the latest tax filings, Geffen gave $38 million to his foundation in 2017, which brought his lifetime giving to about $1 billion.
Acton and his wife Tegan, on the other hand, have been expanding their philanthropic network, Wildcard Giving, which they founded in 2014 after Acton sold WhatsApp to Facebook. The couple has given away more than $1 billion to charitable causes.
Forty-one billionaires, including Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings and software billionaire Philip “Terry” Ragon, got higher scores this year than last year. Some, like Stephen Schwarzman, earned a higher score thanks to giving in the past year.
Others scored higher because we were able to find more information about their lifetime giving, through new public documents or details provided to us by Forbes 400 members or their spokespeople. In September, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that B.
Wayne Hughes, cofounder of self-storage behemoth Public Storage, had anonymously donated about $400 million to the University of Southern California in his lifetime. Hughes, who scored a 2 last year, jumped up to a 4.
Private equity tycoon Robert F. Smith’s pledge in May to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College generated lots of headlines but did not end up changing his score because the gift wasn’t big enough to move him up a notch. In many cases, fortunes grew faster than lifetime philanthropic giving.
To come up with the information on which we based our score, Forbes reporters looked at tax filings for charitable foundations, annual statements, SEC filings and news about new gifts. When possible, we interviewed Forbes 400 members and executives from their foundations. Some Forbes 400 members said they have chosen to donate anonymously, citing religious or privacy concerns.
Our score is based on total lifetime giving and what percent of their fortune members had given away. We weighted these two factors equally. Some individuals were then bumped up or down based on several other factors, including whether they had signed the Giving Pledge, whether they had pledged significant donations, how personally involved they were in their charitable giving, and how quickly and effectively their private foundations distributed dollars. We didn’t count pledges or announced gifts that have yet to be paid out, but we took commitment to philanthropy—or lack thereof—into account.
Forbes has been tracking the wealth of the richest Americans since 1982. “Some of [the members] told us to drop dead,” James Michaels, veteran editor of Forbes, told the New York Times in a 1982 story about the list’s debut. “They said they wanted no part of it, that they’d sue us.
This happens in reporting.” At times, our reporting on philanthropic giving received a similar response. “The new philanthropy ranking is fundamentally flawed, in that it is biased in favor of those who make their gifts widely known, and against donors who choose to make their charitable contributions anonymously,” one current Forbes 400 member (who did not wish to be named) wrote to us last year.
-Deniz Çam; Forbes
Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa
Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.
In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.
On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.
In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).
Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.
“I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra.
That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.
The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.
The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”
He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.
“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.
“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”
Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.
It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.
But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”
And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.
“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.
The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.
Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.
“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”
Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.
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