The co-founders of an influential multi-billion-dollar crypto hedge fund have suddenly gone MIA right at the moment that people want their money.
Days of swirling rumors have been followed by harder evidence that Three Arrows Capital, or 3AC, is ghosting its business partners as it attempts to avoid insolvency after the firm overleveraged itself ahead of the recent “crypto winter,” which has plagued the industry and led to a steep decline in crypto prices. Now, firms are scrambling to distance themselves from 3AC to assure customers that their funds won't go down with the ship run by Zhu Su and Kyle Davies, two childhood friends who suddenly found themselves wielding billions in the Wild West of emerging crypto markets.
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“Losing a bet is one thing, but at least be honorable and not drag others into your bets who have nothing to do with it. Certainly don’t ghost on everyone since potentially, they could’ve helped you,” the head of trading at a firm that does business with 3AC said on Twitter.
The largely self-funded hedge fund has become a prominent investor in almost all arenas of the cryptocurrency industry, as well as a prolific borrower, making its inability to meet margin calls over the last week—money a firm has to pony up to cover losses—a subject of concern throughout the sector.
Rumors of issues at 3AC started to percolate over the last week, as crypto prices plunged and evidence emerged that the firm was frantically unloading tokens. “They’re not responding to anyone,” an unnamed source at a crypto trading firm told The Financial Times. As the frustration grew louder, 3AC’s normally prolific co-founders went silent, until Su sent out a cryptic and ominous tweet on Tuesday. “We are in the process of communicating with relevant parties and fully committed to working this out,” he wrote, without any additional context. He has not tweeted since, nor has Davies.
The head of trading at the Hong Kong-based firm 8 Blocks Capital, Danny Yuan, released a statement on Wednesday saying that 3AC had stopped responding after 8 Blocks requested a large withdrawal on Monday, June 13. After 3AC didn’t respond, a member of Yuan’s firm noticed that “~1m was missing from our accounts with them.” Additional attempts at contact went nowhere, and 8 Blocks Capital went elsewhere for information.
“What we learned is that they were leveraged long everywhere and were getting margin-called. Instead of answering the margin calls, they ghosted everyone. The platforms had no choice but to liquidate their positions, causing the markets to further dump,” Yuan said. In other words, 3AC had bet on crypto prices going up with borrowed funds (or “leverage” to use financial speak) meaning that any gains are higher but losses hurt much more. Yuan then called on platforms holding funds associated with 3AC to freeze them.
Zhu and Davies made their first public comments in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday morning, where they said that they were exploring asset sales and “rescue by another firm,” the outlet reported, and hoped to secure an arrangement with their creditors to give the firm some runway.
The apparent crisis afflicting 3AC is already sending ripples through the industry. On Thursday, the yield generation platform Finblox said that the company would pause reward distributions and limit withdrawals for all customers as it evaluated the effect of 3AC’s financial stress on its platform. 3AC is an investor in Finblox, the company said.
The crypto lender BlockFi would not confirm if BlockFi had liquidated 3AC’s position, saying in a statement to Motherboard that it is against company policy to “comment on specific counterparties.” But BlockFi added that it “exercised our best business judgment recently with a large client that failed to meet its obligations on an overcollateralized margin loan.” (Unnamed sources told The Financial Times that BlockFi had indeed liquidated 3AC’s position.)
The stench of 3AC is so strong that even those who are not attached to the company have felt it necessary to distance themselves. Tether, the stablecoin currency, for one, issued a statement calling rumors that it had lending exposure to 3AC “categorically false.”
The question is whether 3AC is a canary in the coal mine for crypto hedge funds, or just an overzealous fund that took too many risks. Mike Novogratz, the founder of Galaxy Digital Holdings, for one, has said he expects two-thirds of crypto hedge funds to soon fail.
Since its founding in 2012, 3AC has become one of the largest crypto hedge funds in the world, and its demise could cause trouble throughout the sector. Zhu and Davies, friends since high school who attended Columbia and joined Credit Suisse as derivatives traders together, started the fund while they lived in an apartment together, and have since become rumored to be “among the world’s biggest crypto holders,” according to Bloomberg.
3AC mostly (and maybe only) managed the co-founders’ own money, which Zhu claimed allowed 3AC “the ability to make very good decisions on market timing.” It also allowed for unusually large, risky bets, and for a while, the firm achieved astonishing results. The analytics firm Nansen estimated 3AC held $10 billion in blockchain assets as of March, and the company has investments all over the crypto ecosystem. As of December, that included a stake in the world’s biggest Bitcoin fund, the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, that reportedly exceeded 5 percent.
To increase the size of its bets, 3AC borrowed money from a number of firms, dramatically increasing its potential windfall. But when the crypto market started to crash, 3AC got hit hard. The hedge fund had invested in places like the play-to-earn game Axie Infinity and the Solana blockchain, whose token values have crashed in recent months. It also invested in Celsius, a crypto bank that has suspended withdrawals indefinitely amid rumors of insolvency. 3AC's worst bet may have been Luna, a cryptocurrency that plummeted to near-zero in a dramatic implosion.
Now, 3AC appears to be scrambling to find money wherever it can, such as by selling massive amounts of tokens. One NFT fund the company had backed even moved all of its 70 pieces of digital art on SuperRare, which it had spent more than $20 million collecting, to a single address, indicating asset consolidation.
Ahead of the crash, Zhu and Davies professed an almost religious devotion to the potential of cryptocurrency. The libertarian Su had repeatedly pushed his “supercycle” thesis publicly, claiming crypto prices would continuously rise as it gained prominence relative to government currencies. “I also think we are entering an era where the potential of Bitcoin to become one of the key reserve currencies of people and nations is becoming clearer than ever,” Zhu told Bloombeg in April. “It will not be a smooth ride, but it will be a highly meaningful one for those who take the journey.”
On May 27, Zhu admitted that his grand supercycle theory was “regrettably wrong," adding that "crypto will still thrive and change the world every day,” comments that Davies echoed in the Wall Street Journal. “We have always been believers in crypto and we still are,” he said.
Update: This article was updated to include information from a Wall Street Journal article published on Friday morning.