Hey everyone, and welcome back to Chain Reaction.
Last week, we discussed $4.5 billion in new crypto funds from a16z. This week, we’re talking about the arrest that has everyone in the NFT space sweating bullets.
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crimes of the future
The crypto space has been moving so quickly over the past couple years that builders have generally seemed to believe existing rules didn’t apply to them. Well, after years of snails’ pace legal action, it seems U.S. prosecutors are starting to feel it’s time to challenge that perception.
This week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York arrested and filed charges against a former OpenSea executive who used his position to front-run NFT projects that were going to be listed on the home page of the marketplace. Members of the community discovered his actions by tracking his activity on public blockchains.
I would’ve loved to rant on this during the podcast, but news broke while we were recording, so I’ll leave you with some thoughts here.
The arrest was pretty much a massive shock to people in the NFT space who generally believed that Nate Chastain had acted unethically but that it couldn’t be “insider trading” because NFTs weren’t securities. This is a framing that was held by many, including Chastain’s boss at OpenSea who fired him.
“I do think there was a misframing of it as insider trading. We don’t view NFTs as financial assets, so that does not apply. That’s a very specific term for a very specific thing,” OpenSea Devin Finzer told Decrypt in September.
There are an awful lot of people taking a very close reading of the SDNY press release, which states it specifically charged Chastain “with wire fraud and money laundering in connection with a scheme to commit insider trading in Non-Fungible Tokens.” They notably describe NFTs as “digital assets” later in the release. Also, it’s worth reiterating that this is the DOJ — not the SEC — charging him, though it is the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force handling this case.
Now, why don’t crypto people want NFTs to be classified as securities? Well, there’s a lot of existing regulatory guidance there, and most feel it would basically upend the industry if NFTs were unilaterally subjected to securities law; it would certainly raise the barrier of entry for creation of NFTs and curtail a lot of the experimentation happening in the space right now.
Another big reason that it would be bad if NFTs are treated as securities is that it would mean an awful lot of people have been doing illegal things for an awfully long time.
The NFT space made it through this latest crypto bull run without any meaningful regulation coming down on it. As NFT volumes start to show signs of slowing, there’s a fear that more regulation could be just around the corner.
the latest pod
What’s up, it’s Anita here to give you a preview of the latest episode of our Chain Reaction podcast, where we unpack the latest web3 news, block-by-block for the crypto-curious.
This week, we talked about Coinbase’s new approach to what can be one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of corporate life — the performance review. Our colleague, Amanda, wrote about how the crypto exchange is trying to emulate Ray Dalio’s hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, by letting employees give each other real-time feedback and ratings. Is this part of tech’s descent into a Black Mirror-style reality? Tune in to hear our thoughts.
We also recapped two recent crypto comeback stories, one from the OnlyFans founder and CEO who left the company after trying to ban sexually explicit content from the platform and another from the architect of the highly unstable stablecoin, Terra.
Our guest this week was Outdoor Voices founder Ty Haney, who shared details about her pivot from athleisure to crypto with her new venture, Try Your Best. Haney broke the news on our podcast that the startup just landed its second round of institutional funding.
follow the money
Where startup money is moving in the crypto world:
- New York-based enterprise blockchain startup Digital Asset took in a strategic investment of undisclosed size from Japanese banking giant SBI Holdings.
- InfStones, a blockchain infrastructure provider, nabbed $66 million in a round led by SoftBank and GGV.
- Indian music NFT startup FanTiger bagged $5.5 million for its seed round led by Multicoin Capital.
- LivingCities, a metaverse-focused social startup co-founded by Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, banked $4 million in early funding led by DCVC.
- Zimbabwe’s FlexID received an undisclosed amount of funding from Algorand for its blockchain-based identity system for the underbanked.
- Web3 augmented reality gaming company Jadu raised $36 million in funding for its Series A led by Bain Capital Crypto.
- VillageStudio raised $2.3 million in an Animoca Brands-led round for its NFT-based Playken avatars.
- Web3 payments API Merge got $9.5 million in seed funding led by Octopus Ventures.
- GoSats, an India-based bitcoin rewards platform, raised $4 million in a pre-Series A funding round from investors including Y Combinator, Accel and Gossamer Capital.
- DAO management platform Utopia Labs closed a $23 million Series A led by Paradigm.
the week in web3
It was an uncharacteristically quiet week in web3, and our team members in the U.S. took some time to enjoy the rare, uneventful long weekend. Still, some big personalities made waves in the space, for better and for worse.
- OnlyFans founder Tim Stokely is pivoting to crypto after leaving the company last December following controversy over his push to ban sexually explicit content from the platform. Anita wrote about the new “family-friendly” NFT startup he’s launching alongside another former OnlyFans exec that will allow people to buy, sell and trade virtual cards featuring influencers and celebrities.
- NFT platform OpenSea had fired Nate Chastain, its head of product, back in September after he was accused of front-running trades on the platform. Now, he’s been arrested and charged with insider trading; Lucas has the details.
Here’s some of this week’s crypto analysis you can read on our subscription service TC+ (written by TC’s Jacquelyn Melinek):
VC funding for crypto projects fell in May, but many investors remain bullish
VC funding in crypto has fallen month-over-month from April to May, but many investors are not concerned. “For investors like us, it’s time to buy,” Stan Miroshnik, partner and co-founder of 10T Holdings, told TechCrunch. The pace of capital deployment might be more measured as investors and founders alike become more calculated, but VCs will still continue to have a robust amount of activity, Miroshnik said. Even though there might be a gloomy sentiment in digital asset markets, true crypto-native funds will continue to invest heavily, Saurabh Sharma, head of investments at Jump Crypto, said to TechCrunch.
As crypto becomes more mainstream, can it stay decentralized?
Whether it’s first-time buyers of cryptocurrency or people learning more about NFTs, Bitcoin and the general crypto ecosystem, there has been an uptick globally in awareness of crypto. But as it gains momentum, regulators worldwide will continue to monitor the space more closely, but the headline speaks for itself: what does this mean for the future of crypto? A number of founders and executives in the industry weighed in with their thoughts.
Longtime Bitcoiner Dan Held says this ‘crypto winter’ won’t be as harsh as others
As the cryptomarkets remain bearish, some longtime market participants, like Dan Held, director of growth marketing at crypto exchange Kraken, aren’t worried. Even though there is lots of talk of a crypto winter circulating through the community, Held said the sentiment for this current market cycle is different. While he — and many others — persisted through major market cycles over the years, the narratives have shifted a lot, thanks to more prominent institutional players and massive amounts of capital entering the space.
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Bonds See 2023 Recession, Stocks Aren’t So Sure
The yield curve is one of the most robust recession predictors and has signaled a recession may be coming since mid 2022. In contrast, U.S. stocks as measured by the S&P 500 are up materially from the lows of last October and only just below year-to-date highs, seemingly rejecting recession fears. Yet, fixed income markets see the Fed potentially cutting rates by the summer, perhaps reacting to a U.S. recession.
The Evidence From The Bond Markets
The recessionary evidence, at least from fixed income markets, is mounting. The 10 yield Treasury yield has been below the 2 year yield consistently since last July. That is is called an inverted yield curve and has signaled a recession fairly reliably when compared to other leading indicators.
Building on that, fixed income markets see almost a nine in ten chance that the Federal Reserve cuts rates by September of this year. That’s something the Fed has repeatedly said they won’t do on their current forecasts. Yet, a recession could cause it to happen.
The Stock Market
In contrast, the stock market shows some optimism. The S&P 500 is up 7% year-to-date as the market has shrugged off fears of contagion from recent banking issues. In particular, tech stocks have rallied.
In contrast, more defensive sectors such as healthcare, utilities and consumer goods have lagged in 2023. This suggests that the stock market is taking more of a ‘risk on’ position and is perhaps less worried about the economy.
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That said the stock market is a leading indicator of the business cycle, it may be that stocks see a recession, but are now looking past it to growth ahead and are factoring in the lower discount rates that a recession might bring as interest rates decline. Also, the U.S. stock market is relatively global, so the fate of the U.S. economy is a key factor in driving profits, but not the only one.
Monitoring unemployment data will be key. Though the yield curve is a good long-term forecaster of recessions it is less precise in signaling when a recession starts. Unemployment rates can offer more accurate recession timing. Unemployment edged up in February, suggesting a recession may be near, but we’ve also seen monthly noise unemployment. Two similar monthly unemployment spikes during 2022 both proved false alarms.
However, if we see a sustained move up in unemployment from the low levels of 2022 that may be a relatively clear sign that a recession is here. Economist Claudia Sahm estimates that a sustained 0.5% increase in unemployment rate from 12-month lows is sufficient to trigger a recession. Unemployment rose 0.2% from January to February 2023, so maybe we’re on the way there. Of course, the jobs market performed better than expected in 2022 and it could do so again. Still, fixed income markets do suggest a 2023 recession is coming. Stock markets don’t necessarily share that view.
Which States Have The Highest And Lowest Life Expectancies?
There’s a wide variance of life expectancies among the 50 states in the U.S., according to a recent report prepared by Assurance, an insurance technology platform that helps consumers with decisions related to insurance and financial well-being.
Figure 1 below shows the 10 states with the highest life expectancy, starting with Hawaii, the state with the highest life expectancy.
Figure 2 below shows the 10 states with the lowest life expectancy, starting with Mississippi, the state with the lowest life expectancy.
Assurance scoured life expectancy data prepared in January 2023 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With this data, Assurance created several easy-to-understand graphics that offer information about life expectancies.
Life expectancies are a basic measure of well-being
As measured by the CDC, life expectancies are a basic measurement of well-being in a broad population and not a prediction of how long an individual might live. The CDC measures the expected lifespan for a person born in the year of measurement. This measurement is calculated based on the assumption that the individual will live and die according to the rates of death that are prevalent in the measurement year for each age. There’s no assumed improvement or backsliding in the assumed mortality rates in future years for each age in the life expectancy calculation.
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By contrast, an estimated lifespan for an individual would consider their current age, their gender, and some basic lifestyle information. It might also attempt to project future improvements or backsliding in mortality rates based on key factors.
Significant influences on life expectancy calculations
Leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer, and accidents in that order. These immediate causes are significantly influenced by factors in the population such as poverty rates, educational attainment, rates of obesity and smoking, access to healthcare, prevalence of violent crime, and the support people receive from federal, state, and local governments. All these factors can vary widely among different states, which can be a key reason why life expectancies vary by state.
When you think about it, all these factors also have the potential to influence a person’s quality of life. The measured life expectancy rate rolls up all these factors into one objective measurement of well-being that’s based on population data.
In addition to the factors listed above, mortality rates increased and life expectancies decreased in the past few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent article titled “Live Free And Die” summarized recent research results that show that life expectancies in most countries around the world rebounded after the Covid-19 pandemic but that they continued to decline in the United States. Many of the reasons cited in the article for the continued decline in U.S. life expectancies are the same or similar to the factors listed above.
Why should retirees care about the life expectancies reported here if these measures don’t predict your own lifespan? Life expectancy calculations indicate the general well-being of the entire population in your area. While the living conditions in your area can influence your own lifespan and quality of life, retirees should focus on their remaining life expectancy given their age. They should also consider how the factors listed above that influence life expectancies in the population might apply to them.
You can obtain customized estimates of your remaining life expectancy at the Actuaries Longevity Illustrator. Part of your planning for retirement is understanding how long you an an individual might live, instead of relying on generalized information about larger populations you see in the media.
IRS Dirty Dozen Campaign Warns Taxpayers To Avoid Offer In Compromise ‘Mills’
Owing taxes can be stressful. Unfortunately, the actions of some companies can make it worse. As part of its “Dirty Dozen” campaign, the IRS has renewed a warning about so-called Offer in Compromise “mills” that often mislead taxpayers into believing they can settle a tax debt for pennies on the dollar—while the companies collective excessive fees.
The “Dirty Dozen” is an annual list of common scams taxpayers may encounter. Many of these schemes peak during tax filing season as people prepare their returns or hire someone to help with their taxes. The schemes put taxpayers and tax professionals at risk of losing money, personal information, data, and more.
Tax Debt Resolution Schemes
“Too often, we see some unscrupulous promoters mislead taxpayers into thinking they can magically get rid of a tax debt,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.
“This is a legitimate IRS program, but there are specific requirements for people to qualify. People desperate for help can make a costly mistake if they clearly don’t qualify for the program. Before using an aggressive promoter, we encourage people to review readily available IRS resources to help resolve a tax debt on their own without facing hefty fees.”
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Offers In Compromise
Legitimate is a key word. Offers in Compromise are an important program to help people who can’t pay to settle their federal tax debts. But, as the IRS notes, these “mills” can aggressively promote Offers in Compromise—OIC—in misleading ways to people who don’t meet the qualifications, frequently costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
An OIC allows you to resolve your tax obligations for less than the total amount you owe. You generally submit an OIC because you don’t believe you owe the tax, you can’t pay the tax, or exceptional circumstances exist.
Because of the nature of the OIC—and the dollars involved—the process can be time-consuming. It can also be confusing for taxpayers who may not have a complete grasp on their finances.
First, you must complete a detailed application, Form 656, Offer in Compromise. You must also submit Form 433-A, Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-Employed Individuals, or Form 433-B, Collection Information Statement for Businesses, with supporting documentation (generally, bank and brokerage statements and proof of expenses).
You’ll also need to submit a non-refundable fee of $205 and payment made in good faith. The payment is typically 20% of the offer amount for a lump sum cash offer or the first month’s payment for those made over time. Generally, initial payments will not be returned but will be applied to your tax debt if your offer is not accepted. Payments and fees may be waived if the OIC is submitted based solely on the premise that you do not owe the tax or if your total monthly income falls at or below income levels based on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) poverty guidelines.
The IRS will examine your application and decide whether to accept it based on many things, including the total amount due and the time remaining to collect under the statute of limitations. The IRS will also review your income—including future earnings and accounts receivables—and your reasonable expenses, as determined by their formula. The IRS will also consider the amount of equity you have in assets that you own—this would include real property, personal property (like automobiles), and bank accounts.
Before your offer can be considered, you must be compliant. That means you must have filed all your tax returns and paid off any liabilities not subject to the OIC. After you submit your offer, you must continue to timely file your tax returns, and pay all required tax, including estimated tax payments. If you don’t, the IRS will return your offer.
Additionally, you cannot currently be in an open bankruptcy proceeding, and you must resolve any open audit or outstanding innocent spouse claim issues before you submit an offer.
You can probably tell—it’s a lot to consider. You may want representation. A tax professional can help marshal you through the process and offer practical guidance, while communicating what fees could look like.
By contrast, according to the IRS, an OIC “mill” will usually make outlandish claims, frequently in radio and TV ads, about how they can settle a person’s tax debt for cheap. Also telling: the fees tend to be significant in exchange for very little work.
Those mills also knowingly advise indebted taxpayers to file an OIC application even though the promoters know the person will not qualify, costing taxpayers money and time. You can check your eligibility for free using the IRS’s Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool.
“Pennies On A Dollar”
What about those promises that taxpayers can routinely settle for pennies on a dollar? Not true. Generally, the IRS will not accept an offer if they believe you can pay your tax debt in full through an installment agreement or equity in assets, including your home. That’s why the IRS tends to reject a majority of OICs that are submitted. The acceptance rate is less than 1 in 3, according to the 2021 Data Book.
The IRS will generally approve an OIC when the amount offered represents the best opportunity for the IRS to collect the debt. It’s true that there’s a formula that the IRS uses to figure out how much they think they can collect from you. But there is some wiggle room to account for special circumstances, including a loss of income or a medical condition. It’s worth noting those are the exceptions, not the rule.
While submitting an OIC may keep the IRS from calling you, it doesn’t stop all collections activities—don’t believe companies that suggest that submitting an OIC will make your tax debt disappear. Penalties and interest will continue to accrue on your outstanding tax liability. Additionally, the IRS may keep your tax refund, including interest, through the date the IRS accepts your OIC.
You may also be liened. In most cases, the IRS will file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien to protect their interests, and the lien will generally stay in place until your tax obligation is satisfied.
An OIC is a serious effort to resolve tax debt and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be skeptical—if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. If you’re considering an OIC, hire a competent tax professional who understands the rules and is willing to level with you about your chances of being successful—including other options. Don’t fall into a trap that can make your situation worse.
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