What did Kim do wrong?
Kim Kardashian’s $1.26 million crypto-related settlement yesterday with the S.E.C. was designed to get maximum exposure. Instead of just a dry press release, though the agency released one of those, Chair Gary Gensler announced the settlement on social media and even posted an influencer-style video warning the public about crypto investment schemes and scams. One of the many questions raised by the settlement that Gensler didn’t address in the video: Was it fair?
The case wasn’t as clear-cut as the S.E.C. made it seem. Kardashian got into trouble for sharing a promotional message about EthereumMax, an obscure crypto token, with her more than 330 million followers on Instagram. But it wasn’t as if Kardashian was overtly trying to flout the law. She included in the post a disclaimer that she was not offering financial advice, as well as the hashtag #AD, an F.T.C.-endorsed indication that the post was a paid advertisement. The S.E.C. said that disclosure didn’t comply with a decades-old agency rule governing the promotion of investment opportunities. Kardashian’s big mistake: She left out when and how much she was paid — $250,000 — to promote the token.
Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says the Kardashian cachet no doubt had a lot to do with the S.E.C.’s decision to go after her. “Part of what you do as a regulator is to punish the person, but what you are also doing is bringing cases that will have the overall effect of scaring people away from doing the same thing,” Gordon told DealBook.
The settlement raises issues for other crypto endorsements. Crypto companies spent millions last year on ads during the Super Bowl, many of them featuring celebrities, including Matt Damon and Tom Brady. Could those ads lead to S.E.C. investigations? The S.E.C. declined to comment on whether it was pursuing cases against other celebrities.
The S.E.C. says it targeted Kardashian because she illegally promoted a specific security. Damon and Brady, on the other hand, may be off the hook because they’ve endorsed exchanges on which you can trade crypto, not individual investments. But yesterday’s enforcement muddies the picture. Apparently the S.E.C. is sending the message that promoting something like EthereumMax, which we now know it defines as a security, requires a heightened level of disclosure. But then what about Michael Saylor and Elon Musk, two prominent promoters of Bitcoin and Dogecoin, respectively? Wouldn’t the Kardashian rule apply to them, too?
Going after Kardashian has generated plenty of questions. Thousands of commenters, for example, flocked to Gensler’s Twitter post about the settlement to criticize him for the agency’s scattershot enforcement approach to crypto promotions and promoters.
All the attention was like rocket fuel for EthereumMax. The token has risen more than 12-fold in the past 24 hours, to trade at a near six-month high. Zoom back though, and it’s down more than 90 percent from the time of the infamous Kardashian EthereumMax Instagram post.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The White House will restrict Chinese tech firms’ access to some chips. In the coming days, the Biden Administration is expected to announce new measures that would limit the ability of A.I. and supercomputing firms in China to access American high-tech equipment and software. The move expands upon a similar Trump-era rule.
Meta is reportedly downsizing in New York. The firm is planning to get out of its lease for its office space on Park Avenue South, Bloomberg reports, as it continues to consolidate its Manhattan presence. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s C.E.O., told employees the company would freeze hiring and slash budgets across most teams as the ad-reliant firm braces for a larger economic slowdown.
Credit Suisse bounces back. Its shares rebounded to a two-week high, climbing more than 5 percent this morning, as investors wait for details on the bank’s turnaround plans, which are expected to be revealed this month. European stocks and U.S. futures are higher this morning, too.
The British pound and government bonds rally. Kwasi Kwarteng now intends to publish a fiscal plan, ahead of schedule, that explains how the country will cut debt as it pursues a pro-growth policy. To avert a larger party rebellion, Liz Truss’s government yesterday backed away from controversial plans to cut taxes- on the nation’s wealthiest earners, which had roiled the markets and drew widespread criticism from within her own Conservative Party.
The Treasury unveils a new fund to support small businesses. Partners include JPMorgan Chase, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Hyphen, a nonprofit focused on equity in access to capital. The fund will tap a portion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to support small businesses, ensuring “communities of color, rural areas and others that have difficulty accessing capital are able to get the financing they need,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Just how risky is crypto?
The cryptocurrency market poses a threat to the broader financial system unless subjected to better regulation and enforcement, according to the U.S. officials charged with monitoring systemic risks following the 2008 financial crisis.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of regulators that is led by the Treasury, warned in its first major report on the sector that “although interconnections with the traditional financial system are currently relatively limited, they could potentially increase rapidly.”
Recent volatility in crypto highlights the need for action, a Treasury spokesman said. In May, the collapse of the algorithmic stablecoin Terra led to a downward spiral in prices, prompting a rash of crypto bankruptcies that left many investors unable to access their assets.
Washington wants better visibility. Crypto companies “do not have a consistent or comprehensive regulatory framework and can engage in regulatory arbitrage,” the report said.
Regulators also want to create new rules on how crypto exchanges and platforms can expand. Many companies add services by acquiring intermediaries, without facing the same limits on overlapping businesses that apply to the traditional financial sector.
The report fills in regulatory gaps. Officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, hope the report will serve as a guide for lawmakers and regulators as they develop a more comprehensive regulatory framework for crypto markets.
Industry observers such as Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University professor and author of “The Future of Money,” see the report as a significant step, as it recognizes the increasingly centralized nature of an industry that promotes decentralization, and provides some of the clarity that blockchain businesses have been clamoring for. “It certainly moves us forward,” Prasad said.
Poshmark no longer wants to go it alone
Poshmark, the online secondhand retailer, said yesterday that it was being acquired by Naver, South Korea’s largest internet company, for roughly $1.2 billion DealBook turned to our colleague Jordyn Holman, who covers all things retail for The Times, to break down the deal.
The acquisition gives Poshmark a foothold in Asia, where online shopping is thriving. It will also add 36 million monthly users from Naver to Poshmark’s 80 million registered users. And Naver has a growing business in “live selling,” where sellers auction off their products in a live stream, giving Poshmark another outlet for distribution. Investors greeted the deal coolly, sending Naver shares down nearly 9 percent this morning.
Poshmark appears to need a partner. The retailer’s shares have dropped 81 percent since it went public in January 2021. The biggest problem: Its bottom line, which has continued to sink into the red. Changes to Apple’s privacy rules have also disrupted Poshmark’s ability to target potential customers. Lastly, the secondhand market, where Poshmark is big, has increasingly become more crowded, as rivals also chase consumers gravitating toward lower-price used closing at a time when inflation and sustainability concerns are rising.
Other combinations might follow. Retailers Warby Parker and Rent the Runway, like Poshmark, went public during the pandemic, only to see their shares atrophy since. If Poshmark proves pairing up is the way to go, expect other online retailers to follow.
“Which @elonmusk do you like more?”
— Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, polling his 6.7 million Twitter followers on which Musk they prefer — the one who supports Russia or the one who supports Ukraine. This after Musk asked his Twitter followers to vote on a “peace plan,” with one contentious option being to cede Crimea to Russia.
Corporate boards have glaring “blind spots”
Corporate directors may feel too secure in their ability to manage 21st-century challenges, like climate change or cybersecurity, PwC’s annual board survey suggests. This year’s report includes a section on director “blind spots” to show what is being widely missed in a time when shareholders and consumers expect more engagement from companies than ever before.
Here are some of the findings that stand out to Maria Moats, who heads PwC’s Governance Insights Center:
Eleven percent of the roughly 700 directors surveyed think environmental expertise is an important skill set for their board. Moats sees this as problematic in an age when the S.E.C. and global regulators demand more environmental disclosures.
About 45 percent of survey participants see a link between environmental, social and governance principles and company performance — a relatively low number, Moats feels, as E.S.G. grows as a focus for shareholders and stakeholders.
About 60 percent of directors said that a non-C.E.O. board member met with shareholders during the year, and 90 percent rated the experience as productive.
THE SPEED READ
John Curtius, one of the most prolific deal makers at Tiger Global, is leaving the firm. (FT)
D.E. Shaw is reportedly planning to raise performance fees for its three biggest hedge funds to as high as 40 percent. (Bloomberg)
Two SPACs run by the serial blank-check entrepreneur Bill Foley plan to wind down and return money to investors. (Reuters)
Vodafone said it’s in talks to merge its U.K. wireless business with a rival, CK Hutchison’s Three. (Guardian)
President Biden pledged $60 million in relief funds to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Ian, and promised the commonwealth would get “every single dollar.” (NYT)
Claims of fraud on the payment service Zelle are expected to exceed $255 million this year, up from $90 million last year, according to a report released by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. (NYT)
Donald Trump sued CNN for defamation in federal court, seeking $475 million in damages. (NYT)
Best of the rest
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