A $1.4 trillion destruction hits the crypto industry at WEF

There were fewer crypto companies along the Davos Promenade in 2023 than in previous years after the market crash. Circle, the company behind the stablecoin USDC, was one of the few attendees.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

DAVOS, Switzerland – In recent years, the number of attendees from the cryptocurrency industry at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland has skyrocketed.

But after destroying nearly $1.4 trillion in 2022, the crypto industry is a bit more coy about how it splashes money and several companies spotted last year are not in attendance. 2022 was marked by failed crypto projects, liquidity problems and bankruptcies, culminating in the collapse of the major exchange FTX.

When the World Economic Forum was held last May, bitcoin hovered around $30,000, having already fallen more than 50% from its all-time high in November 2021. More pain followed as bitcoin fell to $15,480.

The Promenade is the main street in Davos where companies and governments take over shops and cafes for a week. Last year, crypto companies from all walks of life took over. But since the market drop, there are far fewer crypto companies with flashy storefronts in Davos.

One store that sells non-fungible tokens or NFTs is gone. Prices of NFTs, digital collectibles, also fell last year. What remains are companies that have survived the bear market and are looking to expand their business.

“It’s very clear that the speculation period is coming to an end and every company that you see come up … is really focused on real-world use cases,” said Teana Baker-Taylor, vice president of policy and regulatory strategy at Circle, the company behind the USDC stablecoin.

A stablecoin is a type of digital currency that is supposed to be pegged one-to-one to a fiat currency. USDC is pegged to the US dollar. Circle says it is backed by real-world assets like US Treasurys so that one USDC can be exchanged for $1.

Casper Labs, a company that built a blockchain designed for businesses to use, runs a space on the Promenade called the Blockchain Lab. Casper Labs was also present in Davos last year.

Cliff Sarkin, head of strategic relations at Casper Labs, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the crypto market has bottomed out.

“So we’re over a year into the bear market so I think the shock of that is over and for those of us who have been in the space for years…we feel like now is the time to build, Sarkin told CNBC.

He added that the crypto companies that have remained in Davos are “substantiative projects” and “the real deals” versus things like NFTs.

There were also those in traditional finance who welcomed fewer crypto companies.

Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, was asked at an event organized by the Swiss bank what he would like to see in Davos this year. He said he’s already seen it: “It’s less crypto on the high street.”

The mysterious case of the orange bitcoin car

On Monday, a flashy bright orange Mercedes-Benz car was parked outside the Blockchain Hub on the Promenade.

The orange Mercedes was parked along the Promenade in Davos. No one in the neighborhood saw who parked it there. The license plate reads “Kuna”, the name of a Ukrainian cryptocurrency exchange.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

In the place where the Mercedes-Benz logo would normally be, a coin representing a bitcoin was placed. The words “in crypto we trust” were printed on the tires and license plate. The license plate featured the Ukrainian flag and the name Kuna, the company behind a cryptocurrency exchange of the same name.

Kuna also established the “reserve fund of Ukraine” after the outbreak of war with Russia where people could donate crypto to Ukraine.

Bystanders CNBC spoke to were unable to verify who parked the car there.

However, two crypto executives speaking to CNBC did not welcome the orange car, especially after the market crash and industry excesses came to light. One commented that the presence of such a car was not good for the industry’s reputation, which suffered a blow last year.

CNBC reached out to Semen Kaploushenko, CEO of the Kuna exchange, via LinkedIn, but has yet to receive a response.

CNBC also reached out to the Blockchain Association of Ukraine, of which Kuna founder Michael Chobanian is the president, but has yet to receive a response.

The license plate and tires had the words “in crypto we trust” printed on it.

CNBC | Arjun Kharpal