Weird Things Are Happening at Silvergate Bank and First Republic Bank

Year-to-Date Share Price of Silvergate vs First Republic Bank

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: March 29, 2023 ~

Silvergate Capital, the parent of Silvergate Bank – which has lost 90 percent of its share price year-to-date and announced it is winding down and liquidating — is still running a website that is putting a rosy glow on the bank’s operations. For example, under the heading of “Banking for the future,” the Silvergate website shares this:

“Silvergate Bank has served entrepreneurs in unique and niche industries for over 20 years. Recognizing digital currency’s potential during the sector’s infancy, we built strong relationships with pioneers who were turned away by traditional banks. This solidified our position as industry-leading partners and innovators which remains true today.”

Wait. What? (What ever happened to the Federal Trade Commission’s Truth in Advertising Law?) Those so-called “strong relationships” with digital currency firms turned into highly-fickle hot money once markets learned that Silvergate had been doing highly questionable banking for Sam Bankman-Fried’s house of frauds, the FTX crypto exchange and his hedge fund, Alameda Research.

On January 5, Silvergate reported in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that its “total deposits from digital asset customers declined to $3.8 billion” as of December 31, 2022 (down from the previously reported $11.9 billion on September 30, 2022.) That’s a 68 percent drop in deposits in one quarter. So much for those “strong relationships.”

The Silvergate website further offers this assessment to website visitors:

“Based in La Jolla, California, Silvergate is a Federal Reserve member bank and the leading provider of innovative financial infrastructure solutions and services for the digital asset industry.

“We leverage our technology platform and management team’s expertise to develop solutions for many of the largest fintech and digital asset companies and investors around the world. Our solutions are built on our deep-rooted commitment and proprietary approach to regulatory compliance.”

“Regulatory compliance.” Seriously?

On January 30, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Roger Marshall (R-KS) released a letter to the bank’s CEO, Alan Lane. The letter revealed that the bank had been stonewalling the Senators on their inquiries about the bank’s dealings with crypto firms majority-owned by Sam Bankman-Fried.  Federal prosecutors have charged that executives at FTX and Alameda Research, including Bankman-Fried, looted more than $8 billion from FTX customer accounts and the money is missing. Three of those executives have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty.

The letter from the three Senators to Silvergate CEO Lane described the stonewalling as follows:

“We are disappointed by your evasive and incomplete response to our December 5, 2022 letter regarding Silvergate Bank’s role in the improper transfer of FTX customer funds to cryptocurrency hedge fund Alameda Research (Alameda). We wrote to you seeking information on what appeared to be an egregious failure of your bank’s responsibilities to monitor and report suspicious financial activity. Your response confirms the extent of this failure – but then neglects to provide key information needed by Congress to understand why and how these failures occurred. Moreover, in the month since you provided your inadequate reply to our request for information, new reports have emerged detailing the run Silvergate Bank (Silvergate) faced in the wake of the FTX collapse, and the funding sources the bank turned to as its coffers ran low, further underscoring the need for full transparency from you and your bank.”

Silvergate’s March 1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission  indicated that record-keeping at the bank is so suspect that it can’t even file its annual report for the full year of 2022 (Form 10-K) on time and it needs more time to “record journal entries.” Equally troubling was the phrase that “its independent registered public accounting firm” will require more time “to complete certain audit procedures, including review of adjustments not yet recorded and the evaluation of the effectiveness of the Company’s internal control over financial reporting.”

That stands in rather stark contrast to Silvergate’s website lauding how the company is “…built on our deep-rooted commitment and proprietary approach to regulatory compliance.”

The same SEC filing indicated that Silvergate is under multiple investigations from regulators, Congress, and the folks with criminal prosecution powers – the U.S. Department of Justice.

Despite all of this, Silvergate’s stock (ticker SI) is still trading on the New York Stock Exchange – sometimes in a very weird fashion.

Things are equally weird at First Republic Bank, another troubled federally-insured bank whose share price has also lost 90 percent year-to-date. (The ticker is FRC.)

According to First Republic’s regulatory filings, as of December 31, 2022 it had total deposits of $176.25 billion, of which $119.47 billion (or 68 percent) were uninsured. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) caps federal deposit insurance at $250,000 per depositor, per bank. But banks such as First Republic, that cater to the very wealthy, have tended to have customer accounts that far exceed the amount of the FDIC insurance cap. And that can produce a fast bank run on those uninsured deposits when this elite clientele gets anxious as a result of negative news.

In a public relations stunt that backfired, with Jamie Dimon’s fingerprints all over it, on March 16 came the news that 11 banks on Wall Street were going to deposit a cumulative $30 billion of their own money – as uninsured deposits – into First Republic Bank as a show of confidence. JPMorgan Chase, along with Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, each ponied up $5 billion of the $30 billion total.

The stock market sized up this move as follows: apart from potentially creating a shareholders’ lawsuit against the Wall Street banks that recklessly placed $5 billion as uninsured deposits into a sinking institution, that $30 billion accomplished very little.

First Republic Bank’s stock closed on March 16 – after the news about the $30 billion hit the wires – at $34.27. It closed yesterday at $13.50 – a decline of 60.6 percent since the p.r. stunt.

On March 21, the Wall Street Journal reported that First Republic had hired Lazard to conduct “a review of strategic options that could include a sale, a capital infusion or asset trimming.” The consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., was also hired to “map out a post crisis structure for the bank,” according to the Wall Street Journal report.

Time would appear to be of the essence. On Sunday, March 19, S&P Global announced it had downgraded the credit rating of First Republic three notches deeper into junk territory.

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