There were fewer crypto companies on the boardwalk at Davos in 2023 than in previous years after the market crash. Circle, the company behind the USDC stablecoin, was one of the few in attendance.
Arjun Harpal | CNBC
DAVOS, Switzerland — Over the past few years, the number of participants in the cryptocurrency industry has boomed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
But with nearly $1.4 trillion disappearing in 2022, the crypto industry is a bit more reserved about how it splashes the cash, and several companies spotted last year are absent. 2022 was marked by failed crypto projects, liquidity problems, and bankruptcies, capped off by the collapse of the main FTX exchange.
When the World Economic Forum was held last May, bitcoin hovered around $30,000 after already falling more than 50% from its all-time high in November 2021. More pain followed with Bitcoin plunging to $15,480.
The Promenade is the main street in Davos, where companies and governments take over shops and cafes for the week. Last year, crypto businesses from all walks of life took over the place. But since the market crash, there are far fewer crypto firms with glamorous showcases at Davos.
One store selling non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, has disappeared. Prices of NFTs, which are digital collectibles, also fell last year. There remain 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 you see represented … 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 stablecoin USDC.
A stablecoin is a type of digital currency that is supposed to be pegged one-to-one to fiat currency. USDC is pegged to the US dollar. Circle says it is backed by real-world assets such as US Treasurys, so one USDC can be redeemed for $1.
Casper Labs, a company that has built a blockchain designed to be used by businesses, runs a space on the Promenade called the Blockchain Lab. Casper Labs was also present last year in Davos.
Cliff Sarkin, head of strategic communications at Casper Labs, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the crypto market has bottomed out.
“So we’re over a year into a bear market, so I think the shock of that has settled and for those of us who have been in the space for years … we feel like this is the time to build,” Sarkin told CNBC .
He added that the crypto firms that remained at Davos were the “substantial projects” and the “real deals” against things like NFTs.
There were also those in traditional finance who welcomed less crypto firms.
Marc Hefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, was asked at an event organized by the Swiss bank what he would like to see at Davos this year. He said he’s seen it before: “It’s less crypto on the high street.”
On Monday, a bright orange Mercedes-Benz car was parked outside Blockchain Hub on the Promenade.
The orange Mercedes was parked along the promenade in Davos. No one in the vicinity saw who parked it there. The license plate says “Kuna,” which is the name of a Ukrainian cryptocurrency exchange.
Arjun Harpal | CNBC
A coin representing Bitcoin was placed where the Mercedes-Benz logo would normally be. The words “in crypto we trust” were printed on the tires and license plate. The license plate had the Ukrainian flag on it and the name Kuna, which is the company behind the cryptocurrency exchange of the same name.
Kuna also created the “Ukraine reserve fund” after the start of the war with Russia, where people could donate crypto to Ukraine.
People nearby that CNBC spoke to could not confirm who parked the car there.
However, two crypto executives who spoke to CNBC did not welcome the orange car, especially after the market crash and excesses in the industry were exposed. One noted that having such a car is not good for the industry’s reputation, which suffered last year.
CNBC reached out to Semen Kaplushenko, CEO of the Kuna exchange, via LinkedIn, but has not yet heard back.
CNBC also reached out to the Blockchain Association of Ukraine, whose president is Kuna founder Michael Chobanyan, but has yet to hear back.
“in crypto we trust” was printed on the license plate and tires.
CNBC | Arjun Harpal