One year on, metaverse frenzy yet to yield dividends

The performance of the metaverse funds shows the risk of piling in to an unproven industry regardless of the price you pay

In the year since Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook's multibillion-dollar shift to developing an immersive virtual world, the investment industry has rolled out a flood of products to capitalise on the metaverse frenzy. For investors, the timing couldn't have been worse.

The four dozen exchange-traded funds and mutual funds in the Bloomberg database that have the word "metaverse" in their description - many of them introduced in the past 12 months - have plunged in the bear market. The Roundhill Ball Metaverse ETF, the biggest of them, has fallen 51 per cent in the past year.

The declines accelerated on Thursday (Oct 27) after shares of Zuckerberg's rechristened Meta Platforms plunged the most in eight months. The chief executive officer and co-founder asked investors to be patient with the huge investments in the metaverse even as the company reported a slowdown in its main source of income, digital advertising. 

"It's one thing to rebrand it, it's another thing to say, well, we don't see substantial profits from the metaverse" for years, said Dennis Dick, head of market structure and a proprietary trader at Bright Trading. "Investors in this market aren't going to wait eight years to see substantial profits."

The performance of the metaverse funds shows the risk of piling in to an unproven industry regardless of the price you pay: The companies that are seen as the building blocks of the metaverse - digital worlds where users can socialise, play and do business - are just the kind of stocks that investors are fleeing from right now. Many of them have little or no earnings and sell for high valuations, with the promise of rapid growth and big profits far in the future.

The 18 metaverse funds that have been around for a year or more are down 33 per cent to 66 per cent over the past 12 months. Some of the stocks that are popular with the funds have gotten equally hammered: Meta is down 69 per cent, while games company Roblox has fallen 42 per cent and graphics-chip maker Nvidia has tumbled 46 per cent. 

And fund industry heavyweights are still rolling out products, along with marketing materials to explain the sector. Allianz Global Investors introduced a fund recently, while Legal & General Group and Invesco also have done so over the past few months.

The metaverse is still as much an idea as an actual product for many companies. But the dramatic change in the market environment means that most investors lack the stomach for long-term bets and are looking for firms with steady growth rates and tangible profits. 

Even bulls consider metaverse a long-term bet. Matthew Kanterman, the director of research at Ball Metaverse Research Partners, said it's still the "very early innings". 

For Meta, changing its name and "going all in and investing the amount they are investing in it today" is a big commitment given that the return might not come around for 10 to 15 years, said Kanterman. That's "an investment cycle that is pretty much two to three times longer than the average cycle for any new product". BLOOMBERG

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