After Mark Zuckerberg renamed Facebook to Meta Platforms (FB), the metaverse has suddenly become a hot topic with search interest on Google Trends peaking at a value of 100, signifying immense popularity. However, there is currently no universally accepted definition of the metaverse apart from some key words like “virtual reality”, or “advanced Internet”. Learning from Blockchain’s world where there are already metaverse projects like Sandbox where land can be exchanged against payments of millions of dollars, it could be defined as a virtual universe with a functional economy.
Of course, this definition is not straightforward and to be frank, no one knows exactly what shape the metaverse will take. But, for investors willing to invest hard-earned money in ETFs like the Roundhill Ball Metaverse ETF (META), it is important to understand which sectors are most likely to benefit. Some use cases are already being proposed such as attending a virtual concert, taking an online trip or creating digital art in the form of blockchain-powered NFTs or Nun Fungible Tokens.
Now, these applications will require a lot of computing power due to increased utilization of artificial intelligence and augmented reality (“AR”). At the same time, for communication purposes, there will be requirement for next generation Wi-Fi and 5G. Roundhill Investments does list some sectors like Compute, Networking, Virtual platforms, Interchange standards, etc from where they choose companies to be included in their fund, but for illustration purposes, I provide a chart which I recently used it in an article on VanEck Semiconductor ETF (SMH).
Source: Chart prepared by author using data from IEEE Spectrum and augmented to highlight metaverse demand
This chart basically shows semiconductor revenues per sector (with most coming from computing at 34.5%), but, since I have highlighted the technologies needed to build the metaverse, I use it to explore how META’s holdings fit the “meta” investment rationale.
First, META tracks the Ball Metaverse Index, the first index designed to track the performance of the metaverse.
Second, the ETF’s main holding is NVDIA (NVDA) at 8.34% of total assets, also happens to constitute a significant chunk of SMH’s basket. Now, as a designer of graphics processing units for the gaming and Bitcoin markets, this chip play whose products are vital for computing should be one of the main beneficiaries as a building block for everyone’s “virtual space”. Additionally, NVDIA is a system-on-a-chip unit’s provider for the mobile computing and the automotive industry.
Third, there is FB itself, and with more than 2.9 billion users as at the third quarter of 2021, and its success as a highly addictive social networking brand, there is no doubt that it will profoundly change our lives by rendering more virtual than ever, helped by a Covid-induced restriction in physical interactions.
Source: RoundHill Investments
As for software plays like Microsoft (MSFT), Autodesk (ADSK), Unity Software (U), the metaverse is already proving to be a game-changer for working from home due to Covid. Continuing along the same thought process, instead of seeing their colleagues on a video call screen, employees could join them in a virtual office. Here, one of the main benefits of the metaverse is believed to be “presence,” meaning the feeling of physically engaging places and characters instead of looking at them through a laptop or smartphone screen.
Coming to Apple (AAPL), it has one of the world’s largest AR platforms with hundreds of millions of AR‑enabled devices, as well as thousands of related apps on the App Store. Now, one of the essential building blocks of the metaverse is interoperability whereby users must be able to move throughout the metaverse, while effortlessly make the transition to the physical world. For this purpose, they need AR devices which are supported by Apple’s iPhones. There is also an analyst forecasting that Apple’s “mixed reality headset will come out in the late 2022 or early 2023”, with the Apple Glasses to follow in 2025.
Apple should also benefit through its gaming division just like Roblox (RBLX), an online game platform which allows users to play games created by other users. In a metaverse scenario, one can envisage players retaining their avatar while hopping from one game to another or even a virtual shop for purchasing purposes, regardless of the brand of the user’s device.
After painting an enthralling picture of META, I now address some pain points.
Since the concept of metaverse is relatively new, there will be many use cases that will arise in the future, but the space is also likely to be under intense regulatory scrutiny as lawmakers become wary of the power of big techs at extending their control on our social lives to a further degree through virtual reality. Governments may for example restrict the number of hours we can spend in the metaverse just like China is restraining the number of hours children can play games. Furthermore, Apple with its IOS operating system is only a part of the global smartphone ecosystem and it will have to be a metaverse which also encapsulates the Android operating system by Google (GOOG) with its brand of AR. META certainly includes the Android play, but only at a paltry 1.71% of holdings.
Pursuing further, META does include pioneers in content, commerce, and social for the metaverse, such as Sea (SE), Amazon (AMZN) and Snap (SNAP), and I also noted that it includes web infrastructure companies like CloudFlare (NET). On the other hand, I noted the absence of wireless plays from its portfolio. Also, the fund managers do not mention Industrial 4.0 applications, namely 3D printing which is crucial to allow transition from the virtual to the physical world.
Looking for further support from the share performance side, despite all these hot talks about the metaverse and META having already crossed the $900 million in total assets under management within six months, it managed to produce a meager 2.59% gain during this time. This is dwarfed by SMH or even the Technology Select SPDR ETF (XLK), with both these two funds producing above 17% gains in the same time period.
This calls for a dose of realism.
There is no doubt that META is an innovative ETF with its index consisting of a tiered weight portfolio of globally-listed companies who are actively involved in the metaverse, but this whole concept is still new and rapidly evolving. I also like the fact that Roundhill Investments have also included companies like Block (SQ) and Electronics Art (EA), thus showing their perfect understanding of the Blockchain side of things.
Still, I am not convinced as to the percentage of asset held for each stock. Now, as an actively managed fund charging 0.75% in fees, the portfolio is likely to see rapid changes, but at this stage, it is preferable to wait. Finally, those who want early metaverse exposure, both SMH and XLK can be considered as proxy ETFs for this purpose, and come at lower expense ratios of 0.35% and 0.12% respectively.
Disclosure: I am long XLK.