Bitcoin led a rout in cryptocurrencies on Friday as investors fled assets considered riskier, including stocks and commodities, and headed for the refuge of government bonds, the Japanese yen and the US dollar.
Concerns over a new COVID-19 variant that may evade vaccines and spread more quickly than previous mutations were seen as responsible for the movements.
Bitcoin, the largest digital currency, fell as much as 9.2 percent to $53,551, its lowest since Oct. 10. That would be Bitcoin’s biggest one-day decline since Sept. 20, leaving it more than one-fifth lower since hitting a record high of nearly $70,000 earlier in November.
The second-largest cryptocurrency, Ether, fell over 13 percent to its lowest in a month, trading at $3,924, down almost 20 percent from its record high, hit on Nov. 10.
A number of European and Asian nations have suspended travel to and from southern Africa after a potentially more deadly COVID-19 variant emerged in Botswana and South Africa. The variant has so many mutations that current vaccines may not be effective against it, according to scientists.
“The spread of (the variant), especially to other countries, could wither investor appetite further,” said Yuya Hasegawa at Tokyo-based exchange Bitbank. “BTC's upside will likely be limited and the market should brace for further loss.”
While cryptocurrencies wobbled, a plot of land in Axie Infinity, an animated, metaverse pet-training game, sold for $2.5 million on Thursday, according to a tweet on the game’s Twitter account.
The sale, for 550 ether, was the highest for a single plot of virtual land, according to the tweet. The transaction was for a section of Genesis land, one of several types available in the game.
A larger sale of virtual real estate took place on Monday in Decentraland. In that transaction, 618,000 MANA, worth about $3.2 million at the time, bought 116 land parcels, according to Tokens.com, whose Metaverse Group subsidiary made the purchase.
Interest in the metaverse has surged in recent months, spurred by Facebook, which changed its name to Meta in October in a sign of its increasing focus on the sector.
Revenue from virtual gaming worlds could grow to $400 billion in 2025, from $180 billion in 2020, Grayscale Investments said on Thursday. The overwhelming majority of that $400 billion will be in-game spending, compared to spending on premium games, the company said.
Grayscale defined the metaverse as “interconnected, experiential, 3D virtual worlds where people located anywhere can socialize in real-time to form a persistent, user-owned, internet economy spanning the digital and physical worlds.”