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NFT: The bubble has burst for now, but is there a future?

TokenTalk Staff

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NFT: The bubble has burst for now, but is there a future?

Many strange things happened in the global economy during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but few as curious as the NFT boom of 2021.

Almost no one knew what a non-fungible token (NFT) was at the beginning of that year. In the end, more than 40 billion dollars (36.6 billion euros) were spent on digital assets and works of art recorded on blockchain. This has made the sector almost as valuable as the global art market itself.

If 2021 was the boom, then 2022 was the bust. In January 2022, the market reached its dizzying peak, but by September of that year, trading volumes had fallen by a massive 97 percent. The NFT crash was part of the broader destruction of the cryptocurrency sector, which saw a staggering $2 trillion in value lost.

Also read | Sam Bankman-Fried: Fraud Conviction Limits Stunning Drop for ‘Crypto King’

So are NFTs simply dead, or is there some kind of future for them?

In early November 2023, OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace, announced that it was laying off half of its workforce. Then there was a bizarre event at a promotional event in Hong Kong for the “Bored Ape Yacht Club”, one of the most well-known NFT collections. Dozens of people reported “severe eye burns” after participating in the event, which featured intense use of ultraviolet lighting.

None of this is good news, but there have also recently been signs of a very modest recovery in the affected sector, with trading volumes rising recently after falling steadily throughout 2023.

Cryptomania and ‘hip’ exclusivity

When the NFT boom took off in the summer of 2021, Andrea Barbon was one of many people intrigued by the innovation’s potential. He quickly created and sold his collection, a set of computer-generated fractal images.

“This venture awakened in me a deep curiosity and desire to delve deeper into NFTs,” Barbon, professor of finance at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, told DW. “My fascination with the mix of art, technology and finance that NFTs represent motivated me to study them in detail, exploring their potential impact on various industries and their role in the future of digital property and creativity.”

From the beginning, many rejected NFTs. Bill Gates famously said that they were “100% based on the ‘greatest fool theory’” – the idea that it is possible to make money by buying overvalued and fundamentally worthless assets, as long as there is a “greater fool” who show up. and pay even more. “Obviously, expensive digital images of apes are going to improve the world immensely,” joked Gates, in an apparent reference to the Bored Ape collection.

Also read | Explained: Why some NFTs are so expensive

Still, NFTs took off. Perhaps the unique circumstances of the time, when the pandemic meant people around the world were spending an unusual amount of time online and at home, played a role. Barbon says the cryptocurrency boom, in full flow in 2021, has fueled enthusiasm for NFTs, while user-friendly platforms like OpenSea have made it very easy for people to buy and trade them.

Then there was the exclusivity factor, cultivated by celebrity purchases and the creation of NFT clubs. “The allure of NFTs has been further amplified by their novelty, the promise of high returns and their role as status symbols within the crypto community,” said Barbon. “This combination of technological innovation, market dynamics and cultural factors created a perfect storm that fueled the NFT boom.”

NFT: A bubble if there ever was one

For Barbon and his colleague Angelo Ranaldo of the Swiss Finance Institute, NFTs represented a fascinating field of study. As part of their academic research, they examined more than 15 million NFT transactions, worth around $18 billion, between January 2021 and September 2022. They concluded that the entire market represented a bubble.

“We have observed a pronounced trend toward bubble-like behavior in the NFT market,” Barbon said. “This was characterized by rapid price rises, often doubling within days or even hours, followed by sharp falls. These fluctuations offered significant returns to investors, but also posed substantial risks.”

Another thing they noticed was that some investors demonstrated an ability to consistently capitalize on market volatility, earning significant amounts of money, while others demonstrated more reckless behavior. “The market has seen inflated valuations, driven more by speculative fervor than underlying fundamentals,” he concluded.

Doubts will remain, but NFTs can endure

Some NFTs have seen impressive drops in value. The Bored Ape collection, for example, which became especially popular among celebrities, lost more than 90% of its value, amounting to several billion dollars. Singer Justin Bieber and Brazilian football player Neymar are among those who have spent around $1 million each on Bored Ape NFTs, only to see the value virtually disappear.

The fallout from the celebrity NFT craze continues to this day. This week, football player Cristiano Ronaldo was the target of a class-action lawsuit seeking at least $1 billion in damages for his role in promoting NFTs issued by cryptocurrency exchange Binance. As a result, there is a deep underlying skepticism about the market. But Barbon says it may still have a future, especially if it returns to its origins as a marketplace for digital artists.

Also read | Rise of ‘finfluencers’ sparks debate about influence and responsibility

“They are not just a technological novelty, but a revolutionary innovation with practical applications,” he said. “NFTs have revolutionized the digital art market, providing contemporary artists specializing in digital media with a platform to authenticate and monetize their creations.”

He also sees other possible uses for NFTs beyond the art world, in domains such as digital identity and virtual asset ownership. However, the bubble and the huge losses suffered mean there will be a big question mark over NFTs for a long time to come.

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We are the editorial team of TokenTalk, where seriousness meets clarity in cryptocurrency analysis. With a robust team of finance and blockchain technology experts, we are dedicated to meticulously exploring complex crypto markets with detailed assessments and an unbiased approach. Our mission is to democratize access to knowledge of emerging financial technologies, ensuring they are understandable and accessible to all. In every article on TokenTalk, we strive to provide content that not only educates, but also empowers our readers, facilitating their integration into the financial digital age.

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