Like it or not, the metaverse is coming. Whether it has a meaningful real-world impact within the next five years is still in the air, but companies have begun creating metaverse applications preparing for the inevitable and investors have shown increased interest in related stocks. 

As no one knows what the metaverse will hold, the investment opportunities are wide. Selecting metaverse-centric companies can be risky, as most do not have another revenue-producing vertical. The better option right now might be to find stocks like Unity Software (U -1.65%), Match Group (MTCH -1.34%), and Autodesk (ADSK -0.78%) that have metaverse use cases as well as real-world applications to generate needed revenue to fund their expansions. Let's take a closer look at these three stocks.

A personwearing augmented reality glasses

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Unity Software

Without realistic graphics, the metaverse will likely never catch on. Unity Software's 3D animation software creates lifelike representations that have use cases in multiple industries. Its main focus is video games, and it has the tools developers need to monetize and grow the games. Augmented and virtual reality represent huge potential for Unity, and it is already integrated with architectural design software like Autocad's Revit.

In November, Unity acquired Weta Digital, a media company specializing in 3D creation, simulation, and rendering. During Unity's third-quarter conference call, CEO John Riccitiello said, "We plan to offer a cloud-based version of Weta for the millions of consumers who generate content every day on social and gaming platforms and on the web or to use the current vernacular, the metaverse." Unity sees opportunity in the metaverse and is acting to capture significant market share.

Q3 results were solid; revenue increased 43% year over year, and Unity increased the number of customers spending more than $100,000 by 32% to 973. Additionally, it maintained a strong 142% net retention rate, showcasing how much customers are expanding their usage of Unity's offerings.

Management's full-year guidance includes breaking the $1 billion revenue mark. If Unity's metaverse role becomes as big as it thinks, revenue will far surpass this level. 

2. Match Group

Online dating has become ingrained in modern society. When someone introduces a significant other or spouse, proclaiming that they met online is far less likely to be derided. While Match Group has improved its dating platforms like Tinder and Hinge by adding video communication and voice samples on a profile, it is still an app with a matching feature, not a real-life simulation.

Shar Dubey, Match's CEO, spoke about a new product called Singletown during Match's Q3 conference call. She described one area as a piano bar setting where people gathered virtually, but an individual played the piano in real life. Instead of yelling over bar noises to get someone's attention, users could click on the profile, adjust the ambient noises, and have a meaningful conversation. This is just one metaverse application Match has tested, but it could become the ultimate dating app if successful.

While new ideas are on the horizon, Match Group reports excellent results. Revenue eclipsed $800 million during Q3, growing at a 25% clip. Its most profitable region, Asia-Pacific (APAC), increased its paying users by 36%. It still has a large capturable demographic located there, as total payers in the Americas were 8.3 million versus 3.3 million in APAC.

After being spun out from IAC/InterActiveCorp (IAC -0.26%), its balance sheet was loaded with debt. Match Group is reducing its debt and has proved it by reducing its net leverage ratio from 4.6 times (June 30, 2020) to 3.3 times (Sept. 31, 2021). It does this by channeling its free cash flow generated with a 28% margin to repurchase exchangeable notes.

Match Group is improving its balance sheet, growing rapidly, and displaying exceptional optionality. It is a strong stock pick that will succeed regardless of the metaverse's success.

3. Autodesk

Engineers and architects use Autodesk's flagship products to design buildings and other manufacturable goods. Revit, a building information modeling (BIM) program, allows architects to visualize their designs and showcase them to customers. These creations can be transformed into a virtual reality setting with plugins like Autodesk Rendering. It doesn't take much imagination to understand how these products could be utilized in the metaverse.

A few years ago, Autodesk switched to a subscription pricing model. Since then, revenue has gone straight up.

ADSK Revenue (TTM) Chart

ADSK Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts.

Companies can no longer buy Autodesk's software and use it until it upgrades. Instead, Autodesk requires an annual license, creating a recurring revenue stream.

This business model has delivered strong results. During Q3, which ended Oct. 31, Autodesk's revenue rose 18% to $1.12 billion, with subscription revenue making up 95% of the total. Margins were also strong, with operating margins of 17% (GAAP) and 32% (non-GAAP). Autodesk also gives investors international exposure.

Region Share of Revenue
United States 34%
Other Americas 7%
Europe, Middle East, and Africa 38.5%
Asia-Pacific 20.5%

Source: Autodesk. 

The stock price took a dive after reporting earnings, cratering 15%. The sell-off can be attributed more to what analysts expected than to management guidance, even though Autodesk still projected 15% growth. After the sell-off, Autodesk trades at a 47 price-to-earnings ratio. While it has recovered from its lows, Autodesk is still a strong buy with more growth on the horizon.

Investor takeaway

How large and what the metaverse becomes is only limited by the creator's imagination. Fortunately, companies like Unity Software and Autodesk are designing the building blocks needed to enable businesses like Match Group to build their metaverse vision. Even if the metaverse flops, each company will still have a thriving business underneath. Growth investors should consider each stock moving into 2022 and beyond.