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While many investors focus in on commodities such as gold or oil, some continue to overlook the most important resource of all; fresh water. In fact, fresh water accounts for just 3% of all the water on Earth while surface water makes up just 0.3% of that figure.
Thanks to this already small supply, and the ever expanding world population, water is becoming increasingly scarce across many parts of the world. This is forcing companies and governments to come up with new ways to recycle, manage, and desalinate water resources in order to prevent catastrophe in the near future.
This will be an especially big problem given the rising populations in much of the emerging world. Close to two billion more people will be on the planet by 2050 and the vast majority will reside in developing nations. Given that these countries already have significant water shortages and problems, it will be crucial for them to find new water resources to stop growth from slowing, or worse (see Three Overlooked Emerging Market ETFs).
As a result, a huge buildup in water infrastructure is already beginning to take place, not just in developing nations but in some of the more water scarce regions of the industrialized countries as well. However, due to higher levels of population growth and less water resources in much of the third world, the vast majority of spending looks to take place in this region, suggesting that water investing could be an important growth industry.
Water infrastructure spending is approaching $80 billion a year right now and looks to double over the next two decades according to the World Water Council. With this build up and the wide moat principles of firms in the treatment, production, and water development spaces, now could be the time to make an investment in the sector (read Three Low Beta Sector ETFs).
For investors looking to play this trend globally and across sectors, there are several water ETFs which could be of service. While they may appear similar at first glance, investors should note some of the key differences between the funds in this emerging space which we have highlighted below:
First Trust ISE Water ETF (FIW - ETF report)
This ETF looks to follow the ISE Water Index which is a benchmark of firms that derive a substantial portion of their revenues from the potable and wastewater industries. To be included, a stock must meet certain market cap, liquidity and concentration requirements, although a basket of 36 companies are chosen in the end (read Three Unlucky Equity ETFs).
Currently, the fund charges investors 60 basis points a year and sees light volume of about 18,000 shares a day despite having about $70 million in AUM. The portfolio is well spread out across market cap levels with micro caps and mid caps each comprising about one-third of the total exposure. Despite this focus on smaller securities, growth makes up just under one-fourth of total assets.
In terms of sectors, industrial companies make up about two-thirds of the total, while utilities comprise roughly 25% of the fund. Top individual holdings include Veolia Environment (VE) and Mueller Water Products (MWA) which each make up about 5% of the fund.
Guggenheim S&P Global Water Fund (CGW - ETF report)
Guggenheims entrant in the space is CGW, a fund that tracks the S&P Global Water Index. The benchmark focuses on companies that derive a significant component of their business from water related activities. The product holds about 52 securities in its basket and charges 70 basis points a year in fees (see more at the Zacks ETF Center).
Mid caps dominate this product at just over 64% of the total, although small and large cap firms account for another 30% combined. In terms of style, blend securities receive a plurality but there is a nice mix between value and growth as well. Thanks to this, the fund does pay out a decent dividend, which is now approaching 2%.
However, investors should note that the fund is heavily concentrated in European equities as these securities make up about half of the total portfolio. Although, it should be noted that the U.S. still makes up the top spot (38%), it is trailed by British (20%), and Swiss (10%) stocks, rounding out the top three.
PowerShares Global Water Portfolio (PIO - ETF report)
For a global play on the sector from PowerShares, investors have PIO. The product tracks the Nasdaq OMX US Global Water Index, which is a modified equal-weighted index that has a focus on firms in the global water industry. The fund is quite popular with investors, amassing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and trading about 80,000 shares a day despite having an expense ratio of 75 basis points a year.
Like other products on this list, PIO has a heavy focus on mid caps, as this segment makes up nearly 70% of the total exposure. Small caps are then the only other segment to make up double digits, accounting for 17% of the fund. Blend securities are also popular with this fund, as they account for 44% of the total exposure in the PowerShares product.
This fund does have a pretty good balance between utilities and industrials though, as each accounts for about 41% of the total. The remainder is split among healthcare, technology, and basic materials, but the 80% focus on the two big sectors should ensure a more balanced approach than some of the other products in the space.
PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio (PHO - ETF report)
For a U.S. centric play on the water market, investors should look at PHO. The product follows the Nasdaq OMX US Water index, which like its international counterpart, utilizes a modified equal-weight methodology to determine exposure. However, this fund has about 30 securities in the basket and charges investors 66 basis points a year in fees (also see ETFs vs. Mutual Funds).
This strategy has apparently been very popular with investors as this product crushes all others on the list in terms of volume and assets under management. PHO has close to $900 million in AUM and sees volume of nearly 225,000 shares a day, suggesting relatively tight bid ask spreads for the product. However, investors should also note that industrials comprise about 60% of the fund while utilities take up another 25%.
This ensures that the fund has a lower yield than many on the list but could be more prone to growth. The fund also has a heavy focus on U.S. securities as these companies constitute 90% of the total, far more than any of the others on the list. Interestingly, mid caps still receive the most from a cap perspective, but small and micro caps, when combined, account for nearly 56% of the total as well.
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