Sector ETFs Provide Diversified Entry Point for Fast-Moving Industries

March 11, 2019 08:30:33

CannabisNewsWire Editorial Coverage: Individuals hoping to gain exposure to the movement of the markets have two primary options: spend a lot of time and effort researching public companies, or put faith into a fund. A solid investment strategy is key to keeping pace with inflation and reaching your financial goals, but the significant risk and volatility that can come with investing in a small group of companies is a real turn-off for most part-time investors.

Increasingly, novices and seasoned traders alike are turning to mutual funds for their stability and ease of use. According to data from the Investment Company Institute, mutual funds were the most common type of investment company owned in 2018, with 44.8 percent of U.S. households owning shares of mutual funds or similar U.S.-registered investment companies – including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), closed-end funds and unit investment trusts. As Matthew P. Fink notes in The Rise of Mutual Funds: An Insider’s View, “Today U.S. mutual funds are the largest financial industry in the world, with over 88 million shareholders and over $11 trillion in assets.”

Index vs Actively Managed Funds

Deciding on a mutual fund can be tricky. Data from Morningstar, published in 2018, indicates that the number of mutual funds and ETFs now stands at more than 10,000. You can begin to narrow this total down by exploring the differences between index funds and actively managed funds.

Index funds aim to track the performance of a specific market benchmark as closely as possible. The Vanguard 500 Index Fund is a prime example, with its holdings consisting of weighted positions in S&P 500 companies. Although investment firm Vanguard suggest that “only about 16 percent” of investments in domestic mutual funds are in index-based options, these funds have some noteworthy proponents.

In 2007, American business magnate Warren Buffett made a $1 million bet with Protégé Partners claiming that hedge funds wouldn’t outperform an S&P index fund, and he won. As reported by CNBC, Buffett’s choice investment, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, “returned 7.1 percent compounded annually, while the basket of hedge funds his competitor chose returned an average of only 2.2 percent.”

Unlike index funds, actively managed funds rely on the skill and insight of their managers to not just match the performance of the larger markets, but beat them. History shows these funds to be considerably less consistent than their index-focused counterparts. According to Standard & Poor’s, roughly three-quarters of actively managed domestic stock funds underperformed the S&P 1500 Total Market Index in the decade ended June 30, 2015. Additionally, 40 percent of actively managed equity funds available to investors on June 30, 2005, were no longer in existence just 10 years later.

While exceptions do exist (Fidelity Blue Chip Growth has outperformed the S&P 500 by 2.8 percent over the past decade, for example), the upside and relative stability of index funds make them worthy of consideration for risk-averse investors.

Alternative Indexes

The upside of major indexes like the S&P 500 are apparent, but investing solely in the performance of the larger market can limit your exposure to faster-moving investment opportunities. Consider, for example, the cannabis industry. According to Marijuana Business Daily, legal cannabis sales in the U.S. alone were on pace to grow by nearly 50 percent in 2018 to $9.7 billion, with legal sales expected to rocket past $22 billion by 2022.

The Prime Alternative Harvest Index (“Prime”) gives fund-focused investors an opportunity to cash-in on the expanding repeal of cannabis prohibition without digging through the mountain of fly-by-night entries to the space. The Prime aims to take advantage of both event-driven news and long-term trends in the cannabis industry, as well as the industries likely to be influenced by the medicinal and recreational cannabis legalization initiatives that are taking shape in many forms around the globe. Utilizing a modified market cap weighting scheme, the index features some of the fledgling cannabis industry’s most recognizable names, including GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH), Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON) and The Green Organic Dutchman Holdings Ltd. (TSX: TGOD) (OTCQX: TGODF), alongside a roster of established upstarts and ancillary companies defined by a set prospectus.

The Benefit of Exchange-Traded Funds

When investing in a fund based on a more fluid index like the Prime, the benefits of exchange-traded funds over more traditional mutual funds are particularly noteworthy. While traditional open-end mutual fund shares are only traded once per day, limiting your ability to capitalize on sudden market moves, ETFs are bought and sold during the day just like stocks, opening the door for short selling, futures and options.

ETFMG Alternative Harvest (ARCA: MJ) is an ETF that tracks the Prime in an effort to “measure the performance of companies within the cannabis ecosystem benefitting from global medicinal and recreational legalization initiatives.” To date, it is the first and only U.S. ETF to target the cannabis industry, providing direct exposure to the ongoing “green rush” taking place across North America and around the world.

The Alternative Harvest ETF turned its focus to the cannabis space in late 2017, shifting away from a prior basis of Latin American real estate to invest in both cannabis cultivation firms and a few outside operators that you may not expect to see in a cannabis-centric fund, such as Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM) and Scotts Miracle-Gro (NYSE: SMG).

Importantly, the ETF requires that all holdings have a minimum market cap of $200 million, giving investors a degree of insulation from the marijuana penny stocks and upstart companies that continue to flood the sector.

A Closer Look at the Alternative Harvest ETF

Since rebalancing its holdings to focus on the cannabis space, the Alternative Harvest ETF has established a strong position on the radars of investors eying the industry. In early January 2018, The Motley Fool issued a report stating that MJ was bought and sold more than the $145 billion iShares Core S&P 500 ETF, which the publication touted as a testament to “just how big [MJ] has become in marijuana stock circles.” In the year-plus since that report was issued, interest in the cannabis-focused ETF has remained strong, with current average trading volume exceeding 900,000.

Throughout the first two months of 2019, the sustained interest in MJ has been supported by its upward trajectory. Entering the year with a market price of $26.42, the fund’s YTD return clocks in north of 40 percent, with a market price of $37.43 during mid-day trading on March 5 that marked a new high for 2019.

This strong performance lines up nicely with the broader cannabis sector, which is supported by MJ’s current asset holdings. Canadian shares of The Green Organic Dutchman, for example, which currently represent 4.34 percent of MJ’s portfolio, are up more than 60 percent YTD. Similarly, U.S.-listed shares of Canopy Growth Corporation (TSX: WEED) (NYSE: CGC), which make up 7.16 percent of MJ’s current holdings, are up roughly 63 percent YTD. Canadian shares of OrganiGram Holdings Inc. (TSX.V: OGI) (OTCQX: OGRMF) make up 3.35 percent of MJ’s current holdings, and they’re up more than 60 percent YTD, as well.

The impressive YTD performance of MJ’s smaller holdings, including The Supreme Cannabis Company Inc. (TSX: FIRE) (OTCQX: SPRWF), Canopy Rivers Inc. (TSX.V: RIV) (OTC: CNPOF) and VIVO Cannabis Inc. (TSX.V: VIVO) (OTC: VVCIF), each of which makes up less than 1 percent of MJ’s current portfolio, continues to highlight the current opportunity presented by the North American cannabis industry. The Canadian shares of each of these companies are up more than 40 percent YTD.

After a turbulent 2018 for the cannabis industry, the first quarter of 2019 has shown incredible promise for established operators throughout the space. In early January, The Motley Fool forecast huge growth for a number of companies currently included on the Prime Alternative Harvest Index and held by MJ, including 407 percent sales growth for Aphria (NYSE: APHA) (TSX: APHA), 440 percent sales growth for The Supreme Cannabis Company, 891 percent sales growth for OrganiGram Holdings and 930 percent sales growth for cannabinoid drug maker GW Pharmaceuticals, whose shares currently represent 9.1 percent of MJ’s total holdings.

A Diversified Entry Point

It’s easy to be drawn to the cannabis sector for its promise of significant growth in the coming years, particularly as legalization measures continue to gain steam in the United States. However, choosing a winner in this nascent market has already proven to be both difficult and risky for investors of all skill levels. A proven way to avoid backing the wrong horse in this great green race is to diversify your investment, focusing more on the overall success of the industry than on that of any individual company or management team.

With more than 86 percent of its current holdings providing exposure to U.S. and Canadian markets and broad industry focuses spanning pharmaceuticals, tobacco and biotechnology, the Alternative Harvest ETF provides an intriguing and diversified entry point for investors seeking a foothold in the continued emergence of the legal cannabis industry.

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