Top Investment Trends For Futurists (FFD, AFK, EZA, PHO, PIO, PXN, TINY, LIT, BP, PBW, PZD, PBD, REMX, NLR, MOO, GLD, BBH, IBB, FPX, IPOSX)

Douglas A. McIntyre

Alternative Energy, In A Broader Sense

Investing in alternative energy may hold the promise of the future.  It has also been very painful even for futurists with a decade or longer outlook.  True futurists may seek an answer out of wind, solar, wave, geothermal, biofuels and even nuclear energy.  Not all alternative energy is technically renewable.  But the world needs alternative energy sources.  That is no longer even debated in public by most oil executives.

A problem that arises even for futurists with a ten-year outlook or longer is that the oil and gas giants of today may be the leaders of alternative energy in the future.  BP plc (NYSE: BP) has one of the worlds largest solar operations, and it is not unchallenged by other oil and gas giants.  Another caveat is that you do not need to be a futurist to see how many alternative energy and renewable energy investments are often considered nothing more than highly leveraged bets against the future price of oil.

PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy (NYSE: PBW) is one of the go-to ETF products in alternative energy.  The fund is meant to track the performance of the WilderHill Clean Energy index.  Its largest holdings do seem to be more geared toward solar, which is most established alternative energy technology.  Some of its key components are First Solar, Broadwind Energy, IDACORP, JA Solar, and Suntech Power.  The fund has more than $550 million in assets, it trades over 300,000 shares per day, and its 52-week range is roughly $8.25 to $11.95.  The biggest issue is performance as it was worth over $25 at the 2008 peak versus close to $10.00 currently.

PowerShares Cleantech (NYSE: PZD) is the international and smaller competing version of the PowerShares Wilderhill Clean Energy ETF.  It is meant to track the price and yield performance of the Cleantech index.  Some of its top holdings are ABB, Corning, First Solar, IBERDROLA, Novozymes, Siemens, and Vestas Wind Systems.  Assets are about $150 million, it trades only about 14,000 shares a day and its 52-week range is $20.00 to $25.95.  This too suffers from poor performance as its shares were above $35.00 in the 2008 peak versus under $25 today.

An even more international focus in clean energy is the PowerShares Global Clean Energy (NYSE: PBD).  Its focus is to track the performance of the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation index and many more companies are global.  Most of its larger constituent members are not known to most US investors.  The market cap is fairly small at about $160 million, it trades about 40,000 shares a day, and its 52-week range is $11.51 to $17.64.  It is far from alone in performance anxiety as this was above $30 at the peak and it is closer to $13.00 in November-2010.

Rare Earth… Not So Rare, But….

Any investors thinking of investing in rare earth should consider what happened in 2010 before putting on a futurist’s hat and taking a shot.   All caveats aside, nations such as the United States have to depend upon foreign sources of rare earth materials and these are critical for defense equipment  autos, clean energy, electronics and medical devices.  It is vital that these REOs and REEs have a local source and it is vital that we have our own sources.  The risks in investing in this might be like comparing biotech to DJIA components.  Futurists down the road will likely concede that many of the companies in this field were little more than Hail Mary passes with a story rather than real assets that could be monetized economically.

The Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (NYSE: REMX) is the only current fund-oriented instrument that revolves around the REE and REO trade.  It is extremely new, its methodology is unproven, and its company constituents are often very risky companies with promises rather than operating histories.  The launch came at the end of October-2008 and it has been very actively traded.  For 2010, we are going to not discuss price ranges, performance, and more because of all the risks here.  Either way and regardless of how this performs, the rare earth theme is unlikely a theme that purchasing managers will not have to consider for the future.

Back to futurists and secular themes in general…

If you want to learn more about futurist thoughts and ideas, one source I have used for some time is the World Future Society.  This is not an investment web site.  It has offered insight for futurists and those who think beyond the next month for years and years.  It publishes The Futurist magazine, has free email newsletters, conferences, books, blogs, and links to many local chapters throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Predicting markets and sectors is a tricky game, and most forecasting models have a hard enough time getting the next week or month accurate.  Modeling for a decade or a generation is that much harder.