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TheStreet Open House

ETF Categories That Just Keep Winning

NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- Stocks as an asset class have shrugged off a wide variety of risks throughout the year. Sequestration failed to derail equity enthusiasm. The May-June interest rate spike did little to deter dip-buyers.

I suspect that any actual downside for the markets in October, whether caused by political strife or disappointing economic data, will ultimately be viewed as yet another buying opportunity. Indeed, investors are confident that the Federal Reserve is looking out for them.

The general trend notwithstanding, several ETFs categories defy a simplistic tip of the hat to the Fed's zero-interest rate policy or its quantitative easing (QE) experiment. In essence, some areas have been rocketing on an entirely different kind of fuel.

So what kind of energy can spark faster price growth than a speeding bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco? What sort of propellant might ignite an ETF industry group to leap gargantuan debt ceilings in a single trading session? The answer is "perceived demand." Not actual demand necessarily but a demographic-based perception about future mega-trends.

For example, advertisers on both radio and television covet the all-important 25-54 adult demographic. Someone, somewhere, determined that this classification represents the most important group of consumers. By the same token, these adults with money and jobs are increasingly using social media and/or going online. It follows that, regardless if the valuations of online/net-oriented companies make sense today, the demographic-based perception of social media demand and online activity bolsters Internet ETFs.

Internet ETFs and Social Media ETFs Are Soaring
1 Month % 3 Month % 1 Year %
PowerShares NASDAQ Internet (PNQI) 9.8% 25.7% 50.4%
Global X Social Media (SOCL) 11.2% 31.9% 46.4%
First Trust DJ Internet (FDN) 8.2% 17.2% 43.8%
S&P 500 SPDR Trust (SPY) 2.9% 4.7% 19.9%

I am not suggesting that the perception will last indefinitely. Alan Greenspan, the previous chairman of the Fed, discussed the "irrational exuberance" of market-based securities in 1996. Yet, the dot-com bubble did not burst until 2000. In other words, "new tech" ETF investing may continue winning for a whole lot longer than fundamental value folks would have you believe.

In a similar vein (pun definitely intended), there are plenty of reasons to eschew biotechnology ETFs. Price-to-fair value estimates are unfavorable. Legislative uncertainty presents hazards for pharmaceutical research and development. The current price on many biotech stocks, as well as biotech funds like BBH, are more than 20% above a 200-day moving average; a tendency for stocks to revert to their trendlines would certainly be painful.

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