NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Alternative energy may at last have its time in the spotlight. With BP's (BP) - Get Report (BP) oil disaster painting a dismal picture for the fossil fuel industry and Washington lawmakers gearing up to do battle over energy reform, exchange-traded funds such as First Trust ISE-Global Wind Energy Index Fund (FAN) - Get Report could get a legislative lift.
One facet of the green energy industry which has recently received its fair share of press has been wind power. Thanks to a large injection of funding, the ground has been broken on what is considered to be the largest wind-farm project in the United States. This plant, located in the Mojave Desert, is set to cover thousands of acres of land and provide enough energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes.
The ETF market boasts a plethora of funds offering exposure to wind power companies as well as the broader alternative energy sector. But for true wind energy bulls, only two funds matter:
PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio
and First Trust ISE-Global Wind Energy Index Fund.
Although the two funds have similar goals, their internal structures have some differences.
Investors choosing PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio opt to follow the Nasdaq OMX Clean Edge Global Wind Energy Index. This basket is comprised of 36 individual companies selected from around the globe. Geographically, the largest percentage of this index is in Spain and France. Top holdings include
Vestas Wind Energy
China Longyuan Power
. Together, these four positions make up more than 40% of the fund's total index. That's an unnervingly top-heavy fund.
First Trust ISE-Global Wind Energy Index Fund, which tracks the ISE Global Wind Energy Index, boasts a list of top positions nearly identical to that of PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio. However, the First Trust fund is far less concentrated, dedicating only 28% of its assets to its top four holdings. Geographically, the fund's top countries include Spain and Germany.
The First Trust ISE-Global Wind Energy Index Fund is also the cheaper of the two options, boasting a 0.60% expense ratio vs. the 0.75% expense ratio of the PowerShares fund.
Over the past three months, the more concentrated PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio has dipped slightly more than 11%, beating out its competitor, which has tumbled close to 14%.
Both products are effective in their ability to provide investors with pure-play exposure to the wind energy industry. However, they both have issues that are cause for concern. Most notably is their heavy exposure to the European Union.
Wind power companies, like solar power firms, are heavily reliant on government subsidies to stay viable. Unfortunately, as nations around the globe and particularly in the EU take steps to cope with looming budget gaps, pressure will be placed on lawmakers to do away with noncritical spending, which may include these subsidies for alternative energy. If nations cut subsidies for wind power, both of these funds will feel the effects.
Structurally, PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio and First Trust ISE-Global Wind Energy Index Fund both suffer from light volume. Changing hands on average 18,000 and 49,000 times each day, respectively, they can't be considered exceptionally liquid. Investors looking to move in and out of these funds quickly may face troubles.
Still, if I would have to choose between the two, I would advise investors to opt for the First Trust option, because of its more balanced portfolio, cheaper expense ratio and better liquidity.
-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.
At the time of publication, Dion Money Management had no positions in equities mentioned.
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Don Dion is president and founder of
, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.
Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.