The collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis last week tragically punctuated years of warnings about deterioration of the nation's transportation infrastructure.
It now seems inevitable that there will be serious efforts to prevent future death and destruction. However, mutual fund investors wishing to participate in the rejuvenation of the U.S. highway system will find that they have few options.
Just as the condition of the nation's roads and bridges has been neglected by their keepers, mutual funds have generally neglected to invest in companies that are likely to be called upon the save the roadway system.
The accompanying table summarizes investment by funds in 10 selected companies that would likely supply the engineering, equipment, materials and construction work in the rebuilding of the nation's highway system:
- Caterpillar (CAT) - Get Report
- Cemex (CX) - Get Report
- Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI)
- Fluor Corp. (FLR) - Get Report
- Granite Construction (GVA) - Get Report
- Hanson ( HAN)
- Jacobs Engineering Group (JEC) - Get Report
- Lafarge( LR)
- NCI Building Systems (NCS) - Get Report
- URS Corp. (URS)
The list contains some large construction, engineering and materials firms that have historically been involved in transportation projects.
Although they are virtually certain to achieve benefits from the rebuilding effort, their diversified revenue bases mean that their bottom lines will not feel the full impact of the highway and bridge rejuvenation effort. So some smaller firms with total revenue more dependent entirely on transportation infrastructure were also included.
Only 23 open-end funds, one exchange-traded fund and a single closed-end fund hold cumulative positions of 5% or more in the 10 selected infrastructure companies.
It's striking that with the exception of the lone exchange-traded fund on the list and a handful at the top of the roster, the fund industry has largely been ignoring this important segment of the economy.
You might think fund managers would be paying more attention to this area, given how rewarding it has been. The fund on the list with the biggest concentration in the transportation infrastructure stocks on our list has been providing its investors with handsome returns: The
PowerShares Dynamic Building and Construction ETF
has risen 35.46% over the past 12 months, with 18.37% of that coming in the first seven months of 2007. The ETF has returned 15.02% on an annualized basis since its launch in October of 2005.
On the whole, these funds don't just have relatively low concentrations of assets in transportation infrastructure stocks; there's also a general lack of diversification in the group. Most hold only one or two of the 10 selected engineering, construction or materials firms.
The lone holder of six of the stocks is the
Rydex Series-Sector Rotation Fund . The fund's name suggests that it may not stay in the area for the long haul,.
Fidelity Select Construction and Housing (FSHOX), holds five the selected transportation infrastructure stocks. But investors are more likely to be frightened by the last word in its name than to be attracted by the third.
The table below summarizes fund holdings in the 10 companies on our list. Some are large firms that would likely derive high revenue totals from stepped-up in spending on roadways, bridges and tunnels. Others are relatively small firms with high-percentage exposure to highway-related infrastructure.
There is, by the way, nothing to suggest that the companies in the table are about to make an investor any sort of quick profit from the Minneapolis tragedy. Investors in companies participating in the rejuvenation of the highway system are likelier to receive steady returns over the lengthy rebuilding effort rather than quick payoffs.
All together, 1,251 open-end funds hold at least one of the stocks, with a combined position of $23.78 billion. That is miniscule involvement in the transportation infrastructure, considering the roughly $10 trillion in total net assets of U.S. mutual funds.
Among closed-end funds and ETFs, 148 hold an aggregate $2.80 billion in the group of selected transportation infrastructure stocks.
Richard Widows is a financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.