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Both alternative energy and Africa represent fertile terrain for investment growth -- or so reasoned some exchange-traded fund managers earlier this year. But new ETFs focusing on those themes have yet to pay off.

The accompanying table of five recently created ETFs targeting the realm of alternative energy and two with investments in Africa and the Middle East shows that the new offerings have yet to break out from the pack during the depressing autumn of 2008.

With more than 800 ETFs now competing for investor attention, new offerings by the industry usually reflect what money managers consider the new "trendy" areas of the investment milieu. As often as not, by the time the investment fashion police identify an area as "the next new thing," the

investment trend has peaked

and investors find themselves dressed in last year's portfolio trappings.

But this new batch of tony ETFs represents the possibility of longer life spans. Few would quarrel with the reasoning that the alternative energy trend is still in its infancy. Similarly, the Africa/Middle East region is undeniably the least -- and possibly last -- exploited investment region left on earth.

The only fund on the list to outperform the

S&P 500

total-return index over the past three months was the

iPath Barclays Capital Global Carbon Index Total Return Fund

(GRN) - Get iPath Series B Carbon ETN Report

, which retreated only 14.45% while the S&P tumbled 23.11%. None of the other funds in the list of seven was able to better the S&P gauge during the October bloodletting.

Possibly the most conventional offering on the table, the

iShares S&P Global Nuclear Index Fund


, contains established stocks such as

TheStreet Recommends

McDermott International

(MDR) - Get McDermott International, Inc. Report


FPL Group



First Energy

(FE) - Get FirstEnergy Corp. Report


Philosophically, NUCL is arguably the antithesis of the

iShares S&P Global Clean Energy Industry Fund

(ICLN) - Get iShares Global Clean Energy ETF Report

, the major holdings of which include

First Solar

(FSLR) - Get First Solar, Inc. Report

, energy-from-waste pioneer

Covanta Holdings

(CVA) - Get Covanta Holding Corporation Report





Of the Africa-Middle-East pair of ETFs on the list, the

PowerShares MENA Frontier Countries Fund


, with large positions in securities such as

Arab Bank


Kuwait Finance

, is more heavily invested in the oil-rich Persian Gulf than in the emerging African region.

On the other hand, the

Market Vectors Africa Index ETF

(AFK) - Get VanEck Vectors Africa Index ETF Report

is invested in large African corporations.

Richard Widows is a senior financial analyst for Ratings. Prior to joining, 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.