The stock market funk has continued to create uncertainty and fear. After dropping 38% in 2008, the S&P 500 is down another 25% this year. While we may have opinions about how long it might take to turn around, we can take comfort in knowing that eventually stocks will recover. We can expect certain types of market behaviors that indicate a possible recovery. One of those is that certain sub-sectors of the market will start to outperform, but some people may not believe the performance is sustainable. One segment that could be starting to rebound is agriculture stocks. Using the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF ( MOO) as a proxy, the group dropped 51% in 2008. In the past three months, MOO has fallen 5% vs. 23% for the S&P 500.
There could be several reasons for this, but I believe that long-term global demographic trends make MOO a candidate to be one of the leader groups out of this bear market, regardless of whether that is starting now. The emerging world's diet has been improving and will continue to do so, as middle classes arise in places like China today and maybe Africa -- or any emerging country with a large, young population poised to improve its quality of life -- tomorrow. This means more protein and growing crops in places that have previously not had farmable land. The companies in MOO play into this space. Seed companies like Syngenta ( SYT) and Monsanto ( MON) are prominently featured as the two largest holdings, accounting for 18% of the fund. Familiar fertilizer names like Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan ( POT) and Mosaic ( MOS) are also big holdings. The U.S. is by far the largest country, at 49% representation, down from 55% at inception a year and a half ago; followed by Canada at 11.3%; Singapore, 10%; and Switzerland, 9.2%. The Switzerland weighting is all Syngenta.