New Robotics ETF Captures Innovation

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The recently listed Robo-Stox Global Robotics and Automation Index ETF (ROBO) aims to provide investors exposure to the proliferation of robotics in manufacturing and surgery.

By tracking a narrow industry, this fund bucks what has become the trend in in new exchange-traded funds. Lately, we've seen lots of broad-based funds that offer new twists on old strategies.

The Robo-Stox Global Robotics and Automation Index ETF has 77 holdings that target six subindustries within robotics: industrial robot manufacturers; component manufacturers; unmanned/mobile robot makers; vision systems providers; defense and space robots; and health care robot makers. There is also a miscellaneous grouping.

ROBO is a global fund with exposure to 15 countries. Thirty-six percent of the fund's exposure is in the U.S., and 24% is in Japan. Other countries have significantly smaller weightings.

The fund also breaks the holdings down into two categories. Bellwether stocks have a target weighting of 2.2%, and nonbellwether stocks have a target weighting of 1.0%.

Bellwethers are pure plays such as Intuitive Surgical ( ISRG), and nonbellwethers are companies where robotics and/or automation play a role in how the company operates. Examples of the latter include Deere ( DE) and Siemens ( SI).

The largest sector is industrials at 50%, followed by tech at 31% and health care at 9%.

Eighteen of the fund's holdings are bellwethers while 59 are not. An all-bellwether fund would have been possible with just the 18 stocks. It would have been very narrowly focused along the lines of the Global X Lithium ETF ( LIT) which only has 15 holdings. The broader exposure of ROBO will reduce the fund's volatility and also make it a little more broadly diversified than the fund's name implies.

The way the numbers work out, ROBO actually allocates less to the bellwethers at 40% than the nonbellwethers, which is surprising. This could have the effect of making the fund more of a core industrial sector proxy, which might hinder the fund's ability to attract and retain assets.

An investor who understands the robotics industry should expect a certain amount of volatility. In a bull market that can be a good thing. But having so much in larger, more diversified companies will potentially dilute the exposure. That may seem counterintuitive, but the investor looking to capture Intuitive Surgical probably isn't interested in the stability offered by Deere.

The fund is likely to draw criticism for its seemingly high 0.95% expense ratio. It's too early for any dividend information, but based on the current constituents the fund will not be a source for any meaningful yield.

Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson from Draper Fisher Jurvetson said in a recent interview on CNBC that robotics is on verge of a huge wave of growth in society and is one of three themes his firm is focused on for the long term. Although venture capital targets early-stage companies and not publicly traded ones, ROBO obviously would benefit if Jurvetson's optimism proves out to be correct.

At the time of publication, Nusbaum had no positions in stocks or ETFs mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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