(Veteran tech stock columnist Jon D. Markman publishes Strategic Advantage, a lively guide to investing in the digital transformation of business and society. Click here for a trial.)
Space used to be a black hole where investment dollars went to die. Today investors see only opportunity as the economics of the sector reset. This is the best way to gain exposure.
Ark Investment Management on Tuesday launched Space and Exploration fund ( (ARKX) - Get Report). The actively managed exchange traded fund will invest in innovative businesses that are benefitting from the aerospace disruption.
This ETF should be a winner.
Ark is led by Cathie Wood. To suggest she has had a hot hand is an understatement. Last year her flagship fund, Ark Innovation ( (ARKK) - Get Report) returned 150% due in large part to its massive position in Tesla ( (TSLA) - Get Report). Woods correctly predicted that investors were underestimating Elon Musk, the chief executive officer, and the grow potential for electric vehicles. She invested heavily. And even as the fund swelled in 2020 to $22 billion in assets under management, she refused to sell.
Last year alone Tesla shares gained 695%, by far the best-performing large capitalization stock.
In a strange twist of fate the Space and Exploration ETF debuted moments after SpaceX, a rocket company also run by Musk, test-launched its Starship SN11 rocket. The 394 feet tall, stainless steel spacecraft is a duplicate of another rocket tested earlier in March. Unfortunately, SN11 met with the same fate as SN10, SN09 and SN08 -- a rapid unscheduled disassembly.
Rocket scientists are clever, even with words.
However, investors should not mistake explosions for failure. Nor should they overlook the opportunity. SpaceX is innovating faster than any aerospace company in history. Testing that used to take years occurs over only a few short months. Ultimately Musk hopes to colonize Mars and the huge Starships will play an integral role. Every test flight brings valuable data, putting the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company one step closer to interstellar manned flights.
The test flights also expedite the buildout of Starlink, a low Earth orbit satellite constellation that will blanket the entire planet with 11,943 tiny internet transmitting devices, according to a Federal Communications Commission document. So far SpaceX has been able to deploy 1,384 satellites using its Falcon series of reusable rockets. CNBC reported in October 2019 that Starship could deploy 400 during a single mission.
Those economies of scale, and reusability are driving a new space economy.
SpaceX has cut the cost of deploying satellites by a factor of 20, according to a report in The Conversation. The economic implications of this kind of disruption are enormous. It changes everything.
Starlink is a good example of this. In the past satellite internet connectivity suffered from latency. Because the cost of getting the equipment into space was so high, satellites were located in geospatial orbits, 22,200 miles away. Starlink’s LEO satellites are only 340 miles from the Earth’s surface. While they cover less ground, there are many, many more of them.
The Ark Space and Exploration ETF is the best way to participate in the growth of new space economy, and all that it entails.
Managers at Ark released a breakdown Tuesday of the top positions. The largest holding at 8.6% of assets is Trimble ( (TRMB) - Get Report), a software company that uses satellites to help the agriculture sector with water management. Kratos Defense and Security Solutions ( (KTOS) - Get Report) commands 5.6% of the fund. The San Diego, Calif.-based company specializes in weapon systems and military satellites for unmanned drones. And sandwiched in between at 6.1% is an investment in the Ark 3D Printing ETF ( (PRNT) - Get Report), a sister fund.
The investment choices are unconventional. That is sort of the point, though.
The entire aerospace sector is being disrupted. Some legacy players are going to face lost market share and dwindling profit margins as smaller companies find new ways to benefit from lower deployment costs. These more nimble businesses will also develop inventive ways to use the data, like Trimble.
The Ark Space and Exploration debuted Tuesday at $20. Longer-term investors should use any weakness to add new positions.