McCall’s Call: ETFs For Creaky Infrastructure

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With the unemployment rate remaining high in the U.S., the government is looking for ways to stimulate job creation. Its latest attempt is a proposed $50 billion infrastructure plan that will upgrade the nation's roads, railways and airports.

Matthew D. McCall That's a drop in the bucket compared with the $2.2 trillion the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates will be needed over the next five years to address the creaky U.S. infrastructure. But whatever gets spent is sure to provide investors with opportunities to profit from the projects.

While the infrastructure ETFs available don't focus exclusively or even tightly on the U.S., the good news for investors is that such spending is needed all over the world, whether in developed countries or in the emerging markets, where much of the economic growth is now concentrated and expected to remain for years.

So, the variety of ETFs currently available to those who want in on the action are either focused globally, on raw materials critical to infrastructure or on the emerging markets in particular.

Infrastructure ETFs

Among the broad-based infrastructure funds, I think the iShares S&P Global Infrastructure Index Fund (NYSEArca:IGF) is worth checking out. It's composed of 75 stocks that invest in companies around the globe.

The U.S. makes up 24 percent of IGF, followed by Australia at 10 percent. Utilities and energy make up 60 percent of the allocation, and the ETF charges an expense ratio of 0.48 percent. The composition of the ETF is not ideal for a stimulus program that will concentrate on roads and rail, but it does offer global exposure.

Another one worth looking at is the SPDR FTSE/Macquarie Global Infrastructure 100 ETF (NYSEArca:GII). This fund has 106 stocks in its allocation-40 percent of which is in the U.S. and 11 percent in Japan. It has an expense ratio of 0.59 percent.

The focus on utilities is even higher for GII, at 78 percent, and most of the top 10 holdings are U.S. or European utility stocks. Again, GII is not the best fit for an investor looking to profit from road building in the U.S.

Secondary Play:Materials

Building new roads and runways means there will be demand for aggregate materials such as cement, steel, etc. Therefore, a secondary play on infrastructure spending would be material ETFs holding companies that supply the raw materials to the construction firms.

The iShares S&P Global Materials Sector Index Fund (NYSEArca:MXI) concentrates on the metals & mining (57 percent) and the chemical (34 percent) sectors. The U.S. makes up 22 percent of the portfolio that holds most of the large international metal stocks in the top 10. There are a total of 121 stocks, and the expense ratio is an acceptable 0.48 percent.

Two popular ETFs that are also in the materials sector are the Vanguard Materials ETF (NYSEArca:VAW) and the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Basic Materials Sector Index Fund (NYSEArca:IYM). The problem with both ETFs in regard to infrastructure is that each is very heavily invested in the chemical sector. If the goal was exposure to the broad chemicals sector, both ETFs are great options. VAW and IYM have expense ratios of 0.25 percent and 0.47 percent, respectively.

Emerging Market Spending

Developing countries from South America to Asia continue to increase the amount of money spent on infrastructure to keep up with their growing economies.

Indonesia, for example, recently announced its plans to double its infrastructure spending over the next five years to $140 billion. Earlier this year, India made a similar declaration about doubling infrastructure spending to $1 trillion during the 12 th Plan period (2012-2017).

Investors have a choice of broad-based emerging market infrastructure ETFs that encompass the entire geography, while others focus on specific countries.

The iShares S&P Emerging Markets Infrastructure Index Fund (NasdaqGM:EMIF) is made up of 27 stocks focused heavily on transportation infrastructure and electric utilities. China and Brazil make up 57 percent of the ETF, which is up 6 percent so far this year.

The PowerShares Emerging Markets Infrastructure Portfolio (NYSEArca:PXR) is more diverse, with 75 stocks in the portfolio and less concentration on China and Brazil. The top-two emerging market countries only make up 30 percent of the allocation, with South Africa accounting for 10 percent. The ETF is up 8 percent year-to-date and has an expense ratio of 0.75 percent-identical to EMIF's. PXR is my choice of the two possibilities.

Position Your Portfolio Now

At the end of the day, it's clear the developed countries (the U.S. and Western Europe) need to upgrade their existing infrastructure systems. The developing countries need to focus on creating infrastructure systems. The result will be trillions of dollars flowing into the sector in the years to come. Now is the time to position your portfolio with the appropriate ETFs.

Matthew D. McCall is editor of The ETF Bulletin and president of Penn Financial Group LLC, a Ridgewood, N.J.-based wealth management firm specializing in investment strategies using ETFs.

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Copyright ® 2010 Index Publications LLC . All Rights Reserved.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: Investing , ETFs
Referenced Symbols: EMIF , GII , IGF , IYM , MXI , PXR , VAW

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