Talk to me about business and investing for more than 10 minutes and I start speaking in future tense — about emerging technologies such as virtual reality, quantum computing, gene therapy and advanced forms of energy such as hydrogen and nuclear fusion. It isn’t just that I find these subjects fascinating, it’s that they’re driving the future of business, and awareness of them is critical to successful long-term investing. The maxim goes like this: “Investing isn’t about where we are today, it’s about where we will be tomorrow.”
Alas, people are prone consider such talk flights of fancy, as though they’re matters from a distant solar system we cannot possibly reach during our lifetimes. That’s why it was especially gratifying to see one of the world’s most successful investors, Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of ARK Investment Management, whose fund strategies brought investor returns topping 100 percent during 2020, has announced plans to launch a space ETF. Wood and her firm are all about disruptive technologies, and her big five technology platforms she argues are changing the world include artificial intelligence, robotics, energy storage, DNA sequencing and the blockchain. Perhaps we can add the space economy to that list.
Announcement of the new space exploration fund quivered the market, as space-related shares advanced, including those at Virgin Galactic, Maxar Technologies, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Iridium Communications, among other players.
Wood has a special skill for choosing winning strategies with her actively managed ETFs, including the ARK Genomic Revolution ETF, ARK Innovation ETF, and ARK Next Generation Internet ETF, all of which recorded banner gains more than 100 percent during 2020.
What might the ARK Space Exploration ETF yield? The new fund has yet to be launched, as of this writing, and its holdings not yet fully disclosed. This much we know from the ARK Invest filing: The ETF will focus on space exploration companies “leading, enabling or benefiting from technologically-enabled products and/or services that occur beyond the surface of the Earth.”
How’s that for a flight of fancy?
You can almost certainly expect the Elon Musk-inspired SpaceX to be among its holdings. Wood is a huge proponent of Musk and his visions, dubbing him “brilliant” and a “renaissance man.” And why not? The eccentric entrepreneur has enriched Wood and her investors enormously through Tesla’s position in the firm’s flagship ARK Innovation ETF. In addition to triple-digit returns to shareholders during the past year, the fund grew its assets to more than $20 billion, making it the world’s largest actively managed ETF, according to Barron’s. Tesla, founded by Musk, is the fund’s single-largest holding at nearly 10 percent and has contributed mightily to the fund’s success.
SpaceX was founded by Musk to reduce the transportation cost of space-bound payloads, and to eventually colonize Mars. It’s the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft, and the first private company to send a spacecraft containing humans to the International Space Station. It is also one of several companies — along with Jeff Bezos-funded Blue Origin — that have aspirations for pioneering the space tourism business.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis already counts satellites, rocket launches and GPS as part of the space economy, though its proponents dream of the mining of commodities from asteroids, lunar manufacturing and food security through space farming, among other activities.
In the filing, ARK says that it believes space exploration companies can be grouped into four categories: orbital (at least 62 miles above sea level), sub-orbital (reaching outer space but not completing one orbital revolution), enabling technologies and aerospace beneficiary companies.
The space exploration fund is expected to contain 40 to 55 companies and will compete with other space-focused funds, including the Procure Space ETF, a global aerospace and defense ETF, and the SPDR S&P Kensho Final Frontiers ETF, focused on space and deep sea exploration.
There is much to compete over. Bank of America issued a report forecasting the space economy is likely to grow by $1 trillion during the next decade.
Cathie Wood and ARK Investment Management are playing the hottest of hands at this time, though it remains to be seen if her investing strategies will find the same thrust and trajectory in zero gravity.
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.