4 ETFs gain from commodities upheaval

Here are four funds that have taken advantage of the recent decline in commodity prices.

By TheStreet Staff Jun 30, 2011 11:35AM

By Don Dion, TheStreet


Once seemingly impervious to weakness, the commodities space has recently been cast under an unsettling shroud of uncertainty, leading many investors to question the long-term strength and attraction of hard assets.


Although in the near term, those looking for direct access to energy, minerals, and individual agricultural products may face an uphill climb, there are a number of ways ETF investors can actually benefit from the recent upheaval in commodities. Below are a handful of funds that look set to benefit as resource prices remain subdued.


SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT): Throughout the final months of 2010 and first quarter of 2011, cotton prices stuck to a steep upward path, as evidenced by the rise of the futures-tracking iPath Dow Jones UBS Cotton Subindex Total Return ETN (BAL).


While attractive for those with direct access to cotton, these rising costs have been a major hurdle for apparel companies, threatening to wipe away profits and force price increases onto vulnerable consumers.

Since April, however, cotton prices have tumbled. Over the most recent 90-day period, BAL has retreated over 20%. As a result of this decline, some weight as been lifted off of retailers, providing them with some refreshing room to move higher.


The prospect for the retail industry has been further strengthened as gas prices have taken a hit. Relief at the pump bodes well for consumer discretionary spending power.


XRT provides investors with access to a wide range of companies across various corners of the retail industry. Apparel retail, however, commands the lion's share of the index, accounting for nearly a third of its assets. Since mid-June, shares of this fund have been on a rebound, powering within reach of previous 2011 highs.


PowerShares Dynamic Food & Beverage Portfolio (PBJ) & PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment Portfolio (PEJ): Over the past year, the restaurant industry has managed to consistently outpace the broader markets as consumers have become increasingly willing to treat themselves to small luxuries.


Although PBJ's 30% gains during this timeframe has been impressive, there is a strong chance that as commodity prices remain tempered this fund will have further to run.


During the opening months of 2011, the dining industry faced steep hurdles as crop prices powered along a uphill trajectory and eventually revisited the breathtaking levels seen during 2008. In recent weeks, however, the full-steam-ahead action that defined the food industry in the first quarter has subsided as individual pockets of the agriculture spectrum have begun to break away from one another.


Choppy action from agricultural commodities will help relieve some of the pressure weighing on dining establishments underlying PEJ. The leisure industry-tracking PEJ will likely also get a lift as input costs slide. The fund sets aside a substantial portion of its portfolio to restaurants including Starbucks (SBUX), McDonald's (MCD), Yum! Brands (YUM) and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD).


iShares Dow Jones Transportation Average Index Fund (IYT): The transportation industry should be watched closely as commodities remain shaky. Although the sector as a whole has already held up well throughout the market's multi-week rough patch, the prospects for many top players will likely improve further as fuel prices head south.


Last week, for instance, in comments made to Reuters following the company's strong quarterly earnings report, FedEx (FDX) CEO Fred Smith cited falling crude prices as a major advantage for the company as it heads into the second half of the year.

As earnings season ramps up in the weeks ahead, other members of the transportation industry like CSX (CSX) will step up the plate and report their respective quarterly numbers and outlooks for the second half of the year. If FedEx's performance is any indication for what is in store for this industry, I expect transports to be a standout performer in the months to come.


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