Days after the Trump inaugural, the Inside ETFs conference is kicking off in Hollywood, Florida, and by all accounts it will be the biggest gathering around exchange-trade funds yet, with close to 2,500 participants spread out over four days of meetings.
One hot topic on everyone’s mind: Donald Trump and his impact on the markets. Anyone for Trump ETFs?
I’m only partly kidding. The rise of “thematic investing” — placing bets on themes like Cyber Security ETF or Cloud Computing or Airlines — makes it perfectly feasible that someone might float a “Trump ETF” consisting of stocks that may benefit from his presidency.
Even if that doesn’t happen, the early buzz on the conference is that there is plenty of debate on how to construct a Trump-based ETF portfolio, including:
- Bets on the dollar. PowerShares Dollar Index Bullish Fund, which replicates an index that is long the U.S. dollar against six currencies, has seen greatly increased volume since the election. Its mirror image, PowerShares Dollar Index Bearish, has recently seen stronger volume as Trump commented that the dollar was too strong. Some have argued that those who think Trump will prevail on getting the dollar down should buy the Europe ETF, which is effectively a short on the dollar.
- Bond ETFs. There’s considerable discussion around how demand in the bond market may change should the Treasury Department issue 50-year bonds to pay for an infrastructure program. There’s considerable debate over how broad the appetite for such bonds is and how it would affect the composition of bond ETFs like the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond.
- Volatility ETFs. The bet on high volatility has not panned out. After an initial volume push, Volatility ETFs like the iPath VIX Short-term ETF have seen declining volume.
Past this, there is a lively debate about the wisdom of concocting a basket of “Trump ETFs.” The challenge with the Trump trade is he says he is strong on defense, then slams defense stocks. He’s pro-business, but he slams drug stocks. That’s why many are telling clients with strong stomachs to gear up for more “Trump headline investing” around sectors like Oil & Gas Exploration, Defense & Aerospace and Pharmaceuticals.
Health Care is a particular challenge, since the focus on Obamacare is such a huge unknown. Will Trump insist on a single-payer system? Will he go after drug companies and make them pay less?
Here’s the problem: The Trump presidency will be headline-driven, so making a traditional sector call may be tricky. But is there a chance he could suddenly start talking about, say, how awesome the restaurant industry is? Sure. And on that day — and maybe for some time after — you can expect heavy volume in the Restaurant ETF. Yes, there really is a Restaurant ETF.
That’s why we will likely see more industry-specific ETFs as investors try to figure out broad thematic plays rather than old-school sector plays.
As for Trump, the best investing idea I’ve heard is from a trader who said that Twitter should sell co-location services to high-frequency traders so they can be as close as possible to Twitter’s servers so they will get news of any Trump tweets before anyone else.