If you’re new to the investment markets or need a collection of stocks to bolster your portfolio, exchange-traded funds may offer a viable platform for profitability. Traded like a stock, the main difference is that these funds provide exposure to several individual names. And if you want to spice things up, you may want to consider quirky ETFs.
One of the main reasons why you should go the oddball approach is our transitioning global economy. Over time, for instance, the U.S. may not be the top economic power: by 2030, that slot may belong to China, followed by India.
Therefore, buying traditional funds may not be appropriate, especially for younger investors with a longer-term outlook. However, many quirky ETFs offer relevant exposure that considers this broader transition.
Second, quirky ETFs may include startups and other emerging names that may advantage developing innovations. For example, you might be interested in cryptocurrencies but can’t stomach extreme volatility. There are funds that offer such exposure but include other technology-related assets to mitigate market turbulence.
Third and finally, quirky ETFs are fun! Some folks receive intrinsic enjoyment by going off the beaten path. Further, because some of the oddball funds feature a bit more speculative characteristics, you could potentially see higher-than-usual gains compared to traditional ETFs.
So, set aside your preconceived notions and have a gander at these eight quirky ETFs.
Alerian MLP (AMLP)
Most quirky ETFs get their reputation from the funds’ holdings. However, Alerian MLP (NYSEARCA:AMLP) is odd because of its platform. First, AMLP focuses exclusively on energy-related master limited partnerships. And according to award-winning journalist Jonathan Berr, it’s the first ETF that is structured as a C-corporation. Odd indeed!
But there’s nothing strange about its underlying holdings. AMLP offers a diverse range of energy companies, with Energy Transfer LP (NYSE:ET) occupying the top spot, followed by MPLX (NYSE:MPLX). Although many countries are making a push toward green energy solutions, that transition won’t happen for some time.
Most importantly, AMLP is incredibly relevant based on recent geopolitical events. As you know, Iran retaliated against the U.S. for killing Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, launching missiles against two Iraqi bases which host U.S. service members. As this almost surely escalates into a hot conflict, AMLP is a name you need to watch carefully.
Columbia EM Core ex-China ETF (XCEM)
Ten years from now, it likely won’t be just China and India enjoying a pronounced promotion in global economic riches. Rather, emerging market nations like Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil and Egypt may make significant waves. Given this potential, you may want to consider the EM-rich Columbia EM Core ex-China ETF (NYSEARCA:XCEM).
But what a minute…XCEM doesn’t include China! And what is an EM fund if it doesn’t include the current second-largest economy in the world? Hence, my inclusion of XCEM in this list of quirky ETFs.
In a way, though, an EM fund that doesn’t include Chinese names makes sense. Particularly, the U.S-China trade war made many investors lose their appetite for the Asian juggernaut. Beyond the pain in the print, China holds steadfastly to a communist ideology. That raises the potential for conflict, as we saw over the past year-and-a-half.
iShares MSCI Kokusai ETF (TOK)
Now, XCEM isn’t the only fund that singles out a particular nation. The ironically named iShares MSCI Kokusai ETF (NYSEARCA:TOK) features a strong serving of American blue chips. In fact, U.S.-based companies make up over 69% of the holdings under TOK. The rest include companies from western European countries, as well as Asia and the Middle East.
But why do I call TOK ironic? Because “kokusai” in Japanese means international. Perhaps one of the most common usages is in kokusai schools, which feature students from all over the world. Thus, TOK gives you exactly that, but not Japan. Nevertheless, this fund uses a Japanese name, which I thought was funny.
Will investors find TOK effective as a profitability vehicle? Judging from the charts, this is one of the quirky ETFs that put up robust numbers in 2019. Honestly, though, it’s mostly a play on the good ole US of A. If you want to continue riding the American bull, TOK is your pick.
The Obesity ETF (SLIM)
Speaking of Americans, we sure love to eat! And because of our raging – and arguably, uncontrollable – appetite, we’ve expanded our waistline to almost ridiculous levels. In fact, the American Journal of Public Health reports that obesity causes about 20% of deaths in this country. To put that into perspective, that’s almost as deadly as smoking.
Cynically, though, you can profit from this trend through the not-so-tactfully titled The Obesity ETF (NASDAQ:SLIM). Not surprisingly, SLIM includes WW International (NASDAQ:WW), better known by its prior name, Weight Watchers. Also cynically, by purchasing units of SLIM, you won’t have to worry about a viable consumer base.
“Better” yet, obesity isn’t just an aesthetic issue. By ballooning one’s weight beyond its natural capacity, this circumstance creates myriad health problems. And those health problems invariably lead to higher demand for medical therapies. Therefore, SLIM features a healthy mix of healthcare-related enterprises.
Global X Millennials Thematic ETF (MILN)
Like a mass-produced car, youthful age is not an asset. Eventually, both the car and the person lose economic value until they completely conk out. But for now, millennials think they’ll live (and stay young) forever. While we can’t turn back the clock, everyone can join in on the fun by investing in Global X Millennials Thematic ETF (NASDAQ:MILN).
As the name suggests, MILN focuses on companies that are relevant to young Americans. Therefore, this youth-centric example among quirky ETFs feature tech names that millennials love, such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). To no one’s shock, AAPL occupies pole position for MILN.
Additionally, this ETF includes streaming entertainment companies like Disney (NYSE:DIS) along with the millennial transportation platform of choice, Uber (NYSE:UBER). Going down the list of top holdings, nearly all of them have a strong association with Generation Y.
Plus, betting on MILN is a smart, long-term strategy. Millennials represent the largest workforce in the U.S., which means that economically speaking, they’re just getting interesting.
PureFunds Video Game Tech ETF (GAMR)
20-to-30 years ago, video games were almost exclusively the domain of male participants. Today, this dynamic has improved considerably. With increased diversity and the loss of the industry’s social stigma as a nerd magnet, the gaming sector exploded. To take advantage of this ever-increasing popularity of digital entertainment, you should plug into PureFunds Video Game Tech ETF (NYSEARCA:GAMR).
Among the top holdings for GAMR are well-known gaming companies like Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) and Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI). You might be wondering, why not just buy these names individually? At the right price, I wholeheartedly encourage this mindset.
However, as one of the quirky ETFs, GAMR provides some downside mitigation. Some of the individual developers have gotten volatile, hurting their credibility within Wall Street. To counter the turbulence, GAMR includes the full spectrum of gaming-related entities. We’re talking console makers like Sony (NYSE:SNE) to graphics processing specialists like Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA).
With so many quality organizations on the table, GAMR should perform well in 2020.
Procure Space ETF (UFO)
If you haven’t paid attention, a fascinating development in recent years is people’s obsession with space and other astronomical concepts. A byproduct of this fixation is the reemergence of the flat earth theory. Long relegated to the dustbin of history, this crap came back with remarkable fervor.
Still, not everyone has an unhealthy obsession with space. And to take advantage of this positive momentum, investors can buy units of the Procure Space ETF (NASDAQ:UFO). An appropriately named fund, UFO includes a wide range of tech firms. However, it’s not just about space travel and exploration, as UFO features companies like Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI).
In other words, if a major, well-known company is somehow related to space, there’s a good chance you’ll find it in the UFO fund.
Additionally, you’ll find several defense companies here. That’s not a surprise considering that the U.S. Space Force became the sixth military branch in December 2019. Therefore, keep an eye on UFO as a long-term pick.
ARK Web x.0 ETF (ARKW)
Finally, we’ve arrived at our last idea for quirky ETFs and this one has a strange name to boot. Called the ARK Web x.0 ETF (NYSEARCA:ARKW), ARKW is a truly global name. If you love tech but can’t figure out which individual company to choose, this fund is the ideal platform. From Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) to Zillow Group (NASDAQ:Z, NASDAQ:ZG), ARKW provides exposure to today’s relevant innovators.
But one of the biggest – and controversial – innovations over the past several years is the rise of the blockchain. With it came the cryptocurrency revolution that has captivated, as well as frustrated investors the world over. And while virtual currencies offer astounding profitability potential, they’re also wild.
With ARKW, you can take the sting off this volatility. That’s because the fund includes exposure to the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (OCTMKTS:GBTC). However, bear in mind that the opposite is also true: bitcoin alone won’t make or break this ETF.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto is long SNE and bitcoin.