For the first four months of this year, semiconductor stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) were darlings and leaders of the technology sector rally. Then came May and elevated trade tensions between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies.
Chip ETFs and stocks have been one of the epicenters for trade-related skittishness. This month, the widely followed PHLX Semiconductor Sector Index is down 15.72%. That gauge of semiconductor stocks plunged 6.41% last week and is dangerously close to entering a bear market residing 18% below its 52-week high.
Recently, the Commerce Department blacklisted the Chinese telecommunications company Huwaei, meaning the company cannot buy chips from a slew of U.S.-based firms, including many of the marquee components in a slew of major chip ETFs.
“Let’s be clear — we are talking tens of billions of dollars impact,” C.J. Muse, senior equity research analyst at Evercore, said in a recent note. “Loss of this business would slow down investments by U.S. chipmakers, thereby reducing the competitiveness of the U.S. semiconductor industry — and that is a national security issue that the U.S. government needs to consider as well.”
It is reasonable to expect more near-term headwinds for chip ETFs, but for aggressive investors, the now battered group could hold some appeal. Here are some chip ETFs for risk takers to consider.
iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (SOXX)
Expense Ratio: 0.47%, or $47 annually per $10,000 invested
The iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (NASDAQ:SOXX) tracks the aforementioned PHLX Semiconductor Index, so these are tenuous days for one of the largest chip ETFs. Several of the 30 stocks residing in this chip ETF have been caught up in the Huwaei flap, but that could be more of a near-term hurdle than a long-term detriment.
“Our valuations imply that the Huawei ban will be used as short-term leverage by the U.S. in ongoing negotiations with China involving tariffs and other trade negotiations,” said Morningstar in a recent note on semiconductor stocks. “However, our models still assume that the ban won’t last in the long term, as it would be highly destructive to technology companies in both China and the U.S., given the complexity and interwoven nature of the tech supply chain.”
The Huwaei issue is impactful for SOXX components because the Chinese telecom company is one of the largest semiconductor buyers in the world. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO), which combine for over 18% of SOXX’s weight, have some China exposure that needs to be worked through over the near-term.
With Qualcomm, “there could be a risk here that Chinese original-equipment manufacturers don’t buy chips or pay royalties (revenue from China was 67% of last fiscal year’s revenue). We expect near-term pressure on Qualcomm’s financial results will be at the high end of those affected in the semiconductor space,” according to Morningstar.
SPDR S&P Semiconductor ETF (XSD)
Expense Ratio: 0.35%
The SPDR S&P Semiconductor ETF (NYSEARCA:XSD) has been less bad than cap-weighted rivals in recent weeks due in part to this chip ETF being an equal-weight fund, meaning XSD is not dominated by the likes of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Qualcomm.
The weighted average market value of XSD’s 34 holdings is $28 billion, which is lower than the comparable metric on cap-weighted chip ETFs. While none of XSD’s holdings command weights of more than 4.40% in the fund, the equal-weight strategy has not been enough to prevent this chip ETF from incurring significant damage in recent weeks. Month-to-date, XSD is lower by 14.60%.
“The latest bout of trade tensions around Huawei and the day-to-day tactics of the negotiations will probably lead to another bout of caution that could weigh on June quarterly results and perhaps the September forecasts for many chipmakers,” said Morningstar.
SPDR Kensho Smart Mobility ETF (XKST)
Expense Ratio: 0.46%
The SPDR Kensho Smart Mobility ETF (NYSEARCA:XKST) is not a dedicated chip ETF, but this unique fund allocates nearly 13% of its weight to semiconductor stocks and another 4.13% to semiconductor equipment makers and gives investors an avenue for tapping exciting new technology themes.
XKST’s underlying index “is designed to capture companies whose products and services are driving innovation behind smart transportation, which includes the areas of autonomous and connected vehicle technology, drones and drone technologies used for commercial and civilian applications, and advanced transportation tracking and transport optimization systems,” according to State Street.
XKST’s methodology is working, sort of, as the fund has been significantly less bad than dedicated chip ETFs in the month of May. In addition to its semiconductor exposure, XKST is heavily exposed to various facets of the transportation industry, making this is a highly cyclical ETF.
This quasi-chip ETF could be a good buy for investors willing to wait out the current semiconductor shakeout. In other words, be patient and get some better pricing XKST.
As of this writing, Todd Shriber did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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