2 Agricultural ETFs for a Soylent Green World

“You’ve gotta tell them! Soylent Green is people!”

Remember that famous line of cinematic dialogue? It was screamed by Charlton Heston, in the classic 1973 sci-fi film Soylent Green. The movie depicts a bleak future set in 2022 in which overpopulation, pollution and climate change have destroyed agriculture. The population is forced to survive on a food ration called “Soylent Green,” which in the film’s big reveal turns out to be processed humans.

It’s now the year 2023. We’re not eating people (as far as I can tell), but much of the movie’s dystopian vision has come to pass.

Political instability, climate change and population growth are adding up to an overcrowded and polluted world that can’t feed itself. With that harsh reality in mind, I scoured the investment landscape and unearthed two exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that leverage these developments. More about my recommended ETFs in a minute.

In this uncertain stock market, it’s tough to find new sources of safe growth. Inflation remains elevated, geopolitical crises are multiplying, and the economy is decelerating. One time-proven strategy is to latch onto a trend with sustainable momentum that will unfold regardless of financial and economic ups and downs.

By investing in plays that benefit from sweeping global transformations, you can settle in for the long haul and tune out the white noise about fluctuating indicators.

The coming food crisis is one such play. Climate change poses a particular threat to agriculture, as farmers try to get greater yields from less and less arable land, to feed ever-growing populations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in May 2023 that weather and climate disaster events are increasing in number and ferocity. A notable and recent example are the wildfires in Canada that are polluting American skies.

Whether the culprit for the rising incidence of severe storms is climate change or something else, violently erratic weather is a new global reality that the public and private sectors are scrambling to mitigate. Perhaps the most devastating effect is on agriculture.

The journal Nature reports that droughts, floods, extreme temperatures, and hurricanes have destroyed about a tenth of the globe’s wheat, corn, and other cereal crops over the last five decades.

What’s more, a recent report in Science magazine estimates that the world population is unlikely to stop growing this century. Based on United Nations data, the magazine states there is an 80% probability that world population, now at about 8 billion people, will increase to between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion in 2100.

The collision of these three relentless trends — political turmoil, agricultural destruction and population growth — is manna for the two investments highlighted below.

No farming, no food…

Agricultural commodity ETFs provide exposure to food products such as wheat, soybeans, sugar, corn, livestock, hogs, and also raw materials, such as cotton, timber, and wool.

These two agricultural ETFs are easier and less risky plays than individual stocks; at the same time they’re pure plays on the confluence of agricultural need, climate devastation and out-of-control population growth. They offer investors exposure to commodities without the need for directly trading futures contracts.

  • Invesco DB Agriculture Fund (DBA)

The benchmark agricultural commodity ETF is Invesco DB Agriculture Fund, a pure commodity play on food products. DBA holds futures contracts on such staples as corn, wheat, soybeans, coffee, cattle, cocoa, and sugar. These contracts are rolled over before expiration to maintain exposure.

The following chart shows DBA’s top 10 holdings:

Source: Fidelity

DBA’s net assets stand at $865.1 million. The fund’s year-to-date total return is 4.47%; the one-year daily total return is 2.84% and the three-year daily total return is 17.14%. The expense ratio is a reasonable 0.85%.

  • Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund (DBC)

Another futures contracts-based fund, this ETF is more diversified than DBA, which makes it less risky but also more limited in potential upside. DBC holds futures contracts in corn and wheat, as well as major positions in gold, heating oil and crude. Net assets stand at $1.92 billion.

DBC is down 8.72% year-to-date and down 19.07% over the past year, but it has racked up a three-year daily total return of 23.39%. The expense ratio is 0.85%.

Pressure on commodity prices and uncertain growth in China and other emerging markets have weighed on both funds, making them good buys now. They should rise this year and beyond as commodity prices recover and weather anomalies create ever-greater food shortages.

Another tailwind is the nascent recovery of emerging markets, especially in Asia and South America, which in turn is creating greater numbers of hungry middle-class consumers.

Countries such as South Korea, the Philippines and Mexico are showing an insatiable appetite for grain, as rising middle classes in those regions pocket more disposable income and embrace a Western diet that’s heavy on meat and processed convenience foods.

Commodities represent a fast moving and volatile sector, and as such deliver the potential for fast gains (or fast losses). These two ETFs could make sense for patient investors with an appetite for risk and an eye on long-term global trends.

Stable income in a troubled world…

Investing in crisis is one way to build wealth. Another way is to simply rely on a proven formula that works like clockwork.

That’s where Robert Rapier comes in.

As chief investment strategist of Rapier’s Income Accelerator, Robert has developed strategies that make money in bull or bear markets.

Robert Rapier can show you how to squeeze up to 18 times more income out of dividend stocks, with just a few minutes of “work” each week. Click here for details.

John Persinos is the editorial director of Investing Daily.

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