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A Strange Safe Haven for Skittish Investors

The overall market may be sliding down the proverbial rat hole, but at least until the past two weeks, the transport sector was holding up quite well. Transportation is not a traditional safe haven, such as health care and consumer staples, but its relatively small losses compared to other sectors of the market are making some people think twice about transportation stocks.

The PowerShares Global Progressive Transportation Portfolio (Nasdaq: PTRP  ) is a recent addition to the handful of ETFs tracking transportation-related companies. This fund provides exposure to a portfolio of global transportation companies and includes the added benefit that the companies selected are focused on energy efficiency.

Fund facts
Inception date: 9/18/2008
Expense ratio: 0.75%
Net assets: $2.1 million

Fund specifics
The Progressive Transportation fund offers investors exposure to companies that use technology to improve fuel efficiency or reduce energy costs. Fund holdings include Oceanfreight (Nasdaq: OCNF  ) , Fuel System Solutions (Nasdaq: FSYS  ) , and Enbridge (NYSE: ENB  ) . More than half the fund's assets are invested in companies in the U.S. and Canada.

Fund prospects and risks
Whether you're talking about railways like Burlington Northern Santa Fe (NYSE: BNI  ) , delivery services like FedEx (NYSE: FDX  ) , or trucking companies like Ryder System (NYSE: R  ) , transportation companies are heavy users of fuel. Yet they've managed to do fairly well despite high fuel prices. The ability of transport companies to pass on energy price increases, combined with customers seeking lower-cost options, has fueled this sector. As the economy contracts, however, these companies will undoubtedly be affected. But transport companies are buffered somewhat because they deliver coal and agricultural products that will be in demand no matter how bad the economy gets. Any sustained drop in oil prices should be a boon for transport companies, whose operating costs will come down.

Portfolio fit?
The credit crisis tidal wave is swamping wide swaths of the global economy, and the aftereffects are likely to stunt markets for some time. In these difficult times, a sector that's in demand in good and bad times is likely to stand up better than those that are discretionary for consumers or businesses. Whether the transports can weather this storm remains to be seen, but given their recent outperformance, it's definitely an option you should consider.

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Fool contributor Zoe Van Schyndel now lives in the Seattle area, where she enjoys the coffee and natural wonders. She does not own any of the funds or securities mentioned in this article. FedEx is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Related Tickers

2/12/2010 4:01 PM
BNI.DL $100.21 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Burlington Norther… CAPS Rating: *****
ENB $43.36 Down -0.73 -1.66%
Enbridge CAPS Rating: *****
FDX $172.09 Up +1.89 +1.11%
FedEx CAPS Rating: ****
FSYS.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Fuel Systems Solut… CAPS Rating: ***
OCNF.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
OceanFreight, Inc. CAPS Rating: ***
R $65.30 Up +0.87 +1.35%
Ryder System CAPS Rating: ****