Semiconductor companies like Nvidia and other technologists have said that Moore's Law is dead -- the prediction originally made nearly 60 years ago that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months to two years. Basically, the computer technology industry has been benefiting from a fast, steady rise in computing power for the same or less cost for decades.

This effect has been deflationary for technology and the economy overall. However, if Moore's Law is coming to an end, semiconductors could begin to become inflationary for the global economy. 

If this comes to pass, a new investing norm could be settling in for tech investors. If inflation indeed starts to hit chip stocks, a metals and mining exchange-traded fund (ETF) might be a surprising way to invest in the continued advance of the tech world. That ETF is iShares MSCI Global Metals & Mining Producers ETF (PICK -0.21%).

Surprise! Computers might be turning inflationary

For decades, computers have been highly deflationary. Not only has tech hardware decreased in absolute price (personal computers could cost many thousands of dollars 40 years ago), but they've also simultaneously increased exponentially in what they're capable of accomplishing. This has helped many businesses save on expenses, or at least get more efficient by way of computing tech so they could invest cost savings elsewhere.  

However, the end of Moore's Law could be a game changer. Transistors just two nanometers in size are being developed, which means physics are quickly going to be a limiting factor for shrinking them much more (individual atoms are a few tenths of a nanometer in size).

To be sure, computing power can still advance for decades to come. But software development itself might need to be the source of this increase in computing efficiency. And other solutions pertaining to the hardware itself could actually turn inflationary.

For example, there's quantum computing, but that's still years away from being commercially viable (and quantum computers are huge and very complex to build). Using new materials instead of silicon as a primary ingredient to build chips can also help increase performance.

But silicon is abundant and relatively cheap. Other materials (like gallium arsenide or silicon carbide, to name just two) aren't so inexpensive. Besides driving computing improvements through individual chip power, whole chip systems can also be built. But more and bigger chips (which means more raw materials used) would also be inflationary. 

The semiconductor industry itself could be the best indicator of this. Global chip sales are expected to reach $1 trillion a year by 2030, up from roughly $600 billion in 2022.

Mining stocks enter stage left

Put simply, computing technology could begin to demand a lot more raw materials in order to maintain computing growth in the coming decades. Rising demand could mean gradually rising prices, a bullish development for mining companies. 

But investing in individual mining stocks can be tricky. This is a highly regulated industry, and international competition is fierce. Small changes in supply and demand can drastically change the price of metals and commodities, sending the fortunes of many companies rocketing higher or collapsing very quickly. 

That's where the iShares MSCI Global Select Metals & Mining Producers ETF might have a place in a tech portfolio. The fund is one of the largest out there in the ETF world for investing in mining companies. The ETF features some large and well-diversified market leaders, like Australia's BHP Group (BHP 0.22%) and Rio Tinto (RIO 0.43%), Brazil's Vale (VALE 2.87%), and Freeport-McMoRan (FCX -1.10%) here in the U.S. These top stocks make up the bulk of the fund's investment.

However, the ETF is also invested in lots of small companies that have a more narrow focus on metals and materials used in chips. For example, small copper producer First Quantum Minerals (FQVLF -1.11%), top platinum producer Impala Platinum (IMPUY -1.18%), and upstart lithium company Lithium Americas (LAC) are also top holdings.  

In total, the iShares MSCI Global Select Materials & Mining ETF has 252 stocks and charges 0.39% per year (or $3.90 deducted from fund performance for every $1,000 invested). The recent annual yield on the fund's portfolio over the last 12 months was 9.8%.  

Semiconductors aren't the only end market for metals and mining companies. However, a lot of other related tech these days can also drive inflation in basic mined commodities. Electric vehicles, for example, have sent the price of lithium through the roof in recent years. Renewable energy development is also a big consumer of raw materials and metals, especially as new ways of storing and transferring power are built. 

To be fair, some commodity prices have been moderating from record levels in recent months. Moderating supply chains and aggressive U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hikes aimed at lowering sky-high inflation have been putting a damper on the mining stock party.

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But the end of Moore's Law this decade could only contribute to inflationary pressures as the world invests in new infrastructure to support technological changes. Picking individual mining stocks is tough, but an investor can get instant exposure to the whole industry via the iShares MSCI Global Select Metals & Mining Producers ETF. These basic material producer stocks can be volatile but could be a great hedge if inflation becomes part of the equation for the technology sector.