Exchange-traded funds offer a convenient way to invest in sectors or niches that interest you. If you expect contrarian stock picks to perform well over time, as they reflect out-of-favor companies with under-appreciated prospects, the Russell Contrarian ETF (NYSE: CNTR) could save you a lot of trouble. Instead of trying to figure out which companies will perform best, you can use this ETF to invest in lots of them simultaneously.

The basics
ETFs often sport lower expense ratios than their mutual fund cousins. The contrarian ETF's expense ratio -- its annual fee -- is a relatively low 0.37%.

This ETF doesn't have much of a performance record yet, as it's less than a year old. It's extremely small, too, so if you're thinking of buying, beware of occasionally large spreads between its bid and ask prices. You might want to just keep an eye on it as it matures a bit, or you might want to be an early investor. Remember that as with most investments, we can't expect outstanding performances in every quarter or year. Investors with conviction need to wait for their holdings to deliver.

What's in it?
Most of the stocks in this ETF haven't shown strong gains over the past year -- which reflects their status as contrarian picks. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), for example, shed 41%, losing market share to Apple and seeing unit growth shrink, as well. With new CEO Meg Whitman, formerly of eBay, at the helm, investors are waiting and watching for promising signs. Walgreen (NYSE: WAG), down 18%, lost some investor confidence when it wasn't able to settle a dispute with Express Scripts and will therefore lose some of its customers and profits. Still, it's a major player in the pharmacy arena, and has deep pockets. I wouldn't write it off yet.

Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B) and Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) lost only about 1% each over the past year. Berkshire has been whacked by our sluggish economy, which has put a damper on its businesses involved in homebuilding, furniture, jewelry, railroads, and more. But as the economy eventually heats up, these businesses stand to benefit. And all along, its insurance companies are collecting premiums. Dow Chemical has bulls intrigued by its big recent investments in bioplastics. (Dow already generates a fifth of its revenue from plastic.) The recovering economy will also boost Dow's operations.

The big picture
Contrarian investing has paid off handsomely for many investors. A well-chosen ETF can grant you instant diversification across any industry or group of companies -- and make investing in and profiting from it that much easier.

Learn about the 5 ETFs That Could Soar in 2012. And if you're looking for some great investments beyond ETFs, consider these 12 Dividend Stocks for 2012.