After I wrote an introductory series on investing in natural gas, a lot of Fools had questions about natural gas ETFs. Namely, what are they and are they worth investing in? This article aims to outline the natural gas ETF basics for interested investors.
Exchange-traded funds are typically funds composed of a variety of stocks you can buy and sell shares of on one of the exchanges. They've been around since the early 1990s but have become more popular recently. There are many reasons to buy or not buy ETFs in general, but natural gas ETFs come with their own specific set of pros and cons.
Natural Gas ETFs
Unlike most ETFs, most natural gas ETFs reflect the price of the commodity instead of the performance of a group of stocks. One of the most popular natural gas ETFs is the United States Natural Gas Fund
Bird of a different feather
There is another option for ETF-inclined investors, however. The First Trust ISE-Revere Natural Gas Index Fund
The companies below are the top 10 holdings in the fund and account for 36.25% of its assets.
Royal Dutch Shell
Cabot Oil & Gas
Source: ETFDB and Yahoo! Finance.
The 52-week performance of these stocks varies widely, which is part of the appeal of ETFs. This ETF is only down 3.6% this year.
To fully grasp the disparity between an equities-based ETF and a futures-based ETF, consider the performance of UNG and FCG together over the past year.
The downsides to futures-based commodity ETFs include contango and the weather. Contango is a term that refers to the rollover of futures contracts. Fool Dan Caplinger explains it pretty clearly:
The culprit is the futures market. These ETFs rely on futures, rolling into new contracts every month as the old contracts approach expiration. But because new contracts in these markets tend to have slightly higher prices than the old ones -- a condition known as contango -- each roll costs the ETF a bit extra. Those bits add up over time to create a huge drag on performance.
On top of that, things like the weather will affect these funds as well. A warmer-than-usual autumn on the East Coast has also affected gas prices: East Coasters aren't using nearly as much gas to heat their homes, driving prices down further.
There are many ETFs out there that are worth taking advantage of, but generally speaking, when it comes to natural gas, good old-fashioned equities are the way to go.
For more information about ETFs, click here to check out The Motley Fool's Special Free Report "The Shocking Can't-Miss Truth About Your Retirement."
Fool contributor Aimee Duffy doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. If you have the energy, check out what she's keeping an eye on by following her on Twitter, where she goes by @TMFDuffy.
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