From the July 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

The ETF Way

Alternative energy is on everybody's mind these days, and for good reason: Prices of oil have doubled in less than a year, and the trip to the gas pump is getting ever more painful. Some locations on the west coast (Los Angeles and San Diego) reported gas prices in excess of $5 per gallon.

You would think that now is the time we would see increased funding for alternative-energy sources and execution of energy-saving measures. Interestingly though, the administration is actually cutting funds for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is working on the sort of plant-derived fuels that Mr. Bush praises. So for right now, it seems that the free market -- that is, "high fuel prices" -- is in charge of keeping a lid on demand and spurring development of new technologies, at least on a larger scale.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the global market related to wind-power development was valued at $36 billion in 2007. One in every three countries now generates a portion of its electricity from wind. Appropriately, First Trust just launched an Exchange Traded Note (FAN) trailed by the PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio (PWND).

Driven by the "green is in" spirit, falling costs and soaring energy demand, the solar industry now has grown up enough to attract sizeable attention from venture capitalists and investors. Claymore and Van Eck have both launched solar ETFs within the past few months.

Even though nuclear energy still has to contend with the stigma of Chernobyl (the nuclear reactor meltdown in Russia in April 1986), old and new economies with their insatiable appetite for oil, coal and other energy sources have turned fierce opponents into supporters of nuclear energy. In fact, right now there are more applications for nuclear plants pending at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission than at any time since 1960.

Nuclear energy might be the most promising large-scale, conventional-energy substitute and/or enhancement available today.

Van Eck issued its Nuclear ETF (NLR) back in August 2007. PowerShares followed suit with its Nuclear Energy ETF (PKN) in April 2008.

Just recently iShares has issued a line-up of three alternative-energy ETFs: The iShares S&P Global Energy ETF, iShares S&P Global Nuclear Energy ETF and iShares S&P Global Timber and Forestry ETF.

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