Some situations, no matter how bad, are so enduring they've almost become accepted as a normal part of the global political and economic landscape.
I mean, can anyone remember a time when there wasn't strife in the Middle East? Or how about serious issues related to the environment? There's been lots of talk about 'saving the environment' for decades, but relatively little action.
But this is one area where things have actually started to change.
During the past few years, roughly 200 domestic companies began bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States in a relatively new trend increasingly referred to as "reshoring." What's more, about half of all manufacturing firms with more than $1 billion of annual revenue are considering reshoring part or all of their production, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a leading management consulting firm.
This includes plenty of big-name U.S. companies, some of which are already participating in the trend like Apple, Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and Whirlpool Corp. (NYSE: WHR).
In March, for example, Ford said it planned to move production of its Econoline van from Mexico to Ohio early next year and would invest $168 million to revive an existing Ohio production facility. According to the monthly trade publication IndustryWeek, Whirlpool is at the tail-end of a four-year, $1-billion investment program aimed at increasing its domestic footprint and expects all of its large residential washing machines to be manufactured in the United States by next year.
In a recent interview with NPR.org, BCG senior partner Harold Sirkin said reshoring is due in part to rising labor costs in places like China, where wages are still relatively low but have risen 15% a year for the past several years. U.S. manufacturers are also particularly concerned about spiking shipping costs, the need for more skilled labor and being excessively far from end markets, Sirkin added.
The bottom line: Because of these sorts of cost and logistical issues, the United States is becoming an increasingly attractive location for manufacturing. Thus, 20%-to-25% of the U.S. products that have been outsourced overseas could eventually be reshored, according to Sirkin.
Over time, this could result in a pronounced U.S. manufacturing revival that includes a flood of new jobs in the sector. Exactly how many is difficult to predict since reshoring is really just getting underway. But as the trend continues to pick up steam, it could mean anywhere from 2.5-to-5 million new manufacturing jobs in the United States by 2020, BCG estimates.
Of course, you can always attempt to play this or any other broad trend with individual stocks. But in my opinion, the simplest, safest method for most investors is a reasonably well-diversified exchange-traded fund. I've got two in mind, the Vanguard Industrials ETF (NYSE: VIS) and the Guggenheim S&P 500 Equal Weight Industrials ETF (NYSE: RGI) since both are loaded with top U.S. manufacturers and cheap to own.
If you prefer a more traditional approach, then you might be best off with VIS. The fund tracks the MSCI U.S. Investable Market Industrials 20/50 Index, a very broadly diversified cap-weighted index with 355 domestic industrial stocks. Cap-weighted means the stocks in the index are proportioned according to the market value of their outstanding shares.
For example, because GE is the largest U.S. industrial firm, with a market value in excess of $264 billion, it's by far the biggest holding in VIS, occupying nearly 11% of the fund. The second largest holding is the well-known railroad company Union Pacific Corp. (NYSE: UNP), which has a market cap of nearly $106 billion and a 4% weighting in VIS.
|Stock||% of Portfolio|
|General Electric Co. (GE)||10.7%|
|Union Pacific Corp. (UNP)||4.1%|
|United Technologies Corp. (UTX)||3.8%|
|Boeing Co. (BA)||3.7%|
|3M Co. (MMM)||3.7%|
|United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS)||2.9%|
|Honewell International Inc. (HON)||2.9%|
|Caterpillar Inc. (CAT)||2.4%|
|Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)||2.1%|
|Danaher Corp. (DHR)||2.0%|
RGI is an interesting alternative. The fund mirrors the S&P 500 Equal Weight Industrials Index, which is far more concentrated, with only 65 stocks and isn't cap-weighted. Rather, as the name suggests, the stocks in the fund are held in pretty equal amounts regardless of their market value.
For instance, the fund has both GE and Union Pacific, and these each account for 1.5% and 1.7% of the fund, respectively. Textron, Inc. (NYSE: TXT), an aerospace and defense manufacturer that has a market value of $11.7 billion, is RGI's top holding with a 1.8% weighting.
|Stock||% of Portfolio|
|Textron Inc. (TXT)||1.8%|
|Pall Corp. (PLL)||1.7%|
|CSX Corp. (CSX)||1.7%|
|Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV)||1.7%|
|General Dynamics Corp. (GD)||1.7%|
|Fedex Corp. (FDX)||1.7%|
|Union Pacific Corp. (UNP)||1.7%|
|PACCAR Inc. (PCAR)||1.7%|
|United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS)||1.7%|
|Robert Half International Inc. (RHI)||1.7%|
RGI and VIS are both cost-efficient, with expense ratios of 0.4% and 0.14%, respectively. And both have been performing exceptionally well, delivering annualized total returns of 18.3% apiece for the past five years, compared with the S&P 500's 16.1% rate of return during the same period.
As the manufacturing revival progresses and smaller firms participate more, RGI could outperform VIS because its portfolio construction results in substantially more exposure to mid-cap stocks, which tend to be faster-growing over the long haul. The potential outperformance could more than make up for RGI's higher expense ratio.
Risks To Consider: As I noted earlier, reshoring is in its early stages. There's no guarantee it will persist and provide investors a long-term trend to play. For instance, reshoring could quickly halt if enough companies considering it decide the upfront costs are too high.
Action To Take --> For ages there's been talk about the need to bring outsourced manufacturing jobs back to the states, and it finally seems to be happening. Investors can profit nicely from reshoring with the two ETFs I described, either separately or in combination. Even if the trend doesn't pan out as BCG projects, extra exposure to industrials should be beneficial. These stocks tend to outperform in the middle-to-later stages of an economic cycle, where the U.S. economy likely is right now.
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