Launching amid the coronavirus pandemic recovery and finishing 2021 as one of the top performers in its first year is ETF Stream’s ETF of the month, the VanEck Semiconductor UCITS ETF (SMGB).

Targeting the relatively unglamorous industry of manufacturing and selling silicon-based chips for computer devices, SMGB has benefitted from a perfect storm of economic forces and stands front and centre for continued global digitalisation.

Coming to market in December 2020, SMGB amassed impressive support in the shape of $924m in AUM, as at 9 February – a figure that is justified by SMGB’s 44.4% returns in 2021.

This puts the VanEck ETF at the top of its product class in Europe and means it joined the select group of ETFs that managed to outperform the S&P 500’s 26.9% gain.

Unfortunately, the ETF launched too late to capture the surge in demand for the technologies enabling the work, socialise and entertainment-from-home phenomenon that dominated 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the sector continued apace in 2021, with analysts from insurance group Euler Hermes reporting sales expanded by a considerable 26% last year. As economies began reopening since Pfizer posted its vaccine test results 14 months ago, a new wave of demand arrived for the high-tech computer chips from the manufacturing sector, keen to make its comeback.

Research by Susquehanna indicates lead times on semiconductors stretched to an average of 25.8 weeks by December 2021, the longest wait time since the firm began collecting data on the industry.

According to Boston Consulting Group, this meant as many as nine million vehicles globally were not produced, as car manufacturers were short on vital components. However, such a dynamic appeared to favour the semiconductor industry itself, with a backlog of orders forcing prices higher.

In fact, support for the theme was strong enough that BlackRock decided to launch its own product, the iShares MSCI Global Semiconductor UCITS ETF (SEMI), in August 2021, which gathered $214m in AUM and returned 25.5% by the end of December.

Rolling into the first week of 2022, there were worrying signs for the sector as Goldman Sachs reported hedge funds sold their highest dollar sum of software and semiconductor producer stock in a decade, following expectations of more hawkish monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. Despite this, Bloomberg reported semiconductor revenues are expected to surpass half a trillion dollars this year, with Euler Hermes adding it expects a 9% hike in year-on-year sales.

Looking at SMGB specifically, the largest weighting in its underlying benchmark, the MVIS US Listed Semiconductor 10% Capped index, is a 10.7% allocation to the world’s largest semiconductor company, TSMC, as at the start of the year. Having booked strong revenues of $14.9bn in Q3 2021 – up 22.6% from the same period a year earlier – TSMC’s commanding role in SMGB looks to be no bad thing.

Going forward, the company announced it will spend $100bn on expansion over the next three years, though this may be a low-ball figure, given the corporate’s plans to build semiconductor fabrication facilities in the US and another in Taiwan but not its planned facility in Japan nor a potential factory in Germany.

Overall, it will be interesting to see whether the semiconductor industry can book a third year of consecutive revenue growth for the first time in its history. Its future is likely bright, regardless. The world is in a seemingly unstoppable trend towards further global technology integration. Factor in nascent trends such as electric vehicles, scaling renewable power, the rollout of 5G devices and crypto mining, and demand for the modest-looking but vital silicon-based components only looks to be going in one direction.

This article first appeared in ETF Insider, ETF Stream's monthly ETF magazine for professional investors in Europe. To access the full issue, click here.

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