One hundred years ago, the smart money went into automobiles. Thirty years ago, it was personal computers. Is now the right time to invest in robots?
Some people think so, and Tuesday they launched the Robo-Stox Global Robotics and Automation Index, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
It's billed as the world's first benchmark index tracking robotics and automation companies, with 77 stocks from companies around the world included in the fund.
Trading under the ticker ROBO, the fund was launched by Exchange Traded Concepts, an ETF platform with a license from Dallas-based Robo-Stox LLC, which developed the underlying index.
The fund has assets of $2.5 million and a management fee of 0.95 percent. Its stock closed at $25.32 Tuesday, the day of the debut.
About 40 percent of the 77 companies in the index are industry bellwether manufacturers such as iRobot, ABB, Intuitive Surgical, and Yaskawa Electric.
Others, such as Northrop Grumman, Siemens, and Denso may have less of a focus on robotics per se, but generate related products or services.
"After years of research and compiling what has turned out to be the most comprehensive list of public and privately held robotics-related companies, I was approached by some financial folks to set up an index which would be the basis for an ETF for the robotics industry."
But investing in robot makers is, of course, far from a sure thing. Take two well-known stocks, iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner and a bevy of military droids, and Intuitive Surgical, which is behind the da Vinci Surgical System platform.
iRobot has suffered from a diminished defense business, leading its stock on a roller-coaster ride. But as the company seeks to develop new products such as its Ava telepresence robot, some see it as the "Intel of robot brands" and are convinced it's poised for massive growth.
--Rob Wilson, Robo-Stox CEO
Meanwhile, Intuitive shares have withered amid bad publicity related to a flurry of lawsuits surrounding surgical complications with the da Vinci system. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even cautioned women who are considering a robotic hysterectomy.
But the fund's organizers remain sanguine about industry prospects.
"The growing affordability of robotic productivity gains, coupled with expanding technological capabilities, have moved this sector beyond the 'tipping point,' and the adoption of related technologies across multiple industries should continue to accelerate," Robo-Stox CEO Rob Wilson said in a release.
What do you think? Would you invest in robot makers? Or does your household droid do all your investing for you?