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Friday, February 18, 2011

ETF Showdown: Timber Time

In the world of timber ETFs there are two. Yep, just two. Not even an ETN, which is strange considering there are timber futures trading here in the U.S., but we've got to focus on the options we do have access to and these two funds will be the focus of this week's ETF Showdown.
Like gold, coffee or oil, timber is a commodity and like so many other commodities, emerging markets demand is the driving force in the timber market. As ETFTrends recently pointed out, China is gobbling up pallets and packing materials, pulp and paper at rapid pace with no signs of a change in trend anytime soon.

Sounds like a good time to compare and contrast the Guggenheim Timber ETF (NYSE: CUT) and the iShares S&P Global Timber Index Fund (NYSE: WOOD). Kudos to both Guggenheim and iShares for coming up with appropriate tickers. Making distinctions between CUT and WOOD is critical for investors because over the past year, the performance of these ETFs is identical as both are up 30%.

First, we see that CUT trades for less than half the price of WOOD, allowing a trader to accumulate more than double the amount of shares for the same outlay of capital. So there's a point in CUT''s favor. CUT also features the better liquidity with an average daily trading volume for the past three months that is better than quadruple what WOOD features.

On the other hand, WOOD does offer the better expense ratio at 0.48% compared to 0.65% for CUT. Obviously both funds are going to have some of the same holdings, but the allocations are different because WOOD is nearly half allocated to the U.S. while about a quarter of CUT's allocation is devoted to the U.S. Either way, you'll see Rayoneir (NYSE: RYN), Weyerhaeuser (NYSE: WY) and MeadWestvaco (NYSE: MV) among the top 10-holdings for both ETFs. International Paper (NYSE: IP )is found among CUT's top-10, but not WOOD's.

Making a decision between these two funds is hard, but it is clear timber exposure is worth a look now. Over the last 30 years or more, there has been little or no positive correlation between the returns generated from timberland and those from either fixed-income or equity assets, according to Hard Assets Investor.

A long-term hold might want to opt for WOOD because of the lower expense ratio, but an active trader should go for CUT because of the of the superior liquidity. Consider this showdown a draw with a slight edge to CUT.

Disclosure None

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