How to Invest in Change: A Guide to Thematic Investing
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How to Invest in Change: A Guide to Thematic Investing

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The following content is sponsored by MSCI.


MSCI Thematic Investing

Investing in Change: Thematic Investing 101

The world is undergoing structural economic changes at a rapid pace.

Technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries that used to take decades are happening in years, and shifting demographics and climate change are causing upheaval around the globe. With the onset of Industry 4.0 and constantly shifting capabilities and consumer priorities, the global investment landscape is transforming as well.

How do you prepare for this transformation? This graphic from MSCI highlights thematic investing, its characteristics and benefits, and how themes are constructed and utilized.

Thematic Investing: Characteristics and Benefits

The key to thematic investing is a thorough understanding of megatrends.

Megatrends are long-term structural trends that can have a transformative effect on global economies, in areas of high disruption and innovation and with significant growth potential. These can include transformative technologies like driverless vehicles and 5G-enabled robotics, or societal changes like an aging society.

As megatrends solidify, they also become increasingly important drivers of earnings and equity returns. Investors traditionally have partial exposure to these themes as part of a portfolio’s growth allocation, but thematic investing allows for specific themes to be targeted in a more focused way.

Characteristics of Thematic Investing

  • Secular Trends: Focuses on long term political, economic, technological, and social trends.
  • A Changing World: Captures trends that reflect how the world is changing.
  • Sector Independent: Cuts across countries and traditional sectors.
  • Security Selection: Identifies companies with exposure to different target themes.

All together, these characteristics allow thematic investing to complement traditional portfolio design by enabling investors to take active control of themes impacting their portfolios.

Benefits of Thematic Investing

  • Gives investors exposure to long-term structural trends.
  • Positions portfolios relative to long-term risks and stranded business models.
  • Provides exposure to several themes that can be quantified, analyzed, and managed.

Thematic Investing In Action

Over the past decade, thematic investing has gained traction across financial circles.

In 2015, the global thematic fund market was estimated at $155 billion assets under management (AUM). By 2020, the market had grown to $426 billion AUM, with thematic ETFs growing at an impressive 20% CAGR over the five-year time span.

As the leading provider of global investment indexes, MSCI constructs thematic indexes that directly capture megatrends using a comprehensive rules-based methodology. They include indexes focused on the digital economy, efficient energy, genomic innovation, and the food revolution.

Here’s how MSCI creates a thematic index:

  1. Build a clear expression of the theme to capture the key trends.
  2. Identify aligned business activities incorporating expert insights.
  3. Map products, services, and concepts linked to the theme in a consistent, rules-based approach using Natural Language Processing (NLP).
  4. Establish economic linkage between companies and theme, measured by relevance scores.
  5. Select and re-weight stocks using relevance scores.

Breaking Down a Theme

Through a broad understanding of megatrends and their sub-themes, the use of NLP allows MSCI to comb through company descriptions and business line items to ensure (and measure) total thematic coverage.

For example, the Future Mobility theme is broken down into sub-themes of batteries, smart mobility, sharing economy, high speed transport, and vehicle automation.

From there, each sub-theme is further broken into key concepts that highlight key players in the market, such as batteries being broken down into battery packing, charging infrastructure, recycling, and technologies.

There’s a flux of emerging technological, macroeconomic, and geopolitical megatrends that have already started to unfold. Thematic investing is all about defining tomorrow’s investable trends and impacting your portfolio today.

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The Genomic Revolution: Why Investors Are Paying Attention

Faster cancer detection. Tracking disease. Gene editing. All three are driven by the genomic revolution. Here’s why it’s important now.

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Genomic Revolution

The Genomic Revolution: Why Investors Are Paying Attention

At the center of the genomic revolution is big data and DNA.

The implications are vast. With recent advancements, faster cancer detection is within reach, potentially saving thousands of lives each year. An initial research study shows this technology could save 66,000 live annually in the U.S. alone.

What’s more, genomic innovation goes beyond just cancer detection. Today it spans a variety of innovations, from gene editing to anti-cancer drugs.

In this graphic from MSCI, we look at four reasons why the genomics sector is positioned for growth thanks to powerful applications in medicine.

What is the Genomic Revolution?

To start, the genomic revolution focuses on the study of the human genome, a human (or organism’s) complete set of DNA.

A human consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes and 24,000 genes. Taken together, the human genetic code equals three billion DNA letters. Since most ailments have a link to our genetic condition, genomics involves the editing, mapping, and function of a genome.

With genomic innovation, large-scale applications of diagnostics and decision-making tools are made possible for a wide range of diseases.

4 Ways the Genomic Revolution is Changing Medicine

Over the last century, the field of genomics has advanced faster than any other life sciences discipline.

The hallmark achievement is the Human Genome Project completed in 2001. Since then, scientists have analyzed thousands of people’s genes to identify the cause of heart disease, cancer, and other fatal afflictions.

Here are four areas where genomic innovation is making a big difference in the medical field.

1. Gene Editing

Gene editing enables scientists to alter someone’s DNA, such as eye color. Broadly speaking, gene editing involves cutting DNA at a certain point and adding to, removing, or replacing this DNA.

For instance, gene editing enables living drugs. As the name suggests, living drugs are made from living organisms that harness a body’s immune system or other bodily process, and uses them to fight disease.

Based on analysis from ARK Invest, living drugs have a potential $200 billion addressable market.

2. Cancer Detection

Multi-cancer screening, supported by genomic sequencing and liquid biopsies, is projected to prevent more deaths from cancer than any other medical innovation.

Through a single blood test, multiple types of cancer can be detected early through synthetic biology advancements. Scientists use genomic sequencing (also referred to as DNA sequencing) to identify the genetic makeup of an organism, or a change in a gene which may lead to cancer.

Critically, screening costs are dropping rapidly, from $30,000 in 2015 to $1,500 in 2021. The combination of these factors is spurring a potential $150 billion market. This could be revolutionary for healthcare by shifting from a treatment-based model to a more preventative one in the future.

3. DNA Sequencing

One modern form of DNA sequencing is long-read DNA sequencing. With long-read DNA sequencing, scientists can identify genetic sequences faster and more affordably.

For these reasons, long-read DNA sequencing is projected to grow to a $5 billion market, growing at a 82% annual rate.

4. Agricultural Biology

Finally, the genomic revolution is making strides in agricultural biology. Here, research is looking at how to reduce the cost of producing crops, improving plant breeding, and enhancing quality.

One study shows that genomic advances in agriculture have led to six-fold increases in income for some farmers.

Investing in the Genomic Revolution

A number of genomic-focused companies have shown promising returns.

This can be illustrated by the MSCI ACWI Genomic Innovation Index, which has outperformed the benchmark by nearly 50% since 2013. The index, which was developed with ARK Invest, comprises roughly 250 companies who are working in the field of genomic innovation. In 2020 alone, the index returned over 43%.

From diagnostics to prevention, the genomic revolution is breaking ground in scalable solutions for global health. Investment opportunities are expected to follow.

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Smashing Atoms: The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is among the world’s cleanest sources of energy, but how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

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uranium and nuclear power

The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Uranium has been around for millennia, but we only recently began to understand its unique properties.

Today, the radioactive metal fuels hundreds of nuclear reactors, enabling carbon-free energy generation across the globe. But how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

The above infographic from the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust outlines the history of nuclear energy and highlights the role of uranium in producing clean energy.

From Discovery to Fission: Uncovering Uranium

Just like all matter, the history of uranium and nuclear energy can be traced back to the atom.

Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, first discovered uranium in 1789 by extracting it from a mineral called “pitchblende”. He named uranium after the then newly discovered planet, Uranus. But the history of nuclear power really began in 1895 when German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and radiation, kicking off a series of experiments and discoveries—including that of radioactivity.

In 1905, Albert Einstein set the stage for nuclear power with his famous theory relating mass and energy, E = mc2. Roughly 35 years later, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman confirmed his theory by firing neutrons into uranium atoms, which yielded elements lighter than uranium. According to Einstein’s theory, the mass lost during the reaction changed into energy. This demonstrated that fission—the splitting of one atom into lighter elements—had occurred.

“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today.”

—Winston Churchill, 1955.

Following the discovery of fission, scientists worked to develop a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. In 1939, a team of French scientists led by Frédéric Joliot-Curie demonstrated that fission can cause a chain reaction and filed the first patent on nuclear reactors.

Later in 1942, a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard set off the first nuclear chain reaction through the Chicago Pile-1. Interestingly, they built this makeshift reactor using graphite bricks on an abandoned squash court in the University of Chicago.

These experiments proved that uranium could produce energy through fission. However, the first peaceful use of nuclear fission did not come until 1951, when Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1) in Idaho generated the first electricity sourced from nuclear power.

The Power of the Atom: Nuclear Power and Clean Energy

Nuclear reactors harness uranium’s properties to generate energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. While uranium’s radioactivity makes it unique, it has three other properties that stand out:

  • Material Density: Uranium has a density of 19.1g/cm3, making it one of the densest metals on Earth. For reference, it is nearly as heavy (and dense) as gold.
  • Abundance: At 2.8 parts per million, uranium is approximately 700 times more abundant than gold, and 37 times more abundant than silver.
  • Energy Density: Uranium is extremely energy-dense. A one-inch tall uranium pellet contains the same amount of energy as 120 gallons of oil.

Thanks to its high energy density, the use of uranium fuel makes nuclear power more efficient than other energy sources. This includes renewables like wind and solar, which typically require much more land (and more units) to generate the same amount of electricity as a single nuclear reactor.

But nuclear power offers more than just a smaller land footprint. It’s also one of the cleanest and most reliable energy sources available today, poised to play a major role in the energy transition.

The Future of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Although nuclear power is often left out of the clean energy conversation, the ongoing energy crisis has brought it back into focus.

Several countries are going nuclear in a bid to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while building reliable energy grids. For example, nuclear power is expected to play a prominent role in the UK’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Furthermore, Japan recently approved restarts at three of its nuclear reactors after initially phasing out nuclear power following the Fukushima accident.

The resurgence of nuclear power, in addition to reactors that are already under construction, will likely lead to higher demand for uranium—especially as the world embraces clean energy.

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