There is momentum for investment vehicles with exposure to the artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics theme. Issuers of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are racing to meet that demand, as highlighted by the debut of another AI and robotics ETF. On Thursday, the iShares Robotics and Artificial Intelligence ETF (IRBO) debuted. IRBO is the first robotics fund from BlackRock, Inc.'s (BLK) iShares, the world's largest issuer of ETFs.
The new ETF tracks the equal-weight NYSE FactSet Global Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Index, which is "composed of developed and emerging market companies that could benefit from the long-term growth and innovation in robotics technologies and artificial intelligence," according to iShares. (See also: Top ETFs Capitalizing on Artificial Intelligence.)
The AI and robotics investment themes are, in the eyes of some analysts and market observers, megatrends. BlackRock concurs with that sentiment. "The rise of robotics and AI is what we define as a megatrend, a structural shift that is fundamentally transforming the global economy in a way that could have significant repercussions for the long term," said BlackRock. "The mass adoption of robots, automation and artificial AI could represent a fourth industrial revolution after steam, mass production and electronics, according to the World Economic Forum."
At the sector level, robotics ETFs are not as diverse as traditional broad market funds. Usually, AI and robotics funds focus on sectors such as industrials, financials and healthcare, among others. For its part, the new iShares ETF devotes nearly 76.5% of its weight to technology stocks, while the industrial, consumer discretionary and healthcare sectors represent the rest of the fund's weight.
IRBO is a global ETF with exposure to a dozen countries, three of which are emerging markets. The U.S. is IRBO's largest geographic weight at 54.61%. Japan and China combine for 21.61% of the rookie ETF's roster.
"Estimates of the value of the robotics industry vary, but one report by IDC predicted that worldwide spending on robotics and related services will amount to $188 billion in 2020 – more than double the $91.5 billion figure for 2016," according to BlackRock.
While IRBO enters a corner of the ETF landscape populated by several established competitors, two of which have over $2 billion in assets apiece, the new iShares fund could make inroads with investors looking for a cost-effective alternative to older robotics ETFs. IRBO's annual expense ratio is 0.47%, or $47 on a $10,000 investment, making it the least expensive dedicated AI and robotics ETF currently trading in the U.S. (For additional reading, check out: 3 Ways to Trade the Rise in Robotics and Automation.)