Call it the 21st-century space race.
A new exchange-traded fund that launched last month is already outperforming the market — up nearly 5% versus the almost 2% loss over the same period — and it's intent on profiting from a rapidly developing theme: outer space.
The Procure Space ETF, which began trading on April 11 on the New York Stock Exchange, tracks companies within the space industry that are involved in high-growth areas like big data, 5G and the internet of things.
Believe it or not, those seemingly earth-bound themes are key drivers for this space-based fund, which trades under the ticker UFO, says Andrew Chanin, the fund's creator and the co-founder and CEO of ProcureAM.
"If you look at what is really driving the space industry right now, we're talking about some of these transformational technologies, things like 5G, cloud computing, internet of things and connected devices," he said Monday on CNBC's "ETF Edge." "If you believe in those industries, you're saying there is going to be a massive increase of data, and these satellite companies are actually the backbone and the toll operators for this road that transfers data."
The ETF is comprised of 30 stocks, with satellite companies, launch equipment makers and telecommunications firms among its top holdings. Its heaviest weighting is in Maxar Technologies, a satellite maker focused specifically on space technology, but its top 10 holdings also feature the familiar Dish Network.
In its effort to be a "pure play" on space, the fund's strategy is to be 80% invested in companies that get at least 50% of their revenues from the space industry.
And, according to Chanin, "most people are overlooking" the involvement of satellite companies in this growing area.
That's why the fund includes "companies that not a lot of people actually hold in their already existing exposure," he said Monday. "Not just did we want to bring out the Procure Space ETF to be the first pure-play space ETF, but we also wanted to really capture what the broader space industry looks like. And most people don't have that exposure currently, so we provided something really new for investors."
Right now, the amount spent on the space economy each year is around $384 billion. Eighty percent of that is spent commercially, with government spending totaling just 20%.
But when it comes to larger companies that people typically associate with aerospace like Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin, their size runs somewhat counter to Procure's mission of creating a pure play on space, Chanin said.
"They're considered diversified companies," he said. "If you look at some of those more industrial defense names [and] aerospace names, that people are familiar with, because it's not a pure play, they fit into this 20% diversified traunch. So, you are getting exposure to these companies that are huge players, but because you don't necessarily want a fund that's going to be guided by these companies that aren't necessarily deriving their revenues from this theme, that's why they have this traunch."
Mary Ann Bartels, head of ETF strategy at Bank of America Global Research, predicted huge growth in this area of the market in the next two decades.
"We've estimated that the market, by 2045, can actually be close to $3 trillion. So ... we see tremendous amount of growth in this area," she said in the same "ETF Edge" interview, adding that the firm's exact estimate is $2.7 trillion.
The main driver? For Bartels, "it's digital."
"I think this is what the world is underestimating, is the power of digital, the power of 5G and the growth in all the markets, whether it's cloud computing, whether it's semiconductors," she said. "We have short-term hiccups here in the marketplace, but the long-term prospects for the growth in digital [are] quite large."