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15 May 2019

Is your Robo ETF keeping up with the times?​​

martin ford

The Robotics and AI megatrend is not a new story, but it is one that’s evolving continually. Is your portfolio keeping pace? We spoke to futurist and renowned author Martin Ford1 and our own Head of Innovation, François Millet, to get their views on why industry developments matter and how the Rise of the Robots index adapts to change.

Why does this megatrend matter?

Martin Ford: Put simply, advances in the areas of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence are the biggest things that will happen in the next 10 or 20 years and beyond. They will be a source of incredible economic and societal disruption.

Companies across industries are benefiting from these technologies and are becoming far more efficient as a result. We’re not just talking about the usual IT and Industrials suspects – the impact is apparent in many other areas. Think of the advances in drug discovery by pharmaceutical companies, the automation of trading in financial institutions or the online recommendation engines used by consumer brands – all are increasingly powered by AI. Amazon reportedly has 10,000 employees dedicated solely to their Alexa and Echo technology. The trend is increasingly permeating our daily lives.

The reality is that the companies who will succeed in their respective sectors are the ones leveraging AI. They also have a strong financial incentive to improve their bottom lines through automation and AI. The drivers of change are impossible to ignore, and it’s a unique and incredibly exciting long-term opportunity for investors.


Why buy “builders” and “beneficiaries”?

MF: US tech titans like Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, and Facebook, as well as Chinese ones like Tencent and Baidu have the dominant positions in the AI field. Alphabet arguably commands the greatest, most powerful concentration of capability and talent that exists. Amazon and Facebook are not too far behind.

These big players are unlikely to cede their ground any time soon, largely because they have both the scale and the expertise to acquire innovative AI startups – Alphabet’s acquisition of DeepMind is a high-profile example. They are prominent examples of “builders” – or indeed “acquirers” – of AI technology. But investing in just some of these big names leaves out a considerable part of the opportunity set. There are hundreds of companies using AI to improve their business models. They are the “beneficiaries”.

Take a health insurance company that owns lots and lots of data about its patients. If a builder like Google supplies AI technology in its cloud server to this beneficiary, the data doesn’t then belong to Google, it still belongs to the insurer. While they may be leveraging Google’s technology, they still own the value of their patients’ data, and they’ll create more value from how they use it.

It’s a mistake to look at AI and say it’s all just Google and Facebook and Tencent, because the value they create ultimately gets distributed to other companies and sectors. From innovation in fintech to drug discovery in biotech, AI is a utility - one which will ultimately scale across and disrupt every industry.


What should we know about the Rise of the Robots index? 

MF: When they designed the Rise of the Robots index, Societe Generale’s Thematic Research team had to address a few challenges. How do you define a universe of relevant stocks that capture the megatrend? How do you target both the builders and the beneficiaries? How do you create a liquid, investable index, and how do you make sure it keeps up with industry trends?


There are three key things to know about the Rise of the Robots index:

1 – It’s big picture investing

We don’t just look at robotics companies, or companies leveraging traditional automation – we search for AI innovators as well. Robotics is certainly a part of AI disruption; it basically amounts to putting the technology into a physical machine. But there is a distinction between the cutting edge of AI and machine learning, and what we see as traditional automation. Robotics clearly has a role to play, but it’s a small part of the bigger picture. AI is much more important to the overall trend. Indices and ETFs which focus too much on traditional robotics risk leaving a lot of value on the table.

2 – It thinks forward

We know the biggest names in AI are the likes of Google, Amazon and Tencent, but the value chain doesn’t end there. It’s important your portfolio tells the full story. AI technologies are transforming banks, media giants, online retailers and healthcare providers to name but a few. AI can and will disrupt companies across the board, so we think forward by including those “beneficiaries” investing for the future, as well as the actual AI “builders”.

3 – It’s designed by man and machine

Robotics, automation and AI technology are evolving at dizzying speed, so we knew we needed a bespoke industry classification to ensure our eligible stock universe kept up with the times. To begin with, we carry out big data analysis across publicly available reports, presentations and meeting transcripts for the terms “Artificial Intelligence” and/or “Robotics” to screen for relevant companies, but unlike most of the other available indices, we don’t stop there. We then do our own digging to ensure other relevant companies are included, often from less obvious sectors such as finance or retail. Relevant IPOs (like Spotify last year) are also considered. We also check for obsolescence or irrelevance - some companies may be acquired by bigger outfits which don’t quite fit our criteria. Others may have started lagging behind in terms of AI and/or robotics investment. This periodic human touch acts as a quality control and is vital to ensure the universe – and by extension, the index – is keeping up with the times.

robo ai


Can you say more about the updates that were made to the index for 2019?

MF: Our annual review of the universe of stocks that are eligible to be included in the index is critical because the field of artificial intelligence is progressing so rapidly and new players are emerging constantly.  Towards the end of 2018, the number of eligible stocks in the universe increased from 210 to 228.  Many of these new companies were listed for the first time. These included high-profile technology IPOs like Spotify and DropBox, but also the security company ADT, digital training company Pluralsight, and many others. Beyond IPOs, we also look for established companies that are demonstrating a strong focus on leveraging AI or robotics in their business models.  For example, we added the Chinese company iFlyTek, which has become as leader in facial recognition technology, and Ocado Group, a UK-based online retailer that has used the latest advances in robotics and automation to develop state-of-the-art distribution centers.

It’s important to note that adding a stock to our universe simply means it becomes eligible to be included in the index. The stocks included and their relative weights within the index are determined entirely systematically and rebalanced each quarter.  This strategy allows us to identify companies with strong potential in the AI/robotics space and add them to the universe early-on.  However, a stock will be selected to be part of the index only when the company generates results that merit inclusion.


Why use Lyxor’s Robotics and AI ETF to capture the theme?

François Millet: Embracing the AI and robotics revolution could help future-proof your portfolio. Our ETF gives you exposure to 150 companies – at least 50% more than other like for like products2 – harnessing the power of AI and robotics, whether for themselves or their customers. And because we want to invest in growing companies that have demonstrated the ability to deliver real results, we screen them based on R&D expenditure on net sales, return on invested capital, and 3-year sales growth. This helps us distinguish between the potential winners and losers.

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1Martin Ford is a futurist and the author of three books: Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it (2018), Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015) and The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009). He is also the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm. His 2017 TED Talk on the impact of AI and robotics on the economy and society has been viewed more than 2 million times. In his role as consultant to Societe Generale, the designer of the ‘Rise of the Robots’ index underlying Lyxor’s ETF, Ford advises on the universe of stocks eligible for index inclusion.
2By “like-for-like”, we refer to European UCITS ETFs that target companies in the fields of both AI and Robotics & Automation.
3Source: Lyxor International Asset Management. Data as at 03/05/2019.

This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be taken as investment advice. Lyxor ETF does not in any way endorse or promote the companies mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed by Martin Ford are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Lyxor International Asset Management or Societe Generale. Capital at risk. Please read our Risk Warning below.

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