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The Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report issued by the National Intelligence Council in December makes for fascinating reading for any investor working to maintain a selection of holdings best suited to weather both near-term and future upheavals. Global Trends 2030 lays out four megatrends evolving between now and 2030: Individual Empowerment (rise of the middle class, use of new communications, and manufacturing technologies); Diffusion of Power (a multipolar world of coalitions and networks); and Demographic Patters (economic decline in "aging" countries, 60% of the world's population in urbanized areas).

The fourth megatrend is the Food, Water, Energy Nexus. The demand for these resources "will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population. Tackling problems pertaining to one commodity will be linked to supply and demand for the others." NIC Counselor Mathew Burrows, the report's principle author, points out in an interview on Bloomberg.com that "You have to have collaboration on the technology, you have to have a big energy or water project the world is really geared up for, because otherwise it turns into a bad scenario."

This is becoming evermore critical. The world has consumed more food than it has produced in seven of the last eight years. Annual global water requirements will reach 6,900 billion cubic meters in 2030, 40% above current sustainable water supplies. The time has probably not yet arrived for water to take center stage in the minds of many investors. An intimation of the extent of forthcoming investments within this nexus is the mid-2012 announcement of "Saudi Arabia to Invest $133 Billion USD into Water, Power Projects." And there is a new urgency these days regarding access to water as shale-gas production ramps up around the globe from bone-dry West Texas to Saudi Arabia.

Several large international corporations equipped with the technologies and experience are already dealing with this "Food, Water, Energy Nexus." As this confluence becomes more obvious, it may be time to consider water stocks within a larger framework. For those who want to get their feet wet or add to their current holdings in this sector, here are four focused water ETFs: First Trust ISE Water Index Fund (FIW), Guggenheim S&P Global Water Index ETF (CGW), PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio (PHO), PowerShares Global Water Portfolio (PIO).

There are now several utilities, natural resources, and infrastructure ETFs that are already reflecting within their holdings a suggestion of this new confluence described in the Global Trends 2030 report. On the whole, their recent returns look anemic, but some are surely worthy candidates for tracking. Here's a brief listing with their current water holdings exposure and 52-week NAV return:

  • iShares S&P Emerging Markets Infrastructure Index Fund (EMIF): Water Utilities 3.69%; 52-week NAV return: +7.16%
  • PowerShares Emerging Infrastructure Portfolio (PXR): Water Utilities 1.09%; 52-week NAV return: -4.62%
  • WisdomTree Global ex-US Utility Fund (DBU): Water Utilities 7.76%; 52-week NAV return: -2.66%
  • Flexshares Global Upstream Natural Resources Index Fund (GUNR): Water Utilities 4.11%; 52-week NAV return: -2.28%
  • IG Global Resources ETF (GRES): Water Utilities 6.09%; 52-week NAV return: +1.67%
  • SPDR FTSE Macquarie Global Infrastructure 100 ETF (GII): Water Utilities 2.38%; 52-week NAV return: +5.00%
Source: Water And Infrastructure ETFs: Contemplating The Food, Water, Energy Nexus