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Q4 2022: Commentary From ARK’s CIO

January 18, 2023 | ETF

 Broad-based global equity indexes[1] appreciated in the fourth quarter, even as investor sentiment continued to deteriorate. Fear of the future is palpable these days, but historically crisis has created opportunities. According to the latest BofA Fund Manager Survey, cash levels are at their highest since the 9/11 crisis in 2001, and investors are overweight bonds for the first time since April 2009. In December, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) equity put/call ratio[2] surged above 2.0,[3] the highest level on record, surpassing the ratios in both the tech and telecom bubble and the Global Financial Crisis. In hindsight, both of those times were terrific opportunities to put funds to work in highly differentiated ways. ARK believes that this time will be no different and that innovation strategies are likely to be prime beneficiaries when equity markets recover.

The US Federal Reserve (Fed) has held steady on its promise to squelch inflation by voting unanimously to increase rates. The bond market is signaling that the Fed could be making a mistake. Since March 2021, the yield curve[4] has flattened by more than 200 basis points, inverting from +159 to -84 basis points,[5] suggesting that if the Fed does not pull back on its rate increases, both real growth and inflation could surprise on the low side of expectations. At -84 basis points, this inversion is worse than at any time since the early eighties when double-digit inflation was entrenched. In our view, deflation is a more significant risk than inflation, with commodity prices and massive retail discounts during the holidays corroborating this point of view. The prices of gold, copper, and lumber––three commodities that led or flagged the rise in broad-based inflation––are down -12%, -23%, and -78% from their post-COVID closing price peaks, respectively, and are flat to down on a year-over-over basis.[6] Although previously an outlier, oil price inflation has decelerated from an increase of 99% on a year-over-year basis in early 2022 to 4%.[7] Surprisingly, even though the oil price has dropped from $130 per barrel to $70, the S&P Energy Sector ETF (XLE) is not far from its all-time high.[8] Yet, we believe energy––the strongest-performing sector since the rotation from growth to value began in late 2020––is likely to be disrupted and disintermediated by autonomous electric vehicles during the next five years.

During 2022, Fed Chairman Powell raised the Fed Funds Rate an astounding 18-fold from 0.25% to 4.50%, compared to the two-fold increase from 10% to 20% in the early eighties when Fed chairman Volcker was battling inflation that had accelerated over 15 years. Today the Fed seems to be responding to COVID- and Russia-Ukraine war-related supply shocks that surfaced in little more than 15 months. During that time, companies appear to have double- and triple-ordered goods to satisfy stronger-than-expected demand that now is diminishing. US consumer sentiment[9] remains at levels last seen during the early 1980s when the economy suffered back-to-back recessions and inflation and interest rates hit double digits. Meanwhile, the consumer savings rate has collapsed to 2.4%––near its lowest level on record[10]––which, when coupled with historically low consumer sentiment, suggests little room for solid consumption growth. In ARK’s view, unanimously the Fed is making decisions based on lagging indicators––employment and headline inflation––despite significant price deflation in the pipeline.

The combination of geopolitical forces and inventory hoarding has pushed US consumer price inflation––a lagging indicator––to 7.1% on a year-over-year basis,[11] a rate that we believe deflationary forces––good, bad, and cyclical––are beginning to unwind. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk[12] and Doubleline’s CEO Jeff Gundlach[13] have echoed our concerns about the risk of deflation.

Innovation is a potential source of good deflation, assuming learning curves cut costs and increase productivity. Yet, we believe many companies have catered to the short-term-oriented, risk-averse shareholders and have satisfied demands for profits/dividends “now”. On balance, they have leveraged their balance sheets to buy back stock, bolster earnings, and increase dividends. In so doing, many have curtailed investments in innovation and could be ill-prepared for the potential impact of disintermediation associated with disruptive innovation. Saddled with aging products and services, they could be forced to cut prices to clear unwanted inventories and service debt, causing bad deflation.

If we are correct in our assessment that growth, inflation, or both will surprise on the low side of expectations, scarce double-digit growth opportunities should be rewarded accordingly. The adoption of new technologies typically accelerates during tumultuous times as concerned businesses and consumers change their behavior much more rapidly than otherwise would be the case. As a result, new leadership tends to surface in the equity market toward the end of a bear market. We believe the coronavirus crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have transformed the world significantly and permanently, suggesting that many innovation-driven strategies and stocks could be productive holdings during the next five to ten years.

In our view, the wall of worry bodes well for equities in the innovation space. The strongest bull markets do climb a wall of worry, a fact that those making comparisons to the tech and telecom bubble seem to forget. No wall of worry existed or tested the equity market in 1999. This time around, the wall of worry has scaled to enormous heights.

While the 2022 bear market obscured many disruptive breakthroughs, innovation continued apace thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), genomics, and space exploration, among others. ChatGPT, a version of GPT-3 tuned for conversation dialogue, already scores above the national average on SAT questions, highlighting the power of AI. In the UK, a research hospital used an advanced version of gene-editing called base-editing to cure a 12-year-old girl with leukemia who had failed dozens of therapies. SpaceX launched 61 Falcon9 rockets, reusing the last one within 21 days, compared to 356 days for the first one. In our view, companies sacrificing short-term profitability to invest heavily in innovative technologies have exponential and highly profitable long-term growth opportunities.

During the fourth quarter of 2022, ARK’s six actively managed ETFs and two indexed ETFs underperformed relative to the broad-based global equity indexes.[14]

ARK Autonomous Technology and Robotics ETF (ARKQ)

The ARK Autonomous Technology and Robotics ETF (ARKQ) underperformed broad-based global equity indexes during the quarter. Among the top detractors were Tesla (TSLA) and Velo3D (VLD). Shares of Tesla declined after lower than expected third-quarter deliveries and management comments that supply chain issues could impact future deliveries. Adding pressure to the share price was a combination of concerns over demand in China and CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition. ARK’s conviction in Tesla remains strong, as we believe its vertically integrated platform will enable two profound transformations in the automotive industry: electrification and autonomous mobility. In 2022, US auto sales declined an estimated 8% on average compared to Tesla’s 49% growth in the US.[15] Shares of Velo3D depreciated after the company reported that supply chain delays caused shipment disruptions during the third quarter and lowered full-year revenue guidance.

Among the top contributors to ARKQ’s performance were Deere & Co (DE) & Iridium Communications (IRDM). Shares of Deere rallied after the company reported that third-quarter earnings surpassed expectations and provided a robust sales outlook, citing an easing of supply-chain bottlenecks. Shares of Iridium traded up after strong third-quarter results and an improved full-year outlook. The company reported that the number of billable subscribers increased 17%, with momentum across all its commercial business lines.

ARK Next Generation Internet ETF (ARKW)

The ARK Next Generation Internet ETF (ARKW) underperformed broad-based global equity indexes during the quarter. Among the top detractors were Tesla (TSLA), for reasons discussed above, and Coinbase Global (COIN). Shares of Coinbase depreciated in response to the fallout across crypto markets from FTX’s collapse. We maintain conviction that Coinbase will become the premier regulatory compliant on-ramp for crypto and will take significant share now that one of its major competitors has gone bankrupt.

Among the top contributors to ARKW’s performance were Shopify (SHOP) and Block (SQ). Shares of Shopify rallied following third-quarter earnings that surpassed expectations and record Black Friday/Cyber Monday results, after which the company provided strong guidance. Shares of Block appreciated as the company posted record transaction volume over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, helped by its Buy-Now-Pay-Later service, Afterpay.

ARK Genomic Revolution ETF (ARKG)

The ARK Genomic Revolution ETF (ARKG) underperformed broad-based global equity indexes during the quarter. Among the top detractors were Ginkgo Bioworks Holdings (DNA) and Fate Therapeutics (FATE). Shares of Ginkgo Bioworks fell after the company announced a $10 million stock offering. The company also announced the consummation of two acquisitions: Altar, a French biotechnology company with a proprietary adaptive evolution platform, and Circularis, a biotechnology company with a proprietary circular RNA and promoter screening platform. Ginkgo also entered a collaboration with Merck including an upfront research and development fee and success-based research and development milestone payments. Shares of Fate Therapeutics declined after the company announced disappointing preclinical data from a project with GT Biopharma focused on the potential for a new therapeutic approach to treating acute myeloid leukemia.

Among the top contributors to ARKG’s performance were Exact Sciences (EXAS) and Pacific BioSciences of California (PACB). Exact Sciences reported strong third-quarter results and boosted its revenue guidance for the fourth quarter. Perhaps more important, its competitor, Guardant Health, published disappointing topline data for a blood-based cancer drug test. In our view, given its breadth of oncology testing offerings, Exact Sciences will remain a leader in the early disease detection space. Shares of Pacific Biosciences of California rallied following the launch of Revio, a more affordable gene-sequencing system that should scale the use of its HiFi sequencing technology. PacBio also announced Onso, its new short-read instrument, which should make short read sequencing faster, broader based and more accurate.

ARK Fintech Innovation ETF (ARKF)

The ARK Fintech Innovation ETF (ARKF) underperformed broad-based global equity indexes during the quarter. Among the top detractors were Coinbase Global (COIN), for reasons discussed above, and Silvergate Capital (SI). Shares of Silvergate depreciated as investors and institutional customers feared litigation associated with FTX’s use of the Silvergate Exchange Network (SEN).

Among the top contributors to ARKF’s performance were Shopify (SHOP) and Block (SQ) for reasons discussed above.

ARK Space Exploration & Innovation ETF (ARKX)

The ARK Space Exploration & Innovation ETF (ARKX) underperformed broad-based global equity indexes during the quarter. Among the top detractors were Velo3D (VLD), for reasons discussed above, and Markforged Holding Corp (MKFG). Shares of Markforged declined as the company reported lower than expected third-quarter results and fourth-quarter guidance based on supply shortages, higher than expected production costs, and customer cautiousness due to the broader macro environment.

Among the top contributors to ARKX’s performance were Iridium Communications (IRDM) and Deere & Co (DE), for reasons discussed above.

ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK)

Invested in the highest conviction names in the Funds discussed above, the ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK) underperformed broad-based global equity indexes during the quarter. Among the top detractors were Tesla (TSLA), for reasons discussed above, and Roku (ROKU). Shares of Roku declined in response to concerns about the advertising outlook, despite the fact that revenue from Roku’s advertising platform increased 15% in the face of a 38% drop in so-called “scatter”, or real-time, advertising. Roku is a dominant player in the connected TV space with the most successful independent TV operating system (OS) in the U.S.[16]

The 3D Printing ETF (PRNT), ARK Israel Innovation Technology ETF (IZRL)

ARK’s self-indexed ETFs, The 3D Printing ETF (PRNT) and ARK Israel Innovation Technology ETF (IZRL), appreciated but underperformed the broad-based global equity indexes.[17] Shares of Velo3D (VLD), were the largest detractor to PRNT’s performance, for reasons discussed above. Shares of BICO Group (BICO), a biotechnology company specializing in 3D bioprinting, were the largest contributor to PRNT’s performance based on news that Sartorius, the German-based life sciences company, acquired a 10% stake in the company and will collaborate on 3D cell printing and other digital solutions for cell line development workflows. Shares of Nano-X Imaging Ltd (NNOX), the largest detractor from IZRL’s performance, declined on relatively little company-specific news. Nano X Imaging Ltd manufactures medical imaging systems. Shares of Taboola.com (TBLA), a web advertising company, were the largest contributor to IZRL’s performance after the company announced a new multi-year, comprehensive deal with Time Out, a global media and hospitality business.

ARK’s statements are not an endorsement of any company or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security. ARK and its clients as well as its related persons may (but do not necessarily) have financial interests in securities or issuers that are discussed. Certain of the statements contained may be statements of future expectations and other forward-looking statements that are based on ARK’s current views and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance, or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements.

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