It’s a high-flying, high-risk, high-reward tier of investing. And it’s put Wood’s fans on a white-knuckle ride in 2021.
But this year hasn’t been nearly as kind to Wood as the last. The Innovation ETF was down 2.5% through late August, despite a red-hot market for tech with the Nasdaq up more than 18% so far in 2021.
“I don’t think we’re in a bubble, which is what I think many bears think we are,” Wood told CNBC. “We have nothing like that right now. In fact, you see a lot of IPOs or SPACs coming out and falling to Earth. We couldn’t be further away from a bubble.”
How Wood developed her strategy
Wood speaks from experience. She’s no millennial or Gen Z investor for whom the 2000 tech implosion is merely a war story told by older traders. The 65-year-old Wood lived through the last major tech crash, as well as the infamous Black Monday of 1987.
She worked for Prudential-owned money manager Jennison Associates for 18 years in the 1980s and 1990s and then spent a dozen years at AllianceBernstein before leaving in 2013.
But then, AllianceBernstein passed on her idea to launch a suite of actively managed exchange-traded funds. So she struck out on her own and started Ark in 2014.
That focus on disruption means Wood ties her ETF’s fortunes to visionary but mercurial leaders.
Wood is also OK with companies like Tesla issuing more stock to raise money to fund futuristic projects like autonomous vehicles. Some investors are wary of that strategy because the new shares lower the value of existing investors’ holdings, but she thinks that’s a short-sighted argument, particularly from Tesla bears.
“We’re not afraid of dilution … if we think they’re doing it for the right reason,” she told CNBC. “We wanted them to scale as quickly as possible because we think if we’re right on autonomous …Tesla could get the lion’s share of that market, certainly in the United States.”
“Every passing day, especially the more we learn about their AI expertise and how they’re really driving the space … we believe they have the pole position,” she said, noting that Ark analysts were “blown away” by Musk’s presentation.
Growth at all costs
Wood recognizes her growth-at-all-costs way of investing is not for everyone.
Wood added that she thinks investors also should put a small percentage of their money in bitcoin, another risky bet. And she stressed that investors have to overlook the inevitable short-term bumps that come with any asset. It’s essential to maintain longer-term convictions and invest for future growth, Wood believes.
“A lot of companies catering to short-term investors who wanted profits now [have] invested more in stock buybacks and dividends over innovation,” she said. “That puts them in harm’s way.”
A colleague describes Wood’s go-big-or-go-home approach as a model for the new way of investing. Too many fund managers are afraid to look far into the future when judging a company’s merits, instead focusing myopically on the prior and next quarterly earnings reports.
But a growing chorus of skeptics think Wood’s funds could eventually collapse. Michael Burry, one of the super-bearish investors made famous in “The Big Short,” recently established a short position on the Ark Innovation ETF — essentially betting that it will fall sharply.
Some tech stock veterans also wonder if Wood is just an investing flavor of the month, comparing her to once-popular portfolio managers like Kevin Landis of Firsthand Funds, Alberto Vilar of Amerindo and Garrett Van Wagoner, who ran a popular emerging-growth fund in the late 1990s.
Is Wood destined for similar ignominy?
“Our investment approach is similar to Ark in that we are focusing on tech. But we’re different in that we avoid concentration,”Jeremie Capron, head of research at ROBO Global, told CNN Business in March.
For the time being, Wood is having the last laugh.
Yes, her fund’s returns may be volatile year-to-year — the Ark Innovation ETF fell nearly 25% in 2018 before rebounding 30% in 2019 — but it has tended to smooth out. The five-year average annualized return for the Ark Innovation ETF through mid-2021 was 48.6%, compared to 17.7% for the S&P 500.
As long as that long-term trend continues, Ark acolytes may forgive a down year every now and then as Wood continues to swing for the fences.