Use Materials ETFs to Play With The Big Boys

The ongoing saga surrounding shares of Herbalife (NYSE: HLF) gained more momentum Wednesday when hedge fund manager Robert Chapman said he has been in the stock since it was below $50 and that he sees the stock going to $300, if it remains a public company. Various media outlets proceeded to report that legendary financier George Soros has taken a large stake in Herbalife.

Chapman and Soros join Carl Icahn in being long the dietary supplements maker, pitting them against Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman who is short the stock and supposedly has not covered a single share despite Herbalife’s massive upside in July. Coincidentally it was also revealed on Wednesday that Pershing Square has taken 9.8% in hydrogen and semiconductor materials provider Air Products & Chemicals (NYSE: APD).

That makes Ackman the second big name investor in the past two weeks to be tied to a major chemicals maker. In July, it was reported that manager Nelson Peltz, founder of Trian Fund Management, had amassed a significant stake in Dow component DuPont (NYSE: DD). [Peltz Does for XLB What he Couldn’t do for XLP]

Investors that want to mimic some of the biggest names on Wall Street can do so with some familiar ETFs tracking the materials sector, including the Material Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLB) and the Vanguard Materials ETF (NYSEArca: VAW). DuPont and Air Products are top-10 holdings in both EFTs, combing for over 15% of XLB’s weight and 10.4% of VAW’s weight. [Materials ETFs for a Cyclical Rotation]

What makes those ETFs all the more compelling as hedge fund “copy cat” plays is that some of the funds’ other holdings have popped up in 13F filings in recent months. For example, the AlphaClone Alternative Alpha ETF (NYSEArca: ALFA), which tracks a basket of stocks widely held by institutions and hedge funds, features LyondellBassell Industries (NYSE: LYB) among its holdings.