NEW YORK – As many Americans turn to religion for strength and direction in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the U.S., a related phenomenon enjoys unprecedented growth on Wall Street – faith-based investing.
Faith-based mutual funds are those that invest only in companies that fit a certain set of moral criteria, thus ensuring the investor that his money is not benefiting firms engaged in activity he would find morally questionable.
How big is the faith-based investing movement? Almost $1 out of every $8 managed by professional money managers is invested under faith-based criteria.
Beginning in January, faith-based investing exploded on Wall Street, with over a dozen new faith-based mutual funds launched this year alone.
Other funds related to an investor’s particular worldview include funds for homosexuals (the Meyers Pride Fund has $12 million in assets), women’s rights funds, environmental funds and animal rights funds. This type of investing is known as SRI or “socially responsible investing.” By the year 2000, there were 175 SRI funds worth about $1.49 trillion. Some of the specialized niche funds have even beat the returns of the S&P 500.
Some of the more lucrative funds have been set up for Islamic investors, concerned about following Shari’a law and the need for Muslims to avoid investments in the areas of alcohol, tobacco, gold, silver, gambling, pornography and pork. One of the biggest Islamic funds is Permal’s Alfanar Investment Holdings – which fully complies with Shari’a law and is worth more than $300 million. The Saudi Economic and Development Corp. is Permal’s overseas Islamic partner.
Mennonites use MMA Praxis. Evangelical Christians have been leaning toward the Timothy fund based in Winter Park, Fla. – worth about $54 million – and the Noah fund.
Mindful of investment guidelines published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the early 1990s, Schwartz Investment Counsel, Aquinas Funds and Catholic Values Investment Trust for Catholics cater to Catholic constituencies.
Richard Roth, a British stockbroker, told WorldNetDaily that faith-based investing is likely to continue to grow in the future.
“As a broker, I handle several large accounts for wealthy investors. I had been partial to Japanese stocks, but now I am focusing more and more on the religious and moral leanings of my clients,” Roth said.
“Some investors won’t invest in oil companies which do business with the government in Sudan, which kills Christians. Others have environmental concerns, or take a stand against child labor in mining operations in Africa or perhaps sweatshop labor in Asia,” he said.
Roth explained that the indexes and faith-based mutual funds are not without problems.
“Disney and Miramax did indeed pass through the ‘screeners’ in the Catholic funds, [yet] those entities produced pro-abortion films,” he said.
Roth added that pharmaceutical companies that make contraceptives and promote the RU-486 abortion pill are excluded by the Catholic funds.
“My clients are not nutters; they are intelligent men and women. But most of them would like to see big profits without the accompanying guilt that is the baggage of investing in things they would normally disapprove of,” he said.
“Money may be the root of all evil, but it can also be a muscle for moral purposes.”