Entries by Robert Netzly

Inspire Investing Welcomes Timothy Plan ETFs To Biblically Responsible Investing Market

Press Release: Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI) market expands as new Timothy Plan ETFs (exchange traded funds) join those from Inspire Investing to broaden options for Christian investors.

The Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI) movement continues its rapid expansion. Demand from Christian investors desiring to align their portfolios to support biblical values has powered asset growth among fund companies and advisory firms focused on providing biblically responsible investment solutions.

Recently, Ambassador Advisors, a $520 million advisory firm serving the Christian investor market, made headlines by converting all of their assets under management to align with biblically responsible investing best practices in recognition that investors want alignment of their investments with their deeply held values and beliefs, and that sound biblical stewardship necessitates integration of biblical values into portfolio design and management.

Additionally, Inspire Investing, a global leader in the biblically responsible investing movement, has increased assets under management from $250 million to over $400 million since the beginning of the year, and was nominated as a finalist for “Best Thematic ETF of the Year” award in the annual ETF.com Awards.

Timothy Plan ETF Launch

And now that growth in demand has prompted yet another increase, this time in the supply side of the market with the launch of new biblically responsible Timothy Plan ETFs.

Timothy Plan is a long-standing leader in the BRI marketplace and offers a fully diversified suite of mutual funds all designed to support biblical values. Now they are joining fellow Christian Investment Forum member, Inspire Investing, as providers of exchange traded funds aligned with those same biblical values.

“We whole-heartedly welcome our friends at Timothy Plan into the biblically responsible ETF market,” says Robert Netzly, CEO of Inspire Investing, “The BRI movement is spreading like wildfire around the globe, and we need more high-quality, innovative, BRI solutions introduced to effectively serve this vast market and truly transform the way every Christian invests around the world for the glory of God.”

How Big Is The Christian Investment Marketplace?

The size of the Christian investment market in the United States is estimated at over $21 trillion, according to research conducted by Inspire Investing. This marketplace includes investors identified by researchers as “Evangelical”, “Catholic” and “Mainline Protestant”, and is based on data sourced from Pew Research, Economic Policy Institute and the US Census.

Notably, this number includes only retirement assets such as 401(k) and IRA accounts, indicating the actual figure could be much higher if non-retirement investment assets were included.

Using the same data set, the total US investor marketplace of retirement assets, including faith-based and non-faith-based investors, is approximately $31.4 trillion dollars in size. Data from the Investment Company Institute’s “2018 Investment Company Fact Book” pegs total US retirement assets at $28.2 trillion at the end of calendar year 2017, adding confidence that these numbers are reliably close.

“The Wall Street establishment has no idea about the size and magnitude of the Christian investor market,” added Netzly, “Most secular firms dismiss Christian investors as an obscure, irrelevant niche population. But the reality is that Christian investors control more than two-thirds of the retirement assets in the United States, and this sleeping giant is beginning to wake up to biblically responsible investing.”


Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.

Follow Robert on Twitter and LinkedIn and get inspired!

Image result for twitter logo Twitter.com/robertnetzly
Image result for linkedin logo LinkedIn: @Robert_Netzly

Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC.

Biblically Responsible Investing Movement Exploding

The Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI) movement is exploding — in a good way.

Demand from Christian investors desiring to align their portfolios to support biblical values is powering asset growth among fund companies and advisory firms focused on providing biblically responsible investment solutions.

Earlier this year, Ambassador Advisors, a $520 million advisory firm serving the Christian investor market, made headlines by converting all of their assets under management to align with biblically responsible investing best practices, recognizing that investors want alignment between their investments and their deeply held values and beliefs.

As Ambassador Advisors’ Chief Investment Officer, Christopher Coolidge, CFA®, puts it, “We believe you shouldn’t have to compromise performance to live your values. There’s more to making money than just making money. Biblically responsible investing allows Christians to apply their stewardship and the belief that all money is God’s money, not only for budgeting and giving purposes, but all the way through investing and legacy planning.”

My own firm, Inspire Investing, which is entirely dedicated to investing in the most inspiring, biblically aligned companies in the world, has increased assets under management from $250 million to over $400 million since the beginning of the year. We were also nominated as a finalist for “Best Thematic ETF of the Year” award in the annual ETF.com Awards.

God is at work in the hearts and portfolios of His people, and all glory goes to Him.

Timothy Plan ETFs Expand Biblically Responsible Investing Options

And recently that growth in demand has prompted yet another increase, this time in the supply side of the market with the launch of two new biblically responsible Timothy Plan ETFs. Timothy Plan is a long-standing leader in the BRI marketplace and offers a fully diversified suite of mutual funds all designed to support biblical values.

The new Timothy Plan ETFs are welcome additions to the growing lineup of world-class biblically responsible investment options available to Christian investors. The BRI movement is spreading like wildfire around the globe, and we need more high-quality, innovative, BRI solutions introduced to effectively serve this vast market and truly transform the way every Christian invests around the world for the glory of God.

How Big Is The Christian Investment Marketplace?

The size of the Christian investment market in the United States is estimated at over $21 trillion, according to research we have conducted at Inspire Investing. This marketplace includes investors identified by researchers as “Evangelical”, “Catholic” and “Mainline Protestant”, and is based on data sourced from Pew Research, Economic Policy Institute and the US Census.

Notably, this number includes only retirement assets such as 401(k) and IRA accounts, indicating the actual figure could be much higher if non-retirement investment assets were included.

Using the same data set, the total US investor marketplace of retirement assets, including faith-based and non-faith-based investors, is approximately $31.4 trillion dollars in size. Data from the Investment Company Institute’s “2018 Investment Company Fact Book” pegs total US retirement assets at $28.2 trillion at the end of calendar year 2017, adding confidence that these numbers are reliably close.

Sleeping Giant Awakening

The Wall Street establishment has no idea about the size and magnitude of the Christian investor market. Most secular firms dismiss Christian investors as an obscure, irrelevant niche population. But the reality is that Christian investors control more than two-thirds of the retirement assets in the United States, and this sleeping giant is waking up to biblically responsible investing.

Can you imagine the impact we Christians can have if we all just invested our money (God’s money) in alignment with biblical values?

What if we all just stood up and said, “Hey, Wall Street! We’re not going to invest in companies that manufacture abortion drugs, sell pornography, exploit child-slave labor or conduct any other blatantly immoral business practice anymore! We actually believe in the values taught in the Bible and we care about the glory of God, and we want investments that enable us to glorify our God in everything we do!”

Could our voice actually get noticed?

Bringing Down The Wall

The Bible tells the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, and how the Lord commanded that after the Israelites had marched around the city seven times, “then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat…” (Joshua 6:5).

It’s time for all of God’s people to shout with a great shout and bring down Wall Street’s “wall” of greed, corruption and immorality and usher in a new culture of investing for the glory of God.

Will you join us?


Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.

Follow Robert on Twitter and LinkedIn and get inspired!

Image result for twitter logo Twitter.com/robertnetzly
Image result for linkedin logo LinkedIn: @Robert_Netzly

Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC.

YouTube Blocks Christian Investing Videos

Scarlet Letters

Educational videos about how to invest according to biblical values are dangerous and deserving of censorship. At least that seems to be the opinion of YouTube, who recently cancelled the video page for Inspire Investing, without warning or any apparent basis.

Emblazoned in a bright red box across our (previous) video page on YouTube is the following message:

This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy against spam, deceptive practices, and misleading content or other Terms of Service violations.

That’s it. No explanation, no warning, just a vague reference to YouTube’s Terms of Service.

Christians Previously Targeted By YouTube

This is not the first time YouTube has censored Christian voices on it’s platform. A quick Google search returns many such stories.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it seems rather odd that most of these stories follow a similar path. No warning, no explanation, and all of them related to comments about LGBT issues or Islam.

But I’m sure there is no connection. Just a coincidence.

Count It All Blessing

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

Echoing his Savior, the apostle Peter later wrote, “12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

No YouTube In Heaven

It should not be a surprise to us when we face adversity for heralding the name of Jesus. Even attacks as minor as this inconvenience of a cancelled YouTube channel are reminders that this world is not our friend.

And, thankfully, this world is not our home.

Our home is with Jesus, and I’m pretty sure there won’t be any YouTube in Heaven. After all, who has time to watch a video when we could be gazing into the glorious, radiant, all-satisfying face of God?

Oh, and our videos? They are doing just fine. You can binge watch all of them right here on our new video library.

Blessings,

-R


Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.

Follow Robert on Twitter and LinkedIn and get inspired!

Image result for twitter logo Twitter.com/robertnetzly
Image result for linkedin logo LinkedIn: @Robert_Netzly

Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC.

Planned Parenthood Supporter PG&E Files Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy Burn

California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, January 29th. The filing comes as a result of $30 billion dollars in wildfire liability incurred by the company as their equipment ignited at least 17 of the 21 major wildfires that roared through California state in 2017 and 2018.

Last summer, I attended PG&E’s annual shareholder meeting to challenge the executive leadership regarding their philanthropic support of abortion giant, Planned Parenthood. I shot a video on location to recap PG&E’s response.

At the time, PG&E was under intense pressure due to the wildfires which were still burning. PG&E stock had plummeted and the company had eliminated dividend payments to shareholders (many of whom were present at the meeting and expressing their concern due to their reliance on the previously substantial dividend to cover their retirement living expenses).

Given the dire straights of the stock, the mounting liabilities from the fires and the fact that the company had stopped paying dividends to shareholders, my question to the executives was would they also stop donations to Planned Parenthood?

Their answer was, “no” they would continue to donate to Planned Parenthood (despite not being able to pay their investors).

Bad Business

I did my best to point out to the executives how ridiculous that was. Never mind the despicable nature of Planned Parenthood’s abortion business, just from a financial fiduciary standpoint of acting in the best interest of shareholders it makes no sense to pay Planned Parenthood instead of a dividend.

I wasn’t surprised by their answer, however. The staunch persistence of abortion activist executives to advance the abortion issue against all reason or business sense is astounding.

And now they are filing for bankruptcy.

Stark Example

PG&E should serve as a stark example to all investors. If a company is willing to donate shareholder dollars to activist causes like Planned Parenthood, can you really trust them to make ethical, moral or just plain reasonable business decisions? Do you really want to invest money into a company run by people who would rather give the last penny to Planned Parenthood instead of elderly retirees who depend on the dividend to buy groceries?

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.” (Proverbs 1:22-27)

As unfortunate as it may be, and although I would never wish such a catastrophe on anyone, PG&E executives might just deserve what’s coming to them as their careers go up in flames. But the investors left holding the bag deserve better than what these executives gave them.

Don’t Date Calamity

So, what about the companies that you own? Are there any “PG&E’s” of a different flavor lurking about in your portfolio waiting to file financial bankruptcy because of their ethically bankrupt decision making? You can find out for free at www.inspireinsight.com if you are curious.

PG&E’s date with calamity is just one more example of why I believe it is best to invest in inspiring, biblically aligned companies with a track record of ethical behavior.

What do you think?


Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.

Follow Robert on Twitter and LinkedIn and get inspired!

Image result for twitter logo Twitter.com/robertnetzly
Image result for linkedin logo LinkedIn: @Robert_Netzly

Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC.

Magnify Messiah

What has God done for you this year? As Christmas is upon us and year winds to a close, it is proper for us to reflect on the year behind. Often our reflections lead us to major crises that we endured, or possibly narrowly avoided, and hopefully some major accomplishments and joys that we have […]

How Inspire Builds Quality Portfolios Differently

How Or How Much? There are a lot of things we do differently at Inspire, not the least of which is our approach to building high quality portfolios comprised of the most inspiring, biblically aligned companies in the world. As the infographic below illustrates, most investment management firms only look at the financial data of […]

Black Friday Lightens Up

Black As Night I have a love-hate relationship with Black Friday. On one hand, the deals are great and it certainly helps with the Christmas present budget. But on the other hand, Black Friday has also become our unofficial “National Day Of Covetousness” where we bow down to the United States’ favorite idol, the Almighty […]

Performance Attribution of the First Biblically-based SRI Index

SUMMARY

A recent study by Shane Enete, CFA at the Biola University Inspire Research Institute For Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI), has shown that applying the Inspire Impact Score methodology to portfolio security selection generated alpha in a portfolio when compared to the broader, non-Inspire Impact Score screened benchmark. This finding adds new data to the debate of what effect values-based screening (Socially Responsible, Biblically Responsible, ESG, etc) has on the performance of a portfolio.

At Inspire we believe that good values and good returns are not mutually exclusive, and the findings from this study validate that belief. While screening a portfolio does not guarantee alpha generation, this study clearly shows that using the Inspire Impact Score methodology does have the potential to provide outperformance when compared to a non-screened benchmark.

ABOUT THE STUDY

For the purposes of this study, a traditional attribution analysis method was applied to the Inspire Small/Mid Cap Impact Equal Weight Index (”Index”) over a five year period. The study compared the contribution to overall returns from three variables:

1) Equal weight composition;
2) Sector bias; and,
3) Inspire Impact Score security selection methodology.

These three variables were then isolated and compared against the benchmark to determine the effect each individual variable had on overall performance.

“The results of the study found that the Inspire Impact Score methodology of security selection resulted in an annualized 4.7% outperformance compared to the non-screened benchmark.”

Performance data chart

Figure 1 – SP500

The remaining variables of sector weighting and equal weight composition had a negligible effect on the overall performance. (See Fig. 1) These findings pave the way for additional research into the underlying reasons as to why companies with higher Inspire Impact Scores provide the potential to outperform companies with lower Inspire Impact Scores, and the Biola University Inspire Research Institute for BRI is up to the task, but what is clear is that companies that are a blessing to their customers, communities, workplace and the world have the potential to outperform their peers and that investors who are seeking to create profit and impact do not necessarily need to resign themselves to substandard returns. Indeed, it is possible that they could experience above-average returns by including Inspire Impact Score screening in their investment strategy.

 

 

Performance Attribution of the First
Biblically-based SRI Index

Shane Enete, CFA
Biola University

Working Draft

Abstract

In the U.S., two of the most important investment trends over the last 10 years have been the rise of index investing and the rise of Sustainable, Responsible and Impact (SRI) investing. So, it would make sense that new indexes would emerge based on SRI principles. One such index is the new Inspire Small/Mid Cap Impact Equal Weight Index, which is the first biblically-based SRI index. This paper briefly discusses the methodology of this index and shows that its strong back-tested risk-adjusted returns (relative to its non-SRI S&P benchmark), are not due to sector bias (as one would expect), but are attributed to favorable stock selection within each industry sector. This index is likely the beginning of a wave of more sophisticated passive products that will meet the needs of niche investor populations better than the active products of the past.

I. Introduction

In the U.S., two investment trends have been dramatic over the last 10 years:

  •  the rise of index investing, and
  •  the rise of Sustainable, Responsible and Impact (SRI) investing

As of 2016, flows from active to index funds have surpassed one trillion dollars and SRI Investing has achieved $9 trillion of assets under management (see Figures 1 and 2).

So, it would make sense that these two trends would collide and new SRI indexes would emerge. One such index is the Inspire Small/Mid Cap Impact Equal Weight Index. This index has a unique faith-based construction that has performed well relative to its non-SRI S&P benchmark. This is likely the beginning of a new breed of indexes that will serve niche investors better than previous active products of the past.

Figure 1: Mauboussin, Michael, J., Dan Callahan, and Darius Majd, “Looking for the Easy Game,”Credit Suisse, 2017,
Figure 2:
U.S. SIF Foundation

II. Index Construction

Unlike most existing SRI indexes2, this index focuses on small-to-medium companies, weighting its index constituents equally3. In addition, this is the first passive SRI product that explicitly ties the construction of its index to a biblically-based worldview, in particular, a reformed, non-denominational Christian worldview that emphasizes traditional Biblical views on all environmental, social and governance issues. Although applying a Christian worldview to active investing products has been done for more than 100 years4, this is the first passive index based on “Biblically Responsible Investing” (BRI) principles to be introduced to the financial markets. The Inspire index is constructed using an Impact Scoring methodology that essentially overweights companies that are aligned with biblical values and excludes companies that are not aligned with biblical values. Companies with a high Impact score may have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • inspiring primary business activity that uplifts society
  • positive environmental policies
  • support biblical values through philanthropy
  • operate with a perceived high level of integrity

Companies that have a low Impact Score would likely be involved in the enabling of certain types of activities that are contrary to what the Bible says will enable human flourishing, such as abortion, pornography, labor abuse, non-traditional family values, and gambling.

2For example: MSCI’s KLD 400 Social Index, FTSE’s 4Good Index Series, Calvert’s Social Index, Dow Jones’Sustainability Index
3Chow et al., (2011), found a significant improvement in returns when equally-weighting an index (versus marketcap weighting)
4During the late 1800s, the Quakers and the Methodists followed investment practices that prohibited investing in companies that were involved in slavery, smuggling and conspicuous consumption

 

III. performance

i. Risk-adjusted Returns

Probably the biggest criticism of SRI investing is that  constructing a portfolio from a restricted universe of opportunities will impose too great a cost on the portfolio’s risk-adjusted returns, relative to their unrestrained counterparts. In other words, when trying to “do good,” there will be too heavy a cost on the portfolio.

When looking at the Inspire Small/Mid Cap Impact Equal Weight Index, early indications show a possible positive risk-adjusted performance benefit when using Inspire’s Impact Scoring methodology to construct their index. From 2012 to 2016, the Inspire index outperformed an equally weighted 50/50 blend of the S&P 400 and S&P 600 by over 4%, on an annualized basis, while maintaining a similar standard deviation.

This back tested performance result is not inconsistent with many academic studies over the years, which have shown that there is either a neutral or small benefit to risk-adjusted performance when adding different types of
SRI criteria to the managing of an investment product.5

5Revelli, C. and Viviani, J.-L. (2015), Stone et al. [2002],

ii. Attribution

Another significant criticism of SRI investing is that sector bias is really what drives the performance. DiBartolomeo and Kurtz [1999] demonstrated that the positive outperformance of one of the oldest SRI indexes, the Domini 400 Social index, was largely due to economic and sector exposures that are the result of the screening process itself.

It would make sense that certain sectors, like oil and gas, would naturally “screen themselves out” of most SRI indexes looking to protect the environment. So, given the possibility of sector biases embedded in SRI products, should it be assumed that any outperformance relative to a benchmark is simply due to large
“sector bets” that happen to go in the favor of the SRI index?

When conducting a performance attribution on the Inspire index relative to the S&P benchmark, there is no evidence that sector bets contributed to the outperformance.6

6Using the BHB model for attribution (Brinson, Hood, and Beebower, 1986). GICS sectors were used for the S&P benchmark; However, for the Inspire index, the sectors were first determined using The Industrial Classification Benchmark (ICB) sectors and then they were unofficially mapped to a GICS sector manually. An “Other” sector was used, which primarily represents the Real Estate sector, which was carved out of the S&P Financials sector during September of 2016. The small difference in alpha between tables 1 and 2 (4.4% vs. 4.2%) is due to rounding errors associated with the attribution methodology

IIV. Conclusion

Given the continued popularity of both passive index and SRI investing, new SRI indexes will likely proliferate during the next couple of years. The creation of the Inspire Small/Mid Cap Impact Equal Weight Index is the beginning of a wave of more sophisticated passive products that will better meet the needs of niche investor populations (e.g., faith-based investors) than the high-fee active products of the past.

references

[Bauer, Koedijk, and Otten, 2005] Bauer, Rob, Kees Koedijk, and Roger Otten (2005). “International Evidence on Ethical Mutual Fund Performance and Investment Style.” Journal of Banking and Finance , 29-7 (2005), pp. 1751-1767. (as cited in Milevsky et al., 2006).

[Brinson, Hood, and Beebower, 1986] Brinson, Gary P., L. Randolph Hood, and Gilbert L. Beebower. (1986). “Determinants of Portfolio Performance,” Financial Analysts Journal , vol. 42, no. 4 (July/August):39:44.

[Chow et al, 2011] Tzee-man Chow, Jason Hsu, Vitali Kalesnik, and Bryce Little (2011). “A Survey of Alternative Equity Index Strategies” FAJ, Volume 67,5, 2011

[DiBartolomeo and Kurtz, 1999] DiBartolomeo, Dan, and Lloyd Kurtz (1999). “Managing Risk Expo- sures of Socially Screened Portfolios.” Northfield Information Services. (as cited in Milevsky et al., 2006)

[Goldreyer, Ahmed, and Diltz, 1999] Goldreyer, Ahmed, and Diltz (1999). “The Performance of Socially Responsible Mutual Funds: Incorporating Sociopolitical Information in Portfolio Selection” Managerial Finance , 25-1 (1999), pp. 23-3. (as cited in Milevsky et al., 2006).

[Guerard, John B., Jr., 1997] Guerard, John B., Jr. (1997). “Is There a Cost to Being Socially Responsible in Investing?” TheJournal ofInvesting , 6-2 (1997), pp. 11-18. (as cited in Milevsky et al., 2006).

[Hamilton, Jo, and Statman, 1993] Hamilton, Sally, Hoje Jo, and Meir Statman (1993). “Doing Well While Doing Good? The Investment Performance of Socially Responsible Mutual Funds.” Financial Analysts Journal , 49(6) (1993), pp. 62-66

[Milevsky et al., 2006] Milevsky, Moshe, Andrew Aziz, Allen Goss, Jane (Thomson) Comeault and David Wheeler (2006). “Cleaning a Passive Index” Journal of Portfolio Management , Spring 2006:110-118.

[Revelli, C. and Viviani, J.-L., 2015] Revelli, C. and Viviani, J.-L. (2015). “Financial performance of socially responsible investing (SRI): what have we learned? A metaanalysis.” Business Ethics: A European Review , 24: 158:185. doi: 10.1111/beer.12076.

[Stone et. al, 2002] Stone, Bernell K., John B. Guerard, Jr., Mustafa N. Gultekin, and Greg Adams (2002). “Socially Responsible Investment Screening: Strong Evidence of No Significant Cost for Actively Managed Portfolios” Working paper, Marriott School of Finance, Brigham Young University, October 2002. (as cited in Milevsky et al., 2006).

A Biblical Argument for BRI

“A Biblical Argument for BRI” is a paper from the Inspire-Biola Research Institute for Biblically Responsible Investing written by Shane Enete, CFA.  Read the full paper below:  

A Biblical Argument for BRI

By Shane Enete, CFA

Assistant Professor of Finance, Biola University

In the beginning, God’s commandment for us is to work and watch over the land (Genesis 2:15).

While our culture has excelled at becoming more productive in our “working of the land” through modern portfolio theory and passive investing, we have gradually gotten worse at fulfilling the second part of God’s commandment, namely, to “watch over” the very land that we are working.

Christian investors can respond to this weakened ability to watch over the land by moving towards Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI).

In the beginning, “the LORD God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” (Genesis 2:15, NLT, emphasis added) This is a Biblical framework for how investing should be. 

To “work the land” effectively means to enable it to produce fruit. 

To “watch over the land” effectively means to enable the garden to flourish in the midst of its fruit production. 

Since Christian investors do not necessarily find themselves with hands full of dirt as they work and watch over our world, does this mean this early job description from the Lord does not apply to a Christian investor today? How could working and watching over the land be done well for a Christian investor today?

The Biblical Argument For BRI

Work The Land

Over the last 400 years, a few key financial ideas have enabled an abundant working of the land.

For this paper, I am going to highlight three such financial ideas that have particularly helped us harvest fruit from the land: the jointstock company (1609), modern portfolio theory (1952), and passive investing (1990s)

The first crucial financial idea that allowed for a great increase in the fruitfulness of the land was the invention of the joint-stock company. A joint stock company is its own legal entity, which allowed investors to buy “shares of stock” in that independent company. The first Joint-Stock company was the Dutch East India Company in 1609.

Before the joint-stock company, any investor who wanted to invest in a company needed to become a partner of that company, which entailed a lot of paperwork and commitment. And if the investor wanted to sell his partnership position, more paperwork (and often lawyers) were needed to get out of the partnership.

One of the greatest features of owning stock in a joint-stock company was that the owner is free to sell that share of stock to any willing buyer without needing any kind of permission by the company.

Once the joint-stock company was created, money was pooled together more easily. This injected significant “liquidity” into the financial markets.

But, it was not until the large scale adoption of modern portfolio theory (MPT) that stock investing was moved from the halls of the rich to the living rooms of the common citizen.

MPT, first articulated by Harry Markowitz in 1952, argues that an investor should not put all of his or her eggs in one basket.

While this may seem like a simple concept, the revolutionary idea of MPT was that all investment opportunities should not be considered just individually, but also be evaluated together as a potential portfolio. Evaluating all investment opportunities in the context of a portfolio led the average risk-conscious investor to include stocks in their investment accounts, which eventually led to billions of dollars of retirement money1 being injected into the stock market.

The last powerful financial idea that I will mention, which served to further enhance the fruitfulness of the land, was the invention of “passive investing.”

Passive investing is when investor money is pooled together and then given to a computer that simply buys a “list of companies” (i.e., index). An index can represent exposure to any kind of desired business risk (e.g., oil companies, car companies, European companies).

Since the holdings of the index list are mostly stationary, the portfolio is not actively managed, and is said to be “passive.”

Bill Sharpe wrote a paper in 1991 called, “Arithmetic of Active Management” where he showed the simple math that, given the laws of arithmetic, half of all money managers will earn less than average returns (less than half when you subtract management fees).

By comparison, passive funds, which have minimal costs2 , should be expected to outperform most professional managers. This logic has consistently proven to be true by academic research. For example, one recent study showed that passive funds outperformed 76% of active mutual fund managers from 2003-20133.

Given the simplicity and cheapness of passive investments, investors have stampeded towards passive products and these passive products have led to widespread ownership of stocks by American households (55% of all U.S. households4, 66% of all 401k assets5, more than half of all U.S. public pension money are invested in stocks as of the mid-2000s).6 This increase in stock ownership means companies produce more goods and services since they have more access to capital for their business ideas.

1 Smith, Mark B., Equity Culture, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2003 (pg. 219-220)

2 The most popular passive product, Vanguard’s S&P 500 Index has an annual fee of 0.05% vs. 1.0% for the average active fund.

3 https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/investing-data/activemutual-fund-managers-beat-market-index/

4 Gallup’s annual Economy and Finance survey, 2015

5 As of 2014, https://www.ici.org/pdf/per22-03.pdf

6 Pension and Investments 2012 annual plan sponsor survey

Watch Over The Land

As the world economy has proliferated in goods and services, there has been a trend of less and less monitoring of those goods and services. To watch over the land means to understand the impact of our goods and services on the community. Before the joint-stock company, modern portfolio theory, and passive investing, owners of businesses had a shared liability with their business – if the business acted in a way inconsistent with the owners’ values, all investors in that company were legally liable, so investors put a high value on monitoring their investments.

If we fast-forward to today, it is a much different story. Because of the limited liability of owning a stock (no stock owner can lose more than their initial investment) and the lower risk of owning a portfolio of stocks, owners of stock typically own hundreds of companies.

Managers, who receive investor money from thousands of different stock investors, are no longer working alongside their investors.

One of the most serious consequences of this trend is that Christian stock owners, who often own hundreds of companies, may not know when their owned investments engage in activities that deteriorate human flourishing, such as funding abortion clinics or pornographic products.

One of the most popular investment products, the Vanguard S&P 500 Index, with $443 billion dollars of investor money, includes many companies who are acting directly against Biblical values. eValueator estimates that 73% of the 500 companies in the fund are acting in ways not consistent with Biblical values.

Christians need to do a better job of watching over their investments and ensuring that they are not endorsing (or profiting from) certain corporate behavior, through their stock ownership claims, that help to lead culture away from Biblical values.7

So, what is a Christian to do, then? Is the only solution to disengage from passive investing, altogether?

7http://evalueator.com/ (as of 8/3/16)

Our Response

One simple solution is to move towards Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI). BRI is a movement of biblically inspired investment products that are able to combine the positive benefits modern portfolio theory and passive investing with a consciousness that these products need to be “watched” to ensure that Christian values of stewardship are being honored.

These BRI products are “watched” through their endorsing, engaging and excluding activities; they endorse companies that are acting especially consistent with biblical truth, but also engage and/or exclude companies that are not acting in ways consistent with Biblical truth.

While this type of “watching over” will always fail to be as effective as a single shared liability business investment, it is a step towards fulfilling God’s mandate to both work and watch over the land that has been entrusted to us.