Inspire CEO’s Statement On Racial Injustice

As an upper-middle class white male, I have no place speaking about racial injustice. The closest thing to racism I have experienced are Latino people making fun of me within earshot, not realizing that this blue-eyed white-boy is fluent in Spanish. Try as I might to empathize, there is no way I can fully understand the experience of my black fellow Americans.

But, although I have no place speaking about racial injustice, I can and must speak out against racial injustice. Racism in every form is an evil that must be opposed by Christians and all well-meaning people everywhere. Racism is the overflow of a broken, sin-stained world full of broken, sin-stained people. Hatred is a real force in the world, and the people of God must rise up to overcome racism in the love of God, by the blood of Christ, in the power of the Spirit. As a people who worship a Savior who chose to put on brown skin, and lived and died as a colored middle-eastern man, we of all people should live by the truth that all men and women are created in the image of God, and that image is beautiful and demands dignity.

At Inspire Investing, we try to do our part in the fight against racism by advocating for biblical values with corporations around the globe, including the biblical value to “love your neighbor as yourself” no matter their color, and that all people are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. We routinely engage with corporations on issues related to God-honoring diversity practices (which differ in important ways with the world’s practice of diversity) and encourage them to be a blessing to all their employees, customers, communities and the world at large. There is no room for racism in a well-run business.

Racial Justice Investment Screens

Our biblically responsible investing screens have always included diversity issues as an important metric. In our Inspire Impact Score methodology, we reward companies with best in class performance related to God-honoring diversity and penalize companies with below average performance related to diversity. Specifically, our Inspire Impact Score currently considers diversity in the following categories:

  1. Diversity and Opportunity Controversies: Company involved in published diversity and opportunity controversies, such as wage discrimination, promotion and harassment issues;
  2. Human Rights Controversies: Company has been linked to published controversies linked to human rights issues, including supply chain incidents involving contractors and suppliers;
  3. Labor Practices (Best In Class): Company exhibits above average Labor Practices performance relative to their industry peer group. This category considers compliance with fair labor standards for union and non-union employees, including employee retention, education, training, health, safety, compensation, benefits, diversity and mentoring programs;
  4. Social Impact (Best In Class): Company exhibits above average Social Impact performance relative to their industry peer group. This category considers a company’s overall impact on their communities, positive human rights behaviors, philanthropy and charity.

Standing For, Standing Against

We stand together with our black brothers and sisters who are (peacefully) raising their voice for an end to racism in our nation. We also stand together with the (honorable majority) members of law enforcement agencies who daily work to protect the lives and liberties of the black communities in our country.

We stand against those who are attempting to pollute the Black Lives Matter movement with violence and hatred of their own. And we stand against the (dis-honorable minority) members of law enforcement who abuse their power to inflict suffering on the black community. (Note: Let the reader understand that Black Lives Matter as a movement is different from the organization Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which runs the website blacklivesmatter.com. That BLM organization is heinously wicked and guilty of promoting thoroughly evil ideologies, violence and hatred under the thinly veiled disguise of a “racial justice” organization and is to be opposed.)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

May the Lord be merciful to our nation and grant us the grace of peace and brotherhood for all. May we as His people be ministers of reconciliation, ushering in the peace of Christ as the Day of His coming draws ever-nearer. Maranatha! Lord Jesus, come!

Our Own Worst Enemy – Seven Key Tactics for Preventing Investment Missteps

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Romans 7:15

In my own Christian walk over the decades, one of the biggest challenges in my life has not necessarily been the issue of knowing the right thing to do, but rather actually doing that right thing which I already know! The Bible often references this disconnect between “knowing” and “doing.” In Matthew 26:41, we read the oft quoted “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Similarly, Romans 7:15 insightfully notes “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

This propensity to know the right thing to do, but to do otherwise manifests itself when investing as well. Our piece, Matters of the Heart, discusses the pitfalls of emotion-based investing. The relatively new field of Behavioral Finance is predicated on the thesis that investors make sub-optimal decisions due to a number of common psychological tendencies. These behavioral shortcomings cause investors to make imprudent investment decisions, oftentimes enthusiastically buying at high market levels and despondently selling at low market levels. Investors find themselves doing the exact opposite of what they know they should do…buy low and sell high. In other words, Behavioral Finance teaches us that even when investors know the right thing to do, they oftentimes do otherwise. Sounds like something we might read in the Bible, yes?!

Behavioral economist, Dr. Richard Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize, refers to people who always make rational economic decisions as mythical “Econs,” who do not really exist in real life. Real, flesh and blood humans, Thaler contends, are subject to emotions, biases, heuristics, etc. which cause us to make decision-making errors that Econs would never make. Benjamin Graham, the legendary economist, investor, and professor (Warren Buffett was his student!), summed up the challenge well, “The investor’s chief problem – and even his worst enemy – is likely to be himself.”

There are several key Behavioral Finance mistakes that investors make. With a) Loss Aversion, investors mistakenly overweight the pain of potential losses while underweighting the benefit of potential gains; b) Anchoring causes investors to cling to prior reference points, vainly longing for things to return to “normal” or to get back to “even,” while failing to adapt to changed market conditions; and c) Recency Bias, investors extrapolate the latest market direction, up or down, far into the future. While being finite does not mean being sinful, the limitations that behavioral finance identifies in all of us provides an opportunity for greed and fear to take advantage of our finite nature.

So, given that the Bible as well as the field of Behavioral Finance teaches us that, as humans, we are predisposed to do those things that we know that we should not do and to not do those things that we know that we should do, what measures can investors take to mitigate these behavioral errors, especially during these anxiety-provoking Pandemic times?

  1. Make a Written Plan – In our piece, What’s The Purpose?, we discussed the importance of an investor first determining the specific financial goal(s) in order to achieve a successful investment outcome. To increase the probability of achieving those financial goals, experts agree that having a specific, written plan to accomplish that goal(s) is critical. Then, referring back to that written document on a regular basis (e.g. quarterly), affords investors a helpful, consistent reminder to counter fluctuating emotions in the midst of market moves.
  2. Hire an Advisor – Certainly, hiring a financial advisor provides very important knowledge and expertise for investors. However, even beyond that, a financial advisor can serve as an important “personal trainer” that helps investors overcome bad habits and poor decisions. Also, an advisor can be an “accountability partner” to whom one must explain a significant financial decision before taking action. This can help keep investors from being swept up in market bubbles or panics.
  3. Automate – Investors should seek to systemize their investment activities as much as possible so that emotions do not affect their investment decisions. Automatic contributions to a retirement plan from one’s regular paycheck is a good example of a way to overcome behavioral finance weaknesses. Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) is a systematic way to take emotions out of play by deploying a given dollar amount into investments on a predetermined schedule. Dollar Cost Withdrawals (DCW) does similarly for taking money out of investments. Likewise, a set rebalancing plan (calendar or percentage based) is an unemotional way to trim back investments at relative highs and redeploy the proceeds into other investments near relative lows.
  4. Employ Values-Based Investing – When investors see their investments as not only a means to achieving financial goals, but also goals of a “higher calling” (e.g. Biblically Responsible Investing), they are less likely to get caught up in bouts of market euphoria or despondency. When investors view their investments as “dual-purpose,” they are more likely to maintain a longer term perspective in the midst of gyrating emotions.
  5. “Bucket” Investments – The Behavioral Finance concept of “mental accounting” describes the financial mistakes people make by categorizing money into differing accounts and not considering wealth implications holistically when making decisions. This tendency, however, can also be used advantageously in the investor’s continuing fight against fear and greed. By separating investments into two categories of 1) “preserve wealth” (lower risk, lower return investments) and 2) “grow wealth” (higher risk, higher return investments), investors are more likely to maintain a long term investment strategy, even in the face of feelings brought on by market volatility. In Bear Market To Do List, we discussed the importance of having 6 to 24 months of living expenses held in safe, low-yielding cash, savings, or money market accounts in order to weather short-term market turbulence.
  6.  Utilize “Insurance” – Employing a strategy of rolling, deep out-of-the-money put options on broad equity indices can function like an insurance policy to help shield investors against catastrophic investment losses. This empowers investors to pursue a more prudent long-term investment strategy. Like insurance, however, this peace of mind does come with a deductible (the amount the put option is “out-of-the-money”) as well as the on-going cost of the premiums that must be paid to maintain the protection.
  7. Reframe Time Periods – The typical investor’s financial goals are measured not in days, weeks, or months, but rather years, decades, and generations. Therefore, while it is nearly impossible in our present-day, always-connected world to drown out the noise of financial market news, investors are well-served to commit to reviewing their investment portfolio’s performance only on a scheduled basis (e.g. quarterly). Further, in order to mitigate impulsive decisions, past investment performance should be viewed as long term only (five years or more, if available) and on a cumulative basis rather than annualized.
Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

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Amazon.com Board Recommends Vote Against Viewpoint Diversity

In its recently released Notice of 2020 Annual Meeting of Shareholders & Proxy Statement, the Board of Amazon.com recommended that shareholders vote against a shareholder resolution on viewpoint diversity. The Board’s opposition suggests that an intolerant bias is alive and well in the leadership ranks of one of the world’s largest and most influential corporations.

The text of the proposed resolution, officially titled “ITEM 12—Shareholder Proposal Requesting a Report On Viewpoint Discrimination” located on page 41 of the document, states the importance of preventing discrimination based on religious, social or political views. If implemented, it would provide transparency to shareholders on the “range of risks and costs associated with discrimination against different social, political and religious viewpoints”.

The resolution reads as follows:

“Whereas, Shareholders of Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) invest in the company to receive maximum return on their ownership investment in Amazon, without the costs and risks associated with Amazon restricting specific social, political, or religious views.

Whereas, any decision by Amazon to either endorse or reject social, political, or religious views may alienate customers, harm the company’s reputation, and negatively impact business performance.

Whereas, the City of Seattle, the State of Washington, the United States, and several International Conventions prohibit discrimination against religious groups and beliefs, and the City of Seattle prohibits discrimination against political ideology.

Resolved: Shareholders request that Amazon issue a report, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, evaluating the range of risks and costs associated with discriminating against different social, political, and religious viewpoints.”[1]

Amazon.com has taken great pains to portray themselves as champions of diversity, and have made public statements about their supposed commitment to respecting diverse viewpoints. For example, their website proclaims that  “diversity and inclusion are good for business—and more fundamentally—simply right.”[2]

AMAZON.COM DIVERSITY ONLY SKIN DEEP

This begs the question, if Amazon.com is such a believer in diversity, why would their Board recommend that shareholders vote against a resolution that would provide “a full evaluation of viewpoint bias and associated risks to ensure that Amazon is making balanced decisions and that it is acting consistent with its commitment to diversity?”2

The simple answer is because Amazon’s Board lacks diversity to the point that they cannot even see that a problem exists. On the surface, Amazon’s Board of Directors seems rather diverse: Of the ten Directors, five are women and five are men; there are two people of color; and they each have varied backgrounds in business, academia, law and so forth. However, this appearance of diversity is superficial. A look under the surface into the ideological perspectives of Amazon’s Board reveals a monolithically homogenous worldview committed to advancing a progressive-liberal political and social agenda.

An examination of the personal political contributions of each individual Amazon.com board member tells a striking story. Of all the independent board members who made non-corporate political contributions in the Trump vs. Hillary 2016 election cycle, all of them donated to liberal, Democratic Party candidates, Political Action Committees (PACs) or other liberal political action groups, according to data from campaignmoney.com.[3]

Prominent recipients of donations given personally by Amazon’s Board members included Hillary For America, Hillary Victory Fund, Friends of Schumer, Victory Now PAC, ActBlue, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. No conservative groups. No Republican, Libertarian or Green Party candidates. Just one flavor of super-non-diversity.

AMAZON.COM VIEWPOINT CENSORSHIP

Plainly stated, the current Amazon.com “commitment to diversity” is only a commitment to embracing a progressive-liberal viewpoint about diversity. Conservative, mainstream perspectives are not welcome. Case in point, numerous well-regarded, socially conservative, faith-based non-profits have been officially removed from the “Amazon Smile” charity platform, preventing Amazon.com customers who want to donate to those charities through their Amazon Smile purchases from doing so.[4]

This charity censorship relies upon a list provided by an extremely partisan and discredited non-profit group operating under the misleading name “Southern Poverty Law Center”, or SPLC for short. The SPLC has been under intense fire in recent years as sexual abuse, racism and financial scandal has been exposed at the highest levels of the organization and reported in major media outlets across the nation.[5] Other organizations, such as Twitter,[6] the US Department of Defense, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,[7] have ended their relationship with the SPLC because of their glaring moral and ethical failures, but not Amazon.com.

SHAREHOLDERS’ RIGHT TO TRANSPARENT REPORTING

Shareholders are not asking Amazon.com to somehow become a stalwart defender of conservative values. All they are requesting is that Amazon.com provide a transparent reporting on its stated commitment to diversity, something that the Board of Directors should be quick to embrace as it is their fiduciary responsibility to ensure the company is living up to its promises.

But, ironically, Amazon’s board is fighting against this resolution for viewpoint diversity put forward by the very shareholders they are supposed to represent.

To be clear, I believe Amazon.com has every right to use their corporate influence to promote whatever agendas they see fit, including progressive liberalism. But don’t try to hide it. If Amazon’s leadership is committed to a progressive-liberal agenda, then shareholders have a right to know about it, as well as the potential risks that position could cause by alienating customers who hold a different view. This is basic corporate responsibility. Denying shareholders material information that can affect their investment is not just bad-form, it is unethical.

Amazon.com shareholders should be pounding the table for access to transparent reporting on Amazon’s performance regarding viewpoint diversity or lack thereof, and the risks associated with that performance. If you are an Amazon.com shareholder, you have the right to cast your vote on “ITEM 12—Shareholder Proposal Requesting a Report On Viewpoint Discrimination,” and I would encourage you to exercise your right, no matter which way you vote.

[1] Amazon.com Notice of 2020 Annual Meeting of Shareholders & Proxy Statement: https://s2.q4cdn.com/299287126/files/doc_financials/2020/ar/updated/2020-Proxy-Statement.pdf

[2] https://www.aboutamazon.com/our-company/our-positions

[3] https://www.campaignmoney.com/

[4] https://www.christianpost.com/news/amazon-removes-conservative-legal-group-charity-smile-program-splc-hate-group-label.html

[5] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-reckoning-of-morris-dees-and-the-southern-poverty-law-center

[6] https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/twitter-dumps-southern-poverty-law-center-stops-making-hate-pay

[7] https://www.christianpost.com/news/amazon-removes-conservative-legal-group-charity-smile-program-splc-hate-group-label.html

The Weapons We Fight With

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

2 Corinthians 10:4

Note – As we comment on the current economic and market environment, it is always with the full understanding that the Coronavirus Crisis is first and foremost a humanitarian one. Therefore, our hearts groan as we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and we cling to the promise that “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

With the abrupt end of the longest bull market in the history of the U.S. stock market, investors are now understandably worried about the probable depth and length of the current bear market in which we find ourselves. So, let’s take a look at this bear market in the context of the history of prior bear markets.

So far, the current stock market’s worst drawdown from its February 19 peak (S&P 500 close of 3386) was its March 23 nadir (S&P 500 close of 2237) for a loss of 33.9%. With the recent rebound, as of March 31 (S&P 500 close of 2585), the stock market is now down “only” 23.7%. While it is certainly possible that further downside awaits, our view is that the lows we have experienced are closer to the bottom than to the top. Here is our rationale:

Referring to history, the U.S. stock market has seen deeper bear markets than what we have seen so far with this downturn. The 2007 – 2009 Financial Crisis saw a decline of 56.8% in the S&P 500 and the 2000 – 2002 Technology Bust, exacerbated by the September 11 terrorist attack, recorded a 49.2% peak-to-trough loss. The 1973 – 1974 Oil Embargo Crash was 48.2% and the Great Crash of 1930 – 1932 saw a devastating loss of 82.8%. However, each of these more substantive stock market drops listed was preceded by periods of exuberant valuation bubbles in stocks themselves or in housing as seen in the Financial Crisis.

Though we had expressed concerns about the record length of the most recent bull market and economic expansions with valuations starting to show signs of excess (see Trouble), we were not of the view that equities had reached bubble territory. In our opinion, the cause for this current bear market was the exogenous event of the Coronavirus outbreak. Therefore, assuming that this shock will be addressed, it is probable that this stock slide will not be as dramatic as those listed above. As an example of the impact of an exogenous event, the heightened Cold War tensions preceding the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961 – 1962 led to a drop in the S&P 500 of 28.0%. Moreover, even with the tragic loss of life and economic destruction of World War II, that exogenous event caused the S&P 500 to drop “only” by 42.3% during the 1939 – 1942 bear market.

The current crisis environment is increasingly being described as one of “wartime.” Given the potential fatalities, the disruptive impact to “normal” life, and the economic damage, this “battle” metaphor seems warranted. The Bible contains many stories of wars and battles and oftentimes employs combat imagery, including Ephesians 6’s reference to “putting on the full armor of God.”

Christians know from 2 Corinthians 10:4 that the weapons with which we are called to fight with are “not the weapons of the world.” Specifically, we are called to employ spiritual weapons which “have divine power to demolish strongholds.” During this time of anguish and loss, believers can be praying and fasting for the demolition of the Coronavirus stronghold.

Beyond those spiritual weapons, there are many other God-ordained “weapons” that are being brought to bear against the “invisible enemy” that humanity faces together. By themselves, none of these weapons are sufficient, but in combination they can prevail to the benefit of our collective physical and economic health.

Healthcare Weapons – Many of our family, friends, and neighbors are serving on the front lines of this war as doctors, nurses, etc. by delivering skilled and compassionate medical care to the sick and dying. These members of our communities are putting themselves in harm’s way for our safety. They should forever be remembered as heroes for their selfless service during this time.

Medical Science Weapons – Never underestimate the power of human ingenuity when brought to bear against what might appear to be insurmountable challenges. At this very moment, scientists, doctors, researchers, pharmaceutical firms, biotech companies, hospitals, medical device manufacturers, medical testing companies, and many others around the world are working around the clock to bring quickly to market the medical solutions needed to end this pandemic crisis.

Behavioral Weapons – By now, we are all too familiar with the concepts of “social distancing,” “shelter in place,” etc. While inconvenient and confining, these constraints are proving to be effective in curbing the transmission of the virus as well as “flattening the curve” to accommodate medical capacity constraints.

Monetary Weapons – The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States has taken its own wartime efforts to mitigate the inevitable economic damage of the Coronavirus. By pushing the overnight Federal Funds target rate to below ¼% and reinstituting Quantitative Easing with $4 Trillion of bond purchases, the Fed has loosened its monetary policy spigots wide open.

Fiscal Weapons – With last week’s signing of the Phase 3 $2.1 Trillion stimulus package, there is little doubt that the nation’s checkbook is open in the fight to save the economy. While a recession for the country has become almost a foregone conclusion, the battle lines are now being drawn with payments to households, loans to small businesses, etc., in an effort to keep the economy from entering a depression. Also, many regulatory red-tape constraints are rapidly being cut to free up companies to conduct business as needed to meet the marketplace needs.

This list of weapons, when used in combination, can give us confidence that we will prevail against the Coronavirus enemy. Lives will be saved, the economy will recover, and our collective “pursuit of happiness” continued. We will get through this!

So, while there is likely more turbulence yet to come in this epic battle against the unseen enemy, investors can take comfort at the multitude and strength of the “weapons” being brought to bear against it. As stewards of God’s financial capital, we should recognize our responsibility–in fact our “calling” (Luke 19 Parable of the Talents)–not to cower in fear but rather to look for opportunities to deploy capital prudently in this time of need. Getting practical, in Bear Market “To Do” List – P.E.A.C.E., we suggested Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) as a strategy to ease cash into this turbulent stock market. Finally, as followers of Christ, let us pray together earnestly for that “divine power to demolish strongholds.”

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

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Important CARES Act Highlights Investors Should Know About

The CARES Act highlights contain provisions that will affect US businesses and the stock market in a big way, making it important for investors to pay attention and be educated about what is in the CARES Act and what it means for their family and their portfolio. To help shed some light on the CARES Act highlights that investors should know about, Inspire Investing has partnered with our tax advisors at Hayashi and Wayland to provide the following information about the CARES Act. (This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be considered as tax or investment advice. Please consult your personal tax or investment advisor to discuss your individual situation.)

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security “CARES Act” represents the largest economic relief package in American history[1].  The CARES Act contains sweeping provisions that have powerful implications for American families and the US economy at large, both because of the gargantuan amount of money that will be flooding the US economy and also because of certain investment related directives that temporarily change the rules for retirement accounts, charitable giving and more.

The CARES Act was designed to offer assistance to individual taxpayers, business owners, and the entire economy to try to revive itself from the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the business closures, layoffs and economic suffering that has followed.  This relief plan will offer assistance to tens of millions of American households affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

We have outlined the CARES Act highlights below: 

INDIVIDUAL PROVISIONS

One-time, non-taxable payments

These payments will be made to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is under $75,000 (single), $112,500 (head of household) and $150,000 (married). Single or head of household taxpayers will get $1,200.  Married taxpayers will get $2,400.  In addition, for each child 16 years old or younger, you will get an additional $500.  Above these income figures the payment decreases. Single taxpayers earning $99,000 or married taxpayers who have no children and earn $198,000 will not receive any payments.  A family with two children will no longer be eligible for payments if its income surpassed $218,000.  Payments received are not considered taxable income to the recipients.

You will not be able to get a payment if someone claims you as a dependent, even if you are an adult.  In any given family and in most instances, everyone must have a valid Social Security number in order to be eligible.  There is an exception for members of the military.

You can find your adjusted gross income on Line 8b of the 2019 1040 Federal tax return.  And if you already filed your 2019 taxes and provided direct deposit information for a refund, it will be deposited that way into your account.  If you have not filed your 2019 tax return, your 2018 return will be used for determination.  If you would prefer to have your 2019 tax return considered over your 2018 tax return we would recommend that you file 2019 as soon as possible.

If you are ineligible for the payment due to your income being in excess of the limits for 2019, you may benefit once you file your 2020 taxes because the payment is technically an advance on a tax credit that is available for 2020. 

It is not clear yet when and how physical checks will be mailed to those who will require that.  Information from different sources at this time say anytime from the end of April to the end of May.

Retirement Accounts

For the calendar year 2020, no one will be required to take a required minimum distribution from any retirement account. If you are under age 59 ½ and need to make a withdrawal due to the outbreak, the usual 10 percent penalty is waived for distributions up to $100,000 and you are able to spread the income taxes associated with this distribution over 3 years. You can also put the funds back into the account within 3 years even though the amount would exceed normal contribution limits.  These exceptions only apply to coronavirus related withdrawals.

Charitable Contributions

The bill makes a new deduction available for up to $300 of charitable deductions.  All taxpayers can derive benefits from making up to $300 of charitable deductions even if you don’t take an itemized deduction. In addition, there is no cap on the amount of charitable deductions you can take as an itemized deduction for 2020.  

Unemployment Compensation

The Federal Government will provide a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) through July 31, 2020.  This compensation is $600 per week for any worker eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation benefits. The FPUC would be paid in addition to and at the same time as regular state or federal unemployment benefits. States have the option of providing the entire amount in one payment or sending the extra portion separately, but it must all be done on the same weekly basis.

Mortgages and Foreclosure Actions

Starting March 18, 2020, most mortgages are prohibited from foreclosure actions for 60 days for borrowers who request it and can demonstrate a COVID-19 related hardship.

Eviction Proceedings

Landlords are subject to a 120-day moratorium on filing eviction proceedings for the non-payment of rent.  Unpaid rent will continue to accrue, but landlords may not charge fees or assess fines.

BUSINESS PROVISIONS

Payroll Tax Deferral, Reduction, and Credits

Employers are eligible for a 50 percent refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid up to $10,000 during the crisis. It would be available to employers whose businesses were disrupted due to virus-related shutdowns and firms experiencing a decrease in gross receipts of 50 percent or more when compared to the same quarter last year. The credit is available for employees retained but not currently working due to the crisis for firms with more than 100 employees, and for all employee wages for firms with 100 or fewer employees.

Employer-side Social Security payroll tax payments may be delayed until January 1, 2021, with 50 percent owed on December 31, 2021, and the other half owed on December 31, 2022. 

Paycheck Protection Program

This program administered through the Small Business Administration is meant to help small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) impacted by the pandemic and economic downturn to make payroll and cover other expenses from February 15 to June 30. Notably, small businesses may take out loans up to $10 million—limited to a formula tied to payroll costs—and can cover employees making up to $100,000 per year. Loans may be forgiven if a company uses the loan for payroll, interest payments on mortgages, rent, and utilities and would be reduced proportionally by any reduction in employees retained compared to the prior year and a 25 percent or greater reduction in employee compensation.

Other parts of the wide-sweeping funding bill include:

  • $150 billion for local governments for expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency
  • $8.8 billion in additional funding for Child Nutrition Programs in order to ensure children receive meals while school is not in session
  • $450 million in assistance for banks so they can continue to assist those Americans most in need
  • $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund for states, school districts and institutions of higher education for costs related to coronavirus
  • $4.3 billion to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus, including the purchase of personal protective equipment; laboratory testing to detect positive cases; contact tracing to identify additional cases, and infection control and mitigation at the local level to prevent the spread of the virus
  • $2 billion in direct allocation to state and local Community Development Block Grants that must be allocated within 30 days of enactment of the bill

Who Really Cares?

Because of its size and scope, the CARES Act will likely make an historic, indelible mark upon the US economy and the hundreds of millions of Americans who both power and rely upon that economy. As such, investors should be educated about the highlights of the CARES Act and how it will affect them.

Additionally, as faith-based investors we should remind ourselves that although $2.2 trillion dollars is a staggering amount of money, our hope and trust is not in government stimulus but in the one true God who is sovereign over governments, and who is infinitely more great, powerful and yes, even more caring than the CARES Act.

These are unprecedented times full of uncertainty and trials of many kinds. There are many real reasons to fear and one can hardly be faulted for feeling afraid amidst the swirl of global pandemic. But for anyone finding themselves under a cloud of anxiety, the Bible reminds us to “cast all your anxieties upon Him for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And when you find yourself worrying about your earthly treasure, Jesus offers a peace that passes all understanding, and an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:4-7).

Jesus cares for you. No matter what.

Trust in Him. No matter what.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/27/house-passes-2-trillion-coronavirus-stimulus-bill-sends-it-to-trump.html

To Do List Image

Bear Market “To Do” List – P.E.A.C.E.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

As a follow-up to my piece, Troubles, a few weeks ago, I offer you some of my further thoughts on navigating the current market environment as a biblically responsible investor.

From an economic perspective, the Coronavirus pandemic is both a demand-shock and a supply-shock. So, as opposed to a significant hurricane or blizzard or even the 9/11 terrorist attack, this exogenous event may not simply push back economic activity, but rather may actually destroy it. Therefore, it is highly likely we have already entered a recession. Monetary and fiscal stimulus are critical components for an economic recovery. They must be done. However, in and of themselves, these economic policy levers are not enough. The new health concerns that have emerged must be addressed over the coming months, into the next flu season, and for years thereafter. Further, consumer and business confidence must be restored. This will simply take time and there are no short-cuts around it. Lastly, while we all long for a return to “normal,” it is likely that when we do emerge from this crisis (and we will!), life and the economy will be different than it was before. Specifically, our day-to-day lives and the economic environment will be changed in terms of travel, social interaction, entertainment, health care, the social safety net, politics, globalization, etc.

As we face these challenges, we must remember that it is buried very deep within our human nature to want to take action in the face of adversity. Especially in times like these, our natural behavioral instincts (incl. survival and herding) activate into high gear and we rally under the banner of “Don’t just sit there—do something!” Against that instinct, however, the Bible gives us the challenging guidance to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It is almost as if our command as believers is counterintuitively to “Don’t just do something—sit there!”

In our hearts, we know that this is wise instruction, but it is a tough pill to swallow as the stock market plunges. Fortunately, most investment experts wisely support this concept of prudence by advocating a mindset of calmness, resolution, and perspective. However, many times their advice is offered as a “To Don’t List,” e.g., “Don’t panic!” “Don’t sell!” “Don’t abandon your plan!” “Don’t capitulate!” or “Don’t liquidate!” All these are wise guidelines, but they go against our very strong human reflex to actually do something!

Therefore, in contrast to a “To Don’t List,” I share with you a list of proactive actions that can be taken by investors right now. This is based on my 35 years of investment experience, but equally on my 45 years of being a follower of Jesus Christ. This Bear Market “To Do List” is called “P.E.A.C.E.”

P.E.A.C.E.

Pray: Before anything else, let’s be sure to pray. Let’s be on our knees crying out to God for healing, comfort, and provision for those who have been affected by the Coronavirus. Let’s pray and fast in support of the global forces of human ingenuity, science, and wisdom being brought to bear against this modern-day pestilence. Lastly, let’s pray that through this adversity, many will come into a personal relationship with God. Praying is something we can “do.”

Engage: Engagement is something that we can definitely do in this environment. Even if they are not afflicted by the Coronavirus, so many around us have been impacted adversely. Within the proper protocols of “social distancing,” let’s engage with our family, friends, and community who need our assistance—neighbors who need to be checked on, seniors who need some shopping done, or maybe some health-care or emergency-services workers who need help with their out-of-school children. Let’s look for ways to support local businesses and their employees who are suffering dramatic downturns in their revenues. How can we support those in our communities who are most economically vulnerable? Engage is something we all can “do.”

Assistance: Unfortunately, economic downturns often lead to a significant decline in charitable giving—just when the needs are at their greatest. Therefore, something that we can “do” is to maintain, if not even increase, our donations to our church, community organizations, medical-research charities, etc. They need it now more than ever. Assistance is something we all can “do.”

Cash: In all market environments, bull and bear, one essential thing that investors must “do” is ensure that they hold an adequate amount of cash. This cushion mitigates the risk of having to “sell into a hole” during a market downturn when money is needed to cover expenses. Most financial planning experts recommend that anywhere from 6 to 24 months of living expenses be held in safe, low-yielding cash, savings, or money market accounts. If an investor does not currently have that amount of money set aside, then now is the time to do it, even though the market has sold off so dramatically. However, even in such a volatile market environment, investors should be cautious about holding too much cash, especially with current interest rates so low. Remember that at 0.25% per year, an investor is on course to double her money in 288 years! Having the right amount of cash—not too little, but not too much—that is another thing that investors can “do” in this market environment.

Ease into the stock market: In these trying times, our “fight or flight” instincts are particularly pronounced. So while many investors are grappling with their “flight” impulses, others are engaging with their desire to “fight,” i.e., buy at these significantly depressed levels. Sometimes this is likened to trying to catch a falling knife. From our perspective, the stock market’s downside risk is still substantial. However, at -30% from the all-time high and with valuations much more attractive now, we believe that we are likely closer to the bottom than the top. Further, being a provider of investment capital in such dire times also meets a higher, noble purpose. Therefore, what investors can “do” if they have cash ready to be deployed is start easing into the market. A “dollar cost averaging” (DCA) strategy is a good method to minimize the emotional toils of a turbulent market by committing to invest a set dollar amount on a predetermined schedule, come what may. For those investors who are already fully invested, there is still something that they can “do,” namely rebalance. In rebalancing, investors make adjustments to their portfolio at the margin to bring it back to its target percentage allocations. In other words, trimming down (not selling out completely) some of those investments in asset categories that have done relatively well (e.g., bonds) and redeploying the proceeds into asset categories that have done relatively poorly (e.g., stocks). These are some prudent things that investors can “do” to ease into the stock market in the face of the sell-off.

In conclusion, I urge you to keep the faith as you grapple with your “To Don’t” and “To Do” lists under these stressful conditions. It affects all of us! Even Paul wrote, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15)!

And when grip of fear tightens, just remember the promise we have received:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:28-29

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Where Is God When Stock Markets Crash?

This past Monday, March 9th, 2020, the stock market had its biggest percentage-point drop since the Financial Crisis of 2008, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 7.79% in just one day. In nominal terms, that is a loss of 2,014 points, the Dow’s biggest point drop ever. (Source: Wikipedia)

Furthermore, this historic one-day wipeout of stock market value came on the heels of losses greater than 10% over the previous two weeks, sending markets perilously close to official “bear market” territory, defined as a decline of 20% or more from a previous high.

This kind of market activity has many investors on edge, in a panic, as they recall painful experiences from previous market melt-downs in 2008, 2001 and 1987. And maybe 1933? Is anyone still out there?

But as Christian investors, what should our response be? As a people who have supposedly placed our faith and trust in God, we should be at rest knowing that God is good, He is in control, and we can trust Him- shouldn’t we? Yet we can be just as susceptible to panic and fear as the next investor on the street.

It is precisely at times like these that we need to remind ourselves, from the truth of Scripture, where God is when stock markets (and other things in life) come crashing down.

GOD IS OUR FORTRESS

When we find ourselves infected with fear and panic, Psalm 46 is a strong dose of good medicine,

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  Selah
 (v. 1-3)

God indeed is our refuge and strength! He protects us, and He also strengthens us. In Him we need no other defense, and in Him the weak are made strong. Are you feeling exposed to danger? God is your refuge. Are you feeling helpless and weak? God is your strength.

REJOICE IN THE RIVER OF LIFE

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah
 (v. 4-7)

There is a river that makes glad the city of God, the River of Life which runs down from the throne of the Most High. Have you tasted of that River of Life through faith in Jesus Christ? If so, then rejoice and be glad! Your eternal soul is being kept by Him, and you have a portion in the “holy habitation of the Most High.” Nations rage and kingdoms will totter, but the Lord of hosts is with you. The God of Jacob is your fortress.

BEHOLD THE WORKS OF THE LORD

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah
 (v. 8-11)

Look upon the works of the Lord, and remind yourself of His might and power! He alone has the power over desolations and wars, weapons and warriors. Know that He is a sovereign God, and let that knowledge bring you peace. God will be exalted over all the earth! The Lord is with you, and He is your fortress!

Your investment account may lose value—maybe even a lot of value in times like these. But remember who He is who allows it to happen, who is in control of the ups and downs of the market and your portfolio. Do not put your trust in the provision, but put your trust in the Provider. God does not promise to take care of your investment portfolio, but He does promise to take care of you. And that is really all we need to know.

Market Troubles

Trouble

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

While the Bible does not speak specifically about Coronavirus outbreaks or stock market plunges, it certainly does speak about plagues and pestilence, as well as periods of adversity and trouble. So, with that in mind here are some thoughts on the recent stock market sell-off from the vantage points of investment history, behavioral finance, and biblical wisdom.

In my many decades of investment experience, I have seen my fair share of market turbulence and even many “crashes”. During my career, there have been all matter of reasons to spark stock market sell-offs, however, this is the first time in my experience that a pandemic scare has been the catalyst for a significant stock market plunge. Yes, in the past, investors have expressed worries about health-related issues (Ebola, SARS, etc.), but nothing medical that I can remember has had the sort of impact that we are currently seeing. Not being a medical expert (although I am a “doctor”!), from my limited perspective, it seems that the pandemic concerns have legitimacy and therefore the potential to cause significant human and economic damage. While we may have some feelings of despair in the face of this challenge, as Christians, we can pray with confidence to God that the coordinated global forces of human ingenuity being brought to bear on this calamity will prevail. Even with that envisioned success, however, going forward, this new type of risk, global health, will now be a top-of-mind concern for investors for years to come.

While, most importantly, caring for and praying for those who have been afflicted (“Weeping with those who weep” – Romans 12:15), prudent investors nevertheless do need to consider the market implications of this medical emergency.  Stock market corrections (generally viewed by investors as the S&P 500 being down -10% from the prior high) are very common, coming on average every 11 months. Bear markets (generally viewed by investors as the S&P 500 being down -20% from the prior high) are less frequent, but still have visited investors on average every 44 months. With that context, it is important to remember that this 11-year bull market has been the longest in the history of the US stock market. That combined with recent all-time stock market highs, stretched valuations, record low bond yields, anemic economic growth, polarized political environment, and weak earnings growth, the probability of entering a bear market is material.

However, just because there is a heightened risk of a bear market does not mean that investors should reflexively “bail out.” Biblical wisdom certainly supports keeping one’s cool in the midst of adversity: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Further, while not directly addressing investment timing decisions, the Bible has many admonitions about making predictions and attempting to know the time and place of events.

Additionally, the evidence of financial history demonstrates that a strategy of “timing” the market by getting out when the market appears to be trending down and then attempting to adroitly get back in when the markets appear to have bottomed is fraught with risk, not the least of which is the necessity of being “right” twice. Additionally, research studies from Dalbar indicate that while the historical annualized return of the stock market (S&P 500) over the past 30 years (ending 12/31/18) is 10.0%, the average mutual fund stock investor return during the same time period has been just 4.1%. The biggest contributor to that underperformance differential was investors’ failed efforts to “time” the market, oftentimes being sucked into the market’s euphoria near market tops and “buying high,” while subsequently succumbing to despondency near market bottoms and “selling low.”

So, what is a biblically responsible investor to do in these circumstances? If an investor has a longer term (> 5 years) financial goal(s), then continuing to have a meaningful level of one’s asset allocation in the stock market is a prudent strategy despite the current market turmoil. In fact, further stock market weakness would likely be an opportunity to deploy more money into equities, i.e., buying low when stocks are on “sale.” Further, investors should consider the current market dislocations as an opportunity to “rebalance” their portfolios by trimming down slightly those assets which have performed better (e.g., bonds), and redeploying those proceeds into the recently beaten down asset sectors (e.g., domestic and international stocks, as well as commodities). Lastly, and most importantly, biblically minded investors should strive to keep these heartfelt concerns of life in their eternal perspective, including John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Sources: Standard & Poor’s, Inspire Investing, and 2019 Dalbar Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior (2019)​

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Heart and piggy bank

Matters of the Heart

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Luke 12:34

The keynote address of every graduation ceremony that I have ever attended can be generally summarized as “Follow your heart!”. This message is certainly wise and insightful council for the young graduates as well as for their family and friends in attendance. For example, when considering a vocational path, “follow your heart” makes good sense as you don’t want to be stuck in an unfulfilling career path. Likewise, when making decisions about educational, geographical, avocational, relational, and many other questions, it seems reasonable to follow one’s heart. However, when it comes to financial matters, “follow your heart” may not be the most prudent course. In fact, when it comes to things financial, a good rule might be to “listen to your heart” and then do the opposite!

The Bible contains hundreds of references to the heart. Interestingly, however, rather than being a source of direction, the Bible often times speaks of the heart itself needing to be directed and turned. Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 both describe how the heart goes to where one’s treasure is kept. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 asks that the Lord may “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” Further, Luke 1:17 describes “the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just”. While there is no question of the importance the Bible places on matters of the heart, the heart itself might not be the best source of direction as it is in need of its own guidance. In fact, Jeremiah 17:9 cautions that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”. Therefore, simply choosing to “follow your heart” might not be the wisest path.

Investors often rely on their heart as a source of direction for their decisions. They have a good “feeling” about the market or a specific stock. Or their “gut” may make them wary about the investment environment. Investors often panic when the stock market falls and become euphoric when stocks soar. However, historical evidence shows that investors’ sentiment is a very poor indicator of future market performance. In fact, many have come to view investor sentiment as a contrarian indicator for the market. The longest running (since 1987), most frequent (weekly) measure of investor sentiment comes from the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII). A 2013 report by AAII about its own sentiment survey concluded that “extraordinarily low levels of optimism have consistently preceded larger-than-average six- and 12-month gains in the S&P 500”. In the study of Behavioral Finance, this is a classic investor decision-making error as following one’s heart is a recipe for disaster when it comes to investing.

So, in summary, purposely direct your heart to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. Follow it in those areas of life where it makes sense to do so. However, when it comes to investing . . . don’t listen to your heart!


 
Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Inspire CEO Answers A Reader’s Questions About Biblically Responsible Investing

The Christian Post recently published my article “Financial Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice“, which deals with the idea that God cares about the morality of the source of the money that we give back to Him as an offering, as taught in scriptures such as Deuteronomy 23:18, and the implications for investors regarding the profits we earn from our investment choices.

In reply to this article, one reader posted a comment under the name “Christian Commenter” and expressed some thoughtful questions that I have found to be very commonplace among believers when first presented with the scriptural teaching around investment stewardship and biblically responsible investing (BRI). I know there are more Christian investors out there with these same questions, so I thought it might be helpful and informative for others who are just starting to explore God’s call to holiness in the area of finances and investing to share this conversation.

Following are “Christian Commenter’s” questions and my own responses. I pray these thoughts help you catch the vision and join the BRI movement along with our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe who are investing billions of dollars of God’s money for God’s glory and their joy in the biblically responsible investing movement.


“Christian Commenter”: While I agree with some aspects of this article, I continued to read with the following question in my mind: What connection does the author have to this topic? Finally, at the end, we see that the author is the CEO of a company that would benefit directly from what he is proposing. That is self-serving and becomes a written advertisement for his company’s services under the guise of a Biblical mandate.

Robert’s Answer: Yes, I certainly have a conflict of interest as I run a biblically responsible investing (BRI) company, and as you mentioned I am not trying to hide that fact in any way. However, I got my start in this industry at Wells Fargo Private Client Services with a rather cushy job serving high net worth families and was completely oblivious to the concept of BRI. It was only after the Lord hit me with a “road to Damascus” moment that I began investing completely according to BRI guidelines – at much personal cost and risk, I might add, as it required me to leave my position and all my income and job security without much to go on but a clear calling and conviction from the Holy Spirit. (You can read about my story here if you want to learn more about my journey). 

I would also add that just because I have a conflict of interest does not mean that the biblical teaching I am sharing is incorrect. Pastors preach the biblical mandate to give money to the work of God, which is clearly a conflict of interest as it benefits them directly, but that pastor is fulfilling his duty to preach faithfully the word of God and the Bible does in fact command us to give joyfully to the church. I would encourage you to examine the scriptures I mention for yourself in relation to investment stewardship and decide if what I am saying has any merit, despite any conflict of interest I might have.

“Christian Commenter”: Beyond that, though, let’s continue with the author’s reasoning and ask him this question: If it is wrong to invest in companies that hold to anti-Christian views, isn’t it just as wrong to work for those companies? Shouldn’t Christians be told not to work for them as well because their wages would be the same as the profits from investments?

Robert’s Answer: Great question! And the answer is “sometimes”. 

Should a Christian invest in a chain of strip clubs? Certainly not. 

Should a Christian work at a strip club? Certainly not. 

Should a Christian invest in an abortion drug manufacturing company? Certainly not. 

Should a Christian work at developing and manufacturing abortion drugs? Certainly not. 

I would hope there is no disagreement on these points. However, what about a more nuanced situation, like should a Christian work in the accounting department at Netflix, even though they sell a lot of pornographic movies? I believe there is no clear scriptural mandate that would prohibit a believer from working there, as long as their work was not directly related to the production or promotion of the “adult entertainment” that is widely available on that streaming service. (For the scriptural basis of this position, please read my discussion below of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10).

But should a Christian invest in Netflix? Certainly not, because as an investor you are profiting from all of the activities that company is involved with, both good and bad, family friendly and “adult entertainment”, as opposed to an employee who is paid based on a limited scope and responsibility within the company related to their specific job. So, in the case of most businesses, Christians are free to work at those companies so long as their work on the products and services are not entering biblically immoral territory.

“Christian Commenter”: And, if it is wrong to invest in and work for those companies, isn’t it also wrong to purchase those products or services as well since Christians would be using their money to benefit ungodly positions? I’m interested in hearing the author’s position, or anyone else’s, concerning these questions.

Robert’s Answer: As mentioned above, it is not wrong to work at a company as long as your position does not directly involve you in biblically immoral activities. Likewise, Christians are free to be customers of companies such as Netflix, so long as the products and services they are purchasing are not immoral. Keeping with the Netflix example, Christians are free to be paying customers of their movie streaming service if they limit their viewing to good, family friendly content, including the many faith-based Christian films and shows on Netflix, but if they are streaming pornographic content, then clearly they are in the wrong.

In contrast, as an investor you cannot tell Netflix to only send you profits from the good movies and not the bad ones. So if you are an investor in Netflix, you make yourself an accomplice who is sharing in the profits of ungodly, sinful movies that lead people into sin and ensnare them in a wicked bondage to lust and adultery. The Bible clearly condemns profiting from immorality (see Deuteronomy 23:18, Proverbs 16:8 and other scriptures I referenced in the original article), which makes investment in such companies a no-fly zone for Christians.

The Bible Says

A good scriptural framework for this conversation is found in Romans chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10, where Paul discusses the topic of food sacrificed to idols. Paul makes the point in these chapters that believers are free to purchase and eat the meat sold in the marketplace, even thought it was derived from idol sacrifice, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). But at the same time, he denounces idol worship, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21), with the obvious implication that those who are responsible for actually sacrificing the meat to the idol and selling it in the market are involved in a sinful act of idolatry.

Similarly, Christians have liberty to be customers of businesses with murky aspects to them, as long as what they are purchasing does not involve them directly in biblical immorality (as in the case of adult entertainment, abortion, or other inherently sinful products and services). Likewise, it is problematic for a believer to invest in a company that sells immoral products because they are no longer the innocent consumer, but a guilty producer and profiteer of immorality.

Caveat Of Conscience

One additional caveat that Paul addresses in this regard is the issue of personal conscience. He states that even though Christians are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he acknowledges that some believers “through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (1 Cor. 8:7). For these believers, eating that meat would be a sin, as Paul states in Romans,  “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

With this in mind, we should remember that for various reasons God may place a conviction upon a believer’s conscience that should govern their personal behavior, though that conviction would not extend to all believers in the way that a biblical command would.

For example, a Christian who has a personal history with alcoholism or with alcoholism in their family tree may have a strong conviction not to drink alcohol. They also might have a conviction that they could never work as a waiter who serves alcohol or be employed at a winery, brewery or distillery, or could never invest in a company that derives any revenue from alcohol sales.

That Christian should abide by those convictions, but also acknowledge that their personal convictions do not apply to all believers. And more to Paul’s primary point in the Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 passages, we believers who do not have such convictions should still be mindful of our “weaker” (Paul’s word, not mine) brothers and sisters who do have those convictions and should refrain from any activity that might cause them to stumble on their own personal convictions of conscience, even though we are free. We should never express our Christian liberty in a way that causes others to stumble, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9).

Love Above All

It is for this precise reason that at Inspire we exclude alcohol (for instance) from our portfolios. Personally, I have no problem drinking a beer or a glass of wine or investing money into a winery or craft brewery or something of the sort. However, I know that some of my brothers and sisters for personal reasons mentioned above do not want anything to do with the alcohol industry, and so we remove alcohol from our portfolios, among other things.

But while alcohol is an example of an industry that Christians can be free to invest in, the same cannot be said for other industries which are inherently sinful, such as abortion or pornography. Those areas are not up to individual conscience but rather are expressly prohibited as immoral in God’s word, and as such all believers should take care not to profit from or otherwise be involved with them.

The teaching of the Bible is rich, deep and clear in regard to the expectations God has for believers as stewards of His investment assets. At the same time, much of the depth in that scriptural teaching is aimed at fleshing out the nuance between God’s command and personal conscience. This complexity should not be cause for us to freeze up and disengage, but rather serve as an invitation to lean into God’s truth and learn more of His character, His glory and His plans for your joy as you seek to honor Him in all you do, including how you invest His money. As Paul himself concludes his treatment of this discussion, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).