Monday, December 29, 2008
Faith-based Fund of the Day: Muslims stay away from finance
In a dire year for mutual funds, the Amana Trust Income Fund, the main Muslim investment fund, has trumped those from all other faiths in the US by losing only 25.8 per cent of its value for the year – half the average 44 per cent loss for US stock funds.
What, you may wonder, is an Islamic investment fund?
Amana, which manages $1.2bn, does not buy stocks that make money from alcohol, gambling or speculation, pornography, pork processing or charging interest, ruling out almost all financial stocks, said Mr Kaiser.
The key to success here, if you call losing a quarter of your value a success, was avoiding financial stocks.
Of course avoiding stocks on the Muslim forbidden list doesn't leave much to choose from. The fund manager hardly knows what to buy next—
Mr Kaiser, an Anglican who is advised by a board of Islamic representatives, said more than half of all stocks were eliminated by using Islamic criteria. Taking into account his investment criteria, there are about 220 stocks on his recommended list, but he already owns most of them. “With all the inflows, we are all cashed up and there are only about 10 stocks left for us to buy right now,” he said.
You don't have to be Muslim to invest in the fund, and more than half of investors are non-Muslim. Money continues to pour in—better than $40 million last month.
Coming in second in the faith-based investment fund category was the Ave Maria Rising Dividend fund, which did not live up to its name. Perhaps it was their selection criteria—
The Ave Maria funds invest according to Catholic criteria, which includes avoiding companies that give employees same-sex partner benefits. Unlike most faith-based funds, Ave Maria does not avoid alcohol stocks because the Bible does not proscribe alcohol.
On the Protestant side, Trident Large Cap stock blend, the largest of the religious funds, lost almost 40% in value. It's a Lutheran fund.
I have to wonder if Bishop Wolfgang Huber, chairman of Germany’s evangelical church council, had a little nest egg involved. He seems awfully bitter. In an interview published on Christmas Eve he accused Josef Ackermann, CEO of Germany's biggest bank, of turning money-making into a form of idolatry—
Speaking to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, Bishop Huber argued that bankers had a duty to look beyond the short term and to ensure stability: “Never again should a Deutsche Bank chief executive set a profit goal of 25 per cent.” Such goals drove up profit expectations to unsustainable levels and amounted to “a form of idolatry”, he said. “In the current circumstances, money has become a god.”
The bishop highlighted a widespread view in Germany that the US had largely caused the financial market crisis by encouraging excessive borrowing. He said George W. Bush, US president, and Alan Greenspan, the former US Federal Reserve chairman, had “deluded” ordinary people.
Deluding ordinary people is an activity from which politicians, financiers and religionists all can profit. Normally they're willing to play nicely and share among themselves, but this year there has just not been enough to go around.