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Biblically responsible ETFs offer a new twist on value investing

A bible is placed on a bicycle saddle at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

Kim Kyung Hoon/REUTERS

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to create ETFs, and a time to redeem them." -Not Ecclesiastes 3:1

Northern Lights Distributors LLC, an institutional brokerage firm based in Warren Buffett's hometown of Omaha, is offering a novel way to pursue…well, values investing. Call them "Biblically Responsible" exchange-traded funds.

The Inspire Global Hope Large Cap ETF, symbol BLES, and Inspire Small/Mid Cap Impact ETF, which goes by ISMD, make their trading debuts on Tuesday, as first reported by The Inspire Core Bond Impact ETF is likely to launch in March, completing the trinity. The precise holdings of the funds haven't been determined yet.

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The holdings of these funds are determined by Inspire Investing's "Inspire Impact Score." The gauge evaluates securities based on what the firm sees as their "alignment with biblical values and the positive impact the company has on the world through various environmental, social and governance criterion."

The prospectus for the three ETFs filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission discusses some corporate behaviors or affiliations that would exclude a given security from the funds. The methodology removes any company that has any degree of participation in certain activities:

- abortion;

- gambling;

- alcohol;

- pornography;

- the LGBT lifestyle

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- rights violations such as association with or doing business in terrorist-sponsoring countries, countries having oppressive systems of government, and countries where there are known human rights violations related to the persecution or severe discrimination against Christians, and poor labor practices

Some previous attempts to give ETFs a religious wrapping paper, however, have proved underwhelming. In 2009, FaithShares Funds released a "religiously responsible product line" of ETFs, which were ultimately unable to attract many assets and closed in 2011. Meanwhile, the first U.S.-based ETF marketed toward Muslims -- ticker JVS, which sought to track the Dow Jones Islamic Market International Titans 100 Index -- lasted for less than 16 months before being liquidated in 2010.

"Lesson: People invest to make money," Bloomberg Intelligence ETF analyst Eric Balchunas wrote in his 2013 review of failed funds.

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About the Author
Investing reporter

Luke Kawa joined the Globe and Mail as an investing reporter in 2014. He is a graduate of St. John’s University with a B.S. in Economics. Previously, he was the editor of Business in Canada and a contributor to Maclean’s. He has also written for Business Insider’s Money Game and Clusterstock verticals. More


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