Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

More Mutual Funds Attract `Values' Investors

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

More Mutual Funds Attract `Values' Investors

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- The arguments still rage over the pros and cons of socially conscious investing, but more people than ever seem to be factoring political, ethical or religious values into their mutual- fund investment calculations.

It is often called "investing with a conscience" -- the practice of evaluating investments for the moral good or harm that is perceived to result from each stock or bond issuer's products and policies. But as the idea has spread and been adapted to new forms, a broader label would fit better. Since one person's virtue can often be another's anathema, let's adopt a deliberately unemotional term: Screening.

Screening has been in the news a lot lately. Advocates of the practice celebrate the performance of indexes like the Domini 400, a group of stocks selected through "multiple, broad-based social screens," according to the index's creator, the research firm of Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini & Co. in Boston. As of March 31, the firm reports, the Domini 400 boasted better performance than Standard & Poor's composite index of 500 stocks over the past quarter, the past year, the past three years and the past five years. In the past, numerous other studies have been used to support both sides in the debate over whether social screening helps or hurts in the pursuit of good investment results. Meanwhile, a related idea -- investing from the point of view of a religious faith -- has gained many new adherents. Last month, the Mennonite Mutual Aid Praxis fund group in Goshen, Ind., reported that the number of funds with a specific religious orientation had jumped from six in 1993 to 34 at last count. These include at least two Islamic funds, Amana Growth and Amana Income, as well as a wide variety of funds representing Roman Catholic, Lutheran and other Christian faiths. With a boost from the Internet, systems also are proliferating for measuring any diversified fund against a set of social or religious criteria. For example, Didax's Web site for Christians, crosswalk.com, has a filter for evaluating any fund's portfolio on issues such as family values and pornography, as well as alcohol, tobacco and gambling. …

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