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What Would Jesus Buy?

Reported by Judy - January 16, 2006

Where would Jesus invest? It is not a question that often comes up among Wall Street types, but Neil Cavuto raised it on "Cavuto on Business" on Saturday (January 14, 2006). Some of the answers displayed an appalling lack of ethics.

Leigh Gallagher, editor of Smart Money Magazine, appeared on the show to discuss the phenomenon of religious-driven investing, specifically by right-wing groups who oppose abortion, gay rights, and other aspects of modern society.

Gallagher listed several investment funds, such as The Timothy Plan, Catholic Funds, and Ave Maria, as among those that refuse to invest in companies that offer domestic partner benefits or that sell the morning after pill. While their returns may be better than the average of the Standard and Poors, they fall short of the returns earned by other investment funds without such investing restrictions, she said. Gallagher called it "investing with one arm tied behind your back."

Gregg Hymowitz, of Entrust Capital, was neutral on the idea. "Look, you can do whatever you want with your own money," he said, adding later, "I don't think it's necessarily an evil thing for people to do that with their own money."

Most of the regulars on the show, however, panned the idea. If you limit the companies you are willing to invest in, you limit the amount of money you will make, warned Bob Froehlich, author of Investment Megatrends. If an investor shuns Johnson and Johnson because it markets the morning-after pill, does the investor also avoid Dell because it sells computers to Johnson and Johnson, or Staples because it furnishes them office supplies, he said. "Where do you stop?" asked Froehlich.

Jim Rogers, author of Hot Commodities, suggested such restrictions get in the way of charity. "The more money you make, the more you can give to the church," he said. And, he added, who is to decide which companies to avoid, noting that some say alcohol consumption is immoral, even as new studies show the health benefits of drinking wine (which are also available from simply drinking grape juice).

Stuart Varney suggested only one restriction: "Tobacco, I would draw that line" and not invest in companies that sell tobacco products.

As someone who boycotted grapes for Cesar Chavez and only buys American cars, I am not going to criticize those conservatives who are willing to sacrifice economic return for their principles. They have a right to do it, even if I dislike their politics. What I have a problem with is Rogers' suggestion that people try to make all the money they want, from whatever company they want, and then salve their consciences by giving the money to charitable causes. Sounds like the roots of fascism to me.

If investors should not, as Cavuto put it, "bring moral or religious scrupples to the market place," what good are moral or religious scrupples? If I criticize Wal-Mart's business ethics, isn't it hypocritical to shop there because I can save a few pennies on a 12-pack of soda? As a union member, should I cross a picket line during a strike at my favorite grocery store because it would be inconvenient to go elsewhere?

Sometimes you need to have the courage of your convictions -- even if it costs you money.

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