The Mormon Church's secretive $100 billion fund slashed its Exxon, Marriott, and Wells Fargo stakes last quarter

Market Insider/May 16, 2020

Theron Mohamed

The Mormon Church's secretive $100 billion investment fund slashed its stakes in Exxon Mobil, Wells Fargo, and Marriott International in the first quarter, according to a SEC filing released this week.

Ensign Peak Advisors, the investing arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reported a 21% plunge in the value of its stock portfolio to just below $30 billion. The decline reflected the painful impact of the coronavirus pandemic on share prices, plus the fund trimmed some positions and slightly reduced its total number of holdings to around 1,620.

Ensign's big moves included cutting its Exxon stake by 44%, its Wells Fargo position by 30%, and its Marriott holding by 26%. The fund's managers may have wanted to cut their exposure to the coronavirus crisis, which has hit energy and hotel companies especially hard, and spurred banks to set aside billions in anticipation of a surge in defaults.

The fund counted all three stocks among its top 50 holdings by market value at the end of December. The share sales, combined with the trio's stock prices slumping more than 40% in the first quarter, meant the three positions' combined value shrunk by nearly two-thirds to below $280 million.

Ensign declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on individual holdings.

Notably, Ensign may have capitalized on the market meltdown to bolster some of its biggest holdings at a discount.

During the quarter, it added to 13 of its top 20 positions by market value at the end of December. For example, it boosted its Microsoft position by 159,000 shares and added more than 600,000 JPMorgan shares.

Ensign made many other tweaks to its portfolio. For instance, it more than quadrupled its stake in Zoom Video Communications, added small stakes in Tiffany & Co and Planet Fitness, and exited its Slack and Box positions.

The church fund, which is more than 50 years old, avoids investing in businesses that Mormons find objectionable.

Tobacco titan Philip Morris, gambling giant Caesars Entertainment, and caffeine-sellers Starbucks and Coca-Cola are just a few examples of stocks it avoids.

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