The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lost $3.1 billion on investments as U.S. stock markets swooned this year.
New reports filed with federal regulators put a massive church account managed by the faith’s investment arm, Salt Lake City-based Ensign Peak Advisors, at $49.2 billion for the first quarter, down 6% from the close of 2021, when the fund reached a two-year high of $52.3 billion.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 4.6% over the same three months amid investor jitters over inflation, rising interest rates and war in Ukraine.
The decline is the second largest quarterly decrease for Ensign Peak’s immense portfolio of stocks and bonds managed for the Utah-based church since a pandemic plunge of $8 billion in early 2020, which temporarily put the fund below $30 billion.
The account has gained $19.3 billion since then and is now nearly 64.8% ahead of its early-coronavirus low point, the latest report shows. In the only other quarter that Ensign Peak saw its value sag, the third quarter of 2021, it fell by $1.6 billion, or 3.2%.
The once-secretive fund started reporting to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in early 2020. Its first filings came months after a former Ensign Peak fund manager, David Nielsen, went to the IRS, accusing the church in a whistleblower complaint of amassing up to $100 billion in reserve funds from excess tithing meant for, but not spent, on charity.
Ecclesiastical leaders also have portrayed the Ensign Peak reserves as a “rainy day” account kept along with other investments to buffer the global faith of 16.8 million members from economic downturns and to help fund its operations around the world.
Ensign Peak’s first quarterly SEC report, filed in February 2020, revealed the fund held $37.8 billion, before dipping to $29.9 billion with the early 2020 pandemic downturn and then rebounding sharply, to $36.8 billion the following quarter.
The fund has diversified its portfolio significantly since then, expanding a list of investments from 1,622 different stocks, mutual funds and other holdings in late 2019 to spreading its money over 2,210 positions as of last quarter.
Still, more than half the account’s total value is held in 44 stocks and mutual funds — a mix heavy with blue-chip technology companies, financials, energy and health care stocks along with consumer retail favorites such as Procter & Gamble, Walmart and Home Depot.
It currently holds more than $2 billion apiece in two stocks: Apple, at $2.78 billion, and Microsoft, at $2.5 billion. Add in the fund’s current shares in Amazon, valued at $1.45 billion; in Google, at $1.8 billion; and in Facebook, at $760 million — and the technology giants make up $9.4 billion of Ensign Peak’s total portfolio, or about 19% of its overall value.
By comparison, those five stocks represented $5.5 billion of Ensign Peak’s holdings as of the last quarter of 2019, and about 14.5% of its total value. Top nontech holdings at Ensign are currently UnitedHealth Group, at $892 million; Johnson & Johnson, at $760 million; and JPMorgan Chase, at $652 million.
Its top mutual fund holding is an exchange-traded fund focused on companies featured in the broad-based Russell 2000 index, with a stake of $443 million. Ensign Peak also holds at least $3.2 billion in foreign stocks through a series of depository shares and receipts.
The latest portfolio includes at least $132 million in real estate investment trusts, which in turn typically own and operate income-producing real estate, ranging from residential and office buildings to swaths of industrial, agricultural and commercial lands.
A large database released in April revealed the LDS Church owns at least $16 billion in U.S. properties across the country, ranking the Utah-based faith among the nation’s top five private landholders.
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