The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ prominent investment fund, which has become the subject of widespread public scrutiny, swelled to $46.2 billion in the first three months of 2023.
Monday’s report from Ensign Peak Advisors, the faith’s investment arm, to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows the Utah-based faith’s immense account of stocks and mutual funds shot up by $1.8 billion as of March 31, a 4.1% jump over its December levels.
The disclosure marked the second consecutive quarter of billion-dollar increases for the publicly reported portfolio after three straight quarterly declines.
Investments held in Ensign Peak climbed to a two-year high of $52.3 billion in value at the end of 2021, before rising interest rates, the Russian-Ukrainian war and market volatility sent returns tumbling. The account’s value slid to $40.3 billion as of last September before regaining ground.
The latest 4.1% gain in the first three months of 2023 fell short of the 7.5% leap posted by the S&P 500 index for the same quarter.
Ensign Peak is still $16.3 billion higher than the $29.9 billion it held in early 2020 after markets caved with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under SEC rules, Ensign Peak must disclose some investments such as U.S.-listed stocks. Thus, these public reports do not reflect the portfolio’s total holdings.
The new filing indicates the Ensign Peak portfolio held 1,772 separate stocks, mutual funds and other investments in the first quarter, winnowed by its managers from as many as 2,210 positions at the start of 2022.
The fund’s two largest holdings — in technology giants Apple and Microsoft — amount to $2.6 billion and $2.2 billion in value, respectively, the latest report indicates. The account also holds a total of $1.4 billion in two flavors of shares in Alphabet, parent company of Google.
Ensign Peak’s largest nontechnology holdings included UnitedHealth Group, at $999.9 million; $808 million in Exxon Mobil; and $710 million in Mastercard.
In February, the worldwide church and Ensign Peak agreed in an SEC settlement to pay a total of $5 million in penalties for failing to disclose the full scope of past holdings and for creating shell companies that authorities said were meant to obscure those investments and church control over them.
Monday’s government filing also comes as Ensign Peak is drawing even more attention after a “60 Minutes” episode broadcast Sunday on church finances.
A segment of the popular newsmagazine show, titled “The Church’s Firm,” featured former senior Ensign Peak portfolio-manager-turned-IRS-whistleblower David A. Nielsen and his allegations that the fund stockpiled upward of $100 billion in violation of its tax-exempt status.
“I thought I was going to work for a charity,” Nielsen said, adding that the funds instead “were never used for that. ... We just grew the bank account.”
Church officials called the broadcast “unfortunate” and labeled Nielsen’s assertions “unfounded allegations.”
Latter-day Saint leaders view the Ensign Peak fund as a “rainy day” account to buffer the global religion of 17 million members from economic downturns and to help pay for its ministerial, philanthropic, educational and missionary works around the world.
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