LDS Church sees its billions grow even as it dumps stocks worth millions

Value of its main investment fund now tops $49B, with $3B in Apple.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church Office Building, shown in 2022, in downtown Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' main reserve fund is now valued at more than $49 billion.

The public’s latest glimpse at a key portion of the vast wealth held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows its main investment fund stands at about $49.3 billion, including a stake in Apple now topping $3 billion alone.

New disclosures from the Utah-based faith to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also reveal the huge account of stocks and mutual funds managed by Ensign Peak Advisors has built back nearly $9 billion lost over the first part of 2022 as the war in Ukraine and rising interest rates nose-dived markets.

The latest 8.3% gain for the church portfolio — including stock price fluctuations as well as dividends — closely matched the 8.7% increase posted by the S&P 500 index for the second quarter. That follows a 5.1% gain for Ensign Peak in the first quarter, including dividends, which underperformed the S&P 500′s return of 7.5%.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Under SEC rules, Ensign Peak, the church’s Salt Lake City-based investment arm, must disclose large holdings in U.S.-listed stocks it manages directly.

A separate analysis based on public documents indicates the $49 billion represents only part of church holdings managed by the Salt Lake City firm. Those holdings are worth at least $163 billion, including additional international shares as well as bonds, hybrid investments, real estate and major stakes in private equity.

A website called The Widow’s Mite Report — built by unnamed current and former church members with professional backgrounds in business, finance, investing, accounting, data science, education and other fields — says the public portion of Ensign Peak packs total investments up to $185 billion or more.

The site estimates that at current rates of return, the church’s overall financial holdings could be worth $1 trillion by 2044.

A new analysis by Widow’s Mite, based on data from Bloomberg, indicates Ensign Peak has been a net seller of U.S. stocks thus far in 2023, shedding around $500 million in each of the first two quarters.

The publicly disclosed chunk of investments held in Ensign Peak reached a two-year high of $52.3 billion in value by the end of 2021, before the conflict in Europe and a series of U.S. interest rate hikes shook up markets.

The account’s value slid to $40.3 billion as of last September after shedding billions over three consecutive quarters before regaining ground.

And as the portfolio’s total value has built back since, so have some of its largest stakes in popular U.S. stocks.

Ensign Peak now holds $3.1 billion in shares of technology giant Apple, its first stake above the $3 billion mark since the church-owned investment firm began disclosing its quarterly holdings to the SEC in early 2020.

Other billion-dollar holdings include $2.7 billion in Microsoft; $1.5 billion in two types of shares in Alphabet, parent company of Google; and more than $1.2 billion each in Amazon and in software maker Nvidia. Its stake in Meta Platforms, parent company to Facebook, is close behind at $970.8 million.

Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook now make up just shy of 20% of Ensign Peak’s total reportable portfolio, at a total of $9.7 billion.

The new SEC filings also show Ensign Peak held 1,761 separate stocks, mutual funds and other investments at the end of the second quarter, down from as many as 2,210 positions at the start of 2022.

Ensign Peak’s largest nontech holdings included $983 million in UnitedHealth Group; $783.8 million in Mastercard and $756.6 in Exxon Mobil.

In February, the worldwide church of 17 million members 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 federal authorities said were intended to hide those investments and church control over them.

Latter-day Saint leaders have described the Ensign Peak fund as a “rainy day” account meant to buffer the global faith from economic downturns and to help pay for its ministerial, philanthropic, educational and missionary works around the world.