LDS Church’s huge stock portfolio swells to a 4-year high

Ensign Peak Advisors holds billions in Big Tech.

An already huge portfolio of investments belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has jumped in value to reach a four-year high.

New disclosures to federal regulators by the global faith’s Salt Lake City-based investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors, show its holdings in stocks, mutual funds and other investments popped to $54.7 billion as of late March.

With that three-month gain of $4.2 billion, Ensign Peak now holds the most it has since it began disclosing its investments to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, revealing an overall value of $37.8 billion at the end of 2019.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The latest peak tops a previous high of $52.3 billion in late 2021 and represents a staggering increase of nearly $25 billion since the account hit a pandemic-related low in early 2020, at $29.8 billion.

Six stocks in the portfolio — all of them technology giants — are now over $1 billion in value, with holdings in Apple and Nvidia each exceeding $2 billion and shares in Microsoft at $3.4 billion.

A keyhole to the church’s wealth

Ensign Peak represents only the Utah-based faith’s direct ownership of U.S. stocks and mutual funds exceeding a regulatory threshold of $100 million.

Though the wealth-management firm was founded in 1997, its size has only come to light via SEC filings since late 2019 after an IRS whistleblower alleged that Ensign Peak’s holdings had reached upward of $100 billion.

Analysis of church finances by The Widow’s Mite website, based on public data and computer modeling, pegs the church’s total estimated wealth — including its formidable real estate holdings worldwide — at about $265 billion as of 2023.

The church’s investment income, according to Widow’s Mite, now exceeds its income from members’ tithing and all other donations.

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

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

In February 2023, the church of 17.2 million members and Ensign Peak agreed in an SEC settlement to pay a total of $5 million in penalties for failing to disclose past holdings and for creating shell companies that federal regulators said were intended to hide those investments and church control over them.

Subsequent analysis by Widow’s Mite indicates Ensign Peak may have failed to comply with other SEC reporting requirements while it was operating those shell companies between 2002 and 2019.

Tracking the markets

Ensign Peak held $50.5 billion as last year closed, according SEC filings, and grew to its latest record as overall markets rose for the quarter.

Though Ensign Peak tends to mirror the mix of stocks in the S&P 500, it was up 8.4% for the first three months of 2024, behind that index’s 10.8% gain.

Widow’s Mite analysis puts Ensign Peak as a net seller of U.S. stocks through much of last year, shedding nearly $1.75 billion of its holdings.

Its SEC reports show a total of 1,725 different investments for this latest quarter in 2024, winnowed from 2,308 in mid-2022.

Along with shares in well-known blue chip, midcap and smaller stocks across sectors, the account includes sizable investments in mutual, index and sector-targeted funds; real estate investment trusts; hedge funds; and a host of foreign companies held through U.S. depository receipts.

Its shares in Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook reached a combined value of $11.3 billion through March, accounting for more than 20% of Ensign Peaks’ total holdings.

Ensign Peak’s largest nontech holdings last quarter included $900.4 million in Mastercard; $881.2 million in UnitedHealth Group; and $771.6 million in JPMorgan Chase.

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