Thursday, December 24, 2020

Follow the Profit: A New Way to Track LDS Church Stocks

When church members pay tithing, they have an expectation that the hard earned money they pay will be spent as the Lord has directed. These expectations are rooted in D&C 119:2, which gives us the scripturally-based purpose of tithing:

  1. "For the building of mine house [temples]
  2. and for the laying of the foundation of Zion [developing people who are of one heart, one mind and dwelling in righteousness with no poor among them]
  3. and for the priesthood
  4. and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church."

Here are some very basic questions about church finances:

Q: What is the church's income?
A: Today, the church receives as much as $7 billion in members' tithing each year. It is speculated that the church has over $100 billion in assets. [1]  

Q: How are tithes allocated?
A: Here's the church's own statement, dated May 22, 2018:

"The Church's Council on the Disposition of the Tithes is composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presiding Bishopric. Together, they establish and administer the specific policies and budgets guiding the use of Church resources (see D&C 120:1). Those policies embody the following principles:

  • Expenditures will not exceed forecasted revenue.
  • The budget for operating expenses will not increase at a more rapid rate than anticipated tithing contributions.

Budgets for the Church's efforts are specifically approved and funds are appropriated by the Church's Budget and Appropriations Committee, a subcommittee of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes."  [2]

Q: How are tithes audited?
A: Usually, large organizations hire outside accounting firms to audit their finances. However, the church has its own Audit Committee which does the job:

"Additionally, the Church Auditing Department, which is independent from all other Church departments, employs credentialed professionals to ensure that Church funds are administered and recorded in accordance with Church policies and standard accounting practices." [2]

Q: Do members get to see how the money is spent?
A:  Apparently so. The following is a transcript of an interview between Pres. Hinckley and a reporter (which can be viewed in its entirety here):

"REPORTER: In my country the...we say the people's churches, the Protestants, the Catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.
HINCKLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
REPORTER: Why is it impossible for your church?
HINCKLEY: Well, we simply think that the...that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world. That's the only thing. Yeah." [3]

This is interesting because the church published its last financial report in April, 1959.

Q: How is the money spent?
A: Here's The First Presidency:

"The vast majority of these funds are used immediately to meet the needs of the growing Church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work and missionary efforts throughout the world. All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church's divinely appointed mission." [4]

D&C 119:2 (As Amended)

So, the Church's divinely appointed mission now includes the development of high-rise office buildings, luxury shopping malls, planned communities and other real estate developments, several businesses, numerous radio and television stations, an insurance company, cattle ranches, farms, stocks and forged documents.

I won't go into detail regarding these various investments; other articles have done an exemplary job of that (for example, see here). In response, the church has admitted that it "also sets aside funds each year for future needs. These funds are added to Church reserves, which include stocks and bonds, taxable businesses, agricultural interests and commercial and residential property." These "Investments can be accessed in times of hardship or to meet the emerging needs of a growing, global faith in its mission to preach the gospel to all nations and prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ." [5]

The source if these funds? Again, church leaders disclosed, "the vast majority of its financial resources comes from the tithes and offerings of Church members." [2]

That means, by the church's own admission, your tithing money is spent on laying "up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt." [6]  Anyone paying these tithes is therefore complicit, to one degree or another, in these anti-scriptural endeavors.

I could write many, many posts regarding the incongruity between modern-day church expenditures and what the Lord originally intended in D&C 119:2. But today, I'd like to focus on just one portion of the church's assets: its stock portfolio.

The Definitive LDS Church Stocks Tracking Chart

For 22 years, Ensign Peak Advisors has managed the church's reserve investment fund.  For reasons the church declines to elaborate, [7] it never filed required government oversight paperwork until February 14, 2020 (although there is no evidence of intentional obfuscation, these are some pretty bright advisors who surely know the government expects these reports). 

These reports - filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - are here: https://www.sec.gov/cgi-bin/browse-edgar?action=getcompany&CIK=0001454984

There, you'll see four reports, each filed on a quarterly basis in 2020. What you can't see is how these stocks have been traded from quarter to quarter. What stocks has the church purchased or increased, decreased or eliminated? 

To see that, I have downloaded each of the four reports and converted them into spreadsheets. Then I imported all four spreadsheets into an Access database, using their CUSIP as a common index field. Then I gave each stock issuer (for example, Microsoft) its own row, with each quarter's investment amount in the subsequent columns. After quarters 2, 3 and 4, I also listed the ?, or the percentage change from quarter to quarter.

OK, enough of the technobabble. 

Click here to access my Ensign Peak Advisors Tracking Chart

This spreadsheet has five tabs: Master Data, Top 20 investments, Winners (which stocks have increased), Losers (which stocks have decreased) and Pharma.

Top 20 tab: As of November 12, 2020, the church invested over a billion dollars each in Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Both Apple and especially NVIDIA (a computer chip manufacturer) saw the church's stock purchases in them increase more than 20% between August and November, 2020.

Winners tab: between August and November 2020: Grocery Outlet, trucking company Schneider National, genetic testing company Natera then several pharmaceutical and therapeutics companies.

Losers tab: The church divested itself of over $79 million in stocks between August and November 2020. They're listed in the Losers tab.

Pharma tab: I list the 17 "COVID-19 RELATED" testing labs / vaccine developers which the church has invested in (red font; four of them are listed in the Top 20 tab). 72 other "CONFIRMED PHARMA" companies are listed in a blue font. Finally, 45 other Therapeutics companies are in a black font.

As you will see, the church is investing over $1.6 billion in tithed funds into COVID-19 testing or vaccine developers. Another $1.7 billion is invested in non-COVID-19 related pharmas, and just under $100 million in other therapeutics companies. All totaled, the church invests almost $3 billion, or 4% of its total portfolio, in these three sectors.

All spreadsheets will be updated on a quarterly basis as new SEC filings are submitted.

In a future post, I'll detail how the church is staunchly committed to vaccinations, including COVID-19 vaccinations. We'll examine the implications of this stance as it relates to these investments, the church's employees and members. 


"Furthermore, I want to say to you, we may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God." (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, Apr. 1907, p. 7)"


QUESTIONS

Based on the aforementioned facts, I have the following questions:

  • How does the church's investments in these various sectors (see italicized text above) square with the scriptural definition of tithing found in D&C 119:2?
  • When was D&C 119:2 amended to include real estate and other investments? When was this revision presented to the church for a sustaining vote per the Law of Common Consent?
  • What interesting points did you find in these spreadsheets?
  • Why did Pres. Hinckley say that budgetary "information belongs to those who made the contribution," but the contributors (tithe payers) haven't seen that information since April, 1959?

SOURCES

CHECK THE COMMENTS BY LATTER-DAY
TRUTHS BELOW FOR UPDATES TO THIS POST

3 comments:

Jared Livesey said...

1. D&C 119:2 puts no actual limits on the distribution or use of the tithing funds so long as it is used to fulfill at least one of the three listed purposes, howsoever one might understand those purposes. D&C 120 is the relevant section on the disposition of the tithing funds, and the Lord therein has not given any oversight to the members on its use.

2. D&C 119:2 was never amended, to my knowledge, but someone apparently afterwards asked how the tithes were to be disposed, and the result was D&C 120.

But other interesting questions suggest themselves upon review of D&C 119 - which says each member is to give all of his surplus property to the bishop of the Lord's church in Zion (America). Surplus is anything above that which we have immediate need of.

And let's look at verse 4. Imagine we have just been baptized in America, or have come to join the Saints in Zion (America) and accordingly by this law have given all the property we possess above what we have immediate need of into the hands of the bishop. Then, on each anniversary of our tithing, we pay into the hands of the bishop one tenth of our interest, which means increase on principal, or, in other words, once a year we pay 1/10 of whatever we possess above our immediate needs (because we started out with only sufficient for our immediate needs - that's our principal) to the bishop.

And if on that anniversary we only have sufficient for our immediate needs, or less, we pay nothing to the bishop.

And if we are in America and don't do these things, we are apparently to be excommunicated from the Church (v. 5), and, if these things aren't done always by the Church as a whole, America shall not be a land of Zion to us (v. 6).

Are we of one heart and of one mind, with no poor among us? If not, how is America a land of Zion to us? And if it is not, then is this law actually kept?

Michael said...

Your compiling of this information is very informative. Thank you for your efforts.

I phased out of paying tithing over a few years, several years ago (hopefully that makes sense) after I became a bit disturbed over what I saw going on with the City Creek Center. I haven't paid any tithing myself in at least six years, although my wife continues to pay on her income.

I'm not at all comfortable with the way the Church uses tithing. If I've tried to object, I'm told, "it's the Lord's money and we have no right to question the brethren." OK, fine, but then I no longer feel obligated to donate.

Again, I appreciate your efforts here.

Uncle Albert said...

"How much is tithing ?" is the real, operative question. That we are to pay it to the bishop (not necessarily to the CoB in SLC) is beyond question, as explained in D&C 119 - IF we want to live according to the scriptures.

The answer key is in verse 4, where the Lord/Joseph use the word "interest". Which, when you look it up in WebstersDictionary1828.com, to find out what that meant in the 1830's, means "surplus advantage" or profit. Which, surplus, matches the other verses in Section 119. So, tithing is 1/10th of what we declare surplus, over and above what is necessary to live on, I hope in some level of decency, but not of excess (McMansion, Mercedes, lavish vacations "expesed" to reduce our "tithable income"...)

The Church teaches that now "interest" means "income", which is deceptive, and disingenuous at best. Because in business and accounting, "income" means "profit", or net revenue, or... "surplus". It does not mean "your entire paycheck" (oh, and are you going to pay tithing on your job benefits - medical care and company car ?)

Even the Tax Gestapo allows a "personal deduction" or insufficient 'living allowance'. Thus, even the thieving "income tax" is really a tax on your "profits" or... surplus (!). So, it's between you and the Lord, not you and the bishop (he's not a tithing auditor, only the receiver of your declaration of your tithe status) as to what your surplus is, to be tithed.

Note: There is no such thing as a "partial tithe". It's either a tenth, or it's not; it's either surplus, or it's not. Thus ends the emotionally and spiritually deceptive and destructive idea of paying your tithing before your rent, utilities, and food - thus cheating/robbing your landlord, power company, and starving your children, when you are in dire straits. And thus ends groveling before the bishop for a restrictive and supervised access to cheap, barely fit food from the storehouse, or a couple of months of financial help for the rent and electricity.

IF we are to be faithful and joyful tithe-payers we'll live by doing it the way it is written, and was understood and practiced in the early days ! Then, further wrangling over City Creek, cattle ranches, stocks, & etc. etc. etc. becomes unnecessary, it's unfortunate water under the bridge at this point.

Let us move forward faithfully living the laws of the Lord according to His word. If nothing else, this will restrict the revenue of the Church that it will not be "investing it's surplus in Babylon" buying stocks and real estate, but still have enough to operate. Which is as it should be...