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Mormon Church made large profit on GameStop and Tesla stock craze, security filings show

(KTVX) – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of those groups with “diamond hands,” making large profits from GameStop and Tesla stock earlier this year, documents show.

Recent security filings show the Church’s investment branch, Ensign Peak Advisors, purchased a large quantity of GameStop shares — 46,000 to be exact — near the end of 2020. At the time of that purchase, the stake was valued at under a million dollars, or $867,000.

Following the short squeeze of the video game retailer’s stock, which was catapulted by movement on a Reddit forum called “Wall Street Bets” in the first quarter of 2021, the value of that purchase has skyrocketed. Ensign Peak reported that those 46,000 shares were worth $8,732,000 at the end of the first quarter of 2021, meaning that the hedge fund made a profit of over 900% on its investment at that time.

The price of GameStop stock has fluctuated this week, but if Ensign Peak is maintaining “diamond hands,” and holding those shares, the stake would be worth $7,727,540 as of market opening time on Thursday.

KTVX reached out to Ensign Peak to inquire if the fund planned to hold onto its GameStop holdings but calls were not immediately returned.

The GameStop stock phenomenon took U.S. culture by storm in Jan. 2021 when the Reddit community coordinated to facilitate a short squeeze on the company’s value on the stock market, raising the embattled video game retailer’s stock by over 1,500%. GameStop stock began the month with a value of $17.25 and reached an all-time high of $483 on Jan. 28, with no reasoning other than the rallied support of internet “bros,” social media, and the ease of stock trading on platforms such as Robinhood.

Expressions coined on Reddit, such as “diamond hands,” which identified GameStop shareholders unwilling to sell their shares despite the market’s volatility, and “TO THE MOON,” expressing excitement at the shares’ astronomical increase in value, became commonplace on social media and in American vernacular due to the craze.

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Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk, who is also said to have raised and lower other markets, such as the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, with his remarks on Twitter, was in on the mania. He sent a simple tweet, “Gamestonk!!,” a play on a popular meme, after GameStop’s stock hit $200 on Jan. 26.

Interestingly, Ensign Peak also cashed in on Tesla stock, growing its holdings of Musk’s company to a stake value of $433 million, according to the same regulatory filings.

The Church came under fire in Dec. 2019, when David Nielsen, a former employee of Ensign Peak Advisors, revealed evidence the hedge fund had ballooned to a value of $100 billion and alleged the Church had misused that money, which was gathered by tithing funds and intended for charitable purposes, according to Nielsen’s allegations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded to Nielsen’s with the following statement.

“We take seriously the responsibility to care for the tithes and donations received from members. 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. Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future. This is a sound doctrinal and financial principle taught by the Savior in the Parable of the Talents and lived by the Church and its members. All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church’s divinely-appointed mission.”

The statement given on Dec. 18, 2019, continued:

“Claims being currently circulated are based on a narrow perspective and limited information. The Church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes, and reserves. We continue to welcome the opportunity to work with officials to address questions they may have.”

KTVX reached out to the Church for comment on the GameStop stock fillings and has yet to hear back.

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The Mormon Church Made Millions on Stock Holdings Like GameStop

The Mormon Church reportedly made a lot of money from the GameStop short squeeze and its other stock holdings, including Tesla.

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Investing might not be against the Mormon religion, but it's something the church keeps on the down-low. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a secret $100 billion investment fund managed by its asset management firm, Ensign Peak Advisors.

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Source: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Mormon church likely made $14 million from selling GameStop shares.

According to second-quarter 2021 filings with the SEC, the fund disposed of 46,000 shares of GameStop that it bought in the fourth quarter of 2020. From the time Ensign bought shares in the video game company until it sold them, GameStop stock soared by about 900 percent. Depending on when shares were sold could mean that the fund earned anywhere from $9 million to $14 million.

Ensign also sold off about 13 percent of its Tesla stock. It still holds 561,000 shares in the electric-vehicle company, worth about $382 million, reports Market Insider.

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Ensign Peak Advisors is the investment arm of the Mormon Church.

Ensign Peak Advisors, the investment arm of the Mormon church, has been around since 1997. However, the fund only first disclosed its holdings in 2020, which revealed that it held about $37.8 billion in stocks and mutual funds. The top holdings were Microsoft and Apple, followed by Amazon, Alphabet (Google), and Facebook.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over 16 million members. The members are encouraged to pay the church a “tithe,” which amounts to 10 percent of their annual income. That amounts to a boatload of money.

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A whistleblower complaint gave the Mormon investment fund national attention.

In 2019, the size of the church’s investment fund got national attention after a former fund employee filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS and the Washington Post got wind of the story.

The complaint accused church leaders of misleading members by stockpiling their surplus donations instead of using them for charitable works, The Washington Post reported on December 17, 2019. At the time, Ensign was registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is exempted from paying taxes in the U.S.

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Ensign’s holdings reportedly included $40 billion in stocks, timberland in the Florida panhandle, and investments in hedge funds like Bridgewater Associates LP, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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Mormon leaders deny claims that they improperly used funds.

Mormon church leaders were quick to respond after The Washington Post revealed details of the complaint. Most of the funds from member tithes and donations are used to meet the needs of the Church, including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work, and missionary efforts, the leaders wrote in a statement on December 17, 2019.

“Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future. This is a sound doctrinal and financial principle taught by the Savior in the Parable of the Talents and lived by the Church and its members. All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church’s divinely-appointed mission,” wrote church leaders in the statement.

Sours: https://marketrealist.com/p/mormon-church-stock-holdings/
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The Mormon Church's secretive $100 billion fund scored a 900% gain on GameStop - and boosted its Tesla bet by 39%

Mormon Church
  • The Mormon Church's $100 billion fund made a 900% gain on GameStop last quarter.
  • Ensign Peak Advisors' stake surged in value from below $900,000 to $8.7 million.
  • The church fund also boosted its Tesla stake by 39% after growing it 3,500% last year.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Mormon Church was a surprise winner from the GameStop short squeeze, racking up a 900% gain on the meme stock last quarter, regulatory filings show.

Ensign Peak Advisors - the secretive $100 billion investment arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - bought 46,000 GameStop shares in the fourth quarter of 2020. Its stake ballooned in value from under $900,000 to $8.7 million in the first three months of this year, thanks to GameStop's stock price going stratospheric in January and remaining elevated since then.

The surge in GameStop stock from below $19 to $190 last quarter also catapulted it from Ensign's 1,452nd most-valuable holding to number 455 on the list.

Ensign tapped into the Tesla craze as well, growing its split-adjusted stake in Elon Musk's electric-vehicle company by about 3,500% to 467,000 shares over the course of last year. It bolstered the position by another 39% to nearly 650,000 shares last quarter.

The fund's Tesla stake was worth $433 million at the end of March, making it Ensign's 15th biggest holding. It was 22nd on the list three months earlier.

Ensign trimmed all four of its largest holdings last quarter, but still boasted $2 billion stakes in Apple and Microsoft, and $1 billion-plus positions in Amazon and Alphabet. Notably, it slashed its stake in Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway by 21%, pushing the famed investor's company from its 14th most valuable holding to its 22nd.

Read more:'Inflation could destroy today's darlings': An equities chief overseeing $7.5 billion has been preparing for inflation since June - Here's his playbook and 2 sectors set to surge

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What's The Mormon Church Invested In?

LDS Church discloses the $37.8 billion stock portfolio of its biggest investment fund

For the first time, the LDS Church’s biggest investment fund has disclosed its Wall Street holdings, revealing $37.8 billion in stocks and mutual funds.

The federal filing may be the best answer ever to how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has invested the excess tithing paid by its 16 million members. The detailed list included 1,659 stocks and mutual funds, including household names like Amazon, Chevron and Walmart, that the fund held for the quarter ending Dec. 31.

The investment fund, called Ensign Peak Advisors, quietly submitted the filing Feb. 14 to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The stock portfolio appears to represent a large portion of the total value of Ensign Peak, which whistleblowing brothers Lars and David Nielsen said in a complaint sent to the IRS controls assets worth at least $100 billion.

The SEC filing is standard for “institutional investment managers” with assets of at least $100 million.

Ensign Peak Advisors has met that threshold for years, yet the SEC website shows this is the first time the fund has submitted such a filing.

The LDS Church, through a spokesman, declined to answer questions about the recent filing or why it wasn’t submitted before.

“They may have previously read the rules to exempt advisers to religious institutions, and are now disclosing in light of the recent controversy,” said Jeff Schwartz, a University of Utah professor who focuses on corporate and securities law and reviewed the filing for The Salt Lake Tribune.

This filing doesn’t encompass all of the church’s financial holdings. Some assets are held in shell companies that file separately.

In 2018, The Truth and Transparency Foundation, the nonprofit newsroom behind the former MormonLeaks site with a stated mission to disclose information about religions, said it had found 13 such shell companies with assets of $32 billion.

Apple to Zions

Ensign Peak Advisors itself is far larger and more diversified than any of those smaller funds, the Feb. 14 filing shows. About $3 billion of the Ensign Peak Advisors stock holdings — or 7% of the value reported in the filing — was almost evenly split between Apple and Microsoft stock.

Two-thirds of Ensign Peak Advisors’ reported stock holdings came from 100 companies or mutual funds. Of those 100, the plurality of the investment — 26% — was in the technology sector.

The next two biggest sectors were health care, including Johnson & Johnson and Merck stocks; and financial services — stocks such as Bank of America and Berkshire Hathaway.

There also were investments in two Utah-based companies.

The fund reported owning $91.8 million of stock in Zions Bank. That bank can trace its history to a bank founded in 1873 by LDS Church President Brigham Young. The church sold its majority stake in Zions in 1960.

Ensign Peak Advisors also owned $76.7 million of stock in Pluralsight, an online education company based in Farmington.

While the LDS Church owns for-profit insurance and personal investment businesses as well as radio stations and Salt Lake City’s NBC affiliate, KSL-Channel 5, Ensign Peak Advisors invested in those businesses’ competitors. It owned stock in SiriusXM, the three companies that combine to own the local ABC, CBS and FOX affiliates, and in The New York Times Co.

The church counsels its members to not consume tobacco, alcohol or hot caffeinated drinks. And the portfolio reflects that. There were no cigarette or beer manufacturers, nor was there an investment in a coffee chain, such as Starbucks.

Of the 30 companies that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Coca-Cola is the only one Ensign Peak Advisors did not invest in. The fund didn’t own stock in soda makers PepsiCo or Keurig Dr Pepper, either.

Caffeinated sodas are not part of the church’s health code, known as the Word of Wisdom.

Part of the picture

The SEC filing discloses only Ensign Peak Advisors’ holdings in publicly traded companies or funds, and such filings do not include investments in real property or private companies.

How the LDS Church plays the stock market has been the subject of speculation for decades. After the church in 2018 expressed opposition to medical cannabis, for example, some online forums wondered if the reticence was influenced by church investments in pharmaceutical companies that sell opioids.

Roger Clarke, the head of Ensign Peak Advisors, told The Wall Street Journal last month that one reason for the shell companies was to make church investments harder to track so that parishioners with insufficient information didn’t mismanage their own portfolios by trying to mimic what Ensign Peak Advisors was doing. The Journal reported that the fund also owns Florida timberland and investments in big hedge funds.

D. Michael Quinn, a historian who has focused on LDS Church finances, said it’s no surprise the church invests in blue chips stocks. But the specifics offered in the SEC filing represent a milestone for an institution that has been famously secretive about its money.

“It’s great detail that we haven’t had before,” Quinn said, “but it’s only part of the picture.”

Quinn says Ensign Peak Advisors is just one of the church’s investment firms. There are other firms working on both the nonprofit and for-profit sides of the church that combine to handle even more money than the $100 billion Ensign Peak Advisors is said to be worth.

As to Clarke’s concern, Quinn suspects only journalists, academics and historians will be interested in studying the portfolio. He doubts rank-and-file Latter-day Saints will refer to the SEC document for investment advice.

“Members of the church don’t need to do extensive research to invest in blue chip stocks,” Quinn said.

Schwartz, the law professor, believes any penalty Ensign Peak Advisors might face for failing to file a quarterly report until now would be light by the standards of a multibillion-dollar fund. He found one case in which an investment firm failed to file the necessary reports for three years. The SEC issued a fine of $100,000.

“It doesn’t seem like there would be huge penalties,” Schwartz said.

If Ensign Peak continues issuing quarterly reports, the next one would be available on the SEC website in mid-May.

The Nielsen brothers’ complaint, first reported by The Washington Post, drew international attention to the church’s financial interests and shocked many outsiders and members of the faith. The brothers argued that the church was violating tax laws by not spending more of this reserve on charitable purposes.

The church’s governing First Presidency — made up of church President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring — rejected that allegation in a news release, saying the faith “complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes and reserves.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson, center, greets President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles while followed by President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency and Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency for the start of the Sunday afternoon session of the 189th twice-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.

Other Latter-day Saint officials later said they didn’t previously disclose how big the financial reserve had grown because they didn’t want to discourage members from tithing, which is donating 10% of one’s income to the faith.

The church collects that tithing, which it uses to run its operations around the world, and it sends the excess to Ensign Peak Advisors to invest.

Church officials have called the fund a “rainy-day account” to help pay for operations in poorer parts of the world — such as Africa, where the faith is booming — and at some future time when member donations stagnate.

Sours: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/03/07/lds-church-discloses/

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FOX 13 Investigates: How LDS Church investment fund made $6 billion in pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY — A new filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ big investment fund made money in 2020.

The fund, called Ensign Peak Advisors, grew by $6.2 billion, finishing the year with $44 billion.

Ensign Peak only began issuing quarterly reports a year ago, meaning Friday’s filing is the first time the church’s members can track Ensign Peak’s annual performance. The fund is the largest component of stock portfolio estimated at $100 billion in 2019.

READ: Former Latter-day Saint Church investment portfolio manager alleges billions in unpaid taxes

“It’s about building a reserve fund of the church,” Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé said in a church-produced video in 2019, “and ultimately all of those funds will be used for church purposes. So this is about preparing for the future.”

What boosted Ensign Peak in one of the most financially difficult years in American history? The fund’s heavy investment in tech paid off.

Ensign Peak’s Amazon holdings increased about $650 million without any significant change in the number of shares.

Tesla offered a five-for-one stock split last year. That made money for Ensign Peak. What had been about $1 million of Tesla stock grew to about $330 million, becoming one of the most valuable holdings in the portfolio.

Ensign Peak divested from some oil companies during the pandemic. In one example, the fund sold 15% of its share in Chevron.

WATCH: Religious tax law expert weighs in on accusations against Latter-day Saint Church

Ensign Peak invested in 1,854 stocks in 2020. That was about 200 more than the year before. Yet the total number of shares in the portfolio declined in 2020.

While Ensign Peak’s value increased 16% last year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained only 7.25%.

Sours: https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/fox-13-investigates-how-lds-church-investment-fund-made-6-billion-in-pandemic
Letter to an IRS Director (7 min); $100 billion Mormon Church

Mormon Church sees value of its GameStop shares rocket 10-fold to $8.7 million

Roger Clarke, who leads the church's investment arm, has said that the fund is a reserve for tough financial times

Roger Clarke, who leads the church's investment arm, has said that the fund is a reserve for tough financial times

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has seen its investment in shares of GameStop pay off handsomely thanks to the meme-fueled rally, after its initial $867,000 investment soared to $8.7 million in just a few months.

Ensign Peak Advisors, the church's investment arm based in Salt Lake City, first purchased 46,000 shares of the struggling video game retailer in late 2020, when the stock traded between $10 and $20, according to regulatory filings.

They did so shortly before the stock peaked at an eye-watering $483 during the meme-stock frenzy in January, but even after crashing back to earth, it has traded at well over $100 since late February. It is unclear what - if anything - prompted the timing of Ensign's investment in GameStop shortly before its share price rocketed. It holds stocks in around 1,800 different corporations. 

The LDS Church, known to many as the Mormon Church, maintains a secretive investment fund that a whistleblower claimed in 2019 was worth more than $100 billion.

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Temple is seen above. Filings show that the church's investment in GameStop paid off 10-fold in early 2021

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Temple is seen above. Filings show that the church's investment in GameStop paid off 10-fold in early 2021

GameStop shares remain well above $100 after they spiked and crashed earlier this year

GameStop shares remain well above $100 after they spiked and crashed earlier this year

Roger Clarke, who leads the church's investment arm, has said that the fund is intended as a rainy-day fund for tough financial times. 

Since the end of 2020, the church's largest investment fund has grown by $2.4 billion, bringing its total value to $46.5 billion, according to the filings, which were first reported by Business Insider.

Much of the growth was powered by Ensign Peak's investments in big tech firms such as Apple, Amazon and Google, the filings show.

The fund's largest holdings are concentrated in the world's biggest tech firms, with $2.09 billion invested in Apple and $2.07 billion in Microsoft.

Ensign Peak also holds $1.5 billion in shares in Google parent Alphabet, $1.4 billion in Amazon and $883 million in Facebook. 

The GameStop frenzy in January saw small investors piling into the stock, driving up the price and inflicting huge damages on hedge funds that had bet against it

The GameStop frenzy in January saw small investors piling into the stock, driving up the price and inflicting huge damages on hedge funds that had bet against it

But the church also saw strong gains from 'meme stocks' popular with small traders who congregate online, including GameStop, Blackberry and Tesla.

The GameStop frenzy in January saw small investors piling into the stock, driving up the price and inflicting huge damages on hedge funds that had bet against it. 

Ensign Peak's portfolio has gained $16.6 billion since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, rebounding 55 percent after plunging 21 percent in the first quarter last year.

That's roughly on pace with the broader market, with the Dow Jones gaining 57 percent over the same period. 

The SEC requires institutional investment managers with assets above $100 million to file quarterly reports, but Ensign Peak only began filing such reports last year.

GameStop has held above $140 for the past month after long trading at less than $20

GameStop has held above $140 for the past month after long trading at less than $20

A one year view of GameStop shares shows how the stock skyrocketed in January

A one year view of GameStop shares shows how the stock skyrocketed in January

The filing came after a former church investment manager, David Nielsen, said he filed a complaint with the IRS in November alleging the church has improperly built a $100 billion investment portfolio using member donations that are supposed to go to charitable causes. 

He argued the church owes billions of dollars in taxes and wanted a cut of that as part of a reward the IRS offers whistleblowers. 

So far, the IRS has not commented on the complaint and there has been no sign that the agency is taking action. 

In addition to its billions invested in stocks, the firm reportedly holds investments in prominent hedge funds like Bridgewater Associates LP, as well as timberland in the Florida panhandle.  

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The Mormon Church's secretive $100 billion fund cashed out its GameStop profits - and trimmed its Tesla bet by 13%

Mormon Church
  • The Mormon Church exited its GameStop position and cut its Tesla holdings last quarter.
  • Ensign Peak Advisors disposed of its 46,000 GameStop shares, pocketing as much as $14 million.
  • The church fund sold 13% of its Tesla shares, leaving a stake worth $382 million on June 30.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Mormon Church cashed out its GameStop profits and trimmed its Tesla stake in the second quarter, regulatory filings show.

Ensign Peak Advisors - the secretive $100 billion investing arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - was a surprise winner from the GameStop short squeeze at the start of this year. The fund bought 46,000 shares of the video-game retailer in the fourth quarter of 2020, and saw its position skyrocket by about 900% to $8.7 million over the next three months as retail investors piled into the meme stock.

Ensign appears to have sold the entire holding last quarter, as the stock is absent from its latest filing. It likely raked in about $9 million from the disposal, based on GameStop's average closing share price in the period, or as much as $14 million if it sold at the peak in June.

The church fund also pared its Tesla bet last quarter, cutting its stake in Elon Musk's electric-vehicle company by 13% to 561,000 shares, worth $382 million at the end of June. Ensign grew its split-adjusted stake from about 2,500 shares to 648,000 shares during the year to March 30, but appears to have soured on the stock last quarter.

The total value of Ensign's US stock portfolio swelled by about $3 billion to nearly $50 billion last quarter. Its top two holdings were roughly $2.3 billion stakes in both Microsoft and Apple, followed by positions worth over $1 billion in each of Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook.

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