Part 2 - Van Alen Confesses His Sins
December 15, 2003
Ahrens: The Noah Fund has a 5.5% front end load, plus it has a 2.2% expense ratio. Do you think it's really socially responsible to sell this fund by appealing to someone's religious views when the expenses are so high?
Van Alen: We started out as a no-load fund, so I agree with you from that point of view that I didn't believe people should pay loads. But then I found out that the load was a way to get more people involved and more assets in, which would lower the expenses.
Ahrens: How do you justify salespeople making a fat commission to recommend your fund over another? Shouldn't they simply be satisfied with "doing the right thing?"
Van Alen: We found that most people were investing through financial advisers so we decided to enable financial advisers to make a living when they sold our fund. We are unique in that there isn't any other large-cap growth fund that has our screens. So, we are not a fund that gets recommended over another, we stand on our own.
Ahrens: Your fund is pretty technology heavy. Are you confident that investors coming in under the religion umbrella really understand your fund has quite a bit higher risk measurements than the overall market?
Van Alen: I think investors understand the risks. It's not a bad investment if you invest for the long term.
Ahrens: Would you agree that your fund underperformed the S&P by quite a bit for three years and five years, and that's probably because of the tech holdings?
Van Alen: The record since 1996 is very good. The last three years have been bad, and it has been risky.
Ahrens: Have you ever owned Enron or WorldCom stocks?
Van Alen: We have owned Enron and WorldCom, but got out of them long before the debacles. We're classified as socially responsible, but we're really a Biblically-based fund. We take the position that we believe the Bible takes: that you shouldn't invest in stocks that produce stuff that gets people in trouble. We stop our screens at the production level. The fact that we've invested in Enron has nothing to do with the fact that Enron is not socially responsible or not doing the Lord's work.
Ahrens: Do you think Enron or Anheuser-Busch is more socially responsible?
Van Alen: Ten percent of the country has the gene to become an alcoholic. How many alcoholics who end up in rehab started with beer? And who knows how many of those started with Anheuser-Busch. Just because Anheuser-Busch has recycled, has it been more socially responsible than Enron? I don't know -- it's up to the people to tell.
Ahrens: The Bible I read has plenty of references to wine consumption, and I don't recall smoking ever coming up. When did alcohol and tobacco become sins?
Van Alen: The Bible does say that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore you should put into it what enhances it and not what is detrimental to it.
Ahrens: Cheeseburgers don't enhance it, either.
Van Alen: Right. But, they do give nourishment. You may get heart attacks, but you also get fed. The Bible says "Don't be drunk with wine." That's the idea.
Ahrens: It is used in communion services.
Van Alen: That's alright. But the Bible also says don't lead anybody astray by your actions. When you become addicted, it becomes a terrible thing for not only you, but also for your family. So we exclude alcohol and tobacco. And we also exclude abortion and pornography. No good comes from that.
Ahrens: You seem to be cherry-picking your sins. Why do you include weapons sellers and manufacturers, when taking a life is definitely a sin?
Van Alen: The Bible says you can defend yourself. It's very simple. Taking a life is not necessarily a sin. There's self-defense.
Ahrens: Because of the scandals that the Catholic Church has had in child molestation and the cover up of it for decades, would you exclude the church from your portfolio for social reasons if it were a publicly traded stock?
Van Alen: Churches don't necessarily reflect the views of God. All denominations are man made. In our screenings we wouldn't screen it out, except for the pornography. But, there's no reason to invest in the Catholic Church.
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