At a time when many conservatives are fed up with woke corporations and seeking alternatives, Ridgeline Research is offering an investment option that boycotts 29 companies hostile to conservatives.
The American Conservative Values ETF (ticker symbol: ACVF) was created to help conservatives avoid putting their money in an index fund, a mutual fund, or another exchange-traded fund at odds with their values.
We first told you about ACVF two years ago on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Today, Ridgeline Research President Tom Carter updates us on the latest developments.
Rob Bluey: Can you bring us up to speed on Ridgeline Research and some of the things that you’re doing?
Tom Carter: Ridgeline Research is the investment advisor to the American Conservative Values Exchange traded fund, and that ticker symbol is ACVF. And what that particular fund does is we try to give investors the best returns we can without exposing them to companies that we believe are hostile to conservative values.
We exclude companies in our portfolio that may be hostile to conservative values, companies that are on social media like Twitter and Facebook or Meta, which don’t allow conservatives the same exposures as they might the other side, and companies in the media itself like Comcast, which owns MSNB. We exclude them, as well as the New York Times.
Essentially, we’re trying to replicate the performance of the S&P 500 as best we can while excluding companies that we believe hostile to conservative values.
Bluey: You bring decades of experience helping to grow and manage complex businesses. You also are a proven ETF and mutual fund executive. Tell us about ways that individual investors can go about engaging with Ridgeline Research and take advantage of the opportunities that you’re offering them.
Carter: The best way to do it is you buy ETFs through a brokerage account and you can buy as few as one share or you can invest a fairly significant amount of money if you choose by buying ACVF with your broker or if you are self-directed in your brokerage account. Tthat could be a Fidelity account, that could be a Schwab account, whatever you have.
If you have an S&P 500 fund, again, you are exposing yourselves to companies if you are conservative who you may not share their beliefs and ideals. Certainly, they don’t share yours.
By accessing ACVF, you are investing alongside other conservatives and you are not exposing your particular hard earned investment dollars to companies, again, that don’t share your values.
We think it’s a great opportunity to expose yourself to the broader market large cap funds and not give your money to corporate media, to social media, to people that don’t share your values. And I will continue to hit that point as we think this is a good way to show what you believe in by investing your hard earned dollars in places that, again, share your values.
Bluey: If I’m not mistaken, yours were the first family of ETFs for ideologically conservative investors. What inspired you and the others there to decide to set upon this path and make this available to investors who really do have those values in mind when it comes to their investing?
Carter: So interestingly enough, I’ve been in the ETF business, as you mentioned earlier, for going on 25 to 30 years. And I left the company that I was with where we had a very successful ETF business, took some time off and my partner reached out to me and he said, “Look, there are a lot of opportunities to invest in ESG.”
ESG is being anti-fossil fuels, green energy, things such as that, but there aren’t many opportunities for people of the politically conservative side to invest there. And I agreed with him.
There’s a couple of ways we looked at doing this fund. We looked at potentially doing a bottom-up research driven fund where we only selected conservative companies and tried to build the portfolio that way. What we decided was better is to start with a more S&P 500-type fund, which is large cap, which a lot of people have exposure to and eliminating companies in that S&P 500 that we felt were hostile to conservative values.
And we thought that was a bit more of wallet share. We also thought it was going to give you more predictable performance. And although large cap stocks have performed poorly over the last year, we all know that for a myriad of reasons.
As of Sept. 30, the last quarter end, since inception, year-to-date, and one year, we’re outperforming the S&P 500 while not investing in almost 30% of the cap weighted stocks in the index. So eliminating Google and Amazon and Apple and Meta and those haven’t hurt our performance. In fact, we’ve, again, performed right in line and actually beaten the S&P 500 since inception.
Bluey: That’s great news. You’ve now had a couple of years of experience as you indicated. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned? What are some of the changes that you’ve made to adapt to both consumer demand but also these changes that we see over the market over that period of time?
Carter: Interestingly enough, our changes in the portfolio are primarily driven by things that happen where companies are involving themselves in the political arena. I’ll give you one example.
In January 2021, Georgia passed election laws and our opinion is that they were very reasonable election laws. That being said, several companies in the state of Georgia went to the Georgia Legislature and tried to get them to change those laws or appeal those laws.
Coke was one of those companies and Delta was one of those companies. And at that time we evaluated that and we actually took them out of our portfolio because we felt like they were getting into broader politics, which we don’t believe companies should do. That’s an example of when we made a proactive change to the portfolio.
Something that actually happened recently is PayPal was going to find people that they believed were propagating misinformation on Twitter or Facebook or other social media. And although they’ve reversed course, we certainly thought that that was an indication of where PayPal stands. And we didn’t think that PayPal should be the arbiter of what is good or bad information. So we boycotted them or divested in them in our portfolio as well.
We’re monitoring things that are happening in the political arena. We’re monitoring companies responses to things that are happening in the political arena, and we could add companies that maybe move to the right. We certainly will take companies out of the portfolio that we feel are moving to the left or expressing those ideas that we think are hostile to conservative values.
>>> As of today, Ridgeline Research includes the following 29 companies on its list. (Alphabet is listed twice for its two classes of shares.)
Bluey: As you’re making those decisions about which companies are hostile to conservative values, are you surveying your shareholders? What type of interaction do you have with the investors themselves, perhaps either firsthand experience they’ve had with companies or other information that they might be passing along to all of you?
Carter: In fact, we do survey our shareholders and we also survey not only our shareholders, but we have an email list and a list of people that follow our research and follow our material. And we have roughly 4,000 folks that we reach out to.
I’m not going to tell you it’s on an exact quarterly basis, but we try to do it on a quarterly basis and we survey them about companies that they feel are hostile.
Facebook or Meta, they have always been the No. 1 company that our investors think is hostile to conservative values. Interestingly enough, our last survey, which was done in the summer this year, Disney actually jumped over Meta to become the company that our conservative investors feel is most hostile conservative values.
And another one that ran up the list significantly was BlackRock. And BlackRock is doing a lot in the ESG space. They’re trying to force people to invest in ESG and if they don’t, BlackRock will not invest in those companies.
You’ve seen recently states like Louisiana and Missouri are moving some of their state treasury dollars out of BlackRock for those reasons. And so interestingly enough, conservative investors have picked up on that and Disney and BlackRock have both become negative to politically conservative investors.
Those are two companies have never been in our portfolio, and we happen to agree with our constituents on that.
Bluey: You have a list on the ACVF website of the companies that are most hostile to conservative values. I think you have about 31 of them right now, including some that you’ve just recently updated. You mentioned PayPal, you also have Visa on there. Netflix was added to the list earlier this year. Could you share a little bit more about the companies on the list? And I’m most curious, are there things that they can do to get back in the good graces of conservatives and maybe have you reconsider whether or not they’re actually on this hostile list?
Carter: I’ll give you two examples of companies that were on our hostile list and we have turned them around and put them back in the portfolio.
Wells Fargo got in some trouble where people at the bank were doing some unethical things, opening customer accounts and whatnot. We feel like they’ve corrected that. We certainly hope they have. There’s evidence that they have. And so we put them back into the portfolio. That’s one example.
Another one, and this is an interesting one. A lot of people didn’t realize this. AT&T owned CNN for quite some time and recently AT&T got rid of CNN. They sold them to Discovery. Of course, most political investors believe that CNN is hostile, and we do as well. When AT&T divested in CNN, we brought AT&T back into the portfolio.
Big corporate media is always in the target of conservatives and conservative investors. And so CNN was certainly not something we wanted to invest in. I mentioned MSNBC earlier with Comcast owning them. ABC and Disney are both owned by Disney and, of course, Disney has its other problems.
Corporate media is something that we do not want to invest in and we will monitor companies who invest in corporate media and take them out of the portfolio.
Bluey: I also understand you’re getting more involved in shareholder activism. First of all, explain to our listeners what that means and what are some of the steps that you’ve taken so far to hold companies accountable through that means?
Carter: Shareholder activism is an interesting process whereby if you own a certain amount of company for a certain amount of time, you can propose things on what they call their proxy. And it’s certain things that the company and its board can react to. There’s a shareholder vote on those proxies as to whether they will accept your request or not.
We have put in a proxy request to our largest holder, Microsoft, and we have asked them to explain their diversity and inclusion program, [provide] more transparency, and more financial data on how that is performing and how that is helping the shareholder.
From our perspective, although we are not against diversity—but we are against mandated diversity—we are against things that say you have to be diverse and you have to hire somebody of a particular color or creed instead of hiring the best person available for that job.
We’re not sure if Microsoft is doing that. And we would just like more transparency, not only financial, but also how that is helping the underlying shareholder and how that is bettering Microsoft as a company overall.
We are not sure if we will make it onto their ballot or not, but certainly if we do make it on the ballot, we will announce that and we will talk more about what we plan to do there. We’re certainly looking at other companies that are doing things like that. Critical race theory is something that we hear a lot about that companies are engaging in and we don’t think that should be happening.
Companies should be trying to provide the best product or service for their customer consumer, and they should also be trying to increase the value for their shareholders of that company. We think getting outside of your lane when trying to do those two things is not good for business, so we will challenge companies on the things that they’re doing from a political perspective.
Bluey: As we’ve seen more and more companies moving in this troubling direction, what are some of the reasons you attribute to that trend?
Carter: It’s an interesting question, and we debated internally as well. We think it’s a reaction to a very small percentage of Americans who seem to be the loudest on the left.
We think most what I’m going to call normal Americans, and that’s not saying that those people on the left aren’t normal, but we think most middle America people believe that companies should just do their job and not get into these critical race theories and things like that, but that companies are reacting to a very loud minority.
No one wants to get canceled. And cancel culture has crept into the boardroom and into the C-suites as well, where nobody wants to be called out for the things that they’re doing. And so they move too far left in our mind and they get involved in things because they’re afraid to be called out.
CEOs are going to realize that that’s a mistake in the long run and that middle America and normal people just want companies to do their job and they just want them to stay out of politics.
Bluey: I hope we can get back to that point as well. Along those same lines, there is something known as ESG. It’s an agenda that advances issues and ideas that are opposed to many of the conservative values that we believe in. How does ESG factor into your decisions at Ridgeline Research?
Carter: When we developed ACVF, it was basically, and I don’t want to call it an anti-ESG fund, but it was more of a pro-conservative fund because ESG was anti-fossil fuels.
Do we believe in clean energy? We do. We believe that we have enough clean energy to run our country right now? We do not.
We don’t like the administration’s attack on fossil fuels. We don’t like BlackRock’s attack on fossil fuels. We think America needs to be energy independent, and we think these ESG policies hurt America being energy independent and it adds to inflation, frankly.
If you’re shutting down the supply side of anything and the demand stays where it is, it’s going to make that product more expensive. And so the shutdown of fossil fuels, the shutdown of exporting fossil fuels, the shutdown of pipelines coming from Canada into our country and not giving us the ability to use some of that energy that is being created in Canada.
All those things add to us not having energy independence. They add to inflation. They add to our reliance on foreign governments that we don’t necessarily get along with us.
There’s a lot of negative impacts and ESG is a start of all this because there’s so much money going into green energy and renewable energy. And again, we’re not against that, but what we are against is forcing people to do that even when we’re not creating enough energy to run our country.
In the long run, some of these green energy things certainly will work and economically they should, but the market should decide where that’s coming from, not the government, not BlackRock. Money should flow to where things are working, money should flow to where things can make money and there shouldn’t be government subsidies and there shouldn’t be companies that are forcing ESG or clean energy on people like is happening now.
We are against that, and so we exclude BlackRock from our portfolio for that reason. And certainly, we invest in the energy markets.
Bluey: Are you encouraged that some state treasurers are taking action by excluding some of these companies like BlackRock from state pension funds or other investments that they have control over?
Carter: Of course. And we’re encouraged that there’s been frankly other entrants into this conservative investing landscape as well. I think rising tide lifts boats and I think making people aware that there are companies that are using your dollars to go out and make sure that their political views are being expressed. I don’t think you want to do that.
Louisiana said, “Look, BlackRock’s trying to shut down fossil fuels.” And Louisiana is very dependent in its economy on fossil fuels. So it makes a lot of sense that they’re saying, “Look, you’re trying to shut down something that is important to us and you’re using our money to do that and that’s not good for the state of Louisiana, so we’re going to pull our money from you.”
Others are going to realize that. And I think the information getting to people is very important that those types of things are going on in corporate boardrooms.
Bluey: Inflation continues to dominate the headlines. It’s a persistent problem for the Biden administration. Many of its policies are directly attributable to what we’re seeing. How has inflation affected not only the markets and how people think about investing?
Carter: Inflation is a big problem and anybody with any basic understanding of economics understands that you can’t just produce and create more and more dollars and put them into the marketplace and that it’s not going to devalue the dollar and make things more expensive.
Like I said, it’s basic economics. The fear is that inflation runs through consumers, and consumers buy less. It hurts the overall economy. We’ve seen what’s happen in the housing market. It has slowed down because of interest rate increases by the Fed to slow inflation, so that impacts the overall economy.
Now we’re talking about recession. When recessions happen, companies don’t hire as much, they don’t buy as many goods. The whole economy slows down.
A small amount of inflation is normal and we all understand that, but significant inflation, which we all predicted would come in, is going to hurt the overall economy. It’s going to hurt corporate earnings in the long run.
We hope that the market’s built in some of the recession already, and I’m not predicting that we’re our lows, but I’m hoping that it’s built in and predicting that maybe after the next quarter we’ll see some increase in some markets again. But I think it’s going to be bumpy for a while and certainly inflation has something to do with that.
Bluey: Tom, thanks so much for spending time with us today. How can people take that first step to get involved, whether they want to invest or just learn more about these companies that are hostile to conservative values?
Carter: You can go to investconservative.com and pull up all of our information. We have our fact sheet on there, which will let you know what companies we exclude from the portfolio and tell you more about the statistical information of the fund.
It’s got performance on there as well or you can talk to your broker if you have one, and ask them about ACVF and let them do some research for you. And if you’re a self-directed person, all the information about the fund is on Schwab, it’s on Fidelity, it’s on TD Ameritrade, and all those that most people use.
We’re always open to talking and having conversations with shareholders. Reach out to us directly and we’d love to let you know what we’re doing.
Bluey: Tom, thanks so much again for your creative ideas, for walking us through some of these complex issues that certainly we’re dealing with as conservatives and trying to grasp and understand how corporations have moved in this direction. I appreciate that you’re holding them accountable and giving us an alternative for our investments.
Carter: Rob, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it and hopefully we will speak again.