When Grace Parker helped found the Clamshell Alliance, an antinuclear group, in 1973, she didn't consider that someday she would bring her politics to Wall Street.
But in the 1980s, political concerns have worked their way into the financial arena. Today, Parker is an assistant vice president of the Calvert Social Investment Fund in Washington, one of two new mutual funds that invest according to social, as well as performance, criteria.
The New Calvert Fund, which is managed by the $1.5 billion Calvert Group of Funds, Washington, D.C., and the other new fund, Shearson/American Express Inc.'s Fund for Social Responsibility, reflect a change in political approach. Unlike some established "socially responsive" mutual funds that concentrate on prohibiting certain investments, the two new funds emphasize a positive approach. While they also exclude some investments, they strive to encourage social change by supporting companies perceived as doing good for human welfare. ome investment experts dismiss the talk of social concerns as irrelevant. Recalling the poor to mediocre performances of some of the older socially responsive mutual funds, these experts wonder whether such funds can do good and make money at the same time.
Supporters of the New Calvert and Shearson/American Express funds claim that the positive approach is the key to future success, saying the time is right because a growing number of individuals and institutions want to apply social criteria to investments.
The new funds say they consider a range of issues in evaluating companies: labor-management relations, environmental protection, employment opportunities and business with South Africa. The Calvert Fund, intended primarily for individual investors (with a minimum investment of $1,000), also considers company roles with nuclear energy, weapons systems and what the prospectus calls "commitment to human goals."
In practice, the fund's investment advisers use "subjective judgment" to evaluate companies, the prospectus states.
D. Wayne Silby, founder of the Calvert Group, explains the investment premise of the new fund through an example. Consider a chief executive officer who "empowers his managers" rather than using them to increase his power, Silby says. "If you treat people well, they are more productive and the company will make more money," he comments.
It is this kind of company that the Calvert Fund tries to invest in, he says. As of Dec. 6, the fund had invested in a variety of concerns, including Magma Power Co., a Los Angeles concern that develops geothermal fields to generate electric power, People Express Airlines Inc., a Newark, N.J., airline that is employe-owned, and Southwestern Public Services, an Amarillo, Texas-based utility that uses state-of-the-art air-pollution controls on its coal-fired plants.
On that date, it had net assets of $660,000. In its first five weeks, its net-assets-value per share had risen from $15 to $15.91, the fund said.
Parker refuses to name companies the mutual fund would not invest in.
Dr. Robert J. Schwartz, president of the new Shearson/American Express Fund, says that he cannot discuss details of the fund's investment methods until it is out of registration. The fund is intended for institutional investors, requiring a minimum investment of $100,000.
To date, not many institutional or individual investors have placed their dollars with "socially responsive" mutual funds. This kind of fund accounts for $442 million, or something more that 0.1 percent, of the $300 billion mutual fund and money market business. Until the Calvert Fund's arrival Nov. 4, there were four socially responsive mutual funds with about 50,000 accounts out of a total of 825 funds with 20 million accounts.
Three of the socially responsive mutual funds developed before 1982 were organized to attract investors on religious grounds and to prohibit investments in a variety of so-called "sin stocks."
Both the George Putnam Fund of Boston and the Four Square Fund, managed by Eaton & Howard, Vance Sanders Inc., Boston, were developed to appeal to Christian Scientists. Pax World Fund of Portsmouth, N.H., was started in 1972 to attract United Methodists.
The fourth fund, Dreyfus Third Century, managed by Dreyfus Corp., of New York, was developed in 1972 to appeal to institutions and individuals concerned with company performances in employment practices, occupational health and safety, product purity and environmental protection.
"We're trying to decide who is basically good," says Jeffrey F. Friedman, Dreyfus Third Century president. This fund's policy approaches the philosophy of the two new funds.
A. Michael Lipper, president of Lipper Analytical Services, the largest follower of mutual funds, says that in general, most socially responsive funds have not done as well as other funds with similar investment objectives. He notes that in 1982, three out of the four mutual funds using social criteria have ranked in the bottom third of the 554 mutual funds he observes.
Lipper describes the only socially responsive fund in the top 75 performers, the Putnam Fund, ranked 73rd, as "not very restrictive." It only prohibits liquor and tobacco concerns. e notes that the Dreyfus Fund performed better in the mid- to late-1970s because of its holdings in energy and utility companies.
Lipper suggests that an underlying problem with socially responsive mutual funds is their use of "omniscience" in deciding what is desirable for society. He says, "there's an enormous problem in trying to be pontifical, in trying to determine what is socially good."
James E. Heard, who will soon become director of the Investor Responsibility Research Center Inc. (IRRC) in Washington, which researches policy issues for institutional investors, suggests that there is nothing wrong with private investors placing their money according to their social belief. This is in line with the philosophy of private sector responsibility, he says.
Heard acknowledges that the new socially responsive mutual funds' intentions to capture high performance rankings is an experiment, but comments, "I don't think that what the Calvert Group and Shearson/American Express are trying to do is a flaky idea at all."
He suggests that the funds might invest in companies similar to Japanese concerns that have profited by producing "good consumer products at a fair price."
Heard explained that a recent IRRC study found that a growing number of universities, public pension funds, foundations and church organizations want to apply social criteria to their investments.