Vatican-backed ethical index given baptism

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Europe’s first Christian equity index was launched on Monday in response to increasing demand by investors for so-called ethical stocks in the wake of the financial crisis.

The Stoxx Europe Christian Index comprises 533 European companies that only derive revenues from sources approved “according to the values and principles of the Christian religion”.

BP, HSBC, Nestlé, Vodafone, Royal Dutch Shell and GlaxoSmithKline are among the companies in the index. Only groups that do not make money from pornography, weapons, tobacco, birth control and gambling are allowed to be listed.

A committee, which Stoxx says includes representatives of the Vatican, screens shares, which are drawn from the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

Hartmut Graf, chief executive of Stoxx, said: “There has been more and more investor demand for a transparent index that helps funds buy stocks of companies that are religiously compliant and make revenues in line with Christian values.”

Mark Robertson, communications manager at Eiris, the ethical research group, added: “Since the financial crisis and following a great deal of controversy over how many financial institutions have made money, many more people want to invest in an ethical way.”

Some of the world’s biggest investment funds, such as Aviva Investors, Axa Investment Managers and Henderson Global Investors, have set up ethical funds in recent years in response to investor demand.

The Catholic Church and the Church of England are also seeking fresh ways to invest.

Ethical funds have similar goals to Christian funds, although they do not ban shares of companies that make money from birth control and they tend to be more heavily focused to avoid investing in corporations that damage the environment.

The new index, which is available in price and net return versions and calculated in euros and dollars, is intended to act as a benchmark for actively managed funds, helping them to gauge their performance.

The demand for ethical funds, has grown in recent years because of rising worries about the environment and unease over how some financial institutions have made money in the aftermath of the subprime crisis.

There have also been a number of sharia compliant indices created. These indices allow funds to invest in stocks that are compliant with Islamic law.

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