Everence Launches Socially Screened Fund for Emerging Markets

International index fund provides access through screening

Everence Capital Management announced Tuesday the launch of the MMA Praxis International Index Fund (MPLAX for Class A Shares, MPLIX for Class I Shares). The fund uses the MSCIAll Country World ex-U.S. Index, and is the only socially screened fund to do so; it also provides investors access to emerging markets.

According to the company, “[t]he fund aims to provide investors with greater access to both developed and emerging international economies while also making an impact on the global community.” Its portfolio managers are Ran Leshem and Patrick Geddes.

David Gautsche, president of MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to offer investors a new way to make a global impact and invest in emerging markets. As with all MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, the International Index Fund reflects our unique stewardship investing philosophy, including values based screening, proxy voting, shareholder advocacy and community development investing.”

The fund is more for long-term growth investors who are willing to accept the higher risk entailed in international investing, as well as for those who seek screening.

Chad Horning (left), chief investment officer at Everence, said in an interview with AdvisorOne that the company’s investors, particularly institutions, “[were] telling us they wanted access to emerging markets” in addition to screening. “All the funds in Praxis use screening,” he explained, “so if we launch a new one it will include screening, shareholder advocacy, and community development investments.” That last is done “through an affiliate of Praxis that extends loans to community development organizations around the country and around the world.”

He added that some of their larger institutional clients have asked for “index-like management,” and also that some clients are not large enough “to have a separate allocation to emerging markets. So if we can give them that in an index strategy, all the better from their point of view.”

The fund has been in the works for just under a year, Horning said; about 20% of its holdings are in emerging markets companies. Asked about the timing of the new fund’s launch, he says that it’s possible to get market timing right or wrong; however, he cites the rising demand for socially responsible investing (SRI) as one of the market themes that indicate it might be the right time.

“Our Wall Street brethren are coming out with [SRI and screening] left and right,” he added; “clearly there’s a demand.” People are “also interested in gaining access to emerging markets such as Brazil,” he explained. “Finally, at least a portion of the investing public really likes the transparency of an index strategy.”

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