What Is an Anti-ESG ETF? Inside the Conservative Investment Movement

What Is an Anti-ESG ETF? Inside the Conservative Investment Movement

We take a look at anti-woke investing and list the largest anti-ESG ETFs.

kent
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Research Lead
Reviewed by: Ron Day
,
Edited by: Mark Nacinovich

Anti-ESG ETFs have been around since the early 2000s but have recently gained attention, as some investors believe that ESG investing does not align with shareholder interests. Vivek Ramaswamy’s popularity has also helped to shine a brighter light on the politically charged investment movement.  

Learn how anti-ESG funds work, the different types available and how anti-woke investing is facing growth challenges. 

What Is an Anti-ESG ETF? 

An anti-ESG ETF is an exchange-traded fund that excludes companies that meet certain environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. These criteria can vary from fund to fund but generally focus on companies that are not typically found in the typical sustainable ETF. Some anti-ESG funds differentiate themselves primarily by their approach to shareholder voting. 

For example, the largest anti-ESG ETF, Strive U.S. Energy ETF (DRLL), has similar holdings as a typical energy sector ETF, but its differentiating factor is that the fund has an anti-ESG proxy-voting policy, which means it votes against ESG proposals at shareholder meetings. Other anti-ESG funds may invest in companies that align with politically conservative values. 

While the anti-ESG ETF movement began in 2022, the idea is not new as funds that focus on “sin stocks,” such as oil and gas companies, tobacco firms and alcohol producers, date back to the early 2000s.  

Types of Anti-ESG ETFs 

Anti-ESG ETFs are relatively new to the investment industry, but they may be categorized by their investment philosophies, which may be described as exclusionary, political, vice, voting or renunciation: 

  • Exclusionary: This is the most common type of anti-ESG ETF. It typically excludes companies that meet certain ESG criteria or may include companies that are generally excluded from ESG funds. 
  • Political: These funds may support conservative political agendas and may refer to their approach as “anti-woke” or “faith-based” or against what they believe to be liberal ESG agendas. 
  • Vice: These funds invest in what have been traditionally referred to as “sin stocks,” such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling. 
  • Voting: These ETF issuers vote against ESG proposals at shareholder meetings. This may mean that they vote against proposals that would require companies to improve their ESG practices. Investing in these anti-ESG ETFs can be a way for investors to express their disapproval of companies' ESG practices. 
  • Renunciation: Renouncer funds may have previously adhered to ESG investing principles but subsequently removed references to ESG principles from fund names and documents for fear of being associated with the ESG movement 

The 5 Top Anti-ESG ETFs by Assets Under Management 

Strive Asset Management and Inspire Investing offer the largest anti-ESG funds: 

  1. Strive U.S. Energy ETF (DRLL): $369.2 million 
  2. Inspire 100 ETF (BIBL): $294.5 million 
  3. Strive 500 ETF (STRV): $266 million
  4. Inspire Corporate Bond ETF (IBD): $256 million 
  5. Inspire International ETF (WWJD): $193 million

Note: Data as of Sept. 8, 2023. 

Ramaswamy Shines Light on Anti-ESGs 

Strive Asset Management, which was co-founded by Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur and current U.S. presidential candidate, is the largest anti-ESG ETF provider. Strive’s core mission is to prioritize shareholder capitalism over stakeholder capitalism by voting proxy shares in a way that advances corporate profits rather than an ESG agenda. 

Strive believes that the purpose of a for-profit company is to maximize long-term value for its shareholders and that too many asset managers have shifted away from that shareholder priority and used their investors’ capital to advance stakeholder interests. 

Ramaswamy’s presidential campaign has provided a national spotlight for Strive, as the ETF provider recently surpassed $1 billion in assets after less than one year of launching. 

Anti-Woke Investing Has Struggled 

While the anti-woke theme of investing has attracted more than $2 billion in assets to anti-ESG funds, more than half of these assets are held in just five funds. By comparison, Vanguard ETFs hold more than $2 trillion. Fund flows into anti-ESG funds have slowed in 2023, and the Constrained Capital ESG Orphans ETF (ORFN) liquidated in June of 2023 due to the inability to attract sufficient capital. 

Anti-ESG Funds Still Have ESG Exposure 

Investors should keep in mind that anti-ESG funds may still have ESG exposure. For example, many anti-ESG ETFs include Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) as a top holding and Nvidia is a leader in fighting climate change and other green initiatives.  

The Bottom Line on Anti-ESG ETFs 

Investors considering investment in an anti-ESG ETF should review the fund’s holdings to be sure they are gaining exposure to companies that align with their values while avoiding those that do not. It’s also important to note that anti-ESG ETFs are not without their risks. These ETFs may underperform the market, as many tend to invest heavily in one sector, such as energy, and may exclude some of the largest and most successful companies in the world. 

Kent Thune is Research Lead for etf.com, focusing on educational content, thought leadership, content management and search engine optimization. Before joining etf.com, he wrote for numerous investment websites, including Seeking Alpha and Kiplinger. 

 

Kent holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and is a practicing Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) with 25 years of experience managing investments, guiding clients through some of the worst economic and market environments in U.S. history. He has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching classes for The College of Charleston and Trident Technical College on the topics of retirement planning, business finance, and entrepreneurship. 

 

Kent founded a registered investment advisory firm in 2006 and is based in Hilton Head Island, SC, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Outside of work, Kent enjoys spending time with his family, playing guitar, and working on his philosophy book, which he plans to publish in the coming year.