ESG ETFs Bleed Assets as Ramaswamy Runs for President on Anti-Woke Platform

Socially responsible ETFs have lost billions of dollars in the last few months.

ShubhamSaharan_white_bg
|
Reviewed by: Shubham Saharan
,
Edited by: Shubham Saharan

Vivek Ramaswamy’s presidential campaign is bringing the anti-environment, social and governance backlash to the presidential stage, as so-called socially responsible funds shed billions of dollars. 

In late February, Ramaswamy, co-founder of ETF issuer Strive Asset Management, announced his run for U.S. president, launching a campaign in part dedicated to battling “woke capitalism” and what he alleges is the U.S. government forcing ESG ideology onto investors.  

He is the latest Republican candidate to fight for the party’s nomination alongside names like former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and is the most prominent ETF industry participant to ever run for the highest political office. 

“What makes the ESG issue so complex is that progressives who were once hostile to capitalism are now using it as a tool to accomplish through “the market” what they couldn’t do through lawmaking,” Ramaswamy tweeted on Friday.  

“The origin of ESG’s explosion over the last decade, and over the last five years in particular, is government trying to get through the backdoor what could not get done through the front door under the Constitution,” he states in a video linked to the tweet.  

Ramaswamy’s campaign against “woke investing” adds to a months-long saga between politicians across the political spectrum, who have often used ESG issuers as proxies for their political fights. New York-based BlackRock Inc., whose subsidiary iShares is the largest ETF issuer, has frequently faced the brunt of the attacks.  

Last year, $1 billion was pulled from BlackRock from Republican states who cited ESG concerns, while New York City Comptroller Brad Lander slammed the firm for the “fundamental contradiction” between its statements and actions.  

The ‘Crippling’ of ESG 

Ramaswamy isn’t the only Republican candidate who’s brought the fight against ESG to their presidential campaign. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been the center of much of ESG-related controversary, and has called for the “crippling” of ESG by politicians in his new book, CNBC reported. 

The high-profile criticism of the sustainability standards and accountability has taken a toll on ESG ETFs. The category has bled billions in recent months, in part due to the increased politicization of socially responsible investing.  

ESG-labeled funds had outflows of $2.1 billion in the last three months of 2022, compared with $6.1 billion of inflows in the year-ago quarter, according to data from research firm Strategas Securities. Year to date, ESG ETFs have lost nearly $700 million, according to Bloomberg data. Whether that trend is set to accelerate due to Ramaswamy’s high-profile activism still remains to be seen.  

“We’ll see how powerful the message from Vivek is going forward, whether that starts to impact some of the ESG flows,” said Todd Sohn of Strategas Research in an interview with ETF.com.  

“It's going to be a lot of back and forth. The ultimate arbiter is going to be where investors vote with their money,” he added, referencing the future of ESG investments in ETFs.  

Ramaswamy’s run also coincides with the ESG debate bubbling up on the U.S. Senate floor.  

On Wednesday, lawmakers voted in favor of reversing regulation allowing retirement plan managers to consider ESG factors in making investment decisions.  

The recent regulation, implemented by the Biden administration, would be detrimental to retirement accounts and be “government in overdrive,” according to Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun. The Senate vote follows Tuesday’s vote in the House of Representatives to repeal the regulation.  

President Biden is set to veto the action, a statement from the White House read.  

According to Strive’s Chief Investment Officer Matt Cole, the issue around socially responsible investing arises when the asset managers are taking it upon themselves to make these decisions instead of investors selecting ESG-labeled alternatives for their portfolios. It’s an issue that can be remedied by disclosures and investor choice, he noted.  

“The whole mission of Strive was to depoliticize corporate America. It wasn't to depoliticize corporate America because individuals that have opinions on values, social issues, whatever, that those opinions are meaningless,” Cole told ETF.com.  

“Those opinions, those conversations, those debates need to be had in the political arena, right where every citizen has one vote/one voice, not in corporate America, where a handful of asset managers are the largest shareholders of the vast majority of the companies in the S&P 500,” he said.  

Strive currently manages $616 million across its eight U.S.-listed ETFs.  

 

Contact Shubham Saharanat[email protected]        

Shubham Saharan is a markets reporter at etf.com. Before joining the company, she reported for Bloomberg and the Financial Times. Saharan is a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University.