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Church finance role questioned after leaders slam markets


A City of London financial analyst has advised the (Anglican) Church of England to open a debate on the subject of its financial investments after senior church leaders called for tighter regulation of the markets.

"If the church wants to get a reasonable return on its money, it cannot go for the lowest risk and the lowest growth," analyst Mark Speeks said in an interview with the BBC on 27 September. "It has to go for a broad spread of assets."

His comments came after criticism of the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the church’s spiritual leader, and its second most senior cleric, Archbishop John Sentamu of York, for their comments about the financial markets.

Sentamu had branded some financial traders as "asset strippers and bank robbers", while Williams said Karl Marx had been partly right in his criticism of capitalism.

Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, issued a statement asserting that the Church of England itself had benefited significantly from financial speculation that underpinned rising oil and commodity prices. Bartley also said that the church had set up "a currency hedging programme in 2006, effectively short-selling the currency markets".

He told the BBC, "The church has a target of five percent above inflation, and has had a return of 9.5 percent per annum for the last 10 years. There are other things the church should invest in for a perhaps more moderate return."

Louis Henderson of the Church of England communications’ office told Ecumenical News International that the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group had been asked to review the practice of stock lending. "As is clear from its name, the EIAG’s role is advisory," Henderson added.

Steve Jenkins, the head of media relations for the archbishops’ council, a denominational body, told ENI the statement circulated by Ekklesia "is misleading in a number of respects".

He said that the church’s financial managers, the Church Commissioners, "do not short equities, nor have they delegated any shorting powers to their external equalities fund managers. They do not have any exposure to hedge funds that short stocks, either."

Jenkins added, "The commissioners invest in a wide range of equities, including those of mining, oil and financial companies, as part of a broadly diversified asset base, and in compliance with the ethical investment policy as recommended by the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group."

(c) Ecumenical News International