Mar 17, 2019

Dissecting Goldman Sachs' $100 million pullout from social impact ETF "JUST"

If you want to minimize the social impact of your money, the best thing you can do is invest in public equities. By buying stock on the secondary market from existing shareholders, you guarantee that none of your money actually goes to the company you're investing in.

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Driving the news: Social impact ETF "JUST" is designed to invest in "U.S. companies that are driving positive change." (I welcomed the fund when it launched.) This week, the Wall Street Journal reported (and Axios later confirmed) that Goldman Sachs pulled the $100 million it initially invested in the fund. As a result, the fund's assets under management are now at an all-time low.

Between the lines: It's not uncommon for a market-maker to put in seed money when a new ETF launches and then pull that money at a later date. What's odd is that JUST launched with this much seed money in the first place.

  • The largest socially responsible ETFs, SUSA and DSI, launched with just $20 million and $25 million, respectively. Today, they're still small by ETF standards (SUSA is $922 million, DSI is $1.32 billion), but they're much bigger than relative newcomers like JUST and the gimmicky SHE. Both of those funds launched with great fanfare and $250 million under management; both are now significantly smaller than when they started.

The big picture: You can try to ensure that the ETF sponsor you choose is itself a good cause. A case in point: The sustainable-development SDGA fund, sponsored in part by the UN, which launched at just $2 million. That's a much more typical seed size for socially responsible ETFs. But an ETF that small will suffer from illiquidity and high fees.

Of note: In a statement to Axios, JUST Capital CEO Martin Whittaker said the JUST ETF's remaining $100 million in assets under management is "strong proof of the demand for this fund."

Go deeper