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Invest for Your Pocketbook, Not Your Conscience

What about the makers and sellers of junk foods? Or weapons of mass destruction? What about companies that cause environmental damage? If we buy into the science of global warming and all its implications, can we invest in companies related to the fossil fuel industry? What about the major financial institutions that required a federal bailout to avoid losses that would have wiped out the global financial system? Where does one draw the line?

It's hard enough for the average investor -- or the professional asset manager, for that matter -- to make the right decisions when evaluating the prospects for a financial security to deliver healthy returns. We ought not to raise the bar of success even further out of reach by requiring them to evaluate the social value to society of their investments as well.

When it comes to firearms, most U.S. investors have some stake in gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson (SWHC - Get Report) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR - Get Report), perhaps through a mutual fund held in their retirement account. Does that mean the people who form the majority in media polls showing support for more gun control are hypocrites?

I think not. The correct venue for addressing these issues is through public policy, advocacy, the democratic process and civic action. If investors anticipate that changes to public policy or public attitudes are going to hamper the financial performance of a company, then of course they should adjust their investment strategy to reflect that. But giving up the fruits of an investment in good business because it engages in activities you disagree with politically or morally is generally not wise.

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AAPL $124.24 0.70%
RGR $49.47 0.61%
SWHC $13.00 0.08%
FB $83.01 0.11%
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