Thiel-Backed Firm Debuts Anti-ESG ETF to Urge More Drilling




  • In Business
  • 2022-08-10 17:27:42Z
  • By Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- An anti-activism exchange-traded fund of sorts has launched to supposedly "unshackle" energy companies from climate concerns that some investors have forced them to reckon with.

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The aim of the Strive US Energy ETF (ticker DRLL), which began trading Tuesday, is to accumulate enough assets for the Ohio-based manager to have say in the boardroom, according to co-founder Vivek Ramaswamy. Strive launched in 2022 with backing from billionaire investors including Peter Thiel and Bill Ackman.

DRLL joins a small but growing wave of so-called anti-woke ETFs after issuers such as BlackRock Inc. put their heft behind environmental, social and governance-focused funds in recent years. With an expense ratio of 41 basis points, Strive is directly positioning itself against BlackRock's $2 billion iShares US Energy ETF (IYE), which charges the same fee.

IYE, which tracks an index that measures the performance of the energy sector, doesn't have an explicit ESG bend. However, DRLL's selling point is that Strive would use its shareholder-voting power to encourage oil and companies to "drill more and frack more," Ramaswamy said. While Energy Information Administration data Wednesday showed US crude production has returned to the highest level since April 2020, global oil supply is extremely tight.

"We are post-ESG," Ramaswamy said in a phone interview. "US energy stocks have tremendous potential if they're unshackled from the shareholder-imposed ESG mandates."

If successful, DRLL would be the ideological foil to the experience of Engine No. 1, which won three seats on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp. in June 2021 to push the company to diversify beyond oil. The activist shareholder went on to launch the $84 million Transform Climate ETF (NETZ) in February.

Roughly $27 million traded in DRLL on Tuesday, Bloomberg data show. While most of that likely came from investors lined up ahead of time, it's an impressive amount of day-one volume for an "indie ETF," according to Bloomberg Intelligence senior ETF analyst Eric Balchunas.

Whether DRLL sustains that momentum remains to be seen. Principles-based ETFs have struggled to gain traction in recent years, with the Point Bridge GOP Stock Tracker ETF (MAGA), which invests in companies that support the Republican party, attracting just $16 million in assets despite outperforming the S&P 500 this year.

ESG funds have also struggled lately. The category has raked in roughly $4 billion so far in 2022, a massive slowdown after two straight years of more than $30 billion in inflows, Bloomberg data show.

Read More: ESG Fund Closures Pile Up as Do-Good Investing Takes Back Seat

"Principle-based ETFs have historically had a really tough time gathering assets, so it is definitely helpful to have a nice start like this," Balchunas said. "Now comes the hard part though of finding other investors outside of the friends and family."

(Updates with EIA data in fourth paragraph.)

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