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Corporations Just Might Be the Salvation of Christianity?
by David Lee Smith

Sunday-Monday Gap
Just last year, Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, penned a disarmingly   fascinating (and best-selling) book entitled The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. In it, he opines that, "The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization."
 
But with Christianity withering to a certain extent, at least according to Dreher, it seems that the rapidly-expanding world of corporations hiring in-house chaplains - some in sizable numbers - can play positive roles in providing frequent Christian exposure for those whose churches have become mere shells of their former selves. And beyond that, there's what's come to be called the Sunday-Monday gap, indicating a deepening chasm between Sundays spent listening to frequently uninspiring sermons and the world most folks inhabit Monday through Friday. It seems that Christians can benefit from a Monday-through-Friday opportunity to meet with clergy, or perhaps to participate in on-premises Bible study or other faith-boosting activities, as their needs or preferences dictate.
 
U.S. Companies are Standing in the Gap
Since the hiring of corporate chaplains in large numbers began relatively recently - in the mid-1980s, to be precise - it may be more than a little surprising to note that a study conducted in 2012 by the Families and Work Institute found that fully 97 percent of companies with payrolls larger the 5,000 offered employee assistance programs, with anonymous counseling and referrals by phone.
 
Beyond that, a 2014 analysis by David Miller and Faith Ngunjiri, both of Princeton University's Faith & Work Initiative, found that employees were more likely to use corporate chaplains than standard metal health benefits. And as the pair also discovered, at least half of 1,000 employees surveyed had used the services of a chaplain in the workplace. It's hardly unreasonable to assume that, in the intervening years, that percentage has risen, probably dramatically.
 
It's unlikely that one could possibly delve into the world of company-employed chaplains without hearing mention of Tyson Foods (TSN). In fact, the company is an unusual specimen of a publicly-traded company that runs its own in-house chaplaincy program, which was formed in 2000. The Arkansas-based meat supplier's total workforce numbers well in excess of 100,000, for which it has stationed 125 chaplains to cover 250 locations. Today the program is run by Mike Tarvin, who moved to corporate America following 35 years as a U.S. Army Chaplain.
 
Another company that is an extremely active employer of chaplains for its employees' benefit is Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated (COKE). Not only does the company have about 80 chaplains on its staff, serving close to 20,000 of its own employees, but it serves another inspiring purpose for other companies as well.
 
You see, as we described in a recent newsletter, at least a couple of times annually, under the concerted leadership of its CEO, J. Frank Harrison, it conducts " t-Factor" gatherings. During those sessions, it invites 45 or so CEO's from other companies. Over a couple of days its guests learn about the specific methods and programs it has employed to make a positive difference in its own culture. Ideally attendees return to their own posts and put to use what they have garnered from Coke Bottling's highly successful approaches to building a faith-based company.
 
The Rise of Chaplain Ministries
But where do corporations locate chaplains to become part of their organizations? It turns out that there are a handful of firms that specialize in placing chaplains in the corporate realm. For instance, in 1984 Gil Stricklin, a longtime military chaplain and former high-level member of the Billy Graham organization, formed Dallas-headquartered Marketplace Chaplains U.S.A. Today, the company, for which Stricklin was initially a lone chaplain serving multiple companies simultaneously, has a cadre of more than 2,800 chaplains working around the world.
 
Later, Dr. Mark Cress, an entrepreneur, had decided during the 1990s that he felt a strong calling to serve the Lord in some capacity. That being the case, he sold his business and enrolled in a seminary, still questioning the role for which he was destined. By 1996, however, he'd received an answer: He was to begin   Corporate Chaplains of America, which he formed in Wake Forest, N.C. The chaplains at the two now large firms primarily come mostly from the ranks of evangelical Christians. And there are smaller chaplaincy firms currently plying their trade, such as Atlanta's Chaplain Associates.
 
So, hearkening back to Dreher's assessment at the beginning of this article, it could easily be that for those whose churches have become faced with dwindling attendance and other travails, the exploding corporate chaplaincy movement could become an important contributor to the ultimate salvation and resurgence of our cherished Christian faith. 

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Market Commentary - April 2018
David Lee Smith and George Parks, CFP - Chief Investment Officer
Where Are the Economy and Markets Headed?
by David Lee Smith

The U.S. Picture  
Benchmark Interest Rate Could Rise
As my colleague - and fellow economist - George Parks noted a week or so ago, U.S. economic indicators point toward continued modest growth. And as he continued, "The Federal Reserve seems poised to continue to raise its benchmark rate at a slow, steady pace." There are, however, a couple of schools of thought regarding the pace of those hikes going forward.

One group is standing behind a contention that the Fed could become rather frisky and push rates higher at a comparatively rapid pace. While another contingent advertises that the Fed will be hard-pressed to achieve its current lofty expectations. However, as Parks also notes, a quickened increase in rates would likely result in a level near 3.75 percent within about the next two-and-a-half years. Lest that sound daunting, the benchmark rate has historically not proven to be a damper to the economy until it elevates to the 4.5 to 5.0 percent range.

Balancing Inflation and Wage Growth
Obviously, inflation will be another key to what lies ahead. If individual consumers and businesses become convinced that the inflation rate is headed northward, they'll still continue to borrow and spend. The thinking there is that they'll be making repayments with cheaper money in the future. At the same time, wage growth is in the picture, increasing at about 2.7 percent per year. And with a recent tightening of labor markets, the potential for additional wage growth becomes more plausible. At this juncture, however, the Fed is sitting in the sweet spot of its two-fold mandate of full employment and low inflation.

Earnings Expectations and Market Prices
At the start of the current earnings season, equities appeared to be fully priced, if not a touch over-priced. But given the economic circumstance described above, along with the already-emerging benefits of the newly-passed tax act, earnings expectations remain optimistic. If those expectations are met, higher stock prices could be in the offing. But should earnings ultimately fail to meet those same optimistic expectations, the opposite could probably be the result.

Historically, market prices have far exceeded the fundamentals before returning to, and usually falling far below, a fair value. Over the next decade, the probability is that the market is likely to exhibit a noticeable upward slope. And as Parks advises, "Just figure out how much volatility you can afford, and enjoy the ride."."

International Factors
Global Insecurities
As everyone recognizes by now, the world's economies are becoming progressively more affected by global issues. So, while the above analysis deals exclusively with possibilities here at home, the world is full of booby-traps that could materially impact the U.S. in a variety of ways. For instance, it doesn't require an abundance of sagacity to realize that North Korea might toss a monkey wrench into the world's relative tranquility. Much will depend upon the possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Korea's Kim Jong-un, should such an event occur.

And then there's the now long-lasting civil war in Syria, a client state of Russia and Iran. Where that figurative conflagration is headed is currently anyone's guess. But it's highly unlikely that Russia's Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump will soon be seen enjoying a libation together in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. And it also remains at least a strong possibility that Trump will ex-out his predecessor's nuclear deal with Iran. That's an event that could occur as early as May.

Trade Policies
As to trade with China, possessor of the world's second-largest economy, Trump is threatening to slap as much as a $150 billion annual tariff on Chinese goods coming into the U.S. There is, however, a strong probability that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will head for China in an undisclosed timeframe. His objective: simply to settle down affairs between the two countries vis-à-vis trade.

Potential Brexit Fallout
And finally, there exists the possibility of a rumbling in Europe related to Brexit, the U.K.'s decision to secede from the European Union. There clearly is a chance that British Prime Minister Theresa May could be forced to keep her country in the European Union's Customs Union, thereby negating a "clean cut" with the Union. Such an outcome could bring on a cabinet revolt, and potentially a crisis, as Brexit-backing ministers would likely consider it a betrayal, since it would effectively amount to a handing over to remaining European Union nations a significant say-so over Britain's trade policy.

Conclusion
There are, of course, other issues at home and abroad that could surface this year. But one thing is abundantly clear: The remainder of 2018 is unlikely to be without its share of economic, diplomatic, political, and potentially military intrigue.


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AMERICAN HERO UPDATES: March 2018
Timeless Values are Building a Brighter America  
   
This section reports on the "cultural" performance of American Hero Companies. It highlights specific ways, during the quarter, these companies have performed in helping America become a better and brighter "city upon a hill."
  1. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidate (COKE) - Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidate teamed with Carolina Panthers tight-end Greg Olsen and with the USO of North Carolina to spread a message of appreciation and support to 200 local service members and their families, treating troops and families to tickets to the Minnesota Timberwolves versus Charlotte Hornets basketball game.
     
  2. Salem Media Group (SALM) - Salem Media Group was recognized as one of the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® in the country. Salem was evaluated by the National Association for Business Resources, an independent research firm, which reviewed several key measures such as benefits, compensation, employee enrichment, employee education, communication, diversity, work-life balance and community initiatives.
     
  3. New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) - New Jersey Natural Gas, a subsidiary of New Jersey Resources (NJR), ranked highest in the East Region in J.D. Power's latest 2017 Gas Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study, outperforming its peers. The company received high marks for its commitment to service excellence with an overall customer satisfaction index of 827, exceeding the regional average of 782 and the industry average of 792. Since J.D. Power began measuring the customer satisfaction of natural gas utilities more than 16 years ago, NJNG has been recognized 12 times for its ongoing commitment to customers.
     
  4. Universal Health Services (UHS) - Universal Health Services for the eighth year in a row was selected by Fortune as one of the "World's Most Admired Companies" in 2018. The ranking is considered the gold standard for corporate reputation measuring a company's fiscal management, services provided and commitment to social responsibility.
     
  5. Grand Canyon Education's (LOPE) - Grand Canyon Education's Grand Canyon University (GCU) held a Celebration of Life to honor those in the GCU family who have died over the past academic year.  Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students, reflected on the fragility of life in his address to the crowd. He quoted Scripture from James 4:14: "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  Sarah Tedeschi, whose fiancé Taylor White was struck and killed by a SUV after entering a crosswalk, told the crowd, "Taylor's faith in Christ is what has honestly inspired me. Taylor was not afraid to die. He woke up every day and didn't know what was around the corner but knew God would be with him at every step. And that's how I have chosen to live my life from this day forward, knowing that every little thing that I do with my life means something."
INVESTMENT PERFORMANCE: March 31, 2018     
   
Although investment performance is not our primary goal we believe financial rewards often result for companies whose management teams pursue a values-driven approach to business. Therefore, if we maintain our "values first" approach to stock selection we feel we have a reasonable opportunity for satisfactory long-term financial results.  - Carter LeCraw, CEO
 
  3/31/2018
Year  
to Date
1 Year
3 Years
(annual)
5 Years
(annual)
10 Years   (annual)
American Hero Equity
1.30
14.06
9.95
10.72
8.88
American Hero Index
2.67
14.07
9.52
11.08
N/A*
Wilshire 5000 Equal Weight
(0.72)
9.39
7.41
11.10
10.61
 
*There is not a 10 year history for the American Hero Index Portfolio. But, the simple accumulative performance from the inception date of 12/31/2009 is 169.34%. Corresponding benchmark return was Wilshire 5000 Equal Weight 145.34%.
Disclosures
It should not be assumed that the people or companies we have featured in our articles either endorse our company or are in agreement with our goals or investment strategy. The views presented in this publication may not always reflect the current opinion of American Values Investments on the values or the prospects for investment performance of any company mentioned. Each of our stock holdings performs differently and it should not be concluded that all of our stock selections have performed as well as the ones mentioned. Also, just because we like to hold certain company stocks does not necessarily mean we think it is the best investment. Our goal is NOT the maximization of investment return, but to support companies that best reflect authentic American values. As always, past performance is no assurance of future results. We reserve the right to buy or sell any stock from our current portfolios or add or subtract companies from our American Hero Company Universe at any time with no prior notice.

American Values Investments, Inc
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clecraw@americanvalues.com
http://americanvalues.com