Ramaswamy’s Anti-ESG ETF Firm Hits $1 Billion in Assets

(Bloomberg) -- Strive Asset Management, an anti-activism fund company co-founded by Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, has crossed $1 billion in assets even as it comes under legal scrutiny.

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Ohio-based Strive controls these assets across its 11 exchange-traded funds, just over a year since its first fund began trading, according to a press release Tuesday. The asset manager launched in 2022 with backing from billionaire investors including Peter Thiel and Bill Ackman as an antithesis to investment giants such as BlackRock Inc., which have emphasized environmental, social and governance-focused investing.

Strive’s mission statement — encouraging companies to “focus on excellence” rather than ESG mandates, according to Tuesday’s release — appears to be resonating as investor appetite for ESG dries up and corporate advocates including BlackRock’s Larry Fink back away from the phrase. Ramaswamy’s presidential bid is also likely drawing more eyeballs to Strive’s lineup than would be there otherwise, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

He is currently polling third in the Republican primary field — behind Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis — according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.

“It is a rare feat for any indie issuer to hit $1 billion in first year, let alone one that is largely a pushback to ESG as many of those ETFs have flopped,” Bloomberg Intelligence senior ETF analyst Eric Balchunas said. “Ramaswamy’s wealthy backers helped a lot and running for president probably can’t hurt either. That is some unchartered territory when it comes to ETF marketing.”

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Strive has had the most success with its $369 million Strive US Energy ETF (ticker DRLL), which tracks the same portfolio as BlackRock’s $1.4 billion iShares US Energy ETF (IYE). However, DRLL’s selling point is that Strive would use its shareholder-voting power to encourage the companies it holds to “drill more and frack more,” Ramaswamy said last August.

Apart from DRLL, its largest and oldest ETF, the $267 million Strive 500 ETF (STRV) has lead growth this year with a $147 million year-to-date inflow, closely followed by a nearly $147 million haul for the $153 million Strive Emerging Markets Ex-China ETF (STXE). Strive has recently expanded out of equity-only funds, unveiling two fixed-income ETFs last month.

But Strive’s ascent has come with some hurdles. Two former employees have filed lawsuits against Ramaswamy and his co-founder Anson Frericks in recent months, accusing them of mistreating staff and pushing employees to violate securities law. The company “intends to vigorously defend itself,” it said in a statement to Bloomberg last month.

Strive could also face headwinds as firms such as BlackRock move to give investors more voting power at shareholder meetings in the 2024 proxy season, Balchunas said.

“Big, passive companies like BlackRock and Vanguard are beginning to democratize the voting and letting the end investor decide, which defuses some of the argument that they are voting everyone’s shares in an ESG way,” Balchunas said.

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